Romancing the Train – Pune to Nasik

You do not have to ride the Darjeeling toy train or the Kalka to Shimla narrow gauge or not even the Konkan Rail to fall in love with the trains. Next time you are in Pune (or Mumbai), take the train to Nasik. On the map, Nasik lies vertically above Pune. But the train, leaving from Pune goes west through Lonavala, to the outskirts of Mumbai – Kalyan – and then meanders back east towards Nasik. Okay it takes about seven hours, almost twice if you drive from Pune to Nasik. But if you are in the mood to sit back and enjoy a train ride, then this is it. You are glad you did not take the offer of being chauffer driven to Nasik.

As you leave the concrete nightmare that Pune has become, the greenery pulls you away from the laptop screen to the train windows. Though Maharashtra has been reeling under the effects of scanty monsoon, Western Ghats seemed to have got their fair share of rains. Falling rain creates streams on the window glass. The rains have washed off all the grime and everything outside seems fresh. Dewy leaves glow in the intermittent sunlight. Expectant clouds hang low over the hills. Air is misty and fresh. You seem to have stepped out on the terrace of some fancy resort in Kerala. You wish you are treated to this view on your daily commute to office in Delhi.

The Picture Perfect Lush & Verdant Western Ghats



Western Ghats, home to the spectacular Jog Falls in Karnataka are breathtakingly scenic whether you are in Kerala, Karnataka or Maharashtra. They play a major role in the movement of monsoons over south India. I was told by an enthusiastic meteorologist in the making that the angle the monsoon clouds hit the hills of Western Ghats determines if the rain falls in Western Maharashtra or Vidarbha!

A train meandering through the hills provide you the perfect way to enjoy the scene unfolding outside. As opposed to roads, there are no trucks belching diesel fumes, your knuckles do not turn white negotiating that hairpin bend, you are not at the mercy of maniac Lewis Hamiltons every metre and no paralytic claustrophobia of a car. Train gives you your space: you can read, you can walk around, something even the biggest aeroplanes can’t provide. The seating arrangement helps you strike up a conversation with your co-passengers. If the scene outside turns out like it does now, you wish you never arrive at your destination. The journey becomes the goal.

The Train Journey is the Goal

My favourite travel author Paul Theroux says in the opening paragraph of ‘The Great Railway Bazaar’ – the best travel book ever written – “I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it”. One simple sentence summarizes the entire romance and mysticism around the trains. It conjures up the sights and sounds of unknown exotic destinations. It is as if you don’t care where the train goes; you only want to be someplace that is far and not seen before. Someplace where people look different, language you can’t understand but sounds musical; and food is an adventure everytime.

You want to spend a week in the tiny cabins on the hills

Meanwhile, the train chugs along several stations. It is the perfect weather to buy chikki in Lonavala and feast on hot vada paos. The taste brings back memories from the past. It seems as if the chikki and vada tastes have been standardized like McDonalds. You remember the taste from times long gone when you took the Madgaon Express from CST to Goa every month on the Konkan Railway Line.

The Western Ghats are lush, green and verdant. God bless UNESCO for giving heritage status to the Western Ghats. Now there will be no mining or ugly hotels built on the hills. The only sore point is when the train briefly enters Mumbai area. The local trains have changed colours from what you remember from a long time ago but you do not want to travel those trains ever again. No romance there. You can still feel the overpowering curtain-like muggy air that hit you when you entered the packed coach in Virar local on a sultry monsoon evening on your way back from office. No, you don’t want to do it even for nostalgia’s sake.

Another screaming entry into a tunnel

Mercifully, we are back climbing the Western Ghats. The train snakes its way through a succession of tunnels. Kids in the coach are coming alive and are getting into the act. As soon as the train enters a tunnel, a collective scream goes up resonating with the reverberating amplified sound of wheels. The leaching water from the hills above falls on the train. Tiny rivulets come alive with crystal clear water. The next instant the train is traipsing over a bridge. You can gaze down at the river deep below your feet. The scenery seems to be unending – one amazing frame to another. You do not know when you will be next treated to this view. Passengers in the train want to make the best of the opportunity. People in AC coach step out and hang on the doorways trying to capture tiny slivers of nature’s abundance and beauty on view. Now you can see the mist rolling around the hills. The mist has enveloped the top of the hills. You want to just step out of train, walk into one of the small cabins built on the hills and spend a week away from everything.

You want this to stay unchanged for another hundred years

The Railway Board is examining a proposal to build a new track away from the Western Ghats designed to bring you to Nasik in three hours flat. Ride the train before the romance goes out.

35 Comments

  • Praveen Wadhwa says:

    Very nice post. I took this journey but in 2 parts. Nasik to Kalyan and Kalyan to Pune.
    Very mesmerizing journey in western ghats.

    Thanks.

    • Nirdesh says:

      Hi Praveen,

      Yes, the beauty of the Western Ghats during monsoons is mesmerizing.

      Bountiful rains means nature is saying that I give you another year to mend your ways.

      Nirdesh

  • Hi,
    It’s a pleasure to my eyes as I read this beautiful piece of work.
    It reminds me about my journey to Aurangabad from Delhi and my stay over there for nearly a month during monsoon few years back.

    The Hazaribag section in Delhi to Kolkata section of Indian Railways also offers similar view and I always enjoy it “on the doorways trying to capture tiny slivers of natures abundance and beauty on view”. Have a nice day,

    • Nirdesh says:

      Hi Amitava,

      I went to college in Aurangabad. Monsoon months are the best there, especially coming back from the heat of Delhi to join back the classes.

      But few months later the entire landscape turns baked, barren and brown.

      Hazaribagh section is awesome too!

      Nirdesh

  • JATDEVTA says:

    ??? ?? ????? ?? ????? ? ????? ?? ???? ???????? ?? ????? ?? ?? ?? ?????? ???? ???? ???
    ????? ??? ????? ????????? ?? ???? ?????? ???? ???? ?? ????? ??? ? ????-???? ??? ?? ??? ??????? ????? ????? ??? ????? ?? ????? ??? ?????

    • Nirdesh says:

      Hi Jatdevta,

      Yes, the area around Nasik and Trimbakeshwar comes alive during the monsoons.

      Next time, i will definitely go see Bhimashankar Temple.

      Of course, by train!

      Nirdesh

  • Vipin says:

    Wow! a brilliant piece of writing Nirdesh ji, really touched our imagination. Some more photos could have added extra charm to the story. Though I don’t travel much in trains, but whenever I do, it’s always a memorable experience especially the Kalka-Shimla & Pathankot-Joginder Nagar trains. Western Ghats rank quite well in my wish list….let’s see which monsoon…:)

  • Nirdesh says:

    Thanks Vipin!

    Yes, people usually shy from saying that they travel by train for the fear of being ostracized by the society!

    But train travel has the charm and gives you the time and space and peace of mind (of course, ticket has to be confirmed and office is not calling you every minute).

    Monsoons do add to the charm of the Western Ghats. I too want to travel the Western Ghats in Kerala. Hopefully, in the next monsoons!

    Nirdesh

  • D.L.Narayan says:

    Great bit of nostalgia, Nirdesh. Thoroughly enjoyed myself while reading your brilliant post. Theroux hits the nail on its head when he says that seldom does one see a train and not want to be in it.

    As a kid my dream job was that of an engine driver (a steam locomotive and not the modern ones which lack the mystique of their predecessors). And then there is the recurrent motif in Pakeezah of a train whistling its way to a magical world.

    I share your concern about the romance going out. I hope it never does.

    • Nirdesh says:

      Hi DL,

      Yes, every kid’s dream is to become an engine driver or fire fighter!

      Thanks for bringing up the Pakeezah train link. I can still hear that train whistle in the song. Movies always had a romantic connection with trains – Aradhna, Chaiyya Chaiyya song, Jab We Met, Zamaane Ko Dikhana Hai (Hoga Tumse Pyaara Kaun), and then the action sequences in Sholay, Kaminey, Johnny Gaddar, Sehar.

      Lets keep the romance going.

      Nirdesh

  • I have been lot of times on thi9s route to Nasik as well as Pune . Normally in Nasik I go to Trimbakeshwar and in Pune route I go to my laws , but never I thought of writing a post .
    Wonderfully written and good pictures

  • venkatt says:

    Hai Nirdesh. Superb narration. Got hooked onto your post immediately after the first couple of paragraphs. And the piece ended all too abruptly. It seems you have a real talent for writing. It was interesting to note car travel being summed up as “paralytic claustrophobia” and I can’t agree with u more. Nothing can beat the romance of Train Travel, especially if it is through such green locales. Keep travelling and keep blogging.

  • jaishree says:

    Hi Nirdesh

    Your deftness at play of words created a beautiful canvas in earthy tones. Thanks for bringing a fresh style of writing and unique stories.

  • ashok sharma says:

    The western ghats are great.pics are beautiful.journey by rail is really nice,if it is not overcrowded.
    nice post.

    • Nirdesh says:

      Hi Ashok,

      Yes, the magic of monsoons is more apparent in the Western Ghats.

      Lets hope El Nino does not act up.

      Thanks,

      Nirdesh

  • abhishek kashyap trainman says:

    Konkan railways is awsum…

    rail lovers are welcome- [http://www.facebook.com/groups/irfcamgng/]

  • Mukesh Bhalse says:

    Impressive narration with beautiful pictures. Keep it up…………….

    Thanks.

    • Nirdesh says:

      Thanks, Mukesh!

      My camera does the beautiful picture part! I just click!

      I appreciate your motivating words.

      Regards,

      Nirdesh

  • sp singh says:

    hi,

    Very well written , I have been to this route many time , but your write up has again bring in the desire to revisit this route

    Great

    Keep posting

    SP singh

  • AUROJIT says:

    Hi Nirdesh,

    Train/ train journeys hold a special place in our memories.

    Your journey through western ghats is well narrated I enjoyed it along with you.

    Good job, keep writing

    Auro.

    • Nirdesh says:

      Hi Auro!

      Thanks for enjoying the story.

      Find a free weekend, hop on a train and enjoy the journey as you read ‘The Great Railway Bazaar’.

      Thanks again,

      Nirdesh

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Well articulated and brilliantly told, this is a great story of a ride in Western Ghats. Any Railways fan must read this. Probably some inclusion of mundane info around train timings, train names blabla would have helped anyone to actuate this journey.

    I was in Western Ghats during August this year but we were in a car :-) and tried to made for the lost romance by getting fatigued over slow and non-rushed drives along the coast. We hope to read more from you Nirdesh. Best wishes.

  • Roopesh says:

    Good one Nirdesh. Western ghats are literally in my backyard (I live in Pune) and a I am a railfan too but still haven’t travelled on this train. Though I make it a point to visit western ghats during monsoon but its mostly by car with family and hardly get a chance to do it leisurely like this. But this post has rekindled the train romance which I am sorely missing. I hope to do it this month itself before the greenery goes away.
    The ghat from Pune-Kalyan is Bhor ghat and Kalyan-Nasik is Thull ghat and there are legends about them. Not sure you know about http://www.irfca.org you will find plenty of photos of this routes in archive.
    Though I haven’t been able to read Paul Theroux till now, strange but I have read most of Bill Aitken. Hope to read Paul Theroux as well soon.
    Lastly about your comment about a quite cabin, there is one at monkey hill http://wikimapia.org/8368624/Monkey-Hill-railway-cabin which is enroute on this ghat.

    • Nirdesh says:

      Dear Roopesh,

      Thanks for such detailed replies and interest taken in reading the post.

      I am sure since the rains have continued in Pune till last week, Western Ghats would still be green and fresh.

      I will research the legends around Bhor and Thull ghats.

      From what I just read about Bill Aitken on wiki, I will read one of his travelogues. I am sure he is as good as Theroux.

      Thanks again for your enlightening comments.

      Regards,

      Nirdesh

  • Train journey on Hills ! I don’t have words to say how much I like this combo enjoyment. Enjoyed each and every line of your beautiful narration Nirdesh. Looking forward to read much more of your travel experience here.

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