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If you are ever seized by the desire to see India up close करीब से (qareeb se), and should you have a good month at your disposal, chart a journey यात्रा (yaatra) that puts you on India’s magnificent railway network, crisscrossing and connecting major hubs, cities, towns and remote villages across the length and breadth of the country.
In a country like India, a railway journey is a unique opportunity to experience the country’s vast cultural diversity सांस्कृतिक विविधता (saanskrutik vividhtaa) in an almost seamless manner — as trains roll in and out of regions and stations — so do the sounds at the stations, the languages, attire, and foods change.
When you travel the Indian Railways, every station along the way is a destination … right from the moment you feel the engine leaving the station with the heavy drag of the coaches behind it, to the next station when it arrives with a screech of iron wheels on the tracks.
Railway journeys are my most favorite memories of the summer vacations as a child. Back then, 2 days after boarding सवार होना (savaar hona), we would stumble out of the compartment, face and hair coarse and black with soot कालिख (kaalikh) from the coal-burning engine. The tall tiffin carriers would be empty and so would the huge water coolers.
Rail travel in India is not only affordable and economical किफ़ायती (kifaayati), but also convenient. Reservation centers आरक्षण केंद्र (aarakshan kendra) are available at major railway terminus locations and also at several other in-between locations.
If you like to stretch out and sleep, or if you are traveling overnight or long distance, you want to reserve a “sleeper class” seat which will allow you to sleep or stretch out. You can choose between 1st, 2nd and 3rd class with the option of air-conditioned वातानुकूलित (vaataanukoolit) or non air-conditioned coach.
If you find yourself getting boggled by the options available to travel, you can take the services of your travel agent, who can help you navigate the maze of train schedules (UP trains and DOWN trains).