"Around The World In 80 Trains: A 45,000 Mile Adventure"
By Monisha Rajesh
Now I don't know about you, but I really love train travel. In this day and age of stressful, uncomfortable air travel, a leisurely train journey is a real treat.
Part of my love of train travel comes from my childhood. My father worked for the railways, and every year our family were given a free rail pass. We didn't own a car in those days and it was always with great excitement and anticipation that we set off on an annual summer holiday to someplace we'd never been before. And some of the tales in this book reminded me of those trips.
This travel book is not a coffee table book. It's not page after page of stunning photos but it's a great read and I just couldn't pass it by.
Michael Palin says "Monica Rajesh has chosen one of the best ways of seeing the world. Never too fast, never too slow, her journey does what trains do best. Getting to the heart of things. Prepare for a very fine ride."
Monica is a British journalist with a passion for train travel. In her first book, she spent three months on a 25,000-mile train trip around India.
In this book, she planned to circumnavigate the globe with her fiancee over a seven month period, on 80 train trips covering 45,000 miles and what a trip it was! She gives a very vivid and often humorous account of the trip as she relates the interesting encounters they have with their fellow travelers and the different weird and wonderful trains they travel on.
The following excerpt tells of the beginning of their bizarre Trans -Mongolian train experience-
"After our first Russian train experience, we had boarded the Trans Mongolian with trepidation, anticipating a mix of Russians, backpackers, weirdos, train geeks, and retired couples ticking off their bucket list. Met with familiar stares, we quickly realised we were the only foreigners on board. Having looked through travel-agency photos of the "Rossya" service, we'd expected air-conditioned cars with soft berths, power sockets, and flat-screen TVs, only to find ourselves staring down a grubby hard sleeper with a broken window and a condom wrapper under the seat.
No one else entered our compartment until early evening when a middle-aged man with grey hair and a slight squint had looked inside the door. Carrying a small gym bag and a black case, he placed them underneath his berth, and then, ignoring us both, sat by the window staring at birch trees for four hours. As a gesture of goodwill, we had bought him a Magnum ice-cream, which he had accepted, then laid on the table in front of him. We'd sat at the edge of the berth quietly licking our own ice-creams, wondering what would happen next. The temperature was pushing forty degrees and the ice cream began to melt. Few exercises were as excruciating as sitting in silence, watching a rejected ice-cream melting."
Onwards Towards Mongolia- Photo by Chris Hill
And this excerpt describes how she felt about the unique experience of travelling on Japanese trains.
"No one could ever emulate the way the Japanese designed, lived, ate or travelled. Everything was conceived with ingenuity and precision to make life easier and more enjoyable for everyone. Not only did public toilets have heated seats, they had buttons that played music or white noise for added privacy, and baby harnesses on the backs of doors so mothers could use the loo in peace. Packets of chopsticks contained toothpicks, taxi doors opened automatically, mirrors didn’t fog, shop doorways housed plastic bags for wet umbrellas, takeaway ice cream came with a chunk of dry ice to keep it cool, and hot dogs were served with a joint packet of mustard and ketchup that squeezed out in parallel lines.
Japanese trains were unlike any other in Asia. Used to yelling, delays, hawkers, muck and mayhem, I couldn’t fathom how this single nation had mastered utopian travel: dubbed the “seven-minute miracle”, sanitation teams at Tokyo station took just under seven minutes to clean the Shinkansen from end to end, wiping tray tables and windows, scrubbing toilets, emptying rubbish and turning seats around before the next batch of passengers boarded; the average Shinkansen delay was 54 seconds. At home, a Tesco carrier bag being caught on the overhead wires was enough to bring our trains to a standstill.
So punctual were Japan’s services that railway companies issued train-delay certificates – known as chien shomeisho – for any journey delayed by as little as five minutes, so passengers could prove to employers or schools that the tardiness was no fault of their own. But despite the speeds, punctuality and perfect queues, something was lacking, and I realised that it was because of the yelling, delays, hawkers, muck and mayhem that I lived for train travel. From within my bubble, I thrived on the commotion around me, drawing comfort from all that went wrong.
After lunch, most passengers were napping. Some read and others were working when the conductor entered the carriage. He removed his hat and bowed deeply. I smiled as he passed and watched him working his way up the aisle checking tickets. Once he reached the top of the carriage he turned around and bowed again before leaving. No one looked up and I felt bad for him. But in that one small action I realised that Japan’s trains didn’t need to be falling apart or filled with noise to be endowed with a character and soul of their own."
Photo by LYJ In a Train Station Japan
What I enjoyed the most, throughout the book were the interactions with their fellow travellers.
If you love travel, any kind of travel, and especially if you love train travel, you're sure to relate to some of their experiences and enjoy this book.
"Around the World in 80 Trains: A 45,000 Mile Adventure"
by Monica Rajesh
Published 24 January 2019
Dimensions: 234 x 153 MM