Travelling from Pune to Mumbai in 1AC Vistadome coach for the 1st time

The train arrived on time but I wish Indian Railways shared the position of my coach in the SMS they sent once the chart was prepared.

BHPian NiInJa recently shared this with other enthusiasts.

“Me time”

noun: Time spent relaxing on one’s own as opposed to working or doing things for others, seen as an opportunity to reduce stress or restore energy.

It is that one thing every man and woman craves for when they have kids. I see and hear so many couples around me struggling to get this precious time and it is perhaps the primary reason for most domestic quarrels between the two adults at home. My wife and I have had our share as well, until we came to an agreement!

The peace accord that I signed with her basically says that we both should spend time without each other, so we take turns getting out of the house on weekends and no questions are asked about what the other person does outside, unless he/she is out doing something illegal. The one at home looks after the kid and the house, again methods are not to be questioned unless it is harmful or setting a bad precedent (This is an important clause). Of course, there are no strict rules around it but we make a point to leave the other one alone at least for a day twice a month. This needs to be done to maintain sanity in the house.

While my wife goes out watching movies and catching up with her friends and the usual shopping, and eating routines, I prefer to do things that don’t involve much human interaction, and if human interaction is involved, it is with some very close friends.

My me time usually involves interacting with my bike…

And when the wife is out, it works out well for me and the kid too. See, there is an absence of that constant bombardment of instructions for me: feed him, make him pee, make him sleep, take a bath, shave that beard etc. You know that feeling when your manager/boss is on leave and you don’t have to report to him for the day?

I usually end up doing things we both like, and in that process often forget things like eating, bladder and sleep management, but hey, it’s the weekend and as I said, methods are not to be questioned!

As mad as I am about planes, trains, cars and stuff, luckily some of that craze has rubbed off on him pretty well.

So this weekend, it was my turn to get out of the house and do whatever I wanted. The original plan was to drive to Diveagar and experience coastal rainfall with my friend, talking about recent political events in the state and whether Kohli should get any more chances. Unfortunately, my friend got sick and the plan had to be dropped on Thursday. With no other things planned, I had the whole Sunday to myself.

Thought of going somewhere on the bike, but it was raining heavily and I had done one ride just two weeks back. Driving a car to Lonavala/Khandala wasn’t exciting as well, as for the most part, you end up in the car stuck in heavy traffic and absolutely no place to park vehicles. While I was thinking about Khandala, it struck me: Deccan Queen, Vistadome!! But the dream was short-lived, apparently, there are thousands of train enthusiasts like me and there is just one Vistadome coach doing rounds from Pune to Mumbai and back. There is almost a month’s waiting and I was told that WL (Waitlist) tickets rarely get converted to CNF (Confirmed) for this DQ coach. Dejected, I almost dropped everything for Sunday and was thinking of taking my wife and the kid to the usual Mall, his usual play area and the usual shops in it, when I saw one train leaving from Pune to Mumbai at 7.55AM and again leaving Mumbai at 1.20PM and arriving at 4.40PM to Pune.

Hmmph, so what if I booked 1AC which I have never done in my life, and experience the Khandala ghat section, which I last experienced in 2008 to attend Mood Indigo at IIT Bombay?! Plus, the last time I travelled on a train was back in 2016.

Checked for seats and found that 1A class has some available. Immediately booked it and told my wife that I am going to Mumbai and will be back on the same train by 5.30PM. In that josh, I missed the final destination, it was LTT (Lokmanya Tilak Terminus) and not the usual CST (Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus), yes, I am going to write about LTT, but let’s write the good stuff first.

The plan was set: travel on a train, read your favorite book which you haven’t done since you started wasting time reading tweets, watching FB feeds and Instagram reels. Idea was to not have any screen time, only exception being the Kindle e-reader.

Had checked the status of the train on the RailYatri app the night before and saw that it was running about 20 minutes late, with heavy rainfall in Maharashtra, I expected it to be late to arrive in Pune as well. Woke up with the hope that I may get a few minutes more to read the newspaper before I left home, checked the app again and to my surprise the scheduled arrival was bang on right with no delay. Looks like the train was at full speed all night recovering lost time. She arrived right on the time as mentioned in the app. Trust in RailYatri app restored.

Reached the station forty minutes early and started soaking myself in the mood of a typical railway station.

Yes, I was confused too, this shop is supposed to sell books.

These airplanes and cars had spoilt me, made me forget my old flames.

Looked her in the eyes, after the longest time…

Locomotive Love (taken from an English song I heard)

Let’s agree to agree, watching coupling is fun at any age.

The train arrived on time and I had already figured out where the coach was going to be on Google, but I wish Indian Railways mentioned the position of my coach in the SMS they send once the chart is prepared. The information on the display board is fine, but for someone in hurry, it can be missed easily. Knowing the position beforehand will avoid unnecessary cardio workouts at the last minute. It pains to watch kids dragged by their mothers and fathers hauling bags spewing verbal expletives towards their designated ‘dibba’ with just five minutes of stoppage.

The platform is a sight to watch when a train arrives, there is no time for selfless acts and not a second to waste at the doors. You need to be quick, your core must be tightened, and you must gather enough strength to toss other passengers’ bags away from the door and push yourself inside. I did the same as I was trained as such when I was doing Pune-Mumbai-Pune every summer at school-going age, but then I wondered, what was the need now? Is the 1st class crowded and unruly just like others? It sure looked like that. The coach read ‘A1’ on the outside and I thought that’s my coach and shoved myself inside it, but once I emerged out of the dense cloud of human torsos, I realized this was not my coach, there were no cabins as promised, no silence and peace as I had read two days ago, asked another harried passenger where I was, said it was a 2A Coach and mine was one coach ahead. Did a facepalm mentally and started running towards the coach from inside the train. The train started moving mercilessly exactly at 7.55AM. Thank God better sense prevailed and I did not get out of the train to board my coach. Vestibuled trains! One of the best inventions by humankind.

First step inside the coach and you know this is a different experience altogether. You feel so calm inside, isolated from the chaos that is unfolding in the entire length of the train that is ahead of you (pro tip: 1A Coaches are usually first or last depending on direction, for long-haul trains). Each of these nice cabins has a tiny little letter marking above the entrance, easy to miss when travelling for the first time in it, as I did. Then you slide the heavy door (kids better not stand in between this door) and admire the space Indian Railways offer you!

That awkward moment when you realize this cabin is bigger than the average kitchen of a modest flat in Mumbai. (Note: the cabin was cleaned promptly after the train left Pune station)

Ok I am exaggerating, but man! why would someone travel in an aeroplane, stacked like eggs in a tray, if they can travel in THIS is still beyond me. The price for the ticket is justified, it is definitely not just a measure of time saved on a plane. Sit back, enjoy the view, take some board games along and if you are the physically active type, you can easily do some exercise and yoga as well inside the cabin. It is that spacious. As this was a long-haul train coming from Kakinada Port in Andhra, the 1A coach had very less occupants from Pune onwards, and since it was only going to stop at Lonavala before terminating at LTT, it meant that no one was going to accompany me in that cabin for the entire journey. I felt like a King. For introverts like me, the happiness of finding places you enjoy completely devoid of other humans is inexplicable. I could read my favorite author’s book, talk loudly with my kid on a video call or simply sing songs loudly like I do in the washroom.

Ok, I admit, this one was only for the photo-op. I finished reading only about 21% of it, because for the entire journey I had pasted my face to the glass window, taking in every image of the scenery that this route offers.

Sometimes the scenes are bad. There was one that freaked me out completely while watching those tracks running along with me. Somewhere after crossing Shivajinagar, the train gathered speed and then for a quick moment I saw a man lifeless, lying next to the track. It happened so fast but was enough for my brain to process everything. I could feel my heart pounding. Is this so common? As a matter of fact, it is. A lot of people are found dead next to railway tracks in India, daily. The next day I checked on the Maharashtra police website and found there were three unidentified/unclaimed men dead around the Pune Railway station section itself, one record had a thumbnail image of what I saw from the train.

Anyway, I had to move on, literally. Soon got distracted by rains which started as we crossed my ancestral station Kamshet and approached Lonavala and I started recalling those days when I used to travel to my grandparents’ and uncle’s home in Mumbai in these trains, much before the Mumbai-Pune Express highway was built and dad bought a car for us.

Kamshet Station seen at the far end of this photo.

Image Source

As a kid, whenever we went to this small village for family functions, I used to hang around at this beautiful station for some time. The sound of the clean Indrayani river that flows along the track just behind the platform is one soul-soothing experience. A train running on this particular section would be shown in the famous and beautiful song ‘Mile sur mera tumhara’ just before the Marathi part of the song starts.

Anyone who has not travelled the Mumbai-Pune leg on a train should do so, as early as possible. The Khandala Ghat section is something, especially in monsoon and winters. I am going to put some videos down here that I recorded on ‘basic’ High Definition resolution using my phone. Well, watch those Khandala Ghat videos in 480p or 8K resolution as much as you want, but nothing matches the experience of physically travelling on that scenic route and feeling everything, the smell in the air, the cool wind blowing and the noise of train mixed with the sound of water falling down the hills, the croaking of frogs and the rustling of leaves of the dense jungle.

One sincere request to Indian Railways: slap them Vistadome coaches at the rear of all trains that go to Mumbai from Pune. If not possible, well, just make it possible.

Video 1

VIdeo 2

Video 3

The progress is pretty slow once the train crosses Karjat as local trains join these express trains. The train almost limps towards the end of the journey, I saw the train not going above 30 to 40kmph for the most part after Kalyan. It would burst to 60-70 kmph for a couple of kilometers as if someone kicked it in the rear, only to slow down again.

This was purely nostalgic, the last dose of the tunnel after enjoying all tunnels of Khandala, the train cuts through this huge mountain before Thane station arrives.

Here is a video of it on the way back to Pune: (Skip the first 30 seconds of the tunnel)

The train arrived with a delay of 9 minutes at LTT Lokmanya Tilak Terminus.

Now, for the uninitiated, LTT is a place where many long-haul trains terminate and originate from Mumbai. But it is essentially a dump yard for travellers. The terminus has a major ‘your a** is on your own’ vibe. For all the space available on the premises, the station lacks good eateries, medicine shops or general stores. It is common sense that people are arriving here after spending more than 24 hours on a train in some cases, or people will spend the next day or two on a train when they leave the station, so it should definitely have these essential shops, but no, there just aren’t, at least not in the immediate vicinity of the trains. And the toilets are yuck!! If you are arriving at LTT, better use the toilets inside the train. The ones in my coach were as clean as airplane ones, except there was water spilled on the floor and the toilet paper was missing (you can request the staff to fix it quickly). Funny, you are not allowed to use washrooms during turbulence in an aircraft, but if one wants to know what it is like to use one during turbulence, Indian Railways offers that experience in loads. It also had a liquid soap dispenser with liquid soap in it!

Coming back to LTT, I had no other plan but to sit it out at the station and board the same train again on my way back, there was a waiting room with a small eatery for passengers at platform #1, but just like you have those fans blowing rose water scented air on your face at the entrance of a marriage hall, this one too was blowing air at the entrance, except the scent was similar to ammonia, or urine. You need to be on some heavy stuff to stand near that entrance, few minutes more and I would have probably fainted. Not sure if it was because of Sunday and the cleaning staff was on leave, but it was simply BAD. Decided to skip that and took a stroll outside, nothing much to do there as well.

A lone engine, might as well keep it inside the station.

The nearest restaurant was a good 15-20 minutes walk from the station, which meant I would have to take an auto and everything. Not needed as I had packed some food with me, but someone who arrives at LTT famished, he better be prepared to hang on for some more time. The IRCTC eatery upstairs, above the stinking toilets, is again, hopeless. I sampled a samosa just to see what it is like and threw it after one bite. Not sure why there are no good eateries when they have such a huge waiting area.

So I did the usual stuff at the station, walked along the length and breadth of the platforms, reached my step count target in the process, observed everything happening around me and read the book while waiting for the train’s doors to open.

Soon, it was time to go back home. The train was the same, the coach was again the same, and as luck would have it, I had the same cabin confirmed with no one but just me in it! Once again, I was rolling, face plastered to the window and enjoying every bit of what I had seen two hours ago, the kid inside me awake and alive!

I came home happy and fresh with that ‘reset to factory settings’ sort of mental state, ready to face a gloomy, cloudy and rainy Monday with a full charge. Even though I had slept for just six hours the day before, did not sleep for a minute on the train. My wife was happy that I wasn’t around her all day, she talked to her friends till they had nothing else to talk about, which is theoretically not possible, and the kid was busy landing planes at the airport we built last week.

The total cost of the entire journey was about 2700 Rupees. This was an experiment I did and it was successful. I can take my family to Mumbai for a day, except it won’t be LTT! I have at times worked from shopping malls or cafes, eating and drinking sugar in the process, but this is newfound love. If I want to be alone to do some office-related reading stuff or even do some coding, I can very well do it from a moving train. Hopefully, this will happen more. Thanks for reading!

Ending with a photo of a fully operational airport

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