Sunday, June 13, 2004

The Journey Back

After the overdose of excitement at Manali, we were expecting a less tiresome journey back. The only flaw was that we didn’t know the way to make that happen. The bus to Chandigarh left at around 7 O’ clock in the evening. Before that, a strategically brilliant salesman kept the passengers on a note as he demonstrated his sale items - fruit juice extractors. The person was prepared with a well versed speech (much like a conjuror’s show), delivering it quite efficiently in his commanding voice. Very rarely can you see such marketing excellence in a door-to-door salesman.

The bus lacked the "greenery" we expected; was rather full of children, with their moms and dads preaching over and over at every oppurtunity. At night, two dark figures at the front showed some movement. It happened to be a newly wed couple, trying to balance untimely desires and social decency. By early morning, we were in Chandigarh, got freshened up (in a ? * hotel, if any) and prepared for the next part of the journey.

Chandigarh is a well planned city. It did look so. We could have stayed there for a couple of hours and have a glance of the city. The train to Kgp was from Jalandhar at 8 O’ clock in the evening. However, we didn’t have much of an idea about the transportation to Jalandhar, and so, when the bus driver told us about a conveyance from the same service, we didn’t give second thoughts. The same bus that dropped us in Chandigarh now took us to another departure point, a couple of kilometers away. All we could see of Chandigarh was during this small ride only.

The bus to Jalandhar was AC ‘flavored’ and was almost full when we boarded it. The air inside was chilling and the few of us at the back couldn’t resist folding our arms to keep the body warm. Jalandhar was at two hours drive from Chandigarh. We dozed all the way, trying hard not to move past our stop. At 8 O’ clock in the morning we were in Jalandhar, thereafter dropped at the Cantontment area by a small "maxi cab". Once we located the railway station, it felt like a big acheivement worth celebrating. Even the roadside tea stall appeared like a paradise!!

This railway station was pretty small; 3 or 4 platforms in all. The second class waiting room was empty; the toilet was clean but didn’t take long to get messed up. Relief came when the caretaker at the AC W/R allowed us to use the toilet there. "Kuch chai paani de dena", he said. By eleven, all of us were done with the morning "rituals", and ready to take a ride to the actual city. Time was in plenty, enough for a movie and a stroll along the market area. We came back to the station and spent the late afternoon gossiping over a cup of tea, sugarcane juice and Tandoori chicken. The combination is not a highly sought after one. Fatigue started striking us by the end of it and all we wanted at that moment was some good sleep. To the contrary, a thirty six hour long journey awaited us. It started at ten minutes past eight.

Amritsar-Howrah Mail was a fun train. Our seats were already occupied by a young mummy with her baby, and two other persons (perhaps her husband and brother). I soon collapsed at the upper berth; don’t know how our guys managed to get rid of them. More drama followed on to the next day, and amidst all these, thirty six hours turned out to be quite eventful. Another night in the train and finally at Howrah station the next morning. Four of us were left for the final lap of the journey, from Howrah to Kgp.

Lunch happened at the railway canteen. After going through the train timings, the most recent one we could find was a local train. We didn’t have the patience to wait till Shatabdi leaves at 2 O’ clock, and so, the choice was clear. Local train rides are always tiresome, add to it all those preceeding sleepless nights. At 2:43 pm, we were at Kgp. I remember the time with such precision because we spent the last fifteen minutes of our journey watching every second tick its way to the time when the train entered the junction. Someone lost, someone won; above all these, we were home!!

At afternoon, we met at Cheddies, recollecting the events of the last ten days, with an occasional sip from a "glass of tea" that costs a ruppee and a half. Life can’t get more dynamic than this.


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