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Adventure on the Midnight Express

 

“Whoot! Whoot,” the whistle blows airily. I crane my head outside the window as we take the curve gently, seesawing side to side. Ahead, billows of white smoke suffuse the bridge like clouds. Below me there is a tropical forest so moist, I can almost hear the faint dripping of wet onto leaves above the shrill whistle. We announce ourselves to the landscape as we parade through and I sit back happily into my seat. We won’t get to our destination for another few hours, but that doesn’t matter because I am riding on a train.

Sometimes the journey is the destination, and I find this to be especially true while on board a train. It does not particularly matter whether I am traveling through the rice paddies of India or the Russian steppes, sitting inside a train as it rattles its way past the landscape holds the very essence of travel’s romance for me. The feeling of stepping back in time when voyaging was a leisurely pursuit appeals to my sense of adventure. There is a slow-growing excitement of departure which seeps from the pit of my stomach towards my fingertips as the station master calls “All Aboard!” I feel a sense of luxury knowing that however long the journey, or wherever it ends, I will not be bored and cramped the entire ride. For me, it is all of these things which make riding a train as wonderful as reaching the endpoint.


A Ride To Remember

My favorite excursions are on sleeper cars. I took one once on the way from eastern India to Rajasthan, and the experience will remain with me forever. I still vividly imagine the feel of the cool metal bunk bed in the still heat of the night, the unnerving bucking of the cabin as our carriage tugged at the loose caboose behind, and the rolling movement of the wheels as they rocked me to sleep.

“I remember the spiced smell of chai in the morning being sold by eager tea wallahs and eating curried fish while, through the broad window, the landscape shifted like a movie for my entertainment.”

The thrill of living on board a train for a few days makes me feel I am reliving the days of the Orient Express. Whatever the scenery — wet rice paddies, dust gold fields, or aromatic rows of pines — it takes on the same languid pace as that of my train. Unhurried is a word not often used to describe travel anymore, but on a train the word takes on majestic proportions. Meals are brought in to me on a tray as I look for the next bend in the road. My afternoon tea is poured out of its shiny urn while mountains and lakes vanish behind me. My bed is turned down while I watch the last glow of the sun fade into the horizon. All of these bespeak of deliberate, measured enjoyment to me in today’s mad scramble world.


Sounds of a Journey

The sounds of a train provide the excitement of a journey’s beginning for me. The clanging of the bell as a train leaves the station sends an electric current of eagerness through me. The hearty cry of the conductor for tickets and the shout of the station master for all to board all sound the portent of great things to come. There is nothing like the sounds a train makes before it departs to convey the buzz of starting for destinations unknown. The adrenaline rush I get whenever I hear the chugging of the engine or the squeak as the wheels begin to slowly set pace aren’t equaled in any other mode of transportation. The shrieking of a train whistle is the proud announcement of a grand departure. It makes me feel I am at the head of a magnificent parade or being sent off on an epic quest. Leaving for a trip always fills me with pleasure, but only on board a train do I feel that the leave taking is on par with the excitement of the travel.


Never a Dull Moment

I am more relaxed on trains, less inclined to be moody. Instead of hunching over a softcover, I lean back and spread out the daily newspaper (and my legs) with a sigh of satisfaction. Instead of pretending to sleep, I eagerly look about me at fellow passengers.

“Their brief interaction with me while we both hurtle forward fills me with interest.”

Even morose or shifty-eyed travelers take on a romantic air to me when riding the train: I wonder if they are an elusive Richard Hannay escaping from spies or a rogue Yuri Zhivago eager to see his Lara. Taciturn investment bankers on a London train headed for Paris, a gleeful group of nuns aboard an outing to Italy’s northern lakes, and myriad aunts and uncles have happily entered into interesting conversation with me. While traveling from Helsinki to St. Petersburg, it was not the lush forest scenery that captured my attention (though it was memorable), but the operatic dilemma of a lost tour group who had got on at the wrong station. Train journeys, whether I am absorbed by the panorama outside or the people I am sitting next to, are like opening the first page of a book I know I won’t be able to stop reading.


Enjoying the Journey

Train rides remind me that the journey should be its own reward. The way they transport me to a former age where relaxation was the epitome of a good trip, the pomp and circumstance they hold right before leaving the station, and the constant sources of interest during the ride all make every train experience memorable. My excursions on locomotives have made me more deliberate when I use other means of transportation as well. I take time to appreciate my surroundings when I go hiking or biking. I steady my pace on road trips so that I can notice the scenery rolling by. I take a deep breath and relax with a newspaper while waiting for my delayed flight. Trains have taught me to enjoy the twists and turns of life, the grandest of all journeys. As I prepare to depart for the next station in my adventure, I look forward to making the most of the ride in between.


BESPOKE TRAVELER TIP #33

“Savor every moment of your journey, for the moments flit past and fade away.”

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6 replies »

  1. Truly an adventure travel of the senses. Riding the train does take you back in time. It also allows us to appreciate the the things we see and experience along the way. My first train ride as a kid was unforgettable. We saw a giant trees full of fireflies, a huge boulder had to be blasted because it was on the way, train food and great stories. And the view, beautiful.

    • The scenes you describe on your first train ride sound unforgettable indeed! I think, aside from the view, the train journey itself is such an adventure, especially in countries where it is the main means of transportation. It is always a chance to really see the heart of a country: the tiny villages, farmlands, inland deserts, and the locals who go about their daily lives. I hope you will have many more unforgettable train rides in the future to enjoy!

  2. What a lovely narrative; I felt like I was riding on the train with you. One day, I would love to travel to India and enjoy the country unhurriedly. And like you, I savor the journey to places I visit.

    • A train journey is one of the best ways to explore the vast and varied landscape of India, especially if you have the patience for it! In this day of airplane travel, trains are still a major mode of transportation for getting around the many colorful villages and towns spread across India. I hope you will get to take a train around India when you visit there! Thank you so much for stopping by.

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