From taking in the scenery to fun outings for the kids—train journeys are picking up in popularity among families
Any holiday these days is preceded by booking flight tickets. But once the seat belts are off, many families are now rediscovering the magic of the rail—to get around, enjoy the countryside and even take some time off. If you’ve wanted to hop on a train but didn’t because you thought keeping the kids occupied would be a Herculean task, we say think again. Four mothers tell us what to do.
A Chinese story
Shanghai to Beijing: 5 hours
For eight-year-old Keshav and four-year-old Kairav, it took catching a flight half-way across the world to China, to find out how much fun travelling by train could be. “We travelled from Shanghai to Beijing first,” begins Kinnera Krishna, a stay-at-home mum from the city, whose biggest challenge was to contain her kids’ excitement. “They were thrilled and kept busy watching the scenery, keeping track of the train’s speed (303 km/h) and running to the pantry to grab noodles,” says Krishna, adding she was happy the journey made them forget about their gadgets. The family opted to take the rail because, unlike in India, cleanliness and safety were not issues. All Krishna needed to pack were snacks and games. “We then did an overnighter from Beijing to Xi’an (home of the terracotta warriors). The boys were jumping on berths and making up little games based on what they saw outside. My niece and sister also told them stories about the places we were passing through,” she says. Making special note of a simple dish of tomatoes and eggs (available at most stations) and a walk through Xi’an’s Muslim Street (where they bought wooden frogs), she says the two want to travel on a train again.
A scenic escape
Zurich to Zermatt: 3.5 hours
Every March, author Shunali Shroff and her two daughters, aged seven and 12, go looking for snow. This year, they headed to Switzerland, where the Mumbai-based mum says she had the “most picturesque train journey—from Zurich airport to Zermatt”. However, the rolling hills could not keep her kids’ attention for long. “But I was prepared—with books, jigsaw puzzles and games. They also used the Kindle app on my iPad,” says Shroff, who recently came out with her book Battle Hymn of a Bewildered Mother. Since food is always a challenge, she made sure she had packed snacks and even picked up burgers and Cup Noodles. Stating that though she asks them to draw pictures of what they observe, Shroff says she also lets them get bored. “That’s how they’ll think creatively,” she smiles. Up next, she wants to take them on a luxury train—like the Orient Express.
Journey to the top
Interlaken to Jungfrau: 2.5 hours
Beena Sreenath, a high-school economics teacher from Kochi, just returned from a trip to Europe with her family. Though she and her sons—Anirudh, 17, and Siddarth, 19—have travelled extensively in India, she says their journey on the Jungfrau Railway—to the highest point in Europe (in Switzerland)—made them realise how much they loved travelling by train. “It’s an immaculate train and to reach the top (over 11,000 feet up), it takes an extremely scenic route,” shares Sreenath, continuing, “One of our favourite stops was near the Great Aletsch Glacier.” While the boys kept busy browsing online—tracking their route and reading up on the places—Sreenath says she was happy to get enough time to talk—on everything from music to blonde Swiss girls! They also spent a lot of time in the pantry, wolfing down croissants and tarts. For other visitors, she recommends Bort Alpine (Grindelwald)—to try the 50-metre-high, 800-metre-long zip-line.
St Quirze to Barcelona: 1.5 hours
When she travels with her family, Rathi Jafer, director of the Inko Centre, makes it a point to stay in off-the-beaten-track towns—the better to relax, check out interesting places and, yes, travel by trains. “In Spain, we stayed in St Quirze de Besora, a quaint town with a small brewery. To get to Barcelona, we’d take the local train that winds through the countryside and I used to play word and guessing games with my son, Anush,” she says, adding she packed books and food. Her last trip was to Kent, where they took frequent day trips on the train, bonding in the carriage and stepping out to explore the countryside. “It’s not like you can leave the room and go somewhere, so you have time to talk and unwind,” says Jafer. Her one tip: carry a lot of loose change, as kids “will forever be asking you to buy things”.
At the station
Grand Central Terminal: In July this New York icon is hosting ‘Life’s a Picnic in Grand Central’—where you can enjoy a picnic in Vanderbilt Hall. There’s also The Campbell Apartment cocktail bar to check out.
St Pancras International: Named the ‘Great Place’ of 2015, this Gothic masterpiece in London has much to offer—from interesting art work to free-to-play pianos
Luxembourg City Station: Alight here just to see the stunning display of the city’s skyline in stained glass.
Estacao de Sao Bento: Inside this Portugal station, you can find over 20,000 azulejo tiles—depicting royal spectacles and epic battles from Portuguese history—created by painter Jorge Colaço.
? Hop on the Maharaja Express in Delhi and enjoy champagne lunches in Agra and elephant polo matches in Jaipur on a seven day tour till Mumbai. `4.37 lakh onwards. Details: maharajas-express-india.com
? Aboard the Deccan Odyssey, with its spa, bar, restaurants and beautifully appointed coaches, touring the country has never been more luxurious. From `2.47 lakh. Details: deccanodyssey.com
Page turners to go
Around India in 80 Trains: By Monisha Rajesh, it takes you on a journey from luxury to toy trains. `204 on amazon.in
The Great Railway Bazaar: By Paul Theroux, it recounts a four-month journey across Aisa and the colourful characters he meets. `379 on amazon.in
The Girl on the Train: By Paula Hawkin, this thriller about an obsessive girl is great to keep you up. `399 on amazon.in
Surya Praphulla Kumar
With inputs from Anoop Menon