All aboard the Gatimaan Express!

Over my journeys across India so far, I’ve found that the transportation options are endless. Whether you’re looking for a quick and affordable ride in an auto (also endearingly referred to as a “Tuk Tuk”), a comfortable ride on the speedy Delhi metro, or a luxurious ride on one of the many air-conditioned trains of the Indian Railways, there truly is something for everyone. The use of Uber and Ola as ride share options are of course present, and the ability to book an auto through Uber has been my co-intern and I’s favorite mode of transportation around Gurgaon. It’s been interesting to see how the transportation options differ slightly based on where one is in India.

Here are some of the transportation options we’ve come across so far in our travels across India!

Auto/Tuk Tuk: Autos are by far one of the best transportation options in the intense Delhi heat (I may also be a bit biased in this opinion given how often my co-intern and I opt for auto rides). Apparently they may have gotten the nickname “Tuk Tuk” because it reflects the sound the engine makes. They’re characterized by their three-wheel structure and usually have a bright yellow and green panel adorning the exterior. Two people can comfortably sit in the auto, but I’ve definitely seen upwards of five people fit themselves in one. The sides are open which makes feeling the breeze during the ride easier as well as fully embracing the organized chaos on the streets. Auto drivers are frequently stationed outside busy areas like the railway station or the metro, attempting to receive passengers. In that sense, being able to secure an auto ride through the Uber app has made things very easy as we don’t have to get caught up in the bargaining discussion for the best fare which takes place amongst the passenger and numerous auto drivers (hopefully someday our bargaining and Hindi skills will be up to par though!).

E-rickshaw (e-rick)- We rode an E-rickshaw once while taking an Old Delhi Street Food Tour. Unfortunately, they’re not yet as common in Gurgaon. These are a wonderful option for quick transportation because they’re battery operated, and so are much more eco-friendly than autos that run on naturally compressed gas. According to the Energy Research Institute, autos otherwise emit 3.72 tonnes of carbon dioxide in one year! On the other hand, the use of the e-rickshaw would allow for an annual reduction of 378,357 tonnes of carbon dioxide. It seems like this option is being heavily explored across India to mitigate air and noise pollution, but the higher cost of renting the e-rick for drivers and general uncertainty about the longevity of its manufacturing continue to serve as a barrier to their widespread adoption. Hopefully, this environmentally sustainable option will become commonplace in the coming years as incentives for driving them and barriers to owning them are further discussed and subsequently addressed.

Delhi metro: My co-intern and I took an Old Delhi Street Food Tour through Reality Tours and Travel (highly recommend for all the amazing Old Delhi history and of course, food!). Through this tour we got a wonderful guide who taught us how to use the Delhi metro. The metro was extremely clean, organized, and very well-conditioned. Moreover, as new riders, my co-intern and I were able to navigate the station. Our guide also showed us the metro station map of each of the running lines which featured the fare for the travel as well as discounted fares for travel on Sundays and holidays in order to encourage metro travel. Best of all, there’s a woman’s only train car which we have yet to explore.

Indian railway: On our first in-person day in the office, we had a staff meeting where my co-intern and I learned about the opportunity for a field visit in Madhya Pradesh. During that meeting, our supervisors mentioned that we’d be travelling by train to Madhya Pradesh. This was by far one of the most exciting parts of the whole trip to me because of how much praise I had heard about the Indian railways. We took the Gatimaan Express which has three stops: Agra, Gwalior, and lastly Jhansi. The train was air-conditioned, clean, and we got an amazing choice of food (aloo paratha, paneer cutlet, uthappam, omelet, cereals, breads, and chai). Not only was the time spent in the train enjoyable, but the outside view was stunning as we departed from the Hazrat Nizamuddin Station in Delhi and trekked across India all the way to Jhansi in Madhya Pradesh. The Gatimaan Express is touted as the fastest train in India as it reaches a top speed of 160 km/h. I cannot recommend travel on the Gatimaan Express enough, or for that matter, any experience on the Indian Railways.

View from the Gatimaan Express

Field visit in Madhya Pradesh

Now, to take a detour from the discussion of transportation, we took the Gatimaan Express from Delhi to Jhansi for our field visit in two districts in Madhya Pradesh (specifically, Damoh and Panna). My co-intern and I along with our supervisor from PHFI were heading to Madhya Pradesh to observe the Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK) program which was launched by the Indian government in 2014. The Indian name of the program translates to “National Adolescent Health Program”. The program aims to improve adolescent health across India under six central themes which include nutrition, sexual & reproductive health, mental health, injuries & violence (including gender-based violence), substance misuse, and non-communicable diseases. The program makes use of peer educators who are adolescents themselves that are trained under the program (either through the government or local NGO trainers) to hold sessions with a group of adolescents fitting a similar demographic, on these six topics.

On this field visit, we observed the Adolescent Friendly Club Meetings which occur for the peer educators to use as a sort of refresher training as well as an open discussion forum for them to discuss any challenges they’ve been facing with their individual adolescent groups (referred to as brigades). We also observed Adolescent Health Clinics which are usually specific rooms present within a larger local health center in which a counsellor of the RKSK program sits to provide counselling or even refer the adolescents to other health care providers and medications. In this field visit, we observed a total of four adolescent club meetings, two adolescent friendly health clinics, and interacted with a large variety of stakeholders in this program which included the peer educators, brigade members, NGO trainers, and ASHAs (accredited social health activists), among many others. It was refreshing to see how open the peer educators were to discuss topics that may be otherwise sensitive for this age group, but their passion and drive to serve their community led to immensely constructive sessions. Observing the clinics was also eye-opening to me because it allowed me to see how health centers operated in a rural setting. The health center was not equipped with the technology that is usually present in a hospital, but it still ran efficiently with the available equipment. The counsellors had a wide variety of materials set aside specifically for the adolescents to use including sanitary napkins, IFA tablets, access to hemoglobin testing, pregnancy tests and much more.  

The field visit was enlightening because I got a bit of a glimpse of healthcare operations on the more rural side of India. I feel extremely lucky to have been given this unique opportunity to explore an innovative approach to adolescent public health. Moreover, our observations and feedback from the peer educators, ASHAs, and others will be used to facilitate workshops for stakeholders to allow for a national scale-up of this program in the future.

On a side note, our supervisor also took us on quite a few sightseeing visits across Madhya Pradesh. We saw the Orcha Fort in Jhansi, Khajuraho temples near Panna, and the Dhuandhar waterfalls in Jabalpur.

Since I’ve now been in India for a month, this post was long overdue and hence is very lengthy (I’m finding it very difficult to compress my experiences into this blog post). Thus far, India has been an amazing whirlwind as we’ve been busy at work and exploring in our free time. I’ve already learnt so much both about public health and this beautiful country which makes me immensely excited for the wonders to come!

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About Himanshi Verma

Hi, I'm Himanshi! I'm a part of the class of 2024 and am majoring in Neuroscience. This summer, I will be interning at the Public Health Foundation of India in Gurgaon, Haryana. Outside of the classroom, I enjoy dancing, reading, and trying various desserts!