A splendid day. Despite the 5:00 am alarm. I left my bike locked to a tree below my room and took an auto-rickshaw to the station – a surprisingly long way. I paid my 20 rupees for a ticket up to Araku and wandered out into the Indian Railways world on the platform – something I have definitely been missing. The hustle and bustle seems just like I remember it.
My ticket was 2nd class unreserved seating – steerage class! So it was a mad scramble to get a seat when the train came in – elbows out and don’t take any prisoners. Even so, I didn’t manage a window seat on the right hand side, the prime location for the views of the Eastern Ghats. Some people had thought ahead and arranged for someone to get ahead of the crowd somehow and grab the plum seats. No problem though; as we got going I went and stood at the open carriage door, where I’ve spent many, many hours in the past.
A constant stream of vendors passed through the carriage, moving from one car to the next when the train came to a halt. Bananas, tea, samosa, idly, … I had a late breakfast of samosa.
It was a fabulously scenic climb into the ghats, and as good as just about any train ride I have done. Not as spectacular in an engineering sense as the line up to Matheran (not far from Mumbai) but definitely as visually appealing. But my pictures can probably do a better job of describing the views…
We arrived in Araku about 45 minutes behind schedule which, according to an Indian Railways website, is better than average. I wandered down the road into town enjoying the small town atmosphere, the cooler air and the bluer sky at almost 1000 metres above the plain. I had an excellent lunch and arrived back at the station about an hour before the ‘down’ train was scheduled to leave. Not unexpectedly, I learned that the train would be one and a half hours late – again, about an average delay. But it is a nice station, looking out over paddy fields and hills rising sharply to the sky.
The trip back down was fun, but a little longer than I needed. After about an hour or so, it was dark so I stayed in my seat, one male amongst nine women. It was interesting to see them interact with each other, all strangers as far as I could tell. One older woman clearly thought she was entitled to more space than anyone else but no-one complained about this and everyone seemed to get on very well and considerately (for the most part). A man came through the carriage playing a wooden flute, singing a little, and making the women laugh with his innuendo that was universal and required no Telugu. Soon everyone was in stitches. A wonderful place to be.