City Hangout – Shatabdi Watching, New Delhi Railway Station
The thrill of travel.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
That powerful sense of “going somewhere” is probably more palpable in a railway station than at an airport terminal. So many of us harassed Delhiites dream of escaping this tough city by train if only for the weekend, to nearby towns like Jhansi or Amritsar.
Failing that, one can also visit a busy train station without going anywhere. To vicariously enjoy the sense of adventure in the comings and goings of exciting expresses.
At around 6 am every morning India’s iconic superfast trains, the Shatabdis, depart from New Delhi railway station, running at average speeds of 100 km.
In all, some 50 Shatabdis connect passengers throughout India. Every morning in Delhi, about a dozen Shatabdis leave for cities as far apart as Kanpur and Moga. While the nameplates on their coaches evoke the foothills of Kalka and the Taj Mahal of Agra. This cold morning Bhopal Shatabdi Express is on platform No.1, the Ajmer Shatabdi Express is leaving from No. 3, and the Shatabdi to Lucknow is on No. 9. Most foreign backpackers are headed to the Bhopal Shatabdi, probably because it passes through Agra. It’s also the first Shatabdi when the train was launched in 1988 to commemorate Jawaharlal Nehru’s 100th birth anniversary.
Meanwhile uniformed catering assistants are sitting on the platforms of their assigned Shatabdis with cartons of breakfast meals, along with stacks of morning dailies that will be distributed free to the lucky passengers.
And then there’s even the more engrossing sight of passengers as they settle inside the coaches of respective Shatabdis. Each train has at least one “Executive Class” where passengers somehow look more self-important. Sometimes, less so.
By 7 am all the Shatabdis have departed: the station feels like a wedding banquet without the bride and groom. Time to get out into the unfolding day unless you fancy the spicy hot tomato soup from platform 1.
Come 1030 pm and all those Shatabdis that left the capital that morning are pulling back into New Delhi station, one after another. Witnessing those arrivals is as fascinating.
Feeling the ‘escape’