Unreserved

Three trains, 190 rupees, 700 odd kilometers and one frugal traveller!

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Here I sit and type this post,
Peering into the first light
Reflecting off of strange choices
And travels of the day bygone –
A day well spent, well travelled.
Not a string of bad decisions,
For I shall arrive home,
Not later than the last

I had to make an unexpected journey from Rameshwaram to Chennai. I had less than 5 hours before the first train home departed from the idyllic island town. A quick glance at the IRCTC app revealed that the tickets had been sold out. While expected, it was still quite the setback to my to-be-materialised plan.

And so, it turned into what it always was – an impromtu journey for which I was ill prepared. Armed with my smaller backpack in which lay two days of unfolded clothes and other necessities, a general ticket to Egmore and my travel-hardened senses, I walked into the terminal at Rameshwaram.

The plan was simple, approach a ticket examiner early, implore him to allot a berth to me. Here, I admit I was oversimplifying quite a bit. This was plan A.

But when do plan As ever work? I must remind myself to just skip the As and go on to the Bs henceforth!

Evidently, the train was completely booked. There was simply no berth the ticket examiner could have allotted to me. Of the countless lessons that had been offered to me by the pros (my smart travelling swag fam) over a period of 20 years, the one I chose to miss was “Pleading TTE 101”.

Life is like that sick, sarcastic friend (oh wait, that is me) we all have who makes these dank jokes that rub things in – the lessons you missed are the ones you are tested on!

Eitherway, I had to be home ASAP and I could not relent. The unreserved compartments were simply too crowded for any sort of comfort and were altogether uninviting.

I boarded the reserved compartments ready to pay the fine if asked for. I knew from the charts that many of the seats were booked only beyond Trichy Junction and I could travel at least upto that point with little trouble.

So now, plan B was to go to Trichy, walk over to the bus stand and board a bus to Chennai. But when do plan Bs work? In my defense, plan B could have very well worked, but no, I take immense pleasure in complicating it. I disembarked the train and Trichy and boarded again for reasons unknown to me now.

With the failure of two plans fresh in my memory, I bid adieu to my plans C, D, E, F and G. The facts were right there for me to see, every ticket on the trains from everywhere to home were booked. It was unlikely that a TTE, at that dark hour could allot a berth to me.

I noticed at Trichy that the unreserved compartment of a train in the adjacent set of tracks was rather empty. But that train would not take me home.

I disembarked at Thanjavur immediately after that and realised how buses were no longer an option. A bus from Thanjavur to Chennai would go through winding two lane State Highways before joining the four lane Trichy – Chennai highway which was way faster. Also, at towns other than Trichy, the bus terminus and rail heads were a good distance apart.

As I weighed my options, the train from earlier with the near empty UR coaches chugged into Thanjavur. The announcement was being made and I was ready to ignore it and leave the station when I heard “…Vilupuram…”.

And so it was the second train of the night – the Tirupati Express, ironically also from Rameshwaram.

It was fairly comfortable, I had a spot on the floor and it was soon upgraded to a seat. I managed to watch the Juventus – Real Madrid match with relative comfort. Afted a few ten minutes of sleep, I disembarked, this time at Vilupuram Junction.

I had multiple options here as well. I missed the 3:50 train by a whisker and had to settle for the 4:10 train to Madras.

I could do little against the new irony that was staring at me when I was naked, having already made many blunders that day. This train was also from Rameshwaram.

All trains lead to Chennai and all come from Rameshwaram.

It turns out, that my choices, although mostly left to chance have minimised the time I spent waiting for my next ride. While a bus from Trichy would have had me eating breakfast at home at 5:30, I shall now be eating the same at 7:00. Not too shabby I’d say. And considering my affinity to trains and aversion to buses, I am quite content with this unexpected turn of events.

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