Traveling On A Vande Bharat Train

This is not a train for the regular commuter, evident from the number of large sized bags in the overhead bin, observes Nitin Sathe.

One doesn’t get to travel much by train these days. The car is a preferred option for shorter journeys while the aircraft takes you faster and cheaper across the country.

I am curious and wanting to get a look and feel of how things have changed over the years by rail travel and therefore decided to traverse the short distance between Pune and Mumbai by the Vande Bharat Express, recently introduced on the Sholapur-Mumbai-Sholapur route.

The monsoon also means that I would be treated to some pleasant sights of lush greenery and waterfalls in the Western Ghats this time of the year.

The train has already travelled more than half its route, having left Sholapur at 6 in the morning and I am not expecting to see too many co-travellers alight the train at Pune.

There are many point to point trains on this route and the cost of the ticket for this one is almost double for the same class.

But I am surprised. There are many travellers waiting at the platform lost in their mobiles, waiting for the arrival of the blue and white shiny rake of the Vande Bharat.

And yes, I am also pleasantly surprised at being on a spotlessly clean platform and the tracks that pass through.

I am soon lost in the hustle, bustle and din. It is already 0915 hours, and the train is a bit late. I overhear someone saying that it would make up time and reach Mumbai on schedule.

The train stops at Pune for barely five minutes, and by the time the rush of humanity enters the carriage, the doors are closing and the train is on its way.

There are a few who have come to drop their nears and dears till their seats, ending up obstructing the inward flow of passengers.

Maybe, the railways could think of providing help during boarding to the elderly and others who need help.

The cabin is clean and has a sophisticated look to it.

An electronic display over the entry doors tells you the speed and the ETA and distance to the next halt.

The rectangular, large sized windows offer great visibility — almost as if you are sitting inside a glass cabin.

The seats are plush and comfortable and one can already hear some snores emanating from a few seats.

This train does not have the familiar crowd that one sees on the Deccan Queen or the other trains that run just between the two cities where everyone seems to know everyone!

Obviously, this is not a train for the regular commuter, evident from the number of large sized bags in the overhead bin.

The breakfast service begins with the smartly turned out staff handing out the red trays stacked with food to the passengers. They aren’t having a happy time doing so, since many passengers have exchanged their seats leading to confusion.

I am told that I do not have a meal booked under my name and I would need to buy one after the service is over, much like our low cost airlines.

I do an Internet search only to find out that meals on these trains have now become optional and one needs to be careful during the online booking process, lest you want to go hungry.

The service is still on and we are almost approaching Lonavala when the staff walks to my seat with a vegetarian meal.

“Veg?” he asks almost forcing me to accept the same and shows me the chart to prove that I am indeed not authorised to get my ‘free’ meal.

The swaying motion of the train through the ghats has further agitated my rumbling stomach and I cannot wait any longer.

My ‘paid’ breakfast tray rests in front of me and I tear open the foil of the well packed food.

It is time to leave the mobile aside and devour the warm Thepla dipped in the gravy of potato curry along with mixed pickle.

There is curd to further pacify the stomach which is welcome.

I realise after my first course that one aluminium container containing Poha has not yet been opened. Poha is the staple breakfast in this part of the world.

My Maharashtrian instinct tells me that it will not be as good as we make it, but my stomach disagrees.

The fare is dry and insipid, and difficult to get down the throat; I reckon, I should have believed my instincts.

The rich brew made from the ‘chai mix’ is worth every sip especially in the now cold air conditioned environment.

All in all, like the happy serene surroundings of the ghats alternating with the darkness of the many tunnels that we thunder through, this breakfast is similar — part good and part not so good.

It also isn’t worth the price I have had to pay for it (Rs 170) although it would have been cheaper if had bought it along with the ticket.

It takes some demanding to get a printed bill for the same.

Some unscheduled halts in the ghats have given us extra time in the happy greenery. I am wondering how the train is going to make up the delays.

As the curves of the hill section are left behind, the train speeds up to beyond 100 kmph, as if hurrying to catch up on time, till we near Kalyan Junction, the gateway into the city.

It isn’t going to stop here, but as we enter the innards of Mumbai, the traffic congestion will not allow us to go any faster.

It does eventually manage to make good the ETA, something that cheers me, the veteran pilot, no end.

The journey is almost over and we are passing through the congested suburbs with their million people moving about in their own worlds.

The electronic board says that Dadar is 4 km away and this is also confirmed by a much accented male voice that tells us that the train will only halt for two minutes.

As if on cue, people get up and make a beeline to the exit with their luggage well before the train stops.

Maybe the culture of Mumbai seeps into every traveller as they exit the train. This time, things are more orderly, as if everyone has now realised that trying to save a few seconds by pushing your way around doesn’t really help.

The Vande Bharat departs Dadar and gets lost in the maze of tracks that will lead it to its final destination, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus or VT that many of us still love to call it.

The travellers who it bought along into the glitter and glam of this bustling city soon melt into the crowds, probably thinking of their unique travel experience on a unique train.


IAF Veteran Air Commodore Nitin Sathe is a rediffGuru and you can ask him your questions about the defence services here.
A helicopter pilot who served the IAF for 35 years, he is also a frequent contributor to and you can read his earlier articles here

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/

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