Have you noticed how many TV documentaries there are on train journeys? They are full of scenic wonders from the snow-covered alps of New Zealand to Australia’s Nullarbor Desert, Norway’s fjords and Canada’s lakes to name a few. I have been fortunate to have experienced these and many more not featured.
It’s Not Just the Scenery
But it is not just about the beautiful scenery that makes you want to take a train trip. There is something magical about climbing into bed on a train and waking up in a different place next day. As a child I found it quite hypnotic to be rocked to sleep by the gentle swaying of the carriages and the comforting clickety-clack of the wheels on the track.
After making a 12 hour train trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai my feelings changed. Despite having purchased a sleeper compartment there was no way I could sleep. The sudden stopping and starting every 10 minutes made it impossible. If I happened to nod off, with the constant jerking and jarring I was jolted wide awake once again.
Dreading the return trip, I purchased ear plugs, scarf to wrap around my head and a bottle of red wine to knock myself out. The sensory deprivation certainly helped to block out some of the noise but the stopping and starting continued.
A more enjoyable train trip was on Swiss Rail where we were given a free pass to travel anywhere in Switzerland on public transport. We spent a day leaping on and off trains from Lake Lugano to Locarno enjoying Lake Maggiore and the ancient castles of Bellinzona at the base of the Alps.
This was such a contrast from the negative experience we had on French EuroRail where we were threatened, fined and had our passports confiscated for ticking the wrong box on the ticket.
An Indian Experience
You have not experienced a real train trip until you travel in India. Riding on the Shatabdi Express for seven hours from Lucknow to Delhi was a real joy. Just sitting on the platform waiting for a train is an amazing experience.
Most of us have images of people sitting on the roof and dangling out the windows but nowadays trains in India are electric and no one can sit on the roof. No one has told the monkeys though who still clamber on top of the trains dodging the overhead wires and ducking between the train wheels
When we arrived in New Delhi at 10pm, I witnessed one of the most impressive sights, forever etched in my memory – the train porters at New Delhi railway station. Each of these young slight-framed men in one single move, lifted one heavy suitcase onto their heads. Immediately, they lifted a second case and placed it on top of the first.
With the other hand they pushed a third case along the ground. In single file, they manoeuvred through the crowded bustling station, pushing past thousands of passengers, while all the time balancing these heavy loads on their heads. We were told to stick by the porter who had our case, so I took this literally and stayed very close to mine. Being young and fit, they set off at a frenetic pace.
Climbing the first flight of stairs, I pushed and shoved my way through the crowd. As we came to a second set of steps, my porter used his free hand to indicate to me ‘take the escalator’ but I stuck with him, staggering down the steps, jostling amongst the masses. After exiting Delhi station, we then faced the usual perils of busy traffic.
Worth Their Weight in Gold
“Somehow, with this impressive procession in tow, we all managed to cross the street, reaching the parking lot safely. Still in single file, our porters used the same precision, balance, strength and skill to remove each case from their heads and place it on the ground. When our guide haggled over the price that he was willing to pay them, I could have cried. They were worth their weight in gold.” Chasing Marigolds.