Train Journeys of the World

I must admit it was an odd sensation to be traveling the same Indian train route twice in a nine month period. Last September was the last time I was in India as part of my study abroad jaunt among India, Switzerland, China and South Africa. After studying in Trivandrum, Kerala for four weeks, I traveled across northern India for my fall break. It was a nine day odyssey, more of a blur of New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Varanasi, three overnight train rides and two flights between Trivandrum and Delhi. Once back to Trivandrum, I wasn’t tired, but exhausted and very much looking forward to leaving India and flying to Beijing, the next leg of my semester. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be returning to India in less than a year, but here I am and enjoying every minute of my return!

It was Christina, Sindhu and my last trip together. We’d decided on an extended weekend to see the Backwaters, Varkala and Kochi as all these thoughts were running through my head on the Chennai Express 12696 between Varkala and Kochi. I kept thinking how could I be back in India so soon and in Varkala again? But there I sat, perched in the train’s open doorway, the wind battering back my hair as if attempting to push me back into the train. 

I normally love traveling on trains and Indian rail is no exception (well…most of the time!). There’s something special about the feeling of traveling without any physical excursion, embarking at one town or city and few hours later arriving in an entirely different location. I look forward to these rides as my time to kick back and relax, stare idly out the window listening to my ipod and most importantly, using the time for some much needed introspection where you can do nothing else but think!

Call me odd, but one unchecked goal on my bucket list is to travel via Amtrak across the west coast and then head east across the Midwest. I’ve never been to the Midwest and watching the landscape change from sunny California to snowy US-Canadian border, perched comfortably behind the confines of the train is something I’d like to do one day. Just think of the random assortment of people I’d meet on the train – crazy like myself to embark on such a journey!

Lat fall on my comparative global health program, I discovered that I equally enjoy traveling by train abroad. Trains connected me between Basel, Switzerland and Colmar, France. Allowed me to contrast rural Indian life with cities like Madurai or Bangalore and illustrated the glaring divide between South Africa’s idyllic, sleepy coastal towns and the Cape Flats’ sprawling shanty towns, seemingly impeding the train’s exodus from Cape Town’s center. Or the night train from Beijing to Changsha – waking up as the train entered the city, passing hundreds of tower cranes stretching the city upwards and outwards in all directions.  Never had I seen so much physical representation of economic growth and a jarring contrast between China’s orderly growth and India’s chaotic rise.

Sitting there on the Chennai Express 12696 my mind kept dwelling on all those trains, the places I’ve been fortunate to visit and the amazing experiences of the last year. As many would agree, traveling abroad can put things in perspective and in less than a month, I’ll be a senior at Penn, the elusive ‘real world’ finally catching up to me. Important post-graduation decisions will be made about first jobs, careers etc. Do I want to pursue domestic or global jobs in public health? First, could I even see myself living for a year or more overseas away from family and friends? How easily can I find an entry-level position with budget cuts and a sputtering economy? All these thoughts buzzed around me on the Chennai Express 12696.

I may not have many answers and many looming suprises, but I somehow made it back to Kerala, thus I’m sure there will be plenty of more trains in my future.

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One thought on “Train Journeys of the World

  1. Oh the sounds of the Indian train! "Chai-chai-yah" "vada-vadeee" "waaaaater cold draaaanks" with the lush green going by the window. I love everyone’s stories from the trains — entangled bodies sharing berths, strangers that take you on as family — I have many stories. Perhaps the funniest was when a five year old kid horsing around pulled the emergency break (of course it was the one on my assigned berth!). Long journeys are great for reflection. Amtrak awaits you!

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About Sam Ware

I graduated from Penn in 2013, majoring in Health and Societies. I worked at Aravind Eye Care System in Madurai during the summer of 2012. I'm currently serving as a Global Health Fellow in rural Haiti where I manage community health programs for 75,000. I'll be returning to the US at the end of June 2013 where I'm very excited to eat tons of dairy products and green things!