Then I headed for the Great Indian Desert upon the proper date, as I had promised , and the night mail set me down at Marwar Junction , where a funny , little , happy-go-lucky, native managed railway runs to Jodhpore.                                                                                                                   -Rudyard Kipling, The Man Who Would Be King

India is a vast subcontinent filled with sensory revelations and mystical heritage. It is a country that can never be fully imagined or explored. Every once in a while, however, while traveling in India many of these sensations are felt during a single momentary journey that takes you off the beaten path and into a world so foreign yet so magical.

Marwar Junction does not only set the stage for Kipling’s famous novel, The Man Who Would Be King, but it is a true dusty little train depot in Rajasthan not known to many Western travelers. It was at Marwar Junction where I boarded a small train en route to Deogarh, a hilltop town on the road to Udaipur. Among my many travels in India, this was one of the most extraordinary experiences I had, both transporting me back to the days of Kipling and the colonial era while at the same time revealing a true rural India.

On the train platform a colorful scene unfolded as everyone was milling about, chatting with the vendors, sipping chai and waiting for the permanently late arrival of an Indian train. I was the only Western traveler on the train, filled with local Indian families carrying their goods from the train depot to the hill station. Within a few minutes my presence on the train drew everyone’s attention and soon I had a group of smiling faces surrounding me, transfixed by my every move.

As it was a local train, the usual comforts of train travel were non-existent and my seat was a hard wood, straight backed bench and the compartment windows were all open. It was as if Kipling had traveled on this very same train many years ago. Eventually the train jerked its way out of Marwar Junction and began a slow rhythmical journey into the foothills. Never did it exceed a slow pace and despite all the commotion on the train and attention on me, it was a remarkably tranquil ride through a beautiful countryside. The sun was warm and the bouquet of the flowers and trees, which were in full bloom, wafted into the train from time to time. We came to a big bend on the tracks and excitedly my fellow local travelers were all peering out of the windows, some with food in hand. I could not quite figure out all the excitement until I realized that a large group of monkeys had approached the trackside. As we passed them, with great enthusiasm, they jumped up on the train and hung on the open windows to collect the food offerings. The monkeys ran alongside the train for about 10 minutes until we had picked up enough steam to leave them behind.

This left me thinking that I just had the most amazing fortune to have experienced an India that is both real now and yet has been unchanged since the time of Kipling.