Sunday, March 17, 2013

Train Ride from Hyderabad to Chennai - A Rainy Transit

Yet another train ride. This time, I was heading east of the country, sliding way past an undulating terrain of rice lands that skews north before it ultimately finds its way south east. I was finally reuniting with the Bay of Bengal. The coast itself is capricious and is taken to sudden monsoon, like a girl with peremptory conceit and temper tantrums.

Hyderabad Deccan Railway Station, aka Nampally Railway Station, subtly boasts of a rich past. Built in 1874, the station itself isn't as impressive as the ones in Mumbai or even Jaisalmer, but bespoke of a thousand untold stories. The architectural style is one of simplistic Mughal-style with an emaciated pair of chhatris up front.  There isn't any grand hallway to welcome you here. In fact, it’s a no-frills station that allows swift transit. My train ticket wrote: “A1, seat 19, LB” – which translates to Car A1, seat 19, lower berth. This ride was a 2AC train so it’s relatively comfortable. But like previous station arrivals, my first few minutes were met with anxiety. Will I find my exact coach before it pulls out of the station?


I liked the idea that I didn't have to climb up an upper berth prison, but then there’s always the chance that another Indian would own up any previously reserved lower berth seat. From experience, it seems that the locals are too fond of this malpractice.

They have adequate time to reserve for specific seats (heck, it’s their country), yet they impose their presence on seats reserved by others, regardless of the fact that a foreigner has taken pains to reserve it from a gargantuan queue. I have been asked several times in the past to take the upper berth instead and when I balk, everyone in the cabin gets sore with me because I don’t give in. I just don’t understand this culture. There are several universal practices involved here, not the least of which is the concept of "reservation", and it needs to be respected. So you have children with you? Didn't you think of that when you reserved? How is it that a weary itinerant who painstakingly booked and queued for his tickets (yes - booking train tickets is not easy or pleasant, and it's one of my least favorite activities during an Indian sojourn) should give way to any soul who feels they should be prioritized? How convenient. Now you want my seat? You want me monkeying on berths right up the ceiling alongside rusty, Tetanus-inviting electric fans and cobwebs? Oh boy!

Moving on, Charminar Express 12760 departed Hyderabad Deccan at exactly 6:30 PM. It was to travel approximately 14 hours, covering a distance of 790 kilometers. Peanuts. As I've said before, I've been in longer rides. At 8:42 AM the next day, I was closer to my homecoming. Chennai would be my last stop for this leg.

Charminar Express is a superfast train (thus the “sf” you see in tickets), zipping away at 57 kilometer/hour and breezing through 17 stations with weird-sounding names like Mahbubabad, Tondalagupavaram, Vijayawada and Ongole before ultimately stopping at Chennai Central.

In my bunk was a charming gentleman named Himanchu of Mumbai. He's a "spice merchant", now isn't this occupation something that we only read in historical documentations and adventure books? Not in India, where they come alive. During my waking hours, we would compare traditions. India and the Philippines are polar opposites where tradition is concerned. Things are done differently between two nations. And I was just fascinated with his thoughts about marriage (something that always gets talked about whenever I am in India), politics and Bollywood stars. Once we've exhausted topics, we would alternately take naps or walks across the train.

At 6 AM the next day, while my train was still trudging lazily towards Chennai, I would stand at the junction between two cars, peeping through fogged out windows to check out what the terrain was like outside. I have always regretted not being able to see the places we pass. 


This was one of the reasons why I dislike trains. At least buses, though slow and tedious to the spinal column, have huge windows. Trains feel like glorified barricades. It didn't help that the weather wasn't cooperating. In fact, it had been raining since dawn. Outside, it looked like the heavens have spewed all her wrath. Paddies were flooded. What could have been rice granary has virtually turned into lakes. Chennai looked heavily vegetated, though this time, everything was submerged in rain water, especially the Ennore area. A few minutes after 8, there were signs of industrialization. Ugly railway tracks started to jot out everywhere. I was stoked. I was near Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu.

Charminar Express (above and below)


Once closer to Chennai Central, I was dumbfounded when I saw shanties beside the tracks. Not that this wasn't seen in Manila. What really caught my attention were half a dozen people taking their morning dump by the rail side, under nothing but the low hanging clouds. How does this work, actually? Do they dig holes then cover them up? Or do they leave freshly moved excreta on the surface? Good heavens. They were unmindful that hundreds of people on a train were watching them clean off their bowels! As though “people gawking while they defecate” was the most natural thing to do in the world. Jeez! I took a mental note never to walk beside rail tracks in Chennai.


Upon arrival, people were scurrying around this congested, uninviting station. It was still raining outside. I rushed into the pre-paid booth, fully aware that my luggage was starting to drip. It won’t take long, before my stuff inside would get soaked. I was rushing to get to a hotel, which I didn't book. The options were: Egmore or Triplicane area, two of the most sophisticated sounding areas I've ever heard. But they were merely ear-candy. Knowing what I know now, I am puzzled why Lonely Planet would recommend either. These places were far from being pretty. Why would tourists prefer unsightly areas? Because they have inexpensive accommodations? Are we really scraping the bottom? In fact, it’s hard to find something endearing about them. There’s nothing vaguely memorable here except their proximity to the famed Marina Beach, the world’s second longest natural beach in the world (covering a distance of 13 kilometers).

To cut the long story short, Hotel Regent in Egmore was a no-go; Broadlands Lodge looked rundown; and Paradise Guesthouse was uninviting. The driver recommended Hotel Anitha Towers. Unlike these previously mentioned hotels, Anitha was 3x pricier – 800 rupees plus an 80-rupee tax. At that point, I didn't care. It was raining hard and I was desperate to lay my back on a comfortable bed. 

At 10 AM, I realized I already wasted a lot of time. I checked into room 401 located at the 3rd level of Anitha. The floor above me was a restaurant with a view of the bustling street below. I went up and ordered my complimentary breakfast – an egg sandwich. The rains cast a dramatic atmosphere across the view down below. This was the wrong time to be here. How can I roam when heaven’s practically spitting all it’s got? Do I wonder? Or wander at the risk of being swept away? Chennai shares tropospheric dilemma with nearby Bay of Bengal. Monsoons converge here and play up at the flick of a finger. I flicked – but so far, the downpour didn't stop.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

View from a 57 km/hour moving train, through a fuzzy glass window.

Chennai Central

Eye-catching color of Chennai Central

Hotel Anitha Towers

Complimentary Breakfast 

Room 401


Downpour creates a dramatic canvass across Triplicane.

How's this itinerary for an Indian visit? :) It's west to east, then north to south. I have always set my sights on Srinagar but there's always been a flashing red light whenever Kashmir is considered. :) Plus, my visa has written restrictions to couple of places: Assam and Kashmir.

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