Growing up on Bollywood, and then watching the much hyped Before Sunrise, I think I am incapable of remaining untouched by the romance of train journeys. For the longest time I was able to harbor this romance as I rarely took the train for most of my childhood. I suffered some disappointment on account of my regular journeys between Delhi and Jaipur, but 3 months in Europe with a rail pass were enough to cure me of that disappointment. I used to love the deserted train stations of the small French towns and in each trip would spend considerable time sitting on a bench near the railway track.
In India though I rarely use train for my travels , I have been to some train stations that seem replete with promise. One of such stations is the small train station at Khandala, which takes on a rare beauty and charm during the monsoons.
The first time we saw this place was while going to Lonavla. We had been standing at the door of the compartment for most of the journey to let the soft drizzle graze our faces. It is lovely to look at the clouds who loathe to take roots and fly about – reaching out to further skies. When the train stopped at Khandala station and we looked out, we saw the train curve out beautifully into a tunnel, flanked by lush greenery and white fleeting mist.
Charmed by the beauty of the quaint station, we changed our plans a little and got down at Khandala. In a few minutes after the train left, the sudden flurry of action spurred by the coming of the train settled down and the station went back to its quiet air of waiting. We walked for a while along the track and felt this queer silence. As if sensing this wait, the soft drizzle grew into a heavy downpour, making the desertion of the place more pronounced.
Next time I traveled to the twin cities of Lonavala and Khandala, I had already decided to stop at this pretty provincial station. The same flurry of activity followed the arrival of the train – the porters getting up to catch the few baggages that descend, the idle dogs suddenly waking up with a start, the lights going red and green. People moved about in different directions. And then in 5 minutes, all the descenders had caught an auto and moved on. The place went back to sleep.
The small station has only two platforms. Even so, when you go to catch a train there, you have to wait till the last moment to know on which platform your train will station. It is only after the train crosses Lonavala that an announcement is made – an announcement drowned in a cacophony, which can be interpreted only by the movement of more experienced travelers. People jump tracks in stead of taking the bridge. And then another abatement till the train arrives.
That’s what this small station nestled in the ghats is all about. Silence and waiting. Perhaps that’s why it is hung in time.