Sunday, 11 June 2017

Let's take the Tram

Growing up, a train journey was an annual ritual I looked forward to. The sky blue leather seats looked so exciting - laid out with surgical precision. The aluminium windows with multiple shutters seemed to me then a marvel of physics. And getting a seat by the emergency exit would be like hitting the jackpot in so many ways.

Once I started working, train journeys somehow dwindled away and banal flights took over. Hate taking flights - I think every time I take a flight I grow older a little faster. I feel the varicose veins spreading like grapevines on my legs. I can feel the hair greying. Can sense the skin drying up. When there is a delay on the flight it sucks big time - you can't sleep, you can't go anywhere. There is just no way out of the ennui. At best you can watch a movie while you are waiting - but it doesn't help. You are basically straitjacketed into that one seat either on or off the plane. The food sucks. No more how jazzy they make the seats, they cannot match up to the 6-foot berths on our good ol' Indian Railways where you ceremoniously lay out the sheets, stretch out and sleep to the steady rumble of the wheels. The sound of a train is the closest man can come to your mom's lullaby. You make friends on the train. You share food, you talk about food, you get down on the station and explore their wares. You fight over seats. You suck up to the TC to get you a better seat, or maybe a seat. And the best part - a delay just means more food, more banter and more sleep. It's bliss.

Playing Red Letter A on a station in Assam
So long story short - I hate flights and I love the train. Sort of like Sheldon Cooper. If I have the time I'd take the train and ditch the flight at the drop of a hat. Some of my best holidays have involved a train ride. The ritual in the summer of taking Avantika express and coming to Mumbai and ALWAYS running into someone we know. The Bombay-Goa journeys - that give you the best views of the Western Ghats. Once we even did Delhi to Goa - a phenomenal journey where travel brought out the best of men and the worst of men! I have done Khandwa to Guwahati - 54 hrs with a lively bunch - creating chaos. Even played this game called 'Red Letter A' on some obscure station where the train had been halted. I think as a thumb rule if you are on a train for more then 20 hours, you will make the best of friends with the people you are travelling with. I know of romances that have blossomed in these long train rides and have turned into successful marriages. I know of friends who began by sharing headphones and listening to the same music - move on to sharing their lives. There is something about a train journey that is just so poetic.

If we have to thank the British rule for anything - it's trains - circa 1853. 

Trams are
another league altogether. As they chug around even today - they remind us of a quieter, simpler time. They ground the cities that are moving on with technology every millisecond. They are humbling in a way. They have this majestic charm to them that no other mode of transport can boast of.

My first encounter with the tram was in Kolkata. Amazing pieces of work.  I would just take them for the joy of it all. Back in the summer of 2009, the 'first class' seat was Rs 6.50 and the 'regular seat' was Rs 6! What was the difference - you'd ask - the 'first class' had a rickety old fan!

When one moves to Hong Kong, the first thing one does is to get an Octopus Card. It is your passport to the city. Anything and everything is possible with your Octopus Card. You can go to any end of the city and buy anything on the planet with this baby. And being one of the best connected cities in the world, it's so easy to get by - through cabs / MTR / bus or trams. But I have always been a stickler for the MTR - no nonsense, fast, reliable, efficient, air-conditioned. Till the husband comes to visit - and he declares that he wants to ride the city on the tram. I desperately try to dissuade him - giving reasons like - 'getting stuck in traffic, hot and humid, uncomfortable, crowded'.

Call it serendipity - it's a beautiful evening with a breeze thrown in. We have just had brilliant meal. We pick up some cheap wine from the nearest circle K and board the tram. Surprisingly empty. Get on top and grab the front seats. And there! One of the most romantic dates ever! It was just pristine to watch the city pass by as we sipped our loot from Wan Chai all the way to Kennedy Town. The driver actually had to yell us out of the last stop "Hau Lok" "Hau Lok"! And then we turn around and take the tram back! You can basically view the city in under 3dollars. I never thought of it! Thanks to the husband to introduce me to this beauty.

So now, every chance I get if I am not in a hurry, the tram it is. Somehow reminds me of the beautiful train days. If you are ever in Hong Kong and want to roam around the island line - take the tram - it's the best hop-on-hop-off ride you will ever get. Start at Kennedy Town and end at Chai Wan and come back. Stop by at Causeway Bay to shop a little, Wan Chai to grab a meal. Wing it! 

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