Delhi was on our wish list in the school going days. Bombay appeared to us a distant city though it was nearer in mileage. Not because Delhi was the capital but because we were familiar with Delhi as it was where we stayed for almost a year before shifting to Ahmedabad. And secondly our sister lived there. Every morning it used to entice us when our school Bus had to stop at the rail road crossing in Shahibagh (Ahmedabad) to let the Delhi Mail pass through. It came chugging in hauled by the new Canadian Steam locomotive and before we could wink its last carriage was out of sight. It was a Meter Gauge link and took decades to be connected through a Broad Gauge. And the day of englightenment came in 1959 when I was permitted to go on a vacation with an Uncle who was to act as my chaperone.
Mother got up early and prepared Parathas and Aloo sabji and packed it thoroughly in those Brass tiffins which had two containers along with one small at the top which was usually reserved for Indian pickles. Outside food was less available those days and the Pantry car was considered out of bound for students like us.
The Train steamed out and I had the glimpses of my house from the Sabarmati Railway bridge across the river where our Tall building was visible. Kalol, Mehsana were stations not of any significance then but Palanpur (Gujarat) was an important Junction from where there was meter guage link to Deesa,Gandhidham and Bhuj (Kutch).Palanpur old Prahaladana Patan was known for Mithi Vav (Sweet stepwells) built in 1263 AD. Palanpur situated on the Banas river was also a green area known for Tomatoes and Green Vegetables. Palanpur was also known for Kirti Stambh (A Tower of Victory) which stands in the Center of the Town. This 72 feet high Tower was built by Jain Merchant in 12th century.
We awaited the arrival of Abu Road, which was known for Rabdi and fresh tomatoes. It was a custom those days to eat home food and follow it up with Rabdi (a thick milk sweet) which was served on dry plantain leaves called "Dona". The train had a 10 minute halt enough for quick lunch and Rabdi. Mt. Abu was 27 kms uphill from there.I could never forsee that 7 years later I would be coming here once again to be trained at Central Police Training College. Abu Road was known as "Kharadi" before 1880 when a Railway station named Abu Road was set up in Dec.1880, but before that a road was built to Mount Abu in 1845 during the rule of Maharao Shiv Singh. It is a gateway to Mount Abu a hill station more popular with people of Gujarat then with people of Rajasthan.
Before the reorginasation of states in 1956, Abu Road was part of greater Bombay state. Abu Road station was followed by Jawai Bandh, where a new Dam was coming up, followed by Sirohi, and then Falna which was railhead to nearby Ranakpur Temples.Falna was set up as a Station in 1881 by the Rajputana State Railway later merged in to BBCI. Falna was also known for many small Industries chiefly umbrella making, besides its Jain Golden Temple. Before the onset of evening we were at Marwar Junction, where there was nothing of much importance but a good stop over for Tea. Marwar station was also established in the mid nineteenth century and served as link to Mavli, Jodhpur and later Munabao (Pakistan). Marwar is mentioned in the Kiplings book "The Man would be King".
By night we were at half way at Ajmer where the Halt was almost for 30 minutes. Ajmer meur or Invincible Hill is an Oasis wrapped in Green Hills. It was founded by Raja Ajai Pal Singh in the 7th century and now was well known for its two schools the Mayo and Sophia. Some passengers used to rush outside to buy fresh food from Restaurants nearby. The Train departed at about 22 hours beyond which was it was difficult to keep awake. The stations which followed were Kishengarh, Jaipur, Bandikui, Alwar, Rewari, Gurgaon (Gurugram- then an unknown village) Delhi Cantt. Our train stopped at Sadar Bazar or perhaps we got down there and then took a Tonga (horse carriage) to Sarojini Nagar. We crossed all the landmarks of Lutyens Delhi before reaching Sarojini Nagar, the biggest residential colony then. It was a memorable visit which is still etched in memory.
Since 1965 I have been to Delhi umpteen times but this Meter Gauge Trip was something like never ending sweet dream.