Let me tell you about a lovely train ride.
“Amma,” said my son, “it seems the Shoranur-Nilambur journey on a passenger train is something unique. The train runs to Nilambur Road and back. Something worth trying out, don’t you think?”
So we tried it out.
I love train journeys and especially those by passenger trains which trundle at their own relaxed pace unmindful of the world that seems to be permanently in a hurry. I love the slower pace, the music of the wheels clanging on the tracks as if to the beat of a lullaby, the gentle swaying of the coaches. I love the relaxed atmosphere where you needn’t think about the next meal to be cooked, the next deadline to be met. I even love the unexplained unplanned stoppages in the middle of nowhere because I’m not going anywhere in particular and don’t have to get back at a particular time. I also love the small, unpretentious, nondescript stations where these trains stop.
“Let’s go on a working day, so it won’t be very crowded,” said my son and we fixed on a Tuesday and were proved right.
When we boarded the little passenger train from Shoranur and were relieved to find it reasonably empty. Empty enough to savour the solitude and the leisurely pace of the journey. Not just the passenger train, even Shoranur station, which always seemed to be so crowded when we passed by in trains, was unusually deserted, perhaps taking a breather after the morning rush hour.
We had a leisurely lunch and boarded the waiting train. We found ourselves a coach right behind the engine, chose window seats and were soon lost in our own thoughts. There were just a few other people in the entire compartment, perhaps one person in each section.
The train passed through a landscape lush and green, a coolant for eyes that are forced to remain glued to fluorescent screens for a living. There were arecanut, rubber and banana plantations besides paddy fields and untouched wilderness with the ubiquitous teak, jackfruit, mango and coconut trees and clusters of wild bamboo. We clanged by, high above gushing streams on the banks of which women washed clothes and bathed and noisy children swam in the waters.
We stopped at pretty little stations that were not much more than a small building flanked on either side by platforms of beaten mud and guarded by venerable old banyan trees. Some of them had musical alliterative names like Kulukkallur.
Nothing much seemed to happen in these beautiful little places. A few people got down unhurriedly; a few others boarded equally unhurriedly. A lone vendor came by selling packets of homemade snacks and his voice was the only strident one amidst the background drone of the fans and the noise of the train. Peace and silence all around.
Some stations were large and housed warehouses where food grains were stored. But there wasn’t a soul in sight.
The train chugged on. The line ended at Nilambur Road. We got down at the station, had a friendly chat with the loco pilots and took a walk to stretch our legs while they shunted the engine and fixed it to the other end of the train for the return journey. A small crowd gathered to watch the hooking of the diesel locomotive to the last compartment transforming it into the first. On the platform, small stalls festooned with garlands of bright packets of salted snacks, sold piping hot tea and a host of fried snacks – parippu vadas, pazham poris, suhiyans, undamporis and ola padakkams (my pet name for Kerala samosas that look uncannily like the famed and dreaded firecrackers wrapped in dried coconut fronds).
The thirty odd passengers and the loco pilots stood around having tea and gazing at the greenery. Then it was time for the return journey and the little train started back right on time. Once again we passed the quaint little stations and the beautiful landscape, this time painted golden by a setting sun.
At Shoranur, when we got back on to the train home, we felt well-rested after a day of quietness and solitude.