At least I think so. Don’t get me wrong. I am a train lover. I love the vibe of Indian railway stations (stinky and dirty as they might be) – waiting for the train to arrive, the utter chaos as it approaches the platform, settling into your berth and watching the landscape pass by as the train speeds up. It’s all very rustic and retro to me. But toy trains are a whole other story. First of all, they are over romanticized. Meaning, they are labeled with all kinds of dreamy words forgoing the fact that the “dream” that it once might have been has turned into a nightmare of sorts, one that exhausts your senses rather than delight it.
Again, don’t get me wrong. I am well aware of the complexity of narrow gauge design of the trains and the skilled engineering that went into laying down the rail lines in the mountains. These were the main reasons why I was super excited to take my first ride in the Nilgiri Mountains when I visited Coonoor two years ago. We had tickets from Coonoor to Ooty and back. And I was in total joy as I saw the smallish train (and literally toy like, but in an adorable way) arrive at the station. I had my camera and was hoping to capture what had been propagated all over the web as one of the most spectacular experiences in the mountains. And the pictures on the internet were so beautiful that all the praise sounded plausible. But my bubble was shortly busted as the train maneuvered towards Ooty. The sidings were in such deplorable state, it was sad. Garbage strewn landscape added to the slow speed of the train, instead of feeling romantic, was getting torturous. It was like watching the most pathetic scene in slow motion. Before long, we found ourselves getting off the train at an unheard of village much before our station and hiked back to Coonoor rather than bear what was the most boring train ride of our lives.
But you see, we are not the “once bitten twice shy” kind of travelers. We are the “let’s give it another shot” kind of people. So last week (and again because of my unrequited hopes and dreams), we found ourselves at Pathankot Railway Station buying toy train tickets to Kangra. And in a matter of fifteen minutes, the aforementioned Niligiri toy train was not our worst train experience. This train ride was MUCH worse – ricketier, filthier and jam packed with glitzy overdressed Punjabi locals. And what made me feel sorry for myself was that I had AGAIN fallen for an article that had described Kangra Valley toy train as “the stuff childhood dreams are made of”. We wanted to jump off the train into the valley, but with the luggage it would have been harder to hike and the villages en route were so disconnected from the highway that we would never have found a taxi to Kangra. I could hear my senses scream inside my body but we had to atone for our bad choices by remaining in the train for the next four hours to Kangra. You know how travelers tell their friends “you have to see it to believe it”. Well, you have to see these toy trains to know what I mean. It’s certainly not a day I can forget, but if I know myself, I will most definitely travel in the other three mountain trains of India – the Darjeeling Himalayan, the Kalka-Shimla and the Matheran – before I can finally say that I HATE TOY TRAINS.
P.S. We did manage to steal a few decent shots where there was lesser filth, and I suppose the internet pictures I fell for were probably shot the same way. But let’s call a spade a spade instead of glorifying a place or experience just to get the content up.
Have you traveled in Indian Toy Trains? Did you love it or hate it?