My earliest recollections of a train journey were visits to my maternal grandparents’ home in Berhampur, Murshidabad. My grandfather was the distinguished poet Manish Ghatak and he would personally come to fetch us from the bustling station, much to our joy. The visits were great fun, time spent with cousins and the extended family, so much so that we hated making the trip back, wishing fervently that the train taking us back would leave without us!
Whenever an opportunity arises, I travel by train. It is a relaxed, leisurely mode of travel.
I have travelled the world over and often the trips across Europe or China have been by train. I especially loved our first train journey by Eurostar, crossing the English Channel, from London to Paris. Another time, we were journeying across the Silk Route and the train travel across the Gobi Desert was spectacular, inspiring a lot of the artists we were travelling with to paint the desert dawns or the villages we crossed in Mongolia.
The most memorable journey was when we travelled across Europe by train, crossing exquisite towns, vineyards, forests in Germany, Switzerland and Italy. In the country, I have enjoyed the journeys across Rajasthan and Gujarat. The colours and landscape were so magical. We got off at stations and drank tea in little earthen cups, heavenly! As I gazed out of the windows, I would feel like getting off and walking along the Camel Trail, losing myself in the vast terrains of Rajasthan we were passing. The women in bright ghagra-choli with pots balanced precariously on their heads looked straight out of a book or a film set. Satyajit Ray came to mind and the train journeys he captured so brilliantly in Sonar Kella!
When I made that journey from Calcutta to Shantiniketan, I saw the Bengal countryside, the jagged line of khejoor trees, the ponds, the blue skies and realised how the landscape had made its way to artists based in Shantiniketan. Here was the beautiful land that invoked nostalgia and romance in every Bengaliʼs soul, it had to inspire the litterateur, the poet, the film-maker and the artist.
Romance of the Rail
Train journeys are always romantic; they are a throwback to another era and that is always so seductive. Be it a thriller like Murder on the Orient Express, where the distinguished sleuth Hercule Poirot has the exciting task of finding out who the murderer is aboard the luxurious Orient Express or closer home to what we have seen in our popular Hindi films, like Aradhana, with the debonair Rajesh Khanna courting the demure Sharmila Tagore, seated prettily by a train window, romance is the key.
I want to travel across India by train, past middle India, Goa, to the deep South. I want to be able to do this leisurely, with a pile of books to read and a song in my heart. It is an adventure I dream about. Someday. Till then, my train journeys to Amritsar, Chandigarh, Bhopal and Shantiniketan must suffice!