Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Rail tale

"Testing .. testing... if you are reading this I've just succeeded in blogging via gprs!"

Well, it wasn't to be. As I hurtled towards New Delhi in the August Kranti express, I tried that little experiment in mobile blogging and failed.

However my co passengers succeeded in putting the very same technology to a completely different and irritating use. Every few minutes a cellphone would go off - each with its own characteristic, cacophonic ringtone - and the following kind of inane conversation would follow:

"Chai naasta ho gaya hai"....

"Abhi abhi Surat cross kiya hai"...

"Tum log kya kar rahe ho? Aaj khaane mein kya banaa hai"?

You wish the railways starts providing a pair of earplugs along with those bedrolls and towels. And thank God that mobile phones have to be switched off on board airplanes!

But well, this is 'progress'. A few years ago there was a satellite phone on board for the use of passengers. Not that anyone used the facility. It cost - if I remember correctly - Rs 180 per minute!

Then came mobiles. And roaming. And now, dirt-cheap roaming.

Out went the satphone. Instead, electrical plug points have been helpfully provided in every compartment. So no, you don't even have to worry about your battery running out right after you've discussed the flavour of ice cream served after dinner...

It's not the technology that's to blame of course, but lack of manners and sensitivity among those that use it!

Up grade
On a more positive note, I must say that the Indian Railways is once again doing a great job with its 'prima donna' trains.

I used to be a great fan of the Rajdhani/ August Kranti express - in the pre-budget airline era these were the best options available to a middle class Indian. An Indian whose needs and aspirations have changed over the years - a fact that the Rajdhani did notice and act upon.

My first ever trip by Rajdhani was in the a/c chair car. 16 hours on board a train is as long and cramped as a trans-continental flight, but yet a memorable experience. Because in those days it was a great novelty to travel in an a/c train where they served you food and gave you blankets!

Gradually the chaircar was abolished and Rajdhani became an all-sleeper train. A new 3rd a/c class was introduced which was more expensive. But still considered economical for the kind of comfort it provided.

However, for a long time after that, there was no major innovation or improvement. Until now. The new coaches introduced for the Rajdhani/ August Kranti some time ago -which I experienced for the first time - are amazing.

The windows are now huge and clear, the kind you see in Eurail. The old, noisy fans and ancient clunky light switches are gone. And most importantly, the loos are very clean and never run out of water. Thanks to better design as well as maintenance.

The food, as always, is far better than the cardboard served on airlines. My personal favourite is the dahi served in earthern 'kullads'. The taste of which is truly something else.

Even the menu has improved - there is finally an alternative to 'veg cutlet' in breakfast. You can opt for upma - which is made rather well!

All in all - cell phone commentary aside - a pleasant journey.

Now if only they could shave off about 4 hours and make it a 12 hour ride... Hop on at 8 pm and reach Delhi at 8 am. That is the day I'm waiting for!

A day the budget airlines should be dreading!!


  1. nice post
    makes me wonder on how INDIAN we r...
    r we ready for cellphones, where pappu and chunnu's diet is matter of discussion, or where whats cooking a few hours away a matter of national security
    recently OCIAN film fest at Sirifort in delhi banned cellphones, while i was irrate, i realised that how many times i had been disturbed by the cells ringing in the mid of a interesting sequence.

    but im not for banning them at movies, medical and other emergencies stil occur.

    and yes,long live the railways!!!!!

  2. Someday we shall have that train service, but the problem is the sheer size of our railways network. And businesswise, the airlines wont dread that, they will come up with sth even novel. Though i do agree there is not much space for them to cut costs on.
    On mobiles phones,hmmm; but they are there for communication arent they? Remember...? "Mera Beta Paas Ho Gayaaaa.." -Bharti Telecom.

  3. Journalism's fear and loathing of blogs
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    Wow! I like your blog! I be back and so will my friends. Looks like you've found your niche.

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  4. Hey - I am a failed mobile blogger too. Orange is coming out with orange mail, which means now anyone can blog from the mobile. Roaming may be dirt cheap, but GPRS is not...

    And yea, the trains in India are VERY slow, compared with the trains of other coutries, we are running at less than half the speed.

  5. I would prefer the "Rajdhani" between Mumbai & Delhi to airplanes anyday . There is something magical about trains ..

  6. 12 hour ride to Delhi ... reminds me of the movie Burning Train.

  7. Thank god that you finally liked something about the Rajadhani. Calls for a toast! ;)

  8. Can we give the credit to Laloo prasad yadav

  9. you cannot give any credit to laloo but his predecessor, yes! they were introduced before the upa govt. came to power !!

    as for airlines, well watchout for kingfisher airlines on the innovation front. :)

  10. These things are happening despite of lallan miyan.... good for india.

  11. After television remote controls, cellphones might be the most abused piece of technology of our times.

  12. Talking on cellphones in public places is the bane of every society. On the very few occasions when i travel by the NJ Transit or the LIRR here in NYC, which both go overland, the cellphone conversations are super irritating. And there is no option. I wish all rail cars were cellphone free zones and they only be allowed in the vestibules, and some parts of the pantry car etc.

    Train travel in India is one of the most positive of experiences. Having travelled the length and breadth of the country on numerous occasions on everything from going ticketless from Bombay to Delhi, to spending 72 hours from Gorakhpur to VT, to the Rajdhani, its give me some of the best memories of life. Nothing beats sitting on the doorsteps of a second class bogie, with the wind in the air and watching the countryside passing by. Of course, i once did it on the train from Kodai down, and was black all over from the coal engine smoke !!

    Rail travel in the US sucks. From what i have read, they had their own glorious era a while ago, but in the last 30 years, its all gone to the dogs. They cant get their highspeed trains to stay on the tracks, there are frequent delays, and the government just provides it enough money to keep the railways alive.

  13. check out http://www.irfca.org

  14. Hmmm.. It is wonderful to have this belief reaffirmed once in a while... A LOT of people love IR.

    Well, so do we. IRFCA.org has a mailing list for those who are really interested in IR. Go to www.irfca.org and subscribe to the mailing list if you want or simply send a mail to irfca-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. The group has over 2500 members.

    Looking forward to seeing some of you there! A very interesting account, Rashmi. Looking forward to hearing more of them ;-).

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