And finally the day has arrived, and the most awaited trip is going to start today. It’s a trip which was planned or at least thought about multiple times but it could never happen, until today. Honeymoon was that one occasion when my Husband and I considered going to Goa but then, Goa was a place to go with ‘the gang’ and not with your ‘significant other’. Sigh! ‘the gang’ could never plan it and Goa remained in our ‘To-do’ list .
Bombay to Goa… err… Thane to Goa! Do hell with ‘Thane is not in Bombay’ crowd, I am not going to CST or Dadar to catch this train just to prove this journey started from ‘Bombay’. I stand on Platform no. 5, Thane junction, watching the crowded local trains at 7:30 am on a Saturday morning as I wait for ‘Mandovi Express’ to arrive. It is supposed to take you through the most scenic train route in India. The train is ‘only’ half an hour late, which is much better, compared to our train schedule standards. We ensured we planned this trip in advance to not miss out a chance to experience the might of Konkan Railways. I see a lot of office going crowd boarding the locals and feel happy that I am going to be away from this mundane routine for the next few days. I look at him, and I know his thoughts are still engrossed in his office PPTs, excels and con-calls.
This travel is supposed to be all about luxury and exploring the best of Goa. The first taste of luxury would start as soon as we board our First class AC coach in train, a slightly upgraded version of ‘two-tier AC’. A door to latch compared to curtains to pull, for instance. It is just the two of us as in the 4-seated compartment. Will this be the same till Goa? We wonder. The thought of our own private coach for a 12 hour journey ran across our minds. The train is in good condition, all I can ask for are cleaner glasses on windows for a better view of the outside world. I settle down to have my breakfast as the train leaves the outskirts of Thane. There are plenty of options- Dosa, Idli, Upma, Cutlet, Sandwich, Omelette, etc and they are all very sumptuous. He is now getting into vacation mode and quite excited about how our two fellow passengers would be like. We joke about the different possible characters that our unknown guests might represent. Thankfully, a very generous and modest couple boards the train at the next stop (Panvel) and we quickly build a rapport after chit-chatting about their past experiences of Goa. I now get ready with my Canon 550D to capture the journey in broad daylight.
As soon as we pass Mangao, the beauty of Konkan starts blooming. Konkan Railways is something every Indian must feel proud of. It has approximately 90 tunnels and 2000 bridges. This project was the biggest and the most difficult railway undertaking during this century. Britishers knew what kind of terrain they had to battle to have a train route in this part of our country and left it to us to figure out our own way. Until the Konkan Railways started its operations, the two important port cities of Mangalore and Mumbai were not directly connected by a railway network. Our very own ‘Metro man’ Sreedharan worked as its Managing Director. The biggest challenge, however, came from the nine tunnels that had to be bored through soft soil. No technology existed anywhere in the world for this purpose and the work had to be carried out through a painstakingly slow manual process. In all, seventy-four people perished during the construction of the line. And I am going to thank those people now as I get this amazing view due to their hard work.
I am getting a bit anxious to get a view of the Western Ghats and leave my coach to stand close to the door. I am really scared of height and as soon as the train approaches a bridge, my heart sinks. The day is bright and I love the sun, the breeze and the green fields which are turning golden gradually. It is hard to take pictures in a moving train so I set my camera on a very high shutter speed to beat the train speed. The train stations are getting smaller with a few ‘bigger’ stations interrupting them. My fellow Marathi travellers recommend a trip to this part of Maharashtra (Ratnagiri, Sawantwadi etc.) I happily add the names to my ‘must visit’ list. I don’t feel like going back to my coach, in fact, I wonder if we could have saved some money travelling in sleeper class and have had almost the same experience except the cozy cabin. The thoughts are interrupted by the smell of hot tomato soup and chicken ‘lollypop’ coming straight from the pantry. Nothing can be more pleasing than having good quality food in an Indian train journey. For lunch, we get options to choose from ‘Chinese’ and Indian. The menu is from the award winning catering service of this train and I must say the food is hygienic and delicious! It is probably the tastiest food I have ever had on a train journey. However the tea served tries its best to negate the good job done by the food, it tastes bad like any other tea available on trains. He misses the taste of his self-proclaimed “best tea in the world”.
I thoroughly enjoyed the ‘Manchurian’ (a ‘Chinese’ dish ‘invented’ in India) and Chicken Biryani and I know I will have to resist the temptation of an afternoon siesta. I head back towards the door. One can never get enough of the view outside- coconut trees, green ghats, waterfalls, streams and other natural water bodies. Some of the tunnels are so long that I remain in dark for a couple of minutes. You may judge what kind of project it would have been as you pass through these tunnels and bridges one after another. Thankfully, there are no door- claimers in this coach who would like to hang out of the door, and make clicking pictures for me almost impossible. I try to keep my camera safe and strap it around my neck. “Hold the door tight” I tell myself. The safety measures in the route are evident when you see the rocks flanking the tracks, covered with nets to prevent land sliding and falling rocks.
The best part is watching the sun set from your train as you get to see interesting silhouettes and frames. The technology of camera fails to capture these moments from a fast train in low light. You can only feel it, you can’t even describe it in words and I am now lost in the beauty of nature. I don’t realize that we are about to reach our destination, Thivim (the closest station for North Goa) . It is almost 7:00 pm and I am about to spend a few pleasant days in Goa and this journey has already set the mood to indulge in the beauty of Goan beaches and smell of Konkani food.
I would suggest that everyone should experience this train journey at least once and I believe you may enjoy it even more in Sleeper coaches with a much better view from window and a few local people to offer you their free tips about the place!