Around India in 80 Trains is an appealing read. I confess that besides a yen for travel I bought it because of its cover- a collage of hand drawn images lifted from photographs taken during Rajesh’s journey through India- the whole thing washed in shades and tones of light water colour blue.
Cover design highs aside, the book is really very interesting. For me it’s interesting since it’s been written by a girl of Indian origin who was brave enough and perhaps crazy enough to travel around India; a country which is perhaps sometimes picturesque and is also a country that is not kind to women. But this book is for everyone blessed with wanderlust and curiosity. It is also pleasantly and easily written and gives you reassuring glimpses of the kindness of strangers in this country.
Rajesh tells you about travel in India’s luxury trains and sleeper class journeys in the regular passenger trains and all the arguments that occur in between among fellow tourists on how to see the “real India”. I would have thought that just being able to travel for leisure in a foreign country and being able to take in the sights (gruesome or beautiful) should have been enough for the truly adventurous but no, apparently they must all take sides and argufy over who saw it better. Ingrates!
However, travelers must take the good with the bad and sometimes endure the ugly. Rajesh describes rewarding vistas, frightening halts at deserted, midnight stations (like the book’s “Arserape Junction”) and fellow travelers of all kinds and blends of humanity. I’ll never forget the guy who cracked the code behind the mysterious numbers up on the sides of trains. Now we’re all in on the secret of how to travel easy, Indian Railway! Dangerous people, knife in hand, question her about her faith and kindly people share their lunch when they see that she is far from home. The book’s charm could be that it presents the perspective of a girl with a strong India connect as she travels- depending on her own resources- through a country that is not kind to women. But it also presents an experience of India in a peppy young voice that will resonate with Millennials curious about travelling through their homeland or wanting to see another country.