On board the Gyanodaya Express : A Travelogue

March 20, 2014

It was twenty minutes past nine in the morning; I woke up from an unusually sound slumber, one of its kinds in the past ten days. Characterized by a rather stable bed, as against a shaky upper berth of a train, and a cacophony free background score, unlike the one orchestrated by the clamoring and clinkering of the wind striking against the train, I rolled out of my bed on hearing my Father’s baritone belittling my seventy two hours old declaration of having turned into a content four-five hour sleeper. Thereafter what proceeded was a magical rendezvous with a beautifully plated delicious home cooked breakfast, much deviated (positively) from the packed IRCTC Meals on Wheels, which gave us its most loyal company the entire week. This looked good, yet ordinary. Undoubtedly comforting, nevertheless humdrum.

To an onlooker, this might sound a fairly normal day. Nothing new, at least not worth writing a full-fledged article on, which would demand quite a fraction of a highly precious commodity called time. Certainly. But to me, and to the 1000 odd people who undertook an exclusive journey, this is definitely not in sync with what had become our routine in the week gone by. And for the powerful impact it created on our mind and soul, it definitely deserves being etched here today with permanent ink.

February 20, 2014

Attending a scheduled lecture, trying hard to concentrate on investment management, little did I succeed in keeping my ‘five-semesters-deeply-exhausted-of-commerce’ mind from wandering across its fantasy lands of English and Sociology, until I heard an announcement. Hearing the words ‘Research Project across cities like Kanpur, Benaras, Bhopal, Lothal, Ahemdabad and Surat’, my now most attentive mind just knew that this was an opportunity to die for.  And so I, like many others across various DU colleges, took a plunge into this unique University of Delhi initiative combining research, travelling and of course fun, willing to give to it, our time, dedication and whatever it took to get selected. And eventually we did, for the best.

College on Wheels

A one of its kind research and educational train, The Gyanodaya Express, also called College/Knowledge on Wheels, themed Urbanization- Now and Then, thus departed for nine exuberant days starting March 11 from Delhi Safdarjung Railway Station. As we boarded the train, which was to be our home for the coming nine days, little did we know that we were in for one such enjoyable, yet at the same time, so enriching and enlightening experience, that when the voyage was nearing its close on March 19, all those glimmering and inquisitive faces seemed only too morose.

March 11- 19, 2014

Where four hours of sleep is pretty satiating, two marie biscuits with tea at dawn fills the tummy with contentment, being able to outrun the washroom queue is the biggest feat and a chance to  bathe thrice in nine days is exquisitely rejuvenating, Welcome on board the Gyanodaya Special.

Day 1: Kanpur

De boarding at Pankhi, on the outskirts of Kanpur, our sojourn began with a visit to the banks of the holy River Ganges, followed by a visit to a waste management factory unit. Thereafter we received our first IRCTC lunch on a moving bus en route to IIT, Kanpur. Having been shown a quite motivating presentation at the institute, and receiving an incredible address by the Director, next lined up was industry interaction with some of the stalwarts from the industries of silk, leather, textiles (hosiery) and plastics. Thereafter, we headed back to Kanpur Central railway station, waiting for our home, the Gyanodaya Special to arrive and carry us eastward to the holy city of Kashi.

Day 2 and 3: Benaras

While day 1 ended with mixed emotions, fatigue coupled with non-adaptability (as yet) to our new life dominated by railways and roadways (buses) and not to forget the IRCTC food, and most importantly sadness over missing the chance to visit the famous leather tanneries due to non-registration (and it still hurts), yet the sight of Varanasi Junction abuzz with chai walas, toy vendors and decorated temple-like structures, freshened us up almost immediately and we headed towards the once very famous Benaras Hindu University(BHU). Here, the Bharat Kala Bhavan stole our hearts with its magnificent museum collection of miniature paintings as well as 12th century palm leaf manuscripts, sculptures and local history displays. Thereafter we were taken to the handloom and powerloom silk weaving units where the famous Benarasi sarees are woven. A delight to watch certainly, the precision and the grace with which each movement flowed from the hands of the weavers.  While on one hand, its sheer colourfulness made me an ardent saree lover, yet on the other, the poorly lit and negligible ventilation welled up my heart with sorrow.

A long day as it turned out to be, we retired later that evening. Next planned up was a visit to the consecrated ghats of Varanasi early the next morning, filling in us divine energy for the rest of the journey.

Day 4: Sarnath

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Well to that extent, Sarnath did hog quite a lot of limelight. For until now, the well-disciplined and the pretty serious research trip was no doubt going good, but it was lacking something. Say, the X-factor? No. here, it was certainly the Bee-factor. When during lunch, in the compound of the temple of the 11th Tirthankara of Jains, a bee hive broke (reasons still under speculation) playing havoc with students in an alien land. I still can’t forget the stories of some of the most brutally stung victims, and hope all is well now. Sarnath blues lingered a little longer, even in the train until the following morning brought with itself fresh breeze from Madhya Pradesh.

Day 5: Sanchi

The evening of the fourth day presented to us the majestic Sanchi Stupa, situated in a serene and tranquil milieu, this was that one destination where I wished time stood still. Mere words won’t do justice to this mesmerizing sight and I suggest that if you haven’t seen it until now, if not pack your bags, at least google this world heritage wonder right away. While the very site of Sanchi Stupa almost immediately relaxed and relieved us from our travel pangs, yet the spooky hotel, situated right next to a Bar, where we had to retire for that night in Bhopal, almost got our jitters back. Having all the elements of a perfectly haunting room, like an big open window without grills, from where an entire “animal” could barge in, made us feel like “Damsels in Distress” and that night we decided to play the role of watchdogs, until the dawn.

Day 6: Bhopal

Historically and culturally important, next we headed towards the caves at Bhimbetka where exists famous rock cut paintings from the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic ages depicting animals and human figures. An artistic marvel, to say the least, this was followed by a visit to the beautiful Lower Lake of Bhopal, whereafter we proceeded to Habibganj station, on the outskirts of Bhopal, before bidding final adieu to MP and opening up our arms to the state of Gujarat.

Day 7: Lothal and Ahemdabad

After a two hour bus ride from the Gandhinagar railway station, we disembarked at Lothal, the famous dockyard of the Harrapan Civilisation, where legend has it that this ancient site had the best drainage system. On our way to the legendary Sabarmati Ashram, we halted for Gujarati teekha meetha lunch. A good change, it was from the weekful of IRCTC dal chawal subzi and the special mention lemon pickle. On the bank of River Sabarmati, Gandhiji’s pristine quarters, Hridaya Kunj, the Upasna Mandir, the Gandhi library was a perfect place to spend the evening at. Thereafter came the best surprise of Gyanodaya4, DJ and Dinner to make our Holi memorable. And oh boi, the food deserves a special special mention. Simply Outstanding.

Day 8: Surat

Getting off at Udhana Junction, we headed towards our respective hotels for the final wash and change before we made a long journey back home. Poha at breakfast was the USP of this particular place. Entering the Diamond Capital of India, Surat had planned a perfect farewell for us all. A visit to a major diamond cutting and polishing company, we just couldn’t get enough of this place. And as they say, diamonds are forever. Yet, here due to paucity of time, we had to resume our voyage and thus headed towards the last destination of our research, the Surat Municipal Corporation, an engineering marvel. Thereafter we were taken to the New Bombay Market, a highly colourful saaree market, to redress the grievance that we were given no time for shopping.

Day 9: En route to Delhi

The longest day that we had spent almost entirely in the train which had become our comfortable home by now. The mood that day was marked with excitement, on one hand, getting finally off the train back to our home, our people. While, on the other, these preceding eight days, had gone by so smoothly, the red-blue-green-yellow jackets (which we had to mandatorily wear during the course of the journey), along with the ID cards had become an undeniable part of our lives, that we just didn’t want to let go off this time. Our time. Our train. Our fellow students. Our mentors. We just hadn’t had enough.

I am a final year student, and have just a mere two months of my undergrad oxygen left. Yet, I can proudly say that what I couldn’t learn in my three years of my graduation life, nine days onboard the Gyanodaya Express taught me all- patience, endurance and most importantly team spirit. Having met noteworthy people during the course of the voyage, I am confident that henceforth, I too will come out as a better person, and for that I owe a lot to the College on Wheels: The Gyanodaya Express.

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