By now, my fantasy of “Overnight Train to x x x ” has been exposed as poor romance, frustrating adventure and less than ideal transportation.
The overnight train from Mathura Junction to Mumbai reset the template. From the moment of arrival on the platform at the Mathura Station, to getting down on the platform in Mumbai Central, it was the train ride I’d been anticipating but didn’t find between Delhi and Varanasi – or between Varanasi and Agra.
Departure was at 18:40 (20 mins before 7pm), exactly on schedule. Cost, 2,315 Rupees (US$51.80 – my largest single item outlay during the entire time in India.)
It was a great help that:
(1) we arrived at the Mathura Station more than two hours early, thus removing all time pressure. The two hour car ride from Agra was pure hell and not just a little frightening at times. However, in retrospect, it was the right choice. The bus ride would have been worse and we might never have made it anywhere as near as fast as our crazy driver did it. (say “we” because the young German woman seen wearing a large backpack in one of the photos below, was another taxi passenger aiming for a different train.)
(2) the platform at Mathura was generally clean and orderly, more so than any of the four I’d seen until now.
(3) there was a visible clock and illuminated signs that announced the identity and destinations of trains that were approaching and while they sat in the station. There also were illuminated “car indicators” along the platform that lined up with the various classes of sections of the train once it stopped along a platform. You can see those in one of the photos of the platform.
The platform was orderly. Not a cow or spot of cowshit. No jumble of baggage that looked like it had been there since the Brits ruled. The actual train itself was simply excellent.
There was the comfort of the carriage and the quality of service. Dinner (included with my ticket) was a four-course surprise, as shown above, served on real plates with real metal utensils.
It began with a soup course, complete with a fresh onion and tomato salad, plus a warm soft roll wrapped inside foil, then cuddled within a napkin to keep it warm. The cup in the upper right of that photo contains cold butter pats. I wish I could remember what was in the glass tumbler, perhaps a liquid yogurt. The soup arrived hot. It was sensibly spiced, meaning you could taste food flavors instead of just spice.
The second course was built around a crisply grilled piece of fish and a side order of pasta, plus some cooked veggies. The brown cup at the top of the photo held cold, smooth, tangy custard.
Third course included a plump, juicy, perfectly grilled chicken leg and thigh in a tasty sauce, plus more of the same veggies, along with half of a roasted potato. Again, sensible spices.
Finally, the porter delivered a wedge of perfect ice cream, smooth, creamy, genuine vanilla flavor, with small bits of pistachio embedded in it.
But the delights of this train ride were capped off with a most excellent traveling companion, a retired Mumbai businessman. Members of his family were in other compartments.
We soon learned I am 3 months older. Thanks to the common time-line in different environments, we were able to talk about things we had each experienced. For him it was India’s independence. For me it was the Civil Rights movement and September 11.
In the morning, following an omelette breakfast of the same quality, his grandchildren rushed in with hugs and kisses for their beloved grandfather. Later, I had the pleasure of meeting his son, the IT Director for a world-famous manufacturing company.
We arrived at Mumbai Central station more than an hour and a half behind schedule, but I could not have cared less.
(repeat after me, with feeling . . . “It’s the journey, not the destination.” Of course, it’s very easy to say that *after* you’ve arrived well entertained, well fed and well rested.)