When I decided that I would go to Hampi on the ‘Many Worlds of Hampi’ photography tour, one of the first things I had to decide on was how to get to this intriguing place called Hospet that I had never heard of before. I considered flying to Bangalore and then taking a train from there but paying $$$ to break the journey anyway seemed like a ridiculous idea. Buses were never my forte but it had been ages since I had been on the train in India as well. Thoughts of overcrowded and not so clean railway stations struggled for space in my head with images of stuffy and overspeeding buses. In the end I decided that being motion sick could be the worst punishment in the world and decided to go with good old Indian Railways.
I had an adventure even booking the tickets as the Indian railways site would ask for my credit card numbers (no I can’t be bothered to stand in line to book tickets at the railway station), my 3d password and then go to the scary ‘your transaction is in process do not go back or forwards page’ and then freeze. After numerous failed transactions I finally managed to book all the four tickets (but was mildly impressed when the site autmatically refunded money for an extra ticket I had accidentally paid for …oops!)
I finally landed up at the railway station (being unceremoniously dropped off in the middle of the road by an auto ) completely apprehensive about what I would face. And true enough once you enter Chennai Central station you are in a different world altogether. People bustling around, tv screens shouting ads or movie clips at you, porters carrying unbelievable amounts of baggage, smelly cargo trolleys strewn everywhere…you get the message. I was more in awe than in shock at the magnitude of the chaos that surrounded me. And before I could get sucked in by the chaos vortex I quickly made my way to the train which was already on the platform. My first disappointment came when I realised that even though I had indicated my preference as window seat when booking the ticket and being told on the ticket by the system that I had a window seat I had finally landed up with a middle seat which I could only get rid of after I did a con act and banished the rightful window seat owner to the middle seat (don’t ask me how!).
Being used to travelling in flights where they serve gooey mash or hamburgers at charges that could buy you a chalet at a beach resort, I was awestruck at the variety of food that was on offer on the train. Biriyani to kick off (@ INR 30- steal deal!) followed by Onion vada, masala dosa, idli, potato bhaji, bread omlette (the only item I didn’t contemplate gobbling up), junk food (Lays, Bingo, Kurkure was how they sold it- yumm!), all manners of fruit juices, the quintessential chai, coffee and tomato soup kept doing the rounds all the way. No wonder the Indian Railways is one of the largest employers in the world- all the people it needs just to sell all that food! And if you want to know I only bought a bottle of pepsi as my mum had packed food for me to have on the train and I had included a few packets of Lays and Bingo in my bags- what a treat!
All my apprehensions about trains vanished as soon as the train pulled out of the station and started chugging full speed towards Bangalore. I was amazed and enthralled by all the nice landscapes and towns that passed on either side (something you totally miss on flights). Especially charmed by a little white washed house (in perfect clear white- none of the bright pink or electric green fauvist nonsense here though towns all over India seem to be afflicted by that disease. If you want to know what I am talking about- go here) with a small green field bordered by coconut trees and a beautiful red bougainvillea plant that surrounded the house. Sigh!
Connection queen that I am, I was slightly apprehensive about making it to my next train to Hospet which was due to make its departure one hour after my train landed up in Bangalore. And although at one point my first train was running close to 40 minutes behind schedule and I was making plan Bs in my head (whats Plan B? Please Driver get to Bangalore faster, I really don’t want to think about a plan B- this is a holiday you know! you get the drift). In my heart of hearts I knew I would make it and I finally arrived in Bangalore right on time. I spent a few panicky minutes trying to identify how to identify where I would have to take the next train but got there eventually.
My train to Hospet was fairly uneventful. I was overawed by a family of 4 who travelled with their maid servant and man servant in the seats next to me. I think my jaw dropped when I saw the laborious efforts the man servant took to make each of their beds.(Line the berth with the sheet, use one sheet to line the blanket and another one to cover it on top, gather the folds at the end so that the sleeper could easily pull the blankets up and place the pillow enfin). The family must have seen me watching the dude with my gaping mouth (my own skills at making beds are poor generously speaking) and were quick to pull the curtains once the guy was done.
My luck with trains on time didn’t last and my train landed up about 45 minutes late at Hospet (where practically the entire train emptied- why was this train going to Hubli again? Especially when it was even called the Hampi express?) where I was greeted by my fellow groupers for the next 3 days.
Day 1 will follow shortly….