The Janashatabdi used to be the fastest train from Mumbai to Goa. It probably still is. On its regular run, it takes an estimated eight hours to reach from Dadar to Thivim. Folks who want a fast trip, opt for this train. The main perceived drawback was that there were no sleepers on this train. The whole train had chair cars and one bogey was air-conditioned. Since it was so fast, those who travelled by this train did not mind not having sleepers, they enjoyed the journey, seated throughout. Those who were fortunate enough to travel in the air-conditioned coaches enjoyed the journey even more. In air-conditioned comfort. The new Vistadome has taken the Janashatabdi even further.
So what’s this new Vistadome coach?
The Vistadome is like an advanced version of the air-conditioned coach. For starters, it is air-conditioned. But there’s a lot more in here than in the old air-conditioned coach that exists. The seating is different, for example. This coach has a 2 x 2 seating and there are just 20 rows. 10 on each side. This means there’s a luxurious amount of leg-room now available. The space feels almost like the luxurious space available in first-class airline travel.
Then there are the windows. The small windows have been exchanged for huge, single-paned windows. So you get a great view of the beautiful, rural, countryside, as the train runs through the villages of the scenic Konkan region. I enjoyed the scenery in November. I wonder how beautiful it would be in the monsoons.
Besides the huge side windows, the roof also has misted glass panels that allow the sunlight to come in and make the whole coach look brighter. Perhaps that’s why it’s called a Vistadome. The combination of the huge, side windows and the top panels, makes the coach look very bright, spacious and luxurious. In case the sun is too bright, the side windows have huge sunshades that can be pulled down and drawn back up as and when needed.
Then, there’s the viewing gallery at the back. This Vistadrome is the very last coach in the train, so the Viewing Gallery at the back is a throwback of the old wild-west films, where the rich folk would enjoy the scenery, seated in the open-air viewing gallery at the back – perhaps with a glass of wine in hand and someone playing the violin. The Viewing Gallery on the Vistadome isn’t open-aired. It’s closed and air-conditioned, but encased in clear glass, so you can stand out there and look outside. The railway line leaves a long trail behind…and the view from here is even better than the view from the side windows.
Speaking of the side windows, there is a pair of plug points placed conveniently on the wall beside each window. Which is perfect for charging your cell phone or working on your laptop.
The absence of any luggage racks above the seats can be both, a positive and a negative. If you’re used to having your luggage at hand you might not like this arrangement. But just in case you think there are no luggage racks, there is a special luggage-rack room with ample space for keeping your bags and suitcases. It’s right at the start of the coach. For extra safety, you can use your own chain lock to fasten your luggage in place.
The toilets need special mention. These are really clean western style toilets, with good quality potties. They even have toilet paper and a convenient hand spray that you can use for washing your backside after doing the job.
The meals services are different too. They have a pantry, just before the viewing gallery, with a microwave and a small fridge. So they serve you hot tea and breakfast and cold water.
What about watching movies during the journey? Well, there are a few viewing screens hanging from the top but there seemed to be no service so the screens were blank. And no, unlike in the Tejas, there were no LCD screens at the back of each seat. If you ask me? I thought that was good. The emphasis seemed to be on enjoying the scenic countryside. In the quiet, air-conditioned, well-lit comfort of your seat.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention. These are swivel seats. They can be turned around and faced the wall, or turned around and faced the other side. And did I say it is quiet? It is; even when the train goes rushing through the tunnels, you can barely hear the usual ear-blasting noise. That’s the kind of quiet that makes the journey really pleasant, especially if you want to have a nice long conversation with your travelling companion.
All said and done, it’s a pretty good improvement on the old regular air-conditioned coach in the Janshatabdi, and it seems well worth the extra money. At least that’s what I think so. But here are a few useful tips from my experience of the journey.
Carry a neck support pillow. The train leaves very early, at 5.30 am. You’ll feel sleepy, at least till 8 am. So a neck support pillow would help you get a comfortable snooze while seated. The food served may not be to your liking. The Upma and Poha I ate were a bit insipid. Fortunately, I had carried my own sandwiches. Some other travellers also carried their own food. If you love watching a movie or listening to music while travelling, carry your own entertainment on your cell phone. The convenient charging points will make sure you never run out of power. There’s no special wi-fi service, you have to depend on your on cell-phone carrier service. You can lose the signal quite often, especially when you are travelling through the tunnels.