A Night Train Journey to Remember

The one who understands that life is all about making memories while enjoying every minute, makes the most of the limited time in hand.

With just about 20 minutes to go for the train’s scheduled departure, the taxi dropped me at a side-entrance to CST adjacent to Platform 18 where the Duronto Express stood. I was expecting to see some known faces and rushed through the platform in search of my coach and entered to find my seat.

It had actually been a big coincidence when two weeks ago, during the Kalavantin Durg trek, Arpit- our guide and trek leader- had informed me about the Tadoba Tiger Reserve trip that MASK group was taking and that their tickets were booked on the same day and in the same train as mine. The bigger surprise was discovering that even the coach and compartment were the same. Arpit invited me to join in the trip, but the eagerness to head home and enjoy some good food and sleep overpowered the excitement of the possible tiger safari.

It was a night train journey to remember, aboard the Mumbai-Nagpur Duronto Express, March 2016

As I entered to find my seat, Radhika- the lady with the DSLR during last fortnight’s trip- sat there with two guys- Vinit and Kuntal- who I was soon introduced to.

‘I didn’t know you were joining us for the trip,’ Radhika exclaimed.
‘Well, I am not. I am headed home. We just happen to have adjacent seats,’ I said.
‘I don’t believe that,’ she laughed at the 'coincidence'.

Arpit stood outside the coach, with Mayank (MASK Founder) and Sandhya (Arpit’s wife), ensuring the arrival of all the members for their Tadoba trip.

‘So finally how many people have joined for the trip?’
‘28’, Arpit said.

He was kind enough even now to ask me to join them for the trip, which difficult as it was, I refused. I was glad to have some great company for the overnight train journey- A few fun hours to get to know some new people and possible future trip-mates.

The train chugged out of CST, the journey had begun. Arpit and Mayank, being the genial hosts, distributed MASK welcome kits to all the trippers. They gave me one too and the gesture was truly humbling. (In hindsight, probably it was their clever way of making sure I join them in one of their future trips [:P])

After a quick dinner that concluded with half a gulab-jamun and rasogola each, we proceeded around the coach looking for a pack of UNO cards and to meet others in the big group.

We soon settled in our compartment and the game was about to begin when Kuntal made the revelation that he and Vinit had no clue how to play UNO. We spread a bed sheet across and made it our card-holding table and Radhika helped in tutoring the first-time players with a trial game. Considering that playing UNO requires absolute knowledge of rocket-science and years of experience, 120 seconds later, beginner’s luck had favoured the newbie a.k.a. Kuntal with a win. The game had just begun.

Anish, Nivedita, Debasmita and Jayesh joined us and a quick round of introduction followed. Arpit didn’t want to be left out of the game and was clearly disappointed when he saw that the game had already begun. He joined us immediately nonetheless. Mayank, Sandhya and a few others came in a little later.

Out of the 8 seats in the compartment, 2 didn’t belong to us. A man from IIT Bhubaneswar who sat with us, clearly knew what it meant to be with friends. I am sure he understood that there was no point in trying to silence us through the night. He exchanged his lower berth with us and quietly made his way to the top bunk and slept (or at least tried and pretended to).

Amidst innumerable and absolutely too long UNO games, flag-in-front-of-face photo stories, Odia-connections, ‘baby’ calls and the TTE asking us to be quiet because ‘fellow passengers are complaining’, sleep started crawling over us and took its first victims under its purview.

We decided to switch off the compartment lights that plunged the coach into complete darkness (after an unfruitful attempt at searching for the infamous blue Night Lamps in the corridor). As goes the ritual in journeys like these, it was time for some horror stories. All we could discuss was getting clad in the white bedsheet and waking up one or more of the sleeping companions in the adjacent berths. What worried us in the plan was- what if it worked and the unsuspected victim shouted loud enough to wake the whole coach up? We finally thought it was safe to drop the idea.

Mayank and Arpit shared some amazing stories from previous trips and treks they had been to. As someone pushed the curtains aside from the window, we saw the moonlight lighting the setting outside as we viewed it from total darkness with just reflected light shining on our faces. The scene struck us, it was beautiful.

It’s always a joy to meet another blogger and so when Shivangi joined us and was introduced to me, the obvious question followed.

‘What do you write about?’
‘I write whenever I have enough inspiration and I feel like writing’, she replied.
‘You must write about this trip.’
‘May be I will. I don’t know. I can’t force myself to write. And I write for myself, and not to be read.’

I marvelled at how different our thought processes were when it came to the ‘to be read’ part. I blog because, among other things, ‘I want to be read’ is an important aspect.

Arpit suggested we take a torch-light night selfie, replicating the epic one we took at the start of Kalavantin. The picture turned out to be amazing, even with the train’s constant shaking.

Our trademark torchlight selfie, in the train somewhere on the Mumbai-Nagpur route, March 2016
Because Radhika 'wanted to click a selfie on the platform in the middle of the night', Bhusaval Junction, March 2016
The Duronto Express made its scheduled halt at Bhusaval at around 2.30 AM and we decided to get down on the platform just for the fun of it and because Radhika ‘wanted to click a selfie on the platform in the middle of the night’. After the successful completion of the bucket-list task at hand, we finally decided to get a few hours of sleep as the train chugged along to its destination.

Less than what seemed like a few minutes later, Mayank woke us up, “We will be reaching in half an hour. Wake up and freshen up!”

It was day break.

The train entered Nagpur station and we got down. The group was to proceed for their day’s tiger-spotting adventure to begin. I bid adieu.

‘So you are really not coming with us?’ Radhika asked.
‘Well, you can spot some tigers and I will enjoy the pictures. Let me head home and eat and sleep.’

It wasn’t much time, but the 11 hour journey had introduced me to a set of new people, loads of shared life stories, some great & fun moments, thoughts for a new blog entry and one night of a train journey to remember.

Imagine, if my blogger friend Stuti hadn’t introduced me to MASK and the Kalavantin Trek hadn't happened, these people would simply have been 'the guys making noise and not letting me sleep' during the train journey! :D


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