I’d known I’d be going to Bhutan since February! I had the itinerary and some idea about the group I would be travelling (read: piling on) with. After two consecutive stints of solo traveling (Coorg
) over the past 7 odd months, I was making an exception it seemed. “You’re not travelling solo? How so?” was a question I never stopped getting asked. So I’d like to take a moment here and say that solo traveling is one among many things that I love doing. Period. (read: solo travellers aren’t misanthropes, gettit?)
Anyhoo, this was Bhutan – my first ever venture out of Indian territory. Besides, since I had travelled with a group previously (Ladakh
) I wasn’t quite making an exception here.
Back to the itinerary, my journey to this "phoren" country would begin and end with a train journey. Now every time I answered the “So, how are you getting to Bhutan?” question, I’d draw raised eyebrow reactions. These were followed by concerns around how it train travel isn’t time-efficient.
A traveller at heart couldn’t care about the time it takes to reach somewhere because that’s not why s/he travels. At the risk of repeating myself (and a quote), I believe that traveling truly is about the journey, not the destination. That tingling sensation in my toes no sooner I’m on the other side of my door with backpacks lugged on my shoulders, is the moment when its already begun for me.
It’s another matter that because this was a planned trip (with an itinerary already in place), I wasn’t sweating over the details. Moreover, I’m very partial towards traveling by trains (which of course doesn’t include my everyday commute to and from work). I have in the past spent 18 days on a train
that traversed the length and breadth of India with the aim of awakening the spirit of entrepreneurship among the youth. Experience tells me that there’s no better way of sensing the pulse of this magnificent country if not through the expansive network of the railways.
So in my blind love for train journeys it wouldn’t be until a few days before departure that I’d realize I’d signed up for 36 hour train ride
first from Mumbai to Howrah followed by another 14 hour train ride
from Howrah to New Alipur Duar, a little town that’s about 2 hours away by road from the Indo-Bhutan border.
I was going to see many more places during my train ride than I would while in Bhutan it would seem.
Truth be told, the journey lived up to the experience it was meant to be – this in spite of the fact that the second leg of 14 hours was in a non-air-conditioned coach. India is a union of 29 states (the 29th being officiated as I pen this post) and to claim to have travelled through them all is no mean feat!
So there I was seated by the window, armed with a paperback alternating between two worlds crossing through the states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and finally arriving at West Bengal; the two train journeys combined, we covered a distance of 3250 kilometres.
It does well to nurture the dreamer in me watching as landscapes change and adapt to the different geographies albeit very subtly at first until you are forced to reckon with the fact that it is indeed quite the contrast from how it started out.
Think flat plains of Maharashtra mostly urban and then peri-urban backgrounds lining up their squalor like conditions before making way for some of the lush green fields around Madhya Pradesh and then some arid barren land. Sparsely populated hamlets of mud houses mushrooming around huge banyan, peepul and the occasional mango trees adorn the route through the states of Chhattisgarh and Odisha before it’s green fields all over again in West Bengal.
Like a paint brush gliding through effortlessly the colour scheme changes, the weather changes, the attire changes, village formation changes…
Notwithstanding the fact that there’s so much transpiring by the minute even inside the train – co-passengers up to some antics, vendors selling everything from books to snacks and food to ice-cream and this time around even clothes and toys!
And with a dash of creativity I found myself playing a couple of rounds of teen-patti with M&M's, then Taboo aided by technology among other antics.
To think that some people would throw this experience away in the name of being efficient with their time and book themselves a flight while crushing candies on their handheld devices while “waiting” at the airport… Sigh! Does this not make sense to me alone?
Continues with iBewitched | Adventures at them Indo-Bhutan border