Thursday, 28 May 2015

5 ways to enjoy Indian Railways

backpack nirvana india
Illustration for Indian Railways

If you are reading this, you have decided to travel in India. And the best way to do so is through Indian Railways. You might have heard a lot of bad things about it, however I will skip them. I will rather share some tips that have worked for me well during my travels and make yours enjoyable too. As always advice is suit to taste. If you find another way, please share. It might help a lot of people.

1.       Plan Early – Though the population has grown, Railways hasn’t kept up with the pace. Hence the trick is to plan early. You generally will get tickets 60 days in advance, which will allow you to get a seat of your choice in a train of your choice. Also look at the calendar for any major Indian festival, which are rush period. Avoid summer holidays too. (May - June)

2.       Choice of Train – If your budget allows then go for these three trains – Rajdhani, Duronto and Shatabdi. These are the trains that mostly run on time and are given preference in terms of route clearance. Avoid any trains with ‘Special’ on it, they run very late. Train numbers starting with ‘11***’ & ‘12***’ are better ones.

3.       Choice of food – Avoid non-vegetarian food. You can always have them once you reach your destination. In case the train does not have pantry car, go with packed food like biscuits and cakes. If possible, try IRCTC restaurants on stations.

4.       Choice of berth – For a solo traveler, upper berth works fine. No disturbance like lower berth. Read a book or listen to music and doze off. For twin travelers, side upper + side lower should be worth. Two berth system, no third person to share. Families, I wish you luck, if you figure out a way, please share.

5.       Washroom worries – My rule wake up earlier than others and you will get a clean & empty washroom. You can complete your sleep a little later, when everyone is holding breath for their turn.

Do you have more tips to share about Indian Railways?

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Culinary Colonization

Chai Samosa
Chai Samosa

One of the unifying snacks combination of India is Chai – Samosa. It transcends the boundaries of region, case, sex, age. It doesn’t matter if you are a school goer, a house wife or someone who only sits only in air conditioned environments, you will always say yes to this snack combo, especially in winters or rainy season. With this combination in hand, there have been many talks of politics (national and office), movies, books, liberalization, and globalization. Then Species, cultures and languages going endangered or extinct. 

However no one has paid attention to the two items in their hand. With liberalization and globalization we see onslaught of culinary items from foreign lands putting up a competition for local cuisine.
I have observed among the environment I live in, where both options are available. People now prefer a sandwich, burger or pizza with some fancy named drink to wash it down instead of chai-samosa. I am no one to judge which one is good. Calories conscious will tell you both are not good. 

If I am samosa, will I feel culinary colonized by a burger taking over my turf. Or like those master masons I am secretly colonizing culinary kings of the other unknown plates around the world. Maybe find a restful place under a fork and knife.

Friday, 8 May 2015


Does a place calls you or you call a place?

This has been my question since I started traveling. It has happened many times and I am sure with you as well, when you make all plans to visit a place but never make it. And sometimes without much effort you are traveling to a new place. 

A second visit to Varanasi was on my plate for quite a few months. The first visit was to understand and capture the moments of this age old city. Which towards its culmination, ended with a promise of second visit. The incidents leading to this second visit brought back the question again. Though I had lot of difficulties settling on leaves, train schedules and finally finding a place to stay in busy tourist season. But once the dust settled, the ghats embraced me with their calmness and gave me time and peace of mind to ponder on answer. 

Varanasi, Uttarpradesh, India
Duality - Stillness and Motion

Sitting on the ghats, you watch people pass by. Some passing in their mortal forms from one point to another. Some passing from this earth to some other earth, heaven, hell whatever you want to call it. You see the river passing by, the boats, the sun, moon, time pass by. And my mind diverts to another question – what exactly is passing by? What I am seeing as passing by or me who is passing by these moments in time? With each water drop, each boat, each second, each individual, I was the one who was actually passing by. I was passing in time for a better understanding me and the world around. Sitting at a single place I was able to draw a connection to the other dots on this big map. 

This made me realize, that place is not a variable, variable is me. The places remain as they are. They just reflect my mind, my mood and make me feel as I want to be. And as soon as this thought entered my mind, the duality cleared. For all the questions I had in mind the answer was singularity. It was ‘me’. It’s not other people or places I need to understand, it’s me who need be understood.

So are all questions answered? No my friend! This leads to a bigger question.

What is I without ‘I’?