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14 September 2012

Indian Railways: going where the tracks take

Intrepid traveller Tony Wheeler whose trip 40 years ago to Asia, that included India, resulted in a series of cult tourist guidebooks believes that rail travel is just about the best way to experience the country.

"The railways are a real part of India. From hopping on to the toy train in Darjeeling to taking locals I have had some really amazing trips across the country on trains. At one point I even had a monthly rail travel pass," says the man who co-founded the Lonely Planet company.

Accompanied by wife Maureen, he had first come to India in his 20s during a time when travel to the exotic East was fashionable and tourists would take the 'hippy trail' land route across Asia. Low on funds, Wheeler wrote and self published Across Asia on the Cheap, the first book from the Lonely Planet house that generated a lot of interest worldwide.

"I visited India first in 1972 and it was the halfway mark in my travels across Asia. Today, India has changed enormously. Then making a phone call home was a nightmare compared to today when there are mobile phones and so many gadgets," says 64-year old Wheeler, who is in India "fairly regularly."

Having travelled to 154 countries and counting, Wheeler, who divides his time between his homes in London and Australia, says there are still places to go and people to meet.

"In India I have not been to Hampi and the Andaman Islands and that tops my agenda now. There is also a small place south of Mumbai and on the way to Goa, which would be whetting my appetite," says Wheeler, who has already planned a trip in January next year. Perhaps the most travelled man, Tony Wheeler says his basic tools remain a paper notebook and credit card.

"All you need is a passport and a credit card. You can end up losing your luggage in your travels and then you are stranded. Of course I carry a notebook and pen in my pocket to record my thoughts wherever I go even though I have started using a laptop," he says.

"Travelling by train is a delightful experience. The heat is oppressive during the day but the coolness of the early dawn is delicious. Yes, there are now a lot of low-cost flights but nothing like railways," he says.

Even though Wheeler has sold Lonely Planet, he continues to remain a sort of mascot for the company that has brought out a hundred million travel guides and makes available over 500 titles in 9 languages.

"The new guidebooks are aimed at the Indian traveller and work on how to get information more targeted for them. We think the Indian traveller is likely to travel with family with kids and parents. We have information on vegetarian food, and other specifics like must see places and things to do," he says.



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Journalist. Taking a walk in India. | Email to journeybasket[at]gmail | Special thanks to M.S. Gopal | All rights reserved. No commercial use.

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