The Indian railways can throw some of the toughest options at its passengers. I recall my train journeys as horrid and uncomfortable–as a child, I was crushed up against a suitcase on the upper berth; as a teenager an asocial reader amongst inquisitive co-passengers and as a solo student traveller who was always on the look-out for her and her camera’s safety.
Over two decades of train journeys across India and I still find myself a little hesitant while booking a ticket for a long distance travel. Perhaps, it was one of the primary reasons why I thought I couldn’t embark on a 40-hour journey across the coast of India. But as my destination grew closer, a lot of my perspective had changed in this matter.
As the train departed from Madgaon, Goa, I eagerly waited to get a glimpse of the Dudhsagar Falls. Shortly after crossing Kullem station, amidst the lush green forests of Goa, on my left I saw the clear, white waters of Dudhsagar. As the train turned left to go under the magnificent waterfall, I heard echoes of its visitors and in a matter of seconds, saw the milk-like water vanish away on my right.
The landscape had gradually changed from the greens of the diverse Western Ghats to the hard, rock-solid boulders of Hospet. As we entered Karnataka, I became more and more curious of the geography of the state. Karnataka, one of the bigger states in the country, enjoys some of the riches environs. From the rainforests in Coorg, to the garden city of Bangalore, to the historic ruins of Hampi, to the surf-friendly beaches of Gokarna and the green, well-cultivated agricultural lands—Karnataka is spoilt with choice. I see it as an invitation to explore the state more often and in greater detail.
My co-passengers were an elderly couple who were returning from their family gathering in Goa while I travelled to meet mine on the other side of the coast. And during our hour-long halt in Guntakal station, we got a chance to interact further over a cup of hot masala chai. It is here that the train changed engines and coaches, which were moving towards a different destination. A customary 20-minute halt turned into a 60-minute delay. Opportunistically, I used this time to walk around the station and feast on some steaming hot dosa. The food stalls here served excellent quality of food.
Most of my hours after Guntakal were spent reading in the train and enjoying the setting sun change the colours outdoors across the fields. And as night approached, I faintly remember the stopovers at Guntur, Vijayawada and the minor stations. In the morning once we reached Duvvada, the train had made up for the delay overnight and it was time to bid farewell to my co-passengers.
The countryside outside was breath-taking. The cultivated fields had just been greeted by fresh waters of the rain and cheerful mild sun. I couldn’t get enough of this view till I felt a wave of hunger call for my attention and Vizianagaram Junction was the next possible station where I could feed myself. In the 15-minute halt at the station, I bought myself idli-sambar, mini samosas and two cups of chai. As I finished my first course, I promptly bought 5 guavas from the lady passing through my compartment. I had completed my nutrition for the day and went back to my book and the green fields from the window.
As we left Andhra Pradesh and approached Odisha, the weather became gloomier. The drizzle on my window brought along stretches of land coloured with red soil. Was this a result of development where we had dug up earth so deep for iron and bauxite? The colour of the landscape didn’t change much until we approached the state of West Bengal.
I heard a local vendor in the train sell chai in his Bengali accent. I called out to him and bought a cup myself. As I sipped the Rs. 5 chai, I knew was closer home.