Sitting in a vista dome air-conditioned coach with huge glass windows and gazing at the amazing scenery of the Western Ghats, the Sahyadri Mountain Range, seemed like a good holiday.
The only problem is that I have acrophobia, and what I didn’t know before booking the tickets, is that the train passes over deep gorges and sometimes just waits blissfully hanging there in the air on a thin strip of tracks.
It also stops just before entering a tunnel, and as we are passing, we saw a group of people with heavy sledgehammers, standing by the side of the tracks.
The Ghats are said to be even older than the Himalayas and is a ‘hot spot’ in the world for its unique plants and animals (and herds of Asiatic Elephants). The mountain range runs parallel to the Arabian Sea coast through Maharashtra and ends at Kerala, and controls the monsoon rains and is a source for its moisture.
My fear of heights is not as bad as the hero’s in the Hitchcock classic, Vertigo, but if you watched on YouTube people trying to cross a glass bridge over a deep valley, the guy you see crawling across with his eyes shut, that’s me.
For some reason people in the entertainment industry feel it is fun to scare people. maybe because people love to be scared, and that is why you have horror movies, and a glass bridge at the top of CN Tower in Toronto. It now also has an EdgeWalk.
Watching the ground below
For the last torture, you are put into a harness and you walk the edge of the tower roof and at one point hang over the edge with your arms spread out, watching blissfully the ground below, which is 116 storeys down.
The vista dome coaches were introduced just last year. Earlier, people never knew they were passing through some of the most lush and beautiful scenery on the 45-kilometer stretch between Sakleshpur and Subramanya stations.
You leave Bengaluru at 7.05am and pass through the usual rural landscape and suddenly you see peacocks hanging about all over the countryside. Some of them awkwardly try to fly away as we whizz past, but they don’t seem to be built for flight but to just to strut about on land and show off their colourful plumage.
We see a couple of peacocks flying about the apartment buildings where we live on the outskirts of Bengaluru, abutting the highway to the airport.
Initially, we were very excited watching them walk like, well, peacocks, but when they open their mouths or beaks, to sing, only a horrible, strangulation type of voice emanated from its pretty throat. It seemed like someone was being murdered.
Legend has it that the pretty peacock was given this terrible voice, presumably to stop it becoming overly conceited.
The vista dome coach even has a glass roof that allows you to watch the sky and the massive trees that tower over you from time to time. There are only 44 people in the coach with you, and the seats swivel to let you get an unhindered view of the vista.
I did not expect to get into a different sort of an adventure when trying to book a chair for myself online and it seemed I was fighting an unwinnable virtual war with AI.
It kept giving me Captchas to type again and again. Captchas as you know, is a computer programme that distinguishes a human from a machine. “Which of the pictures are of a train”, it asked me. Somehow, I felt the artificial intelligence did not like me. It is amazing that now machines are checking whether we are for real.
Then, I kept getting my money refunded, and my bank kept sending me messages, late into the night wondering what I was doing.
Eventually, I went to a physical office and it was cute. It was as if time had stood still and nothing had changed over the years I was out of the country, like Rip Van Winkle had gone to sleep and just woken up.
Finally, I got the tickets in my hand and all that hassle was worth it, crossing the Ghats, vertigo or not.
Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi