Meadows flashed by. Green, brown, yellow, blue flashes of colors that blurred into one giant blur of landscape that delighted the senses moments before it was left behind for the next frame. Hanging by the window of the train, minutes rolled into hours, days rolled into nights as we settled down to the “chuk chuk” rhythm of a train journey that took us from one corner of the country to the other.
My Dad and I would have passionate discussions on world affairs, television, movies, relatives, while my sister sat quietly, her nose buried in a book. She always was the quite one. My Mom would join us sometimes. Other times, she would knit. Sometimes she would drag the basket from below the bed bunk and take out snacks for us.
This was a ritual that we followed every year. Come winter vacations, and we would be off to our grandparents, who lived about 2000 miles away. Air travel was rare. Most middle class families would book tickets a little ahead of time, standing in a line at the railway station. No computers, no online booking, no e-tickets. Losing tickets would mean paying all over again, no concession given whatsoever.
Sometimes we would have to travel from far to catch the train, often making the distance to the railway station in a bus or a taxi. Sometimes, the trains started at midnight, meaning we would wait patiently, without blinking, waiting for the train to scream it arrival. Once we boarded, and found our seats, we would lay the bedding and fall promptly asleep, lulled by the ferocious chugging of the cogs that moved the monstrous wheels forward.
Those days, unlike now, most compartments were non AC, which meant we travelled with windows that did not have the mandatory glass. Instead, they had iron bars across their frame that made sure no one fell out. The kids would huddle by the window, faces plastered to the iron frame, drinking in every bit and piece of foliage that passed by. The hills excited us, crossing of the rivers excited us even more. There was something very special about crossing the bridges that spanned the deep, wide rivers by train. The wind that slapped into the face was exhilarating. When the large metal compartments we sat in eased into stations, we would hang our head far out to scan for food, or snack vendors, depending on the time of the day.
And boy, did we love those vendors! In trains, we always seemed to be surrounded by porters and vendors. Beads, jewelry, flashlights, tea leaves, scarves, pens, calculators, candies – the list was endless, the choices amazing. It formed a large part of our entertainment, and the items also told us when we had reached closer to the Chinese border – we would be inundated with goods – possibly smuggled – from China. I would buy books, lots of them. When I was really young, vendors would hand us kids beautifully illustrated books from foreign countries that were not available in our local markets. I would flip through those for hours, and my Mom would smile gently, nudge my dad who would then buy some for me, and I would end up spending hours engrossed in the world of illustrations that took me away on another journey altogether.
And then there were food vendors. We always seemed to be surrounded by food. If the train was running, they would sell food inside. When it stopped, they would be outside. But the most popular ones were always tea vendors.
Sipping tea in earthen pots every few hours used to be the highlight of our the long, sometimes fun, sometimes arduous journey that lasted three days, two train changes and lots of luggage hauling. I yearn for those moments spent together with my family so much that I want to get on a train journey all over again, sipping tea, soaking in the lush beauty of country side without a worry in my mind.
- 1-3/4 cup water
- 4 cloves
- 1 small stick of cinnamon
- 2 tea bags
- 3-4 tbsp lemon juice
- 1-2 tbsp brown sugar
- slice of fresh lemon to garnish
- Put water, cloves and cinnamon stick to a pan and bring to boil.
- Remove from heat and add the tea bags. Let stand for five minutes to infuse and then discard the tea bags.
- Stir in lemon juice and brown sugar.
- Return the pan to the heat and warm through gently – do not boil.
- Remove the pan, strain the tea into a heat proof glass, decorate with a slice of lemon and serve hot.
- You can adjust the quantities above according to taste. I use tea bag instead of two as I like milder tea. I also use 1 tbsp lemon juice accordingly.
Dear readers, what is your favorite childhood vacation memory?
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