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Trains, Planes and the future

Swacch Bharat - Indian Railways Copyright: Indian Express

Swacch Bharat – Indian Railways Copyright: Indian Express

Some of the content may be NSFW. viewer discretion advised.

I have had a life-long fascination with trains. One of my first memories was that of 5-7 year old, clutching my mother or grandmother’s hand seeing the steam engine lumbering down whistling and smoking at the same time. I was both afraid and strangely drawn to the iron beast and the first time I knew and then slowly understood that if we come with luggage and the steam-engine comes, it means we are going to travel.

I have travelled some, but there are lots to explore still and I do hope that I cover some more of it during my lifetime. The reason I am writing about trains is an article which caught my eye couple of days. Besides seeing the changing geography, the variety of food one can get on train and in stations is one of the primary reasons that Indians love to travel by trains. It is one place where you could have incredible conversations over cup of tea or favourite food and unlike air travel and the famed IFE (In-flight entertainment) people are actually pretty social even with all the gadgets. For those who are wondering, the author was travelling between Jamshedpur, Gujarat to Kolkatta, a train ride which has now gone on my bucket list for the delectable items the author has described 😉

To add to the above, it is still cheaper than air travel, although that is changing a bit as Indian Railways seeks to modernize Railways and make it into world-class bullet trains.

Indian Railways has a long, rich culture and some of the most interesting nuggets you learn over time adds to the fascination of the Railways. For instance I’m sharing this letter which I read first in book and then saw in the New Delhi Railway Museum. The letter I am sharing below was written by a certain Shri Okhil Chandra Sen to the Sahibganj Railway Office in year 1909, almost 38 years before India became independent.

“I am arrive by passenger train Ahmedpur station and my belly is too much swelling with jackfruit. I am therefore went to privy. Just I doing the nuisance that guard making whistle blow for train to go off and I am running with ‘lotah’ in one hand and ‘dhoti’ in the next when I am fall over and expose all my shocking to man and female women on plateform. I am got leaved at Ahmedpur station.

“This too much bad, if passenger go to make dung that dam guard not wait train five minutes for him. I am therefore pray your honour to make big fine on that guard for public sake. Otherwise I am making big report! to papers.”

If it were not for Mr. Okhil Chandra Sen we would still be running with ‘water bottle’ (improvement) and jeans/shorts/whatever (again improvement) while the possibility of falling over would always be omnipresent in a hurry. Now we do have toilets and some of the better trains even have Bio-toilets which should make things better as well.(/NSFW)

For the plane bit, most of my flights have been domestic flying. Some of my most memorable flights is when flying from Mumbai on a clear sky overlooking the Queen’s necklace, loving it and landing in Bangalore during mist or rain or both. Delhi is also good as airports go but nothing much adventurous about it. It was only with the experience of my first international flight, I realized the same feeling again, nervousness and sense of adventure as you meet new people. Nowadays every week I do try and broaden my horizon by seeking and learning a bit about International Travel.

Copyright: National Geographic Magazine

Copyright: National Geographic Magazine

In this I came across an article on National Geographic site which also evoked similar feelings. While I can’t go back to the past and even if I did (in distant past before I was born), I wouldn’t want to improve my financial situation at all (as otherwise I would hit the Grandfather Paradox or/and the Butterfly effect (essentially saying there’s no free lunch), it still makes you wonder about a time when people had lot more adventure and lot more moving parts. I do wish they had a much bigger snapshot of that plane so I could really see how people sat in the old aircraft. The low-resolution picture doesn’t do justice to the poster and the idea of that time.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Sound_of_Thunder for an implementation of Butterfly effect.

The Grandfather Paradox has been seen plenty of times in fantasy movies like the Back to the Future, Planet of the Apes and many others so will not go there.

For the average joe today, s/he has to navigate security,check bags, get her/imself processed through passport control, get boarding pass, get to the gate on-time, get to the aircraft via bridge or bus, get to the seat, somehow make it through the ascent and use your IFE and get snacks and meals till it’s time to touch-down and re-do the whole drill again as many times you are connecting. I really admire Gunnar Wolf for the tenacity he showed for the x number of connections he made both ways.

The world's 10 best airports Copyright: Changi International Airport

Photo – Courtesy Changi International Airport, Singapore

While leafing through the interweb today, came across an article . While you can slice and dice the report anyway you want, for me if ever I get a chance again for an International Travel, I would try to see I get a layover at these three airports in order of preference (this is on the basis that none of these airports need a transit visa for the activities shared) –

a. Changi International Airport – It is supposed to have shower amenities, has a movie theatre (+1), free tour of the city (+1) and of course as many Indians do go to Singapore as a destination in itself would have multiple vegetarian options (+2) so would be nice if I need to layover.

b. Zurich Airport (ZRH) – “For passengers with an extended layover, Zurich Airport offers bicycle and inline-skate rentals and excursions to the Swiss Museum of Transport Lucerne.” – From business-insider.com. While I’m not much of a bicycle and inline-skating freak, if the Swiss Museum of Transport Lucerne is anything to the scale of Isiko Museum which I shared in a blog post sometime before, it would be worth by itself. I haven’t tried to find the site but can imagine, for e.g. if it has a full-scale model of a submarine or train engine, either steam-engines or ones like SNCF or any of the other bullet-trains and early aircraft, it would just blow my mind. When you are talking about transport, there is so much science, business, logistics etc. that I’m sure I’ll overload with information, photos and any trinkets they have to buy.

c. Central Japan International Airport (NGO) – “It has a 1,000-foot-long sky deck where passengers can watch ships sail into Nagoya Port. There’s also a traditional Japanese bathhouse where you can have a relaxing soak while watching the sunset over the bay.” – BusinessInsider.com

Not a bad place to be if you need a layover. Just sink yourself in the bathhouse and see the bay and ships coming in. Luxury indeed.

Honourable mention –

d. Munich Airport (MUC) – “A nearby visitors park features mini golf and a display of historic aircraft.” – Business-Insider.com . Now this would have made my list but I guess one would need a Schengen visa to access the visitors park but then if you have that, then why just stay in the Airport itself, could travel through Europe itself and have a longish stop-over.

So all in all, it’s indeed a fascinating time to be alive, dreaming and just being. Till later.

Update – I had forgotten to share one more reason why I was writing this article. Although somewhat of a cynic, am hopeful that Pune metro happens. Also, if I had just waited a day, would have been able to add couple of wonderful articles that would make people wanderlust more 🙂

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