A dis­count ticket to ride

FOL­LOW THE READER

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Holiday Reading Special - JOHN QUINN

AVOCA, VIC­TO­RIA WHILE trav­el­ling across the south­west In­dian state of Ker­ala, my wife and I hired a small boat at Alleppey and chugged placidly across Vem­banad Lake and then went on to the hill town of Kot­tayam. Af­ter a few very pleas­ant days, we de­cided to take a train to the pic­turesque coastal city of Kochi.

So off to the lo­cal sta­tion we went af­ter check­ing at our ho­tel on de­par­ture times and dis­tances. The first thing that caught our eye in the book­ing of­fice was a huge board la­belled ‘‘Rail con­ces­sions avail­able to dif­fer­ent cat­e­gory of per­sons’’. Keen to save a few ru­pees, we de­cided to check it out.

The cat­e­gories in­cluded: TB pa­tient alone or with es­cort; non­in­fec­tious le­prosy pa­tient; and blind alone or with es­cort. Nei­ther of us quite met the stated cri­te­ria, although the 75 per cent ticket con­ces­sion was un­doubt­edly at­trac­tive.

I joked to my wife, Ju­dith, that ‘‘men­tally re­tarded, with an es­cort’’ would be ideal, with her play­ing the lead­ing role, as this cat­e­gory also qual­i­fied for 75 per cent off. We con­sid­ered Shram awardees, Ar­juna awardees and Chakra award win­ners, but wor­ried about be­ing asked what we had done to win such hon­ours.

Then we thought we might pos­si­bly make a case for in­ter­na­tional sports (75 per cent) or St John Am­bu­lance and Ser­vice Civil In­ter­na­tional (25 per cent), but the queue of trav­ellers be­hind us had started to shuf­fle and grum­ble. Or­tho­pe­di­cally hand­i­capped per­sons with es­cort at 75 per cent?

Sud­denly, there it was: se­nior cit­i­zen, 30 per cent con­ces­sion for 60 years and above, gents and ladies. As the line started to surge, we pulled out our Aus­tralian Se­niors Cards, passed them to the be­spec­ta­cled book­ing clerk and con­fi­dently asked for two se­nior con­ces­sion tick­ets to Kochi.

The clerk slowly and sadly shook her head and replied: ‘‘Sorry, the train down to Kochi is a stop­ping-all-sta­tions lo­cal and not an ex­press. Full fare, thank you.’’

De­spite all that, the trip was de­light­ful, with a con­tin­ual pro­ces­sion of ven­dors mov­ing up and down the car­riages sell­ing snacks, lol­lies and toys. One chap was hawk­ing a bun­dle of un­der­pants. Aus­tralian rail­way jour­neys are so colour­less in com­par­i­son. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to our Fol­low the Reader col­umn. Pub­lished colum­nists will re­ceive a Lem­nis Pharox So­lar Kit. Ideal for out­door ad­ven­tures, this nifty de­vice is both an en­ergy-ef­fi­cient por­ta­ble light and a charger for de­vices such as phones and iPods. Charge via elec­tric­ity be­fore you leave or on the road with the in­cluded mini so­lar panel. $49.95. More: 1300 LEM­NIS; lem­nis­light­ing.com.au.

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