Thursday, December 03, 2015

The man in seat 61

I found him first in 2007 when I was planning my first epic train journey, across the US. I was startled to find that someone had listed practically every train in the world, with detailed information on how to plan your journey, where to book tickets, and everything else you need to know. He’ll practically tell you what platform it’ll arrive on!

Over the past seven years, he’s become an essential part of my travel planning. Somehow he is bound in my head with a bar in Providence, having a drink with my cousin as we waited for the release of the last Harry Potter. Because he's part of the journey of that book we bought, which my cousin read first, I read on the train across the country, and then left for a friend 3000 miles later, in LA. He is another cousin who put me on a train in Boston Station, and the one who met me at the end of that trip, a continuity of childhood travel completely unaffected by the distances we have all gone since. He is part of my own writings in a Buddhist library in the foothills of the Himalayas, involving a very different kind of train journey through Middle India. He’s the reason I was able to brave the trains of Vietnam, and buy tickets in the most bewildering language in the world.

He demystified the Italian and Spanish railways for me. He helped me plan an even more epic train ride from Saigon to Moscow. The fact that my trip didn’t eventually work out is less important than the fact that it exists. The same goes for Norway’s Flam railway, the Sydney-Perth Indian Pacific, and the Tren Crucero in Ecuador.

When I plan a holiday, I do the usual searches, read the advice about cars and drivers, go through the apocryphal information on travelling alone, all the highly subjective views on Trip Advisor. I listen in on uptight backpackers giving each other misguided advice. And then I turn to my main man, who has what I need, carefully organized, fully thought through, answering not just the questions I have but those I hadn’t thought of asking. Most importantly, he knows you’re probably not a shoestring traveler, and would like some information about the most comfortable form of train travel.

Having grown up with a father who is passionate about trains, a family that ran the Southern Railways, and an India where the train was pretty much the only viable form of long-distance transport, I have always been used to train information that is accurate, precise and detailed. So I have immense respect for this labour of love.

As I’ve said in an earlier post, every train contains at least one passenger per car who can glance at a pair of orphan rails in the night and tell you which station it is, or wake from a deep sleep and know instantly where we’ve stopped, why, where the coming freight train is bound and at what speed. It’s the man in seat 61*.

*PS: If you're on an Indian train, this is probably my dad. If you're on a plane anywhere, that's definitely my brother.

1 comment:

Wheelchair India said...

Hey, very nice site. I came across this on Google, and I am stoked that I did. I will definitely be coming back here more often. Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment. Thanks for sharing.
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