One of my childhood memories is of travelling by train, usually from where ever we lived at that time be it Bellary or Bangalore to my grandfather’s house in Madras now Chennai) for the summer vacations. So today for me, I is for Indian Railways one of the oldest railways systems in the world. Over five decades have passed by since then but I still remember the sooty coal-fired locomotives, the chugging of the train as it rumbled over the Pennar River and how we were thrilled to prepare for a train journey in those days, lugging along a lot of eatables as the catering facilities were quite primitive as compared to what we have today.
The British brought the railways to India and the first train ran from Thane to Victoria Terminus in Bombay in 1853. You will find a lot of information about the Indian Railways here. The figures are mind-boggling. Despite whatever criticism one may have about this enterprise you can imagine the difficulties and complexities involved in managing a system as huge as this. It is one of the world’s largest railway networks comprising 115,000 km (71,000 mi) of track over a route of 65,000 km (40,000 mi) and 7,500 stations. As of December 2012, it transported over 25 million passengers daily (over 9 billion on an annual basis).
The Indian Railways hold a lot of memories for me. Memories of train rides include peering at the reservation charts clumsily stuck on at the entrance of the railway coaches (often dripping glue all over the sheet) to make sure your name was indeed there. Standing at the door as the train went past the Indian countryside with its myriad changes. The doorway gave some much-needed breeze and you loved the air in your face on a hot day despite the sweltering heat. In the evenings, you could see the sun set and nightfall was ushered in with lights flickering as the train rushed past small stations and little hamlets. Observing human behaviour on trains was equally fascinating. Generally, people initially jostled for space, then settled down to chat, often sharing the food they had bought with them. By the end of the journey, many knew a lot about people whom most likely they would never see again for the rest of their lives.
While at school at the Lawrence School, Lovedale in the Nilgiri Hills, several times a year we boarded the quaint Nilgiri Mountain Railway. The scenery was outstanding, as the train slowly climbed the mountains from the plains at Mettupalayam. Years have flown past but these journeys stay imprinted in my mind. Govind Krishnan has done a lot to spread word about this heritage railway system.
Talking of images, if you are fond of pictures of locomotives and railway scenes, do spare some time to check out these pictures in Rail Pictures. They are indicative of what you can expect to see as you traverse the length and breadth of our vast country.