Prayag calling

“I am not able to see anything. Where are we going? Are we going home? Summer vacation started?”

“No, we are going to Allahabad. We will go home in few months time”, I replied while starting the car.

Winter morning & dense fog

Winter morning & dense fog

Allahabad or the Tirthraj Prayag, where the Maha Kumbh festival began on the full moon night (Purnima) of the month of Paush (14th January, 2013). The Kumbh Mela, believed to be the largest religious gathering on earth is held every 12 years at Prayag, the place of confluence of the three holy rivers, Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Millions of people travel across the globe to take a dip at Sangam during the festival, as it is believed by doing so one gets free from the baggage of sins committed in lifetime. The Kumbh Festival is also held at Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik. We are not too religious person, neither we are atheist. We just wanted to witness Maha Kumbh at Prayag, considered to be the largest and holiest of them.

Feeling cold!

Feeling cold!

It was not a well planned trip. We had received an invitation from my friend’s brother for his marriage at Allahabad on Feb 1.  We thought to attend, as it would also give us an opportunity to witness the much awaited Maha Kumbh. All the trains (running at night) were full and finally, we were able to book our  berths  only in North East Express on Feb 1, scheduled to leave from Anand Vihar at 6:50 a.m.  and expected to reach at 3:40 p.m. We thought it OK, since it would be a day journey.

Anand Vihar Railway station is approx. 40 Km from my home in Gurgaon. I wanted to avoid driving in the morning, since last two days  there was fog in Delhi & NCR region and stayed the night at my brother’s place in Minto Road Govt Quarters, close to New Delhi station. The plan was to park the car at our Connaught Place office in the morning and take a cab to reach the station.  It was a dark and foggy winter morning…visibility was only few yards and difficult to drive.  It was freezing too, not many lights besides the streetlight to reveal any details. Finally, when we reached, we were not able to locate where the station is and we were just standing few meters away from the main Entrance. It would have been practically impossible to reach the station, if we started from Gurgaon. We had a sigh of relief once train started on time, as we were sure that  it would be delayed due to dense fog. After leaving the station the rain gained its speed.

The prospect of visiting Allahabad filled my heart with joy. We stayed  in Allahabad before for almost a week in year 2010 and going there during Maha Kumbh is something special for us. We were looking forward to the marriage at night as well. However, our happiness was short-lived. The train decided not to move an inch before Shahibabad loop and took two hours to reach Ghaziabad from Anand Vihar. We knew that it’s going to be a nightmare for us and it’s better to enjoy the journey instead of worrying about when it would reach the destination. There was no sign of Sun till 10:30, but the view from the window was beautiful… I got the opportunity to concentrate on photography to relieve the boredom of this non-ending journey.

The Ghost!

The Ghost!

More ghosts!

More ghosts!

Finally when Sun came out, our train was running 3 hours behind the schedule. But, when you have no control over the situation, what else you can do either. Anyway, we were impressed to see the beauty of the landscape.  We had always crossed this section of Indian Railways during night and this is the first time we were traveling during daytime. The train ran between green fields. The distant trees seemed to move in the opposite direction. Our classroom, which we attended long time back, flashed in my mind instantly, when our Physics teacher brought this up as an example to explain ‘the Theory of Relativity”. For a few minutes, all my friends’ name came to my mind. The sights that also attracted us most on the way were that of the green sugarcane and potato fields of U.P. State., reminding me about my own village and our fields. Memories are always sweet and nice to remember.

Indian Railway

Indian Railways

Irrigation canal

Irrigation canal

Beautiful Landscape...and resting time

Beautiful Landscape…and resting time of a farmer

The scene looked extremely beautiful and I was lost in admiration of it.  Inside the train, too, everything was interesting. Apart from the sightseeing, other things that attracted our sight were the selling of fruits by fruit vendors.

Mustard Fields

Mustard Fields

The train was now moving quite fast after leaving Aligarh. When we were approaching Etwah, we saw NH-2 running alongside the railway track. The last road journey during the last summer vacation still remains fresh in my mind. The journey remained important for the reason that it was a rare opportunity for me and may be we will have to take the same route once again in few months time in May this year, who knows!

NH-2 : Remembering our road trip to Kolkata

NH-2 : Remembering our road trip to Kolkata

We have spotted few peacocks, herons and some of our feathered friends  and captured few of them from the moving train.



Waiting for hunt in dry land?

Waiting for hunt in dry land?

After a very long time, we were travelling in a train other than Rajdhani or Duronto and it was like those initial days when we couldn’t afford a ticket to Rajdhani, while going home. We thought to have food in the train itself, as it has pantry car. However, we were really shocked to see the quality of food served in the train (as well as during our return journey or even in Allahabad railway station, managed by IRCTC.) I don’t know whether the condition is same in all express trains or it is only in these  two trains we traveled this time. If the answer is yes, I can only request to the Hon’ble Railway minister or the concerned authorities to look into this immediately. People won’t mind to pay a few extra in return of security and some basic amenities. The price of the non-eatable foods served in the train are also costly.

Now, consider a scenario where you need to travel by a train for close to 10-12 hours, that also means that you will need at least one meal and something to eat in between e.g. breakfast/snacks etc. A pack of “bread-omlet” costs us Rs.35  each (we throw all three packets, two not even touched); Veg Lunch costs us Rs.80/pac. (had to eat, as we had no other options available), a pack of two samosa cost us Rs.20 (we still wonder whether we eat such delicious samosa in our life yet or not!!!) and bought several other things to satisfy some of our basic needs, including few bottles of water and tea.

Meals on wheels...

Meals on wheels…pathetic…

On an average, we spent approx. Rs.200-250 per person for a journey of 10 hours. So, a journey of 24 hours would have costs almost 400-500 per person, if not more at any given date. Now, if you consider this with your journey in Rajdhani & Duronto, where food is included in your train ticket, you will any day prefer for a ticket in those trains. Hope  someone is listening to this.

The compartment was not full and we were sitting comfortably, but things completely changed once we reached Kanpur at 5 p.m.

Time to give him a notebook!

Time to give him a notebook for his travelogues!

“Bhai saab thoda sa jaiga chor do! Ahlahabad ke bad to e seat apka hi to hai”

“We are also going to Allahabad”.

“Tab to thik hai, adjust kar lo; do-tin ghanta ka hi to baat hai! Din me birth thori na hote hai”. Since we were also sitting, we didn’t mind, but finally we had to compromise our seats with four more person. They are absolutely correct in saying so. Still five person in one seat, just imagine our situation. We didn’t tried to  save our berth or we might even vacate the entire seat for them, if asked and stand happily! Very soon it became over crowded like local (EMU) train. They were occupying the seats in an unfair way but we were completely helpless.  The beauty of the great Indian railway journey, proved right once again. However, after one hour, there was a surprise inspection in the compartment and you will have to see the face of the most vocal person, out of all of them. The saddest part of the entire incident that we couldn’t show our happiness when inspector asked them to pay the penalty and collected money from all of them. However, by the time, we were fed-up, exhausted. We didn’t know when we would reach Allahabad and attending the marriage became a distant dream by every halt and every second. Finally, the journey comes to an end at 8 p.m. and we reached Allahabad, the Tirthraj or the King of Holy places.

Leave it to you to guess!

Leave it to you to guess!

Finally reached the Tirtharaj Prayag

Finally reached the Tirthraj Prayag

We had a sigh of relief second time since morning. From the station, we went straight to the marriage hall with our suitcase, since the groom had already reached the place. Nice to see the well pitched road. It was my fifth visit to the city and I am impressed with the road condition. Accordingly to locals, Mela administration/authorities have spent enough money for this year’s Kumbh Mela in the last two years and you can feel the difference.

We had a nice time till 1 a.m. and when we call it a day, it was already 1:30 a.m. I knew that I had to wake-up very early to witness sunrise at Prayag. I tried to think about Maha Kumbh, but my body didn’t give permission and very soon, I was also in deep sleep.  It’s only a matter of couple of hours from now, so that should be OK…(to be continued…)



  • Abheeruchi says:

    Hi Amitava,

    You are fortunate to receive an invitation for marriage at Allahabad.

    Pics are good…

    Waiting for continuation.

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Tx Abhee.
      This post has just happened on the flow, while writing the main part and believe me, I am not satisfied myself with this one, but thought to publish.
      You won’t be disappointed in the next part.

  • SilentSoul says:

    very engrossing log. Lucky you are to witness the Maha Kumbh which had been my unfulfilled dream for long.

    Railway ki Durdasha to jag jahir hai

    waiting for real thrill of Kumbh

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Tx SS.

      It was also our long wish to witness Kumbh which fulfilled this year. May your wish also come true and I wish you to be there to attend the next Kumbh Mela which will be held two years’ from now at Nashik (15 August to 13 September, 2015) on the bank of the river Godavari.

      Indian Railways is being used with an eye for vote bank politics for several years, we all know…and need drastic change in it’s functioning.

      It will be ready by end of the month…time is really a constraint for me these days…

  • Nice, interesting, entertaining and exact description of a typical rail journey in India.

  • Nirdesh says:

    Hi Amitava,

    Why didnt you go to Dwarka metro station and catch the metro all the way to Anand Vihar?!

    Hey at least you did not find any dead reptiles in the food. That should be good enough to pass quality test.

    Waiting for the mela to start.

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Tx Nirdesh.

      We stay within a Km distance from MG Road Metro Station in Gurgaon. Dwarka metro station is close to ~20 Km from Gurgaon and to reach Anand Vihar at 6:50 is not possible I guess even in Metro, as the first train leaves at 6 in the morning. So, again reaching Dwarka in a foggy winter morning would be difficult. It could be a good option, if the train is scheduled to leave may be after 7:30.

      I think you are aware of a team by some so called intellectuals (!), (consists of some renowned painters, artists – sadly they are from my state) and a committee was formed to see the quality of food in the train. What they did, everyone knew – thank God they are not part of the system anymore…but it is going on for a long time…whom to blame…who cares for travelers

      I will not keep you wait for a long time.

  • D.L.Narayan says:

    Great prologue to the Maha Kumbha Mela travelogue, Amitava. It was a heaven sent opportunity to attend the marriage and also participate in the Maha Kumbh Mela, an event which happens just once in 144 years. As the Telugu proverb goes, punyam purushaartham (Fulfilling one’s obligations and gaining some merit too as a spin-off)

    Did not know that the infamous Delhi fogs played havoc with road travelers too the way they upset air schedules all over the country (cascading effect). However, I am painfully aware about how people without reservations get into reserved coaches with impunity. Nearly a quarter of a century back, I happened to be traveling to Delhi by rail and when the train reached Agra at around 5 am, a horde of people entered the compartment and rudely woke up the sleeping passengers. I sleepily protested that it was a reserved coach and the guy who was tugging at my feet told me, “Bhaisaab, yeh dakshin nahin hai. Yahan se reservation khatam ho jaata hai. Jaldi se uthiye aur hamen baithne dijiye.” I was scared to even visit the loo lest I find myself without a place to at least sit for the rest of the journey. Obviously things haven’t changed much since then.

    Loved the pictures that you shot from the moving train, especially those of the birds. When landscapes are enveloped in fog, they look ethereal. Waiting eagerly for your blog on this humongous religious carnival.

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Tx DL for liking the post. Yes, we also thought so. It was really an opportunity for us not to be missed and we didn’t.

      Nothing has really changed since then and there is no will to change the system as well, so when my son will write his train journey after few years down the line, he might refer your experience as well. So, what is the solution. Surely, it is not a small problem which can be solved immediately, and we shouldn’t look back why it wasn’t happened till date…and move on, introducing more trains within cities, even if for short distance and enforce a strict penalty (and not the quota system to collect a certain amount to meet the target for the day), better policing etc. etc. just to name a few.

      Glad you liked the pictures…we had utilized our time very well, you can see that…I also clicked a pair of Sarus Crane, but not clear as train was moving very fast that time, spotted peacocks…I will try to complete the next part by Sunday, if I can manage time (occupied full day at work ‘i.e. home’)…just hope all of you will like the next part as well.

  • Nice Description Amitava

    waiting for next

  • Rakesh Bawa says:

    Nice post Amitava Ji, looking forward to first hand experience of Maha Kumbh Mela and what oit means to be there as a devotee or just a normal tourist.

  • post full of colourful pictures ………

    looking forward for your next post

  • Dear Amitava,

    The journey was thoroughly enjoyed by your readers even though you might not have enjoyed it as much. After all, watching the photo taken of a lunch pack prepared by Indian Railways is absolutely safe and even enjoyable than having to consume the contents of the pack. The quality of food in railways can only be improved if different reputed caterers are made to compete with each other in the same set of trains. I found this happening this time in Agra while going to Indore. There were two hawkers – one carrying traditional food packs of Indian Railways and another one was from Comesum restaurant. Everyone was preferring Comesum food over the Railway food.

    Instead of serving a great variety of 3rd class items comprising a lunch pack, it is thousand times better to limit the menu to daal, roti, sabzi if these are palatable. In this way, the food won’t have to be pricy also. As regards prices being charged, recently while going to Ghaziabad by ordinary class for an urgent piece of work, I witnessed a debate between a passenger and a railway contractor over MRP. The vendor was asking for Rs. 35/- for the 500 ml. coke whereas the passenger was protesting against being charged more than MRP. The vendor was telling him that MRP meant Minimum Retail Price! The debate could have continued sine die if the train had not started moving !

    Anyway, looking forward to Maha Kumbh Snan even though vicariously. :)

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Tx Sushant for enjoying the post.
      You have made some valid points, let’s see what Railway Budget brings for us this year
      The post is scheduled in next Monday…hope all of you will like the next part as well.

      • D.L.Narayan says:

        Good news guys.

        Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has been slapped with a fine of Rs 10 lakh by a consumer forum here for selling soft drinks above the maximum retail price (MRP) to two customers.

        The New Delhi District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum imposed “punitive compensation” of Rs 5 lakh each in two separate cases against IRCTC, a subsidiary of Indian Railways, and said being a government corporation, “it is not expected to be deficient in such matters and cannot come down to level of private dealers”.

        “We have considered the case in the perspective of unfair and restrictive trade practices, by a government company who supply food articles to millions of rail users, who in transit cannot protest or have little choice but to avail services at whatever cost.

        “The IRCTC being a government corporation is not expected to be deficient in such matters and cannot come down to level of private dealers,” a bench presided by CK Chaturvedi said.

        The forum directed IRCTC to deposit a fine of Rs 10 lakh with the Delhi State Legal Services Authority and also awarded compensation of Rs 10,000 each to the two passengers, Delhi residents Sachin Dhiman and Sharnya.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    First the food. Comesum can be called and they would deliver the food right in the coach for you. They are at Delhi, GZB, Agra, Ahemdabad, Lucknow quite a few places now. Call them at 011 – 41 100 100. I have tried them and it works pretty good.

    And Sushant made such a pragmatic point that instead of chhapan-bhog, if they could make more practical combos like Rajma-Chawal, Roti-Saag etc, it would make more sense. Hope the new rail man is listening, though I didn’t see anything in the latest budget.

    The pics are really really good Amitava. From FOG to sunlit to dark ones.

    Month end is close, waiting for Kumbh.

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Tx Nandan for sharing the number, not aware of this option. Saved the number and will definitely try whenever we will be travelling in those routes. Agreed. It would make more sense, even if they serve simple food like Rajma Chawal kind of stuff.

      Thank you once again for like the pictures and encouraging me. I am yet to start writing the post, scheduled on Monday – couldn’t find time in the week. However, since weekend starts, will do it now.

  • Surinder Sharma says:

    Food in train may be not up to standard, but can be order one meal instead three. On platform sometime food available at reasonable price. If there is not shortage of time delay in trains can be enjoyed. People who paid AC fare and travelled without seat looks odd. Will wait for holy dip in Ganga.

    Thanks and regards.

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Tx Surinder. How are you. How was your trip. Do share with us whenever you will have time.
      Yeah…actually, this option is much better. Earlier, whenever we are travelling from Howrah or New Delhi, we used to buy food or have our breakfast or dinner at Mughal Sarai – I never missed my chance to visit the canteen in Mughal Sarai Railway station and always enjoyed the food. That’s the irony of the Indian Rail journey…and we have no control

      It is scheduled on Monday next…it should have already in place!

  • Surinder Sharma says:

    I am fine and my journey to India was also good. Nice to know you completed Kumbh Yatra as it was lifetime achivement. Will wait for your monday post.


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