Stories, photographs and thoughts from a travelling couple taking walks and mapping their routes, while backpacking around India, and parts of the world.
Disclaimer: Before you deep dive into this completely biased personal “review” of the Tejas Express, let me inform you that there is a fair amount of sarcasm, and borderline abuse that you may encounter. I've toned down the language heavily, but if you are of the type that easily gets offended, please head to this page specially created for you.
We are making our way from Goa to Mumbai on the much-hyped Tejas Express. We find ourselves once again at the Carambolim Railway Station, better known to the visiting masses as Karmali. I think Karmali took precedence over Carambolim, as the trailing ‘m’ at the end of the Goan place names normally leads to the butchering of pronunciation. A few examples are Candolim, Siolim, Cortalim, Borim, the list goes on. FYI, the M is silent and just helps emphasise the I (Say it as 'eeeee') sound.
There are some ten thousand people at the platform! This tiny railway station normally has an active population of 17. That includes the stray dog taking a random piss on the tracks. Unfortunately, the school year hasn't commenced yet, and we are met with a bunch of vacationers making their way back to their respective cities of bright lights and air that makes the smoke from my uncle's 20-year old Bullet exhaust pipe look good. Anyway, all it takes is a few steps away from the junta before we find ourselves in a spot with a lot of space to spread out our arms. The train is already here since it was the starting point. I put on my CSI glasses to realize that the doors of the train are closed, leaving the masses scattered around the platform.
So, let's see what the whole hype is about this Tejas Express. First impression – The train looks really good. The huge windows are definitely a way forward. This country is finally showing signs of progress. The doors are open now. Luckily, the junta is not rushing to the doors, like they normally do. All that education is finally starting to kick in, I guess. I should've carried my box of medals to hand it out to all these people.
We find our seats easily. 77 and 78. Right next to the door. The train leaves bang on time at 14:30. If I'm not mistaken, it was supposed to depart at 14:35. Maybe, my watch is not properly calibrated to the position of the sun. I think the monsoon clouds might have got in the way of my sundial. Anyway, earlier is always better than late.
We have barely started moving and the staff totally kicks into their act. A bottle of Rail Neer (water) and newspapers for everyone. The staff has cool 'Goan' or 'Hawaiian' shirts on and are moving around pushing their cute carts, just like the cabin crew in the aircrafts. The only difference being that these guys are too chilled out for anyone's liking and would probably give zero f*cks if the average unsatisfied Indian male tried to flirt with them.
A couple of kilometers into the trip and the train is flying, unlike the slow coaches we've taken in the past on the Konkan route. All those years of piss and faeces hitting the tracks seems to have finally managed to lubricate them to some extent, I guess. IST 14:45 – we have already crossed the Thivim railway station. This eagle is totally flying.
I'm not sure why we got the corner most seats even though there were plenty of tickets available when we booked them. But I guess it's because these are one of the few two seater rows in the four corners of the coach. I'm assuming the booking algorithm knew we were a couple and did not want some clown sitting with us.
Now getting to trains, I think I might know a thing or two about this complicated network of metal monsters pumping their way around this huge subcontinent. From sleeping in a cool Rajdhani to Delhi, to standing in seedy general compartments with potential murderers from a certain North Indian state, I might have traversed a huge part of this country using the Indian Railways. So when we realized that the Tejas Express was running from a station right next to where we live, we cancelled our tickets on the horrendously slow Konkan Kanya and booked seats on the Tejas Express. Now, I take my train journeys seriously alright and this journey is no joke for me. Let's now look at what the Tejas has to offer.
I'm assuming that the person in-charge of ergonomics might have never sat in a train in his or her entire life.
If you want to use a laptop, then I suggest you use it after you alight from the train. Firstly laptops don't fit properly on the tray in front of every seat. You can't have the screen opened up properly, and if the person in front of you decides to push his seat back, then be prepared to say “Thank you Sir. Alleluiah, Amen!”, as your entire tray will move back and basically there is not point to life after this. But let's not get too upset about this, as I do not have any expectations from the ergonomics department.
It feels like the arm rests don't fold up. Which can mean only one thing. People with a lot of fat deposits on their upper thighs are going to have a tough time squeezing into their seats. This also means less physical contact with the missus who is sitting next to me. Our midriffs wont get to touch for sure. Oh wait, I tried again and the arm rests do move up. It just so happens that you need a gym membership to get it to work.
The automatic sliding doors are horribly designed. Pretty tough for the older folks and kids to handle. It seems like the railway authorities have not learnt anything from those guillotine doors they provide on the double decker train earlier. A few kids almost get their skulls smashed in (Which would be nice for the population issue we have), and older folks just do not know what to do when they reach the doors. And me sitting in the first seat next to the door means that I have to display my chivalry to save old ladies from getting decapitated
We are greeted with a lot of trash on the floor.
Now before we launch an assault on the cleaning staff, we have to note that they had cleaned up most of the mess (based on the trash bags we saw at the entrance). The rest of the trash lying around are chocolate and other wrappers which were shoved into the trays and corners. This is the mentality of the average Indian. I mean, we've been contributing to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan scam anyway, so why not litter and mess up wherever you can, because someone will come clean up after you. All these fools have to be given Bharat Rathnas. #CongratsIndia.
But apart from that, the train is pretty clean overall, because that's what new trains are like for the first month or so – clean.
The seats are quite comfortable and push a long way back. The lower back support seems to be okay, but there is something off about it at the same time. Maybe I might have accumulated some extra fat on the back side. I'll give the Indian Railways the benefit of doubt on this one. The seats are also extremely high though. Which is a good thing. No more having to stare at strangers' heads.
The leg room is a complete win. A lot of space to move your legs around. Tall folks would love these seats.
Storage space also gets extra points. The overhead storage racks are pretty spacious, and there is enough space to shove a small bag under your seat. There is space to store a couple of bigger suitcases behind our (last) seats, and the aisles are pretty spacious too. Fat people can move around easily, but bum cheeks will surely touch if you have two people crossing paths.
The air conditioning is maintained at a pretty livable temperature so far. The quest to transport frozen bodies must only be a thing on the double decker trains.
14:55 and we were in Pernem!
I'm breaking the food analysis into two sections. One for snack sessions, which includes breakfast and tea. And another for meals – lunch and dinner, the costs of which are included in the ticket if you select the option.
Man, I am impressed. I don't understand what drove those renegades on the first few trains to break the LCD screens, but this entertainment system is keeping the damn noisy kids quiet, and for that I would like to hand out some medals.
Whoever decided to throw in Angry Birds and Candy Crush, is a genius.
The interface has a USB charging point, two slots for earphones, a reading light (with adjustable brightness), and power button to turn the damn thing off, if entertainment is not your cup of tea. The language options are a little surprising. I was expecting Hindi to be thrown in somewhere, but it seems like these devices might have come from our neighbours on the other side of the Himalayas. Hence the Cantonese and other languages that don't make any sense to us, are included. I put the UI through some testing, but it seems like the language change affects only the main menus. The rest of the content still displays in English. Anyway, let's not waste our time on this. Candy Crush is in English no matter what, and that's what's keeping the sanity of this boogie in check and praise the cow god for that!
The older couple on the other side of our aisle are more interested in looking out of the window and reading the newspaper. Hence their screens were of no use. Priya is busy reading her new Murakami book and clicking photos of the passing landscape. But let's take not away any credit from these screens goddammit! The true heroes of this journey, keeping everyone's puke orifices shut, thanks to all the lame movies that are being served.
I try clicking around, but no English movies are to be found here.
Remember the whole scene with earphones being stolen? The issue is for real. We ask one of the attendants to hand us earphones, multiple times, after which he gets us only one, which is handed over very sheepishly.
When another passenger asks for earphones, they tell her that they are either not unavailable or that they aren't working. Can't blame the staff though.
Getting to the earphone slots, they are the dual channel slots. Both of my slots are not working (with different earphones), and only one of Priya's work and the audio quality is bad. Another stupid installation. Luckily, I have my own music on my phone, which I shall listen too.
Internet Radio does not work. I guess, the WiFi option is only available to the folks on the Executive Class. A few passengers ask the staff regarding the WiFi, to which they inform them that they haven't started the WiFi service yet. Bummer.
The Public Information System (PIS) needs to go home, as it is drunk. The information does not make any sense considering that our train is moving. I'm assuming this was because of the fact that the time on the tabs are not properly set. Anyway, here are a bunch of messages we are getting to look at, while I eat my kachori.
So far, the journey has been very comfortable. I am loving the speed at which this train is moving. The staff is no-nonsense and nice. The snacks are good. The people are silenced, thanks to technology. A few mini-paaji kids are walking up and down the aisle, with their plastic toy guns minding their own business, taking aim at me at times. These kids would be a hit in an American school.
17:00 – time has flown by. The train is pretty clean by now. The cleaning staff came and mopped the place up. Let's wait and see how our coach mates handle themselves. I'm retaining some hope. We are gonna keep this coach clean. Time for some Botch and a short nap.
17:23 – we are at Ratnagiri. I receive a feedback call from Indian Railways to rate the cleanliness of the platform and the train. That chap who just mopped the floor totally knew this was coming. Anyway, full marks for cleanliness and timing.
The toilets are a disappointment. Firstly they are dirty. Tissue paper thrown all around. The passengers are to be blamed for this. The floor is a full rubber mat, but it does not seem to have a good (floor) drainage system, hence the floor was filled with a thin layer of water. Thank god for the rubber mat. I took a nice piss, and then came the time to flush. This is one of India's first trains with a bio-vacuum toilet. So, no fecal matter and urine going down to the tracks anymore. So, flushing is important. Remember, all those news article complaining about people not flushing the toilets? You can't blame them (the passengers).
Everyone is going on about how Indians don't deserve this and blah blah. But if the authorities care to follow some standards in the first place, we would not have these un-flushed toilets. It takes me a good 30 seconds to figure out that the unmarked shiny knob is the flush button, as there is nothing else in the toilet that looked like a flush button/handle. So the good citizen in me gave a light press to the knob. Nothing. So I look around for another button. Nothing. Now my piss is moving around the commode like a volcano being agitated by an earthquake, ready to spill its wrath all over my feet. Hence the need to locate the flush button fast! So I give the shiny knob another press. It seems to budge. Or am I just imagining this? I gave it one last push using all the force from my shoulder, and tada! Down went my piss and the volcano is made dormant. They seem to have forgotten to put a sign outside the toilet saying "body-builders only".
Before we exit the toilet, let's take a moment to think about the blind people. Now the authorities might boast about the train being friendly to the visually impaired, but I'm leaning more towards a bunch of lazy people just using this as an excuse to get more grants to fill their personal pockets. Absolutely zero thought has been put into the placement of the braille signs. The braille signs for the seat numbers are put on top of the windows, which even a person with functioning vision would not notice. Now imagine a blind guy having to lean over two people to find his seat. If the authorities had the brain of a four year old, they would have the braille signs on the aisle seats. This is just one example.
Now, imagine you are a visually impaired person, who wants to take a sh*t. Good luck finding the loo, as the braille signs are all over the place. Now you've made it to the loo. Firstly there are no protocols followed and none of the signs (even for fully sighted folks) are in the same place. One of the toilets even has the flush button on the opposite side of the commode. Anyway, now imagine running your hands all over the walls of the toilet, touching piss, spit and God knows what else, just trying to wash your hand, and use the flush. Absolutely no thought has been put into this. It's like someone handed out a bunch of stickers and asked these railway clowns to stick them wherever they wish. This is where your tax money goes. Into the hands of people whose brains are no bigger than the turds that can't be flushed down the toilets they design.
Tissue papers are also not stocked up. I'm debating between lazy staff and wasteful passengers. This was a tough one. Bottom line is I have to wipe my hands on my pants. Thank you fellow passengers and lazy staff. Same old country, same old issues.
Just about 19:00, and the attendant informs us that dinner will be served soon. We are first served soup, along with a dinner roll, some salt and pepper (for what?) and some melted butter and no knife to spread the butter.
We have to eat like cave men. Drinking soup from a cup, dipping our bread into the liquid butter and nodding our heads sideways letting ourselves believe that life is beautiful.
Let me be very specific here. Meals include lunch and dinner. Our lunch arrives. There isn't a limit to the abuse that I can probably reserve for this section. The meals are just pathetic. More like horrible.
The spread looks fancy, no doubt. But the chicken curry is a bunch of really bad chicken, probably drowned in oil, with only the oil served to be consumed. The dal is a serving of water and color. The paneer is again, an oil bath. The rotis are like rubber, and the rice is just okay. I can't even describe how horrible these meals are. Now before you think I'm some pompous privileged boy making a fuss, please understand that I usually don't really care about what food I eat. I'll eat anything, anywhere, as long as it does not taste like crap.
What makes the food even more disgusting is the fact that we paid around INR 400+ for the meals at the booking stage itself, and the quality of food does not justify the price. It is quite obvious that half the money is going into the pants of some rail authorities and politicians, and the comman man is left with this disgusting excuse of a meal. Firstly, why do we need so much food per person. It's too much. Cut the quanity by half and make it edible
The entertaintment systems rebooted themselves before we reached our destination. The above text were from notes that I made while heading to Mumbai from Goa.
We are now on our way back – on the Mumbai to Goa Tejas Express. The train is a few minutes late, but a few minutes late is not late in India. By Indian Standard Time, the train is way too early!
05:55 – Tea and Coffee is being served. We opt for the Ginger tea, as Wagh Bakri is the brand we trust. Some toasts/rusk to accompany the drink. Now only to wait for our hot water flasks to turn up, and our party shall begin!
Once again, the train is flying over the tracks!05:57 – The hot water flasks are here, and the mixing shall begin. The tea is pretty decent, but the toast are quite a disappointment. Not like I expect much. True, there is a slight ray of hope, but that is also shut down, after taking the first tea-dunked bite.
By the way, Mr. Amitabh Bacchhan is back at it again. Encouraging us to drink tea and coffee.
06:15 – we are finally toning the speed down. I guess Panvel is around the corner. Nice dark South-West monsoon clouds are looming over our heads, ready to explode anytime and unleash their wrath upon the unprepared commuters. Our man is finally stepping on 'em brakes. Letting them sparks fly on the tracks. The gentleman behind us is snoring like one of those stolen tractors that you find in the villages. The frequency of his cacophony might shatter the windows any moment. Time to take the earphones out.
06:20 – Panvel.
These 3-seaters are not as wide as the two-seaters we took on our onward journey. My arms (I'm in the middle seat) are popping into the space of the neighbouring seats. I'm having an elbowing battle with the missus, while the nice old man to my left is keeping his arm to himself.
06:30 – And we are rolling once again.
The man to my left, who seems to be a 60+ year old gentleman (let's call him Mr. Patil) is finally looking at the tab in front of him, which is off. Here is the best use case to test out the UI and UX of this great feature that everyone has been raving about.
Unfortunately, he has been clicking on the LED multiple times. After a few tries, I show him the power button and get the tab started. Finally we are looking at the home screen. Mr. Patil keeps pressing the home button and the tab goes into the “loading screen”. And just stays there. For minutes. I click on the tab again and it come back to the home screen.
Mr. Patil seems to only speak Marathi. I don't speak Marathi, but I understand a bit of it, so I guess communication should not really be an issue. Mr. Patil has now found the Music section.
Unfortunately, headphones are not given out. No headphones for anyone. Nada. People are expected to enjoy the music by looking at the time ticker move across the screen. Now, let's not blame the Indian Railways.
On the bright side, the time on the tabs are finally synced to IST. My watch and the tab are both synced to the second. 06:41 on both. We are winning!
Oh wow, newspapers are being distributed. There is a wide choice of dailies, in different languages too. We opt for the Indian Express, as the missus says that it is the least sh*tty paper from the lot we could choose from.
Mr. Patil in the meanwhile, is clicking on different songs. I'm assuming he is expecting one of them to suddenly blare out. I mentioned that he would need to ask the attendant for earphones. Then Mr. Patil suddenly asks me in Marathi if I speak Marathi. So I, continuing in Hindi, mention, “No, I speak only Hindi and English”. Then he asked me where I'm from, and I told him Goa. And then he was like, “You are from Goa and you don't speak Marathi?”
So I, in my head was like, “Why don't you go f*ck yourself Mr. Patil?”. But I said, “No we don't really speak Marathi in Goa. Most people speak English and Konkani, and Marathi in parts of the state”. And the rest of the conversation went as follows.
Mr. Patil, “But most people in Goa speak Marathi!”
Me, “Is it?”
“Yes. I'm also from Goa, and I speak Marathi.”
Ah what a bouncer of the century! Mr. Patil is actually Mr. Gaonkar.
“Where are you from?”
“Bicholim. Everyone in Bicholim speaks Marathi.”
I respond, “Yes, indeed, a lot of people in the extreme North of Goa do speak Marathi, I'm aware, but Konkani is the most spoken language if I'm not mistaken. Along with English.”
Mr. Gaonkar nods.
“What is your name?”
So I tell him my name.
“Ah, Catholic.” And he must have thought, no wonder you bloody m*ther f*cker don't speak Marathi.
And I think – why isn't this Marathi fossil dead yet?
06:55 – Luckily, the attendant comes around serving breakfast and the conversation is cut short. A non-veg (omlet) serving for me, and a veg (some cutlets) serving for the missus. Best of both worlds for us to share. Breakfast is pretty dapper. Unlike the horrible dinner we had to eat on the previous trip. I'm just hoping that the lunch is not another serving of oil bathed items.
Mr. Gaonkar mentioned that I missed out on the panchayat elections. To which I nodded and said, "Yes." I think I'm not going to entertain this Marathi fanatic from now on. Good luck figuring out how to use the tab from now on. No Angry Birds for you!
11:30 – Soup is being served. Along with a couple of slices of bread and butter. They aren't handing out spoons or knives, so I don't know how we are supposed to apply the butter onto the bread. We asked an attendant for a spoon, he smiled and said they don't have any. What are we? Cavemen?
The audio on these tabs are pretty good. Both our units have good audio surprisingly. So I take back my statement about the audio, that I made earlier. I guess some tabs are good, and some are not.
We found a few English movies under the Hindi movie folder. All the English movies have "_clean" in their file names. I wonder why. I found Zero Dark Thirty, and the wife insisted that I watch it, mentioning that it's supposed to be dark and gritty. So, excited me, with time to kill decides to watch a movie on the Tejas Express! Some good 30 minutes into the movie and I start judging my wife's taste. This is not the woman I married. Why in the world would she make me watch such a badly produced and horrible movie. It made no sense. And she is not the kind of person who pulls off pranks on me. Pati is parmeshwar right?
So I turn to her and ask her, “Why?” After a good couple of minutes discussing the movie we realize that huge chunks of the movie has been cut out. This is a movie about CIA folks interrogating terrorists, after the whole 9/11 scene, and the quest to capture that famous bearded fellow from Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden. The PG rating of the movie includes warning for sex, nudity, violence, gore, profanity, alcohol, drugs, smoking & frightening scenes.
The Indian Railways version on the other hand is a movie about some white guys talking to Afghanis, a couple of buckets of water poured onto them, cut to a woman getting upset, cut to someone driving to the US embassy, cut to some US military clowns meeting some Afghanis, bomb explodes in a tiny section of a wide frame, cut to white women talking, cut to some fire, cut to some 9/11 video clips with no plane going into the building, cut to me turning the movie off.
So that's what the _clean file names are all about. I guess Tom & Jerry stand no chance in front of the person censoring the movies for the Tejas Express.
Lunch is served. And as expected, oil mixed with water, rubber rotis, and let's just forget it. The lunch is so horrible that I land up not eating most of it.
We just relaxed after that. And waited to reach back home.
Oh, and I almost forget. The doors to the train are automatic. They open only for the allocated few minutes at the stops. Which means, no vendors enter the train to sell you food, drugs, etc. Which also means, you can't get off the train to buy stuff or smoke. The smart vendors stand next to the door and sell you stuff though.
Overall, the journey is comfortable. The train is on time, and ahead of time on the return journey. The food is horrible, so don't waste your money on that. So please make sure to carry some snacks in case you don't opt in for the food being served.