Chug Chug Gadi…


CHUG CHUG GADI…The magic of Trains.

Most of what we see today in modern India is the legacy of what the British left us: English language, game of cricket, the bureaucracy, the parliamentary system and the largest network – viz. THE “Indian Railways”.

The iconic “chuk chuk gadi” that knits India together – up close  is truly a multi-sensory experience. From the time when one enters the platform, till the time one reaches a destination, there are a gamut of unforgettable sights, interesting people we meet and stories we become a part of.


Life is just like a journey on a train:  with stations, stops, changing routes, delays and accidents. This ride is full of hellos, joys, surprises, sorrows, expectations and goodbyes! We don’t know at which station who will get off, and who will get on, making it all the more unpredictable and much more exciting!! We are all on this ride together. Like one big extended family!


Train journey’s were much awaited and yes, the excitement was palpable; this was “family adventure” extraordinaire! A time for bonding, fun and frolic. Of course a lot of planning went into it- from debating which place to go, booking tickets  in advance and finally packing. Small and large, wooden & metal suitcases were brought out. Finally,  a rolled bedding, also called a “holdall”  with towels, pillows, sheets, would be  ensconced on one’s head on the day of travel.

I nostalgically recall the scene on the platform where people from diverse cultures and different social backgrounds gathered: some frantically running to fill the trademark big water jug, others desperately searching their names on the chart and many more bidding tearful goodbyes to their near and dear ones….


Once inside the train, how can one forget quarreling for that precious window seat with one’s sibling?  the sheer excitement of climbing onto the uppermost berth?  the piercing whistles and the rhythmic chugging of the wheels? All a reminder of the joys of childhood and the thrill of an enchanting journey ahead…..


See how R. L Stevenson sings in the poem “From a railway carriage” :

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,

Bridges and houses; hedges and ditches.

And charging along like troops in a battle

All through the meadows like horses and cables.

All of the sights of the hill and the plain

Fly as thick as driving rain;

And ever again in the wink of an eye,

Painted stations whistle by.

Just like the poem resonates, the fast chugging train with my face peering through the window (and black soot covering my face) left me breathless, with sights to behold! From the quintessential lush fields of Punjab, scarecrows scaring little kids more than the sparrows,  sparsely populated villages of Madras, mighty mountains in the Western Ghats, gushing waterfalls in the monsoon, the thrill of tunnels right up to the Konkan coast- It was as if a painting was being sketched every minute! And I got to see the real India: rustic and earthy through an ever changing landscape.


It was common to spend days and nights in the compartment. If you were unlucky enough to have your seat near the bathroom, strong odours would fill the air and your nose, even if one had a severe cold!  It all came as a package!!

Meal time was special.  In case you hadn’t bought food, there would be many smilingly willing to offer their dabbas. And Voila! You could choose from a variety of cuisines across India: idlis, thepla with pickle, pulao, fish, cutlets, jam sandwiches and more….To top it all, the vendors shouting, prancing around and offering “hot” delicacies like vada pav, cutlets, bhajjias and peanuts. And then…the eagerly awaited cha and kapi; magical potions that tasted different, each time, in every state!


The long days whizzed past, as there was so much of entertainment on board! We all can relate to playing cards, antakshari and word games; not only with cousins and siblings but even fellow passengers. Cacophony was everywhere, making the ride even bumpier! You want to shout? Laugh or fart? Go right ahead…

There was entertainment from passengers as well. From the grumpy old uncle who was disturbed by a motley crew of rowdies, the shrieking cries of a new born infant, the newly married couple jostling to sit close to each other (shying away from peering eyes), or the wise man who was ever ready to advise anyone sitting next to him, to the saffron clad priest engrossed counting his beads; all the characters were alive as if from a rich novel or a teleserial.

And one wonders: Isn’t this what living in diversity is all about??? Isn’t this the very essence of life? Aren’t these memories and moments that shape us?


A large part of my learnings have come from meeting these very fellow passengers: sharing food and water, lending a helping hand, picking up waste, gifting a smile, exchanging a seat, witnessing or solving a fight; and the list can go on and on….

I may have switched from the effervescent second class travel to the comfortable chair car or the more sophisticated first class coupe, but trains still fascinate me and I continue to enjoy the ride. It’s sad that the present generation (many of whom prefer air travel) are missing out on one of life’s mesmerizing moments,  replete with pure adventure!

It’s a place where one can find oneself as easily as one can lose oneself!


I’m reminded of a song by Kishore Kumar which aptly sums up my feelings:

Gaadi bula rahi hai

Siti bajaa rahi hai

Chalna hi zindagi hai,

Chalati hi ja rahi hai…

Aate hai log, jaate hai log

Paani ke jaise rele ;

Jaane ke baad, aate hai yaad,

Guzare hue vo mele;

Yaaden mitaa rahi hai, yaaden banaa rahi hai…

Sab hain savar, dushman ke yaar

Jeena sikha rahi hai,

Marna sikha rahi hai…..


Keep chug-chuging…. Keep exploring….vikas


12 Replies to “Chug Chug Gadi…”

  1. So aptly described.. Train rides used to be so mych fun. I guess the word ambiguity came in existence when a fellow passenger want to share food, snacks or biscuit and a bell will ring in mind, shall I take or not, hope it not laced with sleeping pill or poison 😆😆


    1. Thanks amit. Yes that was always a dilemma. Also whether your bag will still be there when you got up after the night’s sleep. I remember a friend who lost his shoes and then we had to park him on the platform while we went and bought him some chappals from an outside shop.Trains were fun and very colourful way to travel


  2. Nice blog… written so well, it evokes all the wonderful childhood memories of long train travels.

    Baba being in airforce and posted in Punjab for over 10 years, the 3-day Pathankot-Pune train travel (twice) was a quintessential part of our annual vacation. So relating to the hold-all, train meals, vendors, odours, chai, antakshari, cacophony, soot-covered faces, variety of fellow passengers, groups, the overall train travel was natural and pretty nostalgic… Thanks for such picturesque share… 👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼

    One interesting memory from those days was spotting the first S.T. (Laal dabba) as we entered Maharashtra. It was a game we all participated in very enthusiastically; but I could never get Aai-Baba’s excitement over it or why it was such a big deal.
    Now in hindsight, that simple sign was the ultimate confirmation of having entered the home state. It may not mean much in today’s world of GPS, technology and round-the-clock-connectivity; but in those days for someone staying away from home 11 months a year, yes it was an emotional thing. I now see why it meant so much to them then.

    Another (relatively recent) memory is of my marriage trip by train to Jamshedpur. Our 30-odd group of family/friends totally, absolutely and completely enjoyed the travel like only train travel can be enjoyed.
    A few weeks later I overheard my mother telling someone “Arey madhe aamhi Jamshedpur picnic la gelo hoto na, tevha…” (recently when we had gone for picnic to Jamshedpur). I had to gently remind her ki it was my wedding boss, not just a picnic…
    But the point being train travels are a testimony that it’s the journey, and not the destination, that really matters.

    On that philosophical note, let me close with lines from A.R.Rahman’s “Mustaffa Mustaffa” song:
    जीवन तो गाड़ी है… इसको तो चलना है…
    … राहों में स्टेशन तो आते हैं जाते हैं…
    ग़म तेरा स्टेशन है… इसको तो जाना है…
    … चलता जा ख़ुशियों का भी स्टेशन आना है…

    Thanks again for sharing, and evoking some wonderful memories and thoughts… 🙏🏼 🙏🏼 🙏🏼
    Keep writing… keep sharing… 🤘🏼🤘🏼🤘🏼


    1. Dr Mundhekar I think time has come for me to say Keep Writing …Keep Sharing…Your comments are so interesting that the initial blog lacks lustre in comparison. Thanks for the anecdotes and personal sharing which truly adds value and makes most interesting reading. In fact in the past few posts you had not commented and so I was feeling something is missing…ek adhura pan aa gaya tha…thanks for returning with your characteristic gusto and poignant memories. I remember the effusive Shobha attu being carried away by the Jampot “trip”. The ST sighting also rings true: when we were in Gujrat one always felt nice to hear Marhatti accents whenever we came to the shores on Bombay. You indeed capture the right sights and sounds and embellish the reader’s experience with your sharing. You were missed for long and so welcome back…keep sharing…keep writing…your smallelder brother vikibaba punter


  3. To say nothing about the fear when some member of the family usually got off to get some chai, water or stretching their legs….. however the hygiene these days is abysmal, so many stories of rats biting passengers even in first ac makes one wonder….in addition to the obsession with air travel ofcourse


    1. Beg to differ Preeti. when did you last travel by train? I go regularly by Shatabdi and till Baroda there are 4 rounds of housekeeping staff from Borivali to Baroda with widely emblazoned T shirts ” No Tips Please”. Toilets have water jets and even toilet paper in stock.
      Indian Railways is THE largest rail network in the world with THE largest employee strength. This can be improved of course. But the change since I was a kid is remarkable.


  4. Wow…I could relate to it so much…I still enjoy my train journeys…and look forward to them…superb!
    Could almost see myself propped up on upper berth travelling second class from Kharagpur to Mumbai 🙂


  5. Loved the article. So true I think to escape the perceived the inconvenience and discomfort, we prefer air over train. But we are missing the real adventure, fun and charm. Thanks for sharing.


    1. Hi Puja So true. For the sake on convenience we miss out on the rich flavours and essences of life. But we need to keep that link alive for ourselves and our children Vinita always believes in travelling by local trains and BEST buses still . And insists that Rashmi must also not lose touch with that alternate reality. It is a great slice of real life and we should be able to enjoy both sides/slides of the world


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