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Around India In 80 Trains

Posted: November 8, 2012

Monisha Rajesh’s Around India In 80 Trains, is a fascinating account of a metaphorical journey of discovering India, through its humongous railway network.

Review by Anjana Basu

The inspiration of course comes from Jules Verne. And it struck London based journalist Monisha Rajesh one drizzly London day, reading about India’s airline boom, when she wanted to escape from the weather and the sameness of life in London. It also offered an opportunity to get to know India better, since Monisha’s encounters with the country of her origins had hardly been rewarding. As a child transported from England, she had found life as a schoolchild in Chennai filled with snide comments because her parents were ‘different’ from the rest, her mother did not wear saris. After that short unpleasant experience, the Rajesh family had left India, with no intentions of returning except perhaps to visit relatives.

But the idea of travelling round India in 80 trains is too much for Monisha to resist – especially since the distance of 40,000 km is the equivalent of circumnavigating the earth, which makes the figure of 80 very logical. She embarks on a whirlwind of train ticket buying and carefully supplies herself with a male companion, a version of Verne’s Passe-partout, who is Norwegian and an atheist, whom she has known for a short while and in whom she has no romantic interest whatever. What is an entertaining travel narrative as a result becomes a many layered tale of does she, doesn’t she – and she certainly does with Ben whom she encounters along the way on one comforting night.

Her train choices are dictated by reputation and it takes her from the very comfortable Deccan Queen to the excruciatingly packed Mumbai commuter trains to Darjeeling’s charming toy train which reminds her of Thomas the Tank Engine, even to the famous Lifeline Express. Of course, she discovers that train travel is the best way to get to know India through the plethora of people that she meets.

There are memorable waiters, stories of police raids and forgotten luggage. And the curiosity of fellow passengers who think that sharing a compartment means they can share the most intimate details of each other’s lives. Along the way Rajesh learns to appreciate Chetan Bhagat.

Sometimes the journeys seem to follow too fast on the heels of each other, so that they come and go in a flash, which is unfair since Rajesh has a wicked sense of humour and eye for detail. And of course, there is Rajesh’s own coming to grips with her Indian heritage which is difficult and her problems with Passe-partout who insists on running all religions down, with a focus on Hinduism. This, given the number of temples Rajesh’s journey includes, is only logical.

The book is not only about train journeys. It is a journey of Rajesh’s coming to terms with herself. By the end of the book she learns to understand why she is the way she is and why she feels uncomfortable with notions of atheism. She also finds enough courage to travel on her own, something that she had hesitated to do in the beginning. In the end it is a story of self-realization as discovered through the lessons taught by 80 very different trains and the people she encounters in their wake.

Publishers: Roli Books.

If you’re planning to purchase Monisha Rajesh’s Around India In 80 Trains do consider buying it through this Women’s Web affiliate link at Flipkart. We get a small share of the proceeds – every little bit will help us continue bringing you the content you like!

Readers outside India can purchase Around India In 80 Trains through our affiliate link at Amazon.

Now dear readers, a book giveaway for you!

Answer this question: What do you like best about train journeys in India?

Just leave your answer as a comment below – and the best comment will get a copy of Around India In 80 Trains!

Please note: Only 1 comment per person. The book can only be sent to a valid address in India. Giveaway closes on 9 AM IST 15th Nov 2012.

So what are you waiting for? Comment away!

Update: Giveaway Closed.

And the winner is Reema Sahay! Congrats Reema!
Thanks all for participating!

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  1. the best is when they get over! At least after a 50 hour trainjourney from Mumbai to Bangalore… Been there, done that! Toi trains are a fun ride, just went to Matheran, very cute!

  2. Indian Railways – An easy quick and wonderful avenue to experience the famous Indian diversity, sights and sounds!!

  3. Train journeys made me a close observer of people and places! The diversity of the land and the stories of people as privileged as us or otherwise, caught my attention! I started writing after a few train journeys for work and that was a beautiful turning point! Now even on metros that same feeling comes to you like a child of the erstwhile long journeys, even if short lived!

  4. Waw! Great attempt. Will read this book for sure. There is another book on train travels in India and other asian countries – the great railway bazaar by Paul Theroux. While going through its pages I was wondering that why we as Indians don’t think of documenting journeys? I have travelled a lot through Indian rails from then Madras to Allahbad, from Gwalior to then Calcutta, from Calcutta to Jammu Tawi! Thanks to my father’s job. I fall in love with the process of travelling through these train journeys. Loved the egg and chicken curry supplied by railway canteens in boxed dinner plates! Train journeys are great time to reflect, to bond with others and to get exposed to a nation’s intricate structure. Today, it is not always possible to travel by train as holidays are rare in corporate life. But I do try to pick some every year. It would be great if Indian railway could think little more about the cleanliness and hygiene conditions but I salute the way they keep going every day with so many thousands of passenger from all parts of India.

  5. Best parts are the diffrent kinds of foods brought in my the hawkers. Plus the experience of striking up a conversation with the stranger next you knowing very well that u may probably not meet them again.

  6. Train journeys are about people – their faces, their words, their voices – all speak their lives; its about lifestyles.. and in this ‘breathing space on wheels’ you see life… as you are carried to new destinations!

  7. Train journeys trigger thousands of memories in my heart, of the stations we crossed, the platforms we strolled, the many chais we sipped, the jokes we quipped, the lonely hearts, the PDAs, tasting every single hawker’s delicacies, getting lost in the written fantasies, and so much more. Train journeys offer an excellent window to our rich culture. Hop on a long distance train and you would be entertained with different kinds of people and their idiosyncrasies. Long distance train journeys transform into a little world in itself, travelling with a set of people, getting used to a routine, share stories and experiences.
    And above everything else, train journeys (especially the long distance ones) offer time. You do not have any other option but to sit back, reflect, introspect, get to know your co-passengers, interact with different kinds of people, observe life, take in the changing landscapes, marvel at nature and life at large.

  8. Rama Chandrasekharan -

    Though there are so many modes of transport around us,I really love the train journeys the most.The best thing about train journey is that when you go on a train journey with your family it is a great get-together.The corner seat fights,the vendors selling coffee,books,and various things,nature around us,the informal atmosphere which we don’t see in flights,the engine sounds,people chatting here and there….Oh it is so exciting.I wish Ms.Monisha Rajesh all good wishes for her book”All around in 80 trains”.and would love to read her book at the earliest.

  9. As a child I always fought for the window seat because there were great thrills in gazing at nature. Also as you seen whiz pass houses and villages you make up stories of the people you see if only for a second. After a while, I preferred to gaze at people inside the train. What where they lives like? Where they happy or sad? A train journey is like a slice of life, just a bit more fleeting, a bit more adventurous and a bit more temporary yet all the more exciting.

  10. Scenic beauty on the track side, experience different cultures, see the diversity of India, love the thud-thud music of train, fun of being in it…I can point out a 100 reasons to love the train journey. But at the bottom line, there is only one answer.. I like to travel in train because it’s better than travelling in bus in India 🙂

  11. I love the the feeling of being on a journey where destination is immaterial. I can fool my mind a bit thanks to the long distance train journeys 🙂 Also I love looking out of the window as the train chugs along. Either I am lost in my own thoughts or I am trying to imagine more about the world that passes me by. It’s a great way of catching up with some ‘me-time’ too. Also, a great space to introspect 🙂

  12. Train journeys, the word just make me feel so blessed and happy 🙂 I have travelled a lot in train while growing up and each journey was a bliss, IF you ask me why I love train journeys is because they are just so full of life, meeting new people, seeing people, going from 1 place to another, stopping at every station and munching on chips while reading comics and magazine, or fighting with your brother because you want the upper most birth, walking from 1 compartment to another just to see with whom all you are travelling. running on platforms to see if the train is arrived and waving at people when the train leaves, looking outside window to see everything as if you are looking at the world the first time.

    train journeys has always given me alot to cherish, to live and to hope . I have met people who have touched my soul, I had memories which made me cry and laugh at the same time.

    If you ask me maybe I will never find the exact words to tell you what my heart wants to convey but it was those journeys which inspired me to be a traveller for life, which made me dream of travelling the world, which made me believe that angels live on earth, which actually gave me courage to leave my home to see this unknown world and asked me to know it 🙂

  13. Train journeys have been special for different reasons. On the rare occasions I travel by train now, I enjoy observing people and listening to their stories. In my college days, it was a time to catch up on sleep – I would spend a good part of the 36 hour journey from Madras to Ahmedabad fast asleep on the upper berth. As a kid, it was all about food and fun. Waking up to the shouts of ‘Chai-garam chai’, fighting for the window seat, looking for temples as we passed lush green fields and forests, counting tunnels and bridges, monkeying around and jumping from one berth to another, playing cards, word-ending and memory games – train journeys were the best part of holidays back then. There were the hill trains – Nilgiris/Blue Mountain Express was way better than five-star luxury at Ooty, and the Shimla-Kalka train better any resort at Shimla. And the food! How we looked forward to Lonavala for the sandwiches and chikki, Anand for the dairy products, the guava seller or the bhelwallah who we knew would board at a particular place… every station had its specialties. Trains that had a pantry (and a steady stream of vadas and masala dosas) were enjoyed even more, although the pantry staff may not really have enjoyed visits by certain impatient kids! All of this made the stench of the toilets bearable!

  14. Wow! Thank you so much. I have been waiting to get my hands on this interesting book as travel stories are fascinating!

  15. I love the the feeling of being on a journey where destination is immaterial. I can fool my mind a bit thanks to the long distance train journeys 🙂 Also I love looking out of the window as the train chugs along.

    This sites is very interesting and useful for ordering food in online when you travelling on train.Just have an look.As any traveler will tell you, enjoying the food on train is one of the greatest experiences one can have but major Indian railway passengers have craved for this experience and we bring this dream into reality. Before you hit the road, we’ve put together a list of best restaurants you’ll want to check out and we will bring them to your seats. These celebrated travel food providers give their first-hand account of fantastic food experiences in their cities as well as the ones you visit.


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