Sunday, November 23, 2008

Scare in Scotland

Carlisle-Settle Railway Route

Train travel in UK should be a cinch, at least getting out of a first class compartment - specially if you have traveled all over India by all sorts of trains including the free-for all Mumbai local. Right? Wrong.

My wife and I were on a four-day trip to the UK, with first class rail travel courtesy the British Tourism Authority upon winning the Elizabeth India Today contest. We boarded the Virgin train at Glasgow Central station for a trip to Micklefield through the scenic Lake District of Scotland on the Carlisle-Settle route. "Get down at Lancaster and change for a train to Leeds to reach Micklefield", the friendly lady at the ticket counter had told me, after referring to a tome of a railway timetable. That sounded simple enough.

The four-hour journey to Lancaster had an absorbing view of the countryside and we reached Lancaster sooner that we wished to. On hearing the announcement "Approaching Lancaster" over the intercom of the compartment, we got up and stood near the exit hoping to get an early connecting train to Leeds.

The train stopped and I nonchalantly tried opening the door. But, what's this? There was no handle to open the door! How does one open this *&@#%/\ door? I panicked. There must be a button somewhere, my wife suggested. No button, no handle. No way to get out. Is there an instruction plate somewhere? None. There was no other passenger in the compartment from whom I could have sought advice. Oh hell!The train started moving. God!

Complete confusion.Would we now be charged for ticket less travel? Would we be shamed as Indian cheats? Visions of spending time in British prisons fleeted through my mind. We thought the best way would be to inform the conductor that is, if there ever was one in the system appearing designed for no human intervention.

When we finally managed to find the person in the last coach, I addressed him agitatedly but politely, "Excuse me Sir, we have a ticket till Lancaster but we were unable to get down there". The conductor stared at us quizzically. "May I know why you were not able to get down at Lancaster?" Embarrassedly I said, "Er.., we did not know how to open the coach door". The conductor burst out laughing, "You did not know what? Ha ha ha..... Where are you from, not Mars I hope? Ho ho ho...." "From India," my wife said in an almost inaudible whisper.

The laugh had produced enough dopamine in the conductor's brain to put him in a good enough mood to write out a chit:" Passenger over-carried, please allow to return to Lancaster", Giving it to us, he told us to get down at the next stop, Preston, and take a connecting train to Lancaster. But I persisted with my original problem. "When I was not able to open the door at Lancaster, how do I open it at Preston then?" I enquired.

You can't even imagine his instructions how to do the simple job/if you are used to traveling in the Mumbai suburban network, in trains without doors! "Simple," he said, "When the train stops, the glass window of the coach door will unlock automatically in this model of train. All that you have to do then is pull down that window, put your hand out. You can reach the door handle there on the outside; you just turn that handle and prestothe door opens!"

Well, I guess we all live to learn!

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