The word travel equals magic for me. The excitement of packing and going off somewhere fills me with joy, no matter what the duration of the trip. Back in the day when I worked a corporate job, I always had a suitcase packed and ready to grab and go on emergency trips.
One of my fondest memories is coming back home late at night, telling my Mom I had to visit Ramagundam the next day (NTPC was a major client) – and catching the AP Express at 6.45 am, which meant leaving home at 5 am to reach the station well in time. This train passed Ramagundam around 9.50 am and I’d travel standing with an “unreserved” ticket. At 9.45 I’d stand near the door ready to jump off and cross the railway tracks to the other side. I’d return home the same evening by another train, covered in soot. I’d somehow also manage to catch up on my reading during these impromptu trips. I once traveled in the driver’s cabin – and what an experience it was!
During this time — the mid-90’s, I even managed to catch a train ride from Hyderabad to Vishakapatnam with none other than the great N T Rama Rao, the then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, sharing his dinner of cashew nut pakodas and biryani. Memorable! His booming voice still rings in my ears!
My first train ride is very memorable – significant especially because it is the reason I am here today. I was around 2 years old and traveling with my Mom and we were returning to Mumbai from Delhi after being literally thrown out on the streets. Long story and nothing short of a miracle.
After that, any travel meant fun and looking forward to all the food that was packed, board games to be played, songs to be sung. Most trips involved two nights on the train and we so enjoyed it. Invariably the menu would be special curd rice with “vadu manga” (tiny mangoes marinated in brine) and an assortment of pickles, potato curry cut into small strips and dry fried, as accompaniment to puris, tamarind rice, idlis covered in idli chilli powder and the emergency packet of buns, just in case. Banana leaves from our garden were washed, wiped and rolled to serve as disposable plates. We carried two large pots of water and two large flasks of coffee. The kids didn’t get any of that, though! We’d be so eager to tuck in to our food. There were also snacks like mixture and other typical homemade stuff to keep our “grinders” busy.
The entire journey was an experience. Oh, and not to forget the “holdalls” neatly packed with enough bedsheets for everyone.
Little bundles of clothes were packed in pillow covers to serve as pillows. We would look forward to sleeping in the floorspace between the berths! If there were babies traveling, they simply used the space for a makeshift cloth cradle. Talk about optimum use of space! We loved brushing our teeth in that metal wash basin (we did not have any at home). That crazy flush in the toilet was fascinating with its sudden rush of water (we had no flush at home). We would note down the names of every station we passed during our waking hours.
When we returned home after the trip, we’d write an essay about it. This was mandatory, but fun! We each of us had our own fantasies running through our heads as we passed fields, towns, mountains in the distance…and watched the sun travel with us…and eventually set to make way for twinkling lights as the train sped ahead towards our destination, towards the family and friends we were eager to see, and the temples we would visit.
My first plane ride was hilarious. I reached the airport a tad late and just managed to make it with my boarding pass, thanks to an ex who was a pilot and had connections. Those days there was no internet, and hence no printing them ahead of time.Then, just as I ran across the tarmac towards the aircraft (no posh bridges direct from airport to aircraft at the time), my suitcase, which I had opted to carry as hand baggage to save time waiting to clear it on arrival burst open and a few of my things spilled out. I remember getting down on my knees and trying to stuff it all back in while everyone watched patiently. Now, of course, we are veterans.
While I love train travel and flying, I simply adore biking trips and car rides for sheer convenience. Nothing like seeing a place on a two wheeler. Our “gang” was a bunch of avid bikers and never hesitated to take off at a moment’s notice. Wind in our hair, body braced and one with the metal steed, basking the warmth of the sun baking our heads inside the full-face helmet… stopping at wayside shacks to snack and savor cups of hot tea…
Jeep rides are fun, too! My most memorable ones are the bone-shaking twenty minute trip at Kazironga as we were headed towards the rhinoceros sanctuary, and the killer ride across uneven terrain in Karwar as the jeep hurtled towards the power station of the KPTCL. What a gorgeous place that was! Everything grew larger than life.
The thing I really adore about travel is seeing new places, meeting new people, exploring new customs and food habits – and of course, seeing the world. Then, I go crazy taking lots of pictures and come back and gloat over them, reminiscing, reliving the experiences. I have quite a long wish list of places to go and look forward to checking them off.
Another trip down memory lane.
Thank you for traveling with me!