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14.02.2017

It’s tempting to be cynical about the prospect of Valentine’s Day, but don’t let the cheesiness drive you loco. There are more things in heaven and earth than mediocre set menus and spam email with ridiculous gift options. This year, take your sweetheart to the National Rail Museum instead: they will grade you highly.  

The Sense Of An Engine

Known better as a regular in school picnic calendars, the Rail Museum turns 40 years old this year. It works surprisingly well as a date venue: it’s offbeat, fun, and romantic as hell even if you don’t think trains are the stuff of fantasy (but you grew up on Platform 9 and 3/4, love Dev Anand and Waheeda-ji, and voted for the country’s first bullet train, so who are we kidding?). It has spreading, charmingly irregular lawns; a new café; and more than seventy locomotives and coaches for you to choo-choose a favourite from.

The museum has an indoor section, but skip it on a date: the scale model bridges and vintage photographs aren’t necessarily, ahem, electrifying. Romance lies outdoors, where locomotives and saloon cars dating from the nineteenth century onwards await. Sidestep the stray tourist excursions to the toy train and head for the open spaces, where you and your date can see, touch, and quite often climb into and sit in exotica that includes the luxury private saloons of various Indian monarchs, or of the Prince of Wales. 

It has spreading, charmingly irregular lawns; a new café; and more than seventy locomotives and coaches for you to choo-choose a favourite from.

If you’d rather sound a more republican whistle, let the coach of the Nilgiri toy train draw you.  Before you get carried away, this is not the one in which Rajesh Khanna races Sharmila Tagore. That honour goes to the Darjeeling toy train, which runs on a narrower gauge. The Nilgiri Mountain Railways coach is a little wider - you know, for Southern Comfort. 

Among the locomotives, linger around exhibits from the ages of both diesel and electricity. Some of the first ever electric locos of their type are on display, but let’s not get off-track – if you’re here on a date, the steam engines are going to set the mood far better. From the miniature cuties to the freight hauling monsters, the Rail Museum has them all, or very nearly. You may want to bone up on the technical specs and history of the locos (the Indian Railways Fan Club Association is a useful resource) to drop fun facts whenever you can, but beware: your date might rather you express your sentiments than sentimentalise about expresses. 

Mind The Gap

Like most museums in India, the NRM has problems with staffing, curation, and labelling, but if you’ve called ahead and checked on these, here are the beginnings of your plan.

The Fairy Queen: The oldest locomotive in the world that still runs commercial services, the Fairy Queen is not always found at the Rail Museum. For the next few months, this loco will haul a train from Delhi Cantt station to the Rewari Steam Workshop, so that steamheads can gawk at the Indian Railways’ other working steam locos. Snag a seat if you can.

The Patiala State Monorail: Commissioned by Bhupinder the Magnificent, this bonkers little train has wheels in the middle, runs on a single rail, and has a giant training wheel on its side to keep it from toppling over. Reassembled at the National Rail Museum, it’s still offering winter Sunday afternoon rides, a perfect, picnicky trundle around the museum grounds and some guaranteed giggles. 

Guided Tours: The museum promises that staff will guide you through on request, but there might not be enough staff when you go. Rail-fans in the know suggest visiting on Wednesday, when the groundskeeper does maintenance rounds, and might let you into the saloons if you can sweet talk him into it. The next best day is Sunday, when the steam locos will be fired. 

Don’t even pretend this isn’t a good platform for your romantic intentions; you’ll be sending all the right signals here. All aboard!

Getting there: National Rail Museum, Market Road, Chanakyapuri, 10 am to 5 pm, call 26881826.

This romantic Valentine’s Day story was contributed by Aadisht, former travel editor of Mint Lounge. His occasional writings may be found at aadisht.net. He tweets at @aadisht.

Imange credit: Sandip Suresh / Wikipedia.

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