Castlerock, Kulem and the wonderful heaven called Braganza in between!

2011-08-29

A trip undertaken to Castlerock, Kulem and the wonderful heaven called Braganza in between!

Written by Santosh Kulkarni and Pawan Koppa

Prelude

The Braganza ghats are a wonderful stretch of ghat (hill) section at the Goa – Karnataka border. It starts from Castlerock in Karnataka and ends up at Kulem in Goa. This 26 km ghat section is equivalent to the Goa-Hubli road route in the sense that it hosts the railroad connecting coastal Goa to the hinterlands of Karnataka and beyond. It has three stations enroute in the ghats – Carazol, Doodhsagar and Sonalium. Though not as famous as the longer and mightier as the Sakleshpur – Subhramanya Ghat (Shiradi/ Bisale) section down south near Mangalore, this location is frequented by tourists/trekkers mostly from Maharashtra, Karnataka and Goa. Its fame is mostly derived from the wonderful waterfalls which slide down gracefully in its midst, somewhere in the middle of the ghat with the name “Dudh-Sagar” (DDS) or “Sea of Milk”. The specialty of this location including the Dudhsagar falls is it is only connected by the railroad. There is absolutely no road connectivity to the base of the falls or the railtrack level. It is a paradise for trekkers and for railfans – hence is an all round package which pleases everyone. The greenery around it and the movement of trains makes it a very special place for photography as well. Nowhere does the panorama offer a 100s of feet high waterfall as a backdrop to the trains passing right in front of it. The highlight of this ghat section are the workhorses of IR which pull and push tens of thousands of tons of freight up and down the ghat section – the WDG-3As earlier and now the new age WDG-4 locomotives.

Hubli, the nearest shed has almost 250 of these locos and they are supplied in ample quantity to cater to both the Subhramanya and Braganza ghat sections. While there are quite a few passenger trains plying this section, the highlights and the big ticket revenue generators are the innumerable freight consists that ply the ghats, with mostly iron ore being transported from the interior regions of Karnataka to the ports for export. In return the rakes bring in coal, fertilizers and the like. IR gets a huge share of revenue by these freight operations which are extremely challenging and hence very expensive too in the ghat sections compared to normal terrain transport. Our main aim was to cover these multiple freight operations and passengers over a period of two days, with special focus on the beginning and end of the ghat – the Castlerock and Kulem stations.

The plan to DDS was finalized a complete 3 months before, as soon as the advance reservation period (ARP) opened. This was the only way we could avoid getting waitlisted tickets on the most preferred link to head to the ghat from the south – the Chennai-Vasco or Yeswantpur-Vasco Expresses. Though we had the easier option of catching the prestigious Rani Chennamma Express to Londa and the following Chennai-Vasco Express, we preferred the latter; as it is a train many railfans have taken in the past and does not require a train change in between.

When Pawan shot the mail regarding the trip to 6 other railfans (namely – Jayshankar, Shishir, Kunal, yours truly, Shreesha and Dilip), he got a reply which was rather not totally expected considering the

group’s packed schedules. All the six of us replied unanimously with an overwhelming “Yes!!”. One more surprise, Shishir’s father and cousin brother were also interested to join us on the trip. Among the married lot, Dilip Setlur got permission from his ‘home shed’ to proceed for the trip. So the bookings were done, courtesy Pawan. Jayshankar was to travel from Chennai (MAS) to Yeswantpur (YPR) in the MASVSG exp., while the rest of the group was to board at YPR. Return was via the Goa aka Super Express from Castlerock (CLR) to Londa (LD) and Hubli (UBL) to Bangalore (SBC) by the Rani Chennamma Express. Jayasankar would continue ahead later in the day by the 2008 Mysore-Chennai Shatabdi Express.

The plan was to board the Chennai-Vasco on the afternoon/evening of the Friday, the 29th of July, get down at CLR the next morning and cover the CLR/QLM stations and the ghats for the whole of Saturday the 30th, do a repeat of day 1 on Day 2 (31st) to cover out black spots and subsequently board the return Goa Express from CLR on the 31st evening. We would be back in Bangalore City Jn. (SBC) on Monday morning, the 1st of Aug to get back to the grind(s)!

Day 0 – the D Day, we depart!

Finally the day of journey dawned. All of us were in continuous touch with each other during the days leading up to the trip, finalizing minor details like the stay at Castlerock, trips up and down the Ghats, food and so on. Kunal’s strict advice about the weather conditions at CLR made us run around Bangalore in search for a good quality rain coats, as it was said to be raining heavily at DDS. Also, the permission for photography from SWR headquarters was obtained by our ‘Contact Master in SWR’ aka Kunal. This would surely provide us the comfort of photography without anyone (read RPF) disturbing our engrossing hobby. Shishir purchased snacks and bakery products on the day on travel which would be savored by us over the next two days.

At around, 8.30 pm the group met at the SBC. The plan was to meet up at SBC and then travel from SBC to YPR by the 16589 Rani Chennamma exp. Any Bangalorean would admit that road travel to the YPR station is a nightmare due to the ongoing metro rail construction and the poor transport facilities at night. Hence the train is the best way to get there. The Rani Chennamma had its regular link –Hubli’s WDP4 #20007 that night. The run from SBC to YPR was quite an uneventful and a quick one. In between Malleswaram (MWM) and YPR, we crossed an incoming passenger bound to SBC. All of us alighted at YPR and awaited eagerly the arrival of our train, the 17311 (MASVSG Express). Jayasankar was already on board; hence we received regular updates on the position of 17311. The waiting time at YPR was spent discussing the latest updates on the IRFCA forum, gallery and other railfans. After an agonizing wait of about half hour, an Arrakonam (AJJ) WAG-5 pulled in with our train. We saw Jayasankar standing on the door of his 2A coach and waving at us, in a typical hero style, as the train pulled to a halt. Jayasankar was greeted with loud welcome shouts from our group, much to the bemusement of travelers waiting to board the train and people in the coaches. Pawan Koppa, who had specially purchased two Masala Dosas for Jayasankar from the famous “Vasudeva Adiga’s” – a famous restaurant chain of Bangalore, handed it over to him at the first sight. The WAG5 was detached from the rake and a new loco, KJM WDM-3A #18704 was coupled at the other end of the rake.

The excited group clambered onto the lone 3A coach. We arranged our luggage and took our berths, and awaited the entertainment session which was soon to start. Pawan Koppa had downloaded a few railway videos from Youtube, converted it into mp4 format, loaded it onto Itunes and then synced them onto his IPod. The long process was certainly worth it as the group was soon rolling in laughter seeing the famous “Gubbi station” video shot by Dilip Setlur, which was the incoming WDP-4 hauled Rani Chennamma Express making ambulance like sounds thanks to the poor audio recording quality of his then camera.

Here is the video.

The iPod was connected to an external portable speaker with a 3.5mm jack, courtesy Sant Kulk, so along with us, a couple of coupes of disinterested passengers were also party to the sound and light show of railway videos! After a few more videos and multiple rounds of laughs, the group retired for the day.

Day 1 – Action begins at UBL!

Early next day, as we woke up, we were halted at UBL Dakshin, a small station before UBL outer for a crossing with the SBC bound 12726 Dharwar (DWR) -Bangalore Siddagroupa Intercity “ICE” Express. This made the whole group excited, and all of us ran to the other side of the main line to get a good view of the speeding train. This was a group of EMD lovers, and what better start to the day than seeing UBL WDP-4 #20008, roaring in as it picked up speed with this famous train – which is known as the “king” of this section due to its menacing high speed run between UBL and SBC. As soon as the ICE departed, we got the all clear and slowly pulled into UBL. As we entered the UBL station, we saw the 16532 YPR – Ajmer (AII) Garib Nawaz Exp standing on the platform 3. This was hauled by its newly anointed link, Hubli’s WDP-4B 40017. This train had to depart the station first and then our train would get the starter, as it had arrived much earlier than us. We had plenty time at hand, as the 16532 had to pull out which it did a good ten minutes later, and our crew change and coach cleaning had to take place. The free time was mainly utilized in photographing the UBL station premises. We had a photo permit all the way from UBL to QLM, hence we starting shooting in glory, without caring a damn for anyone else! Also, on the PF 1 of UBL, we could get a glimpse of the Swami Vivekananda Express, which would be stationed there for the next couple of days. As the starter turned green for our train, we all boarded the compartment and occupied our places. Each one of the group had stories to narrate, about their train journeys, the forum, the locos, the railways etc. The next stop was at DWR and then was LD. From LD, the train takes a diversion towards CLR. And it is from LD that the journey becomes more enthralling. Amidst lush green spaces the track moves along as it slowly enters the Western Ghats. This being the monsoon season, a lot of maintenance work was being done, to prevent landslides on the tracks. After LD, there is a sole station before CLR, which is the Tinaighat(TGT). A lone passenger to Miraj (MRJ) stops at this station. TGT acts more of an Iron ore loading point for the freighters, from where the wealth of recently arrested ministers used to make its way to the ports in Goa and Karnataka, and thereon to elsewhere. As we were nearing CLR, we could feel the difference in weather, and the dark clouds started covering us. It had also started drizzling continuously. CLR was the edge of the Western Ghats, a biodiversity hotspot, and the change was understandable.

We reached CLR at around 10:30 am.

At CLR, the group with the exception of Jayasankar, alighted and proceeded to our guest house which was booked for us already. Jayasankar had set out to DDS, his favourite shooting point, minus his luggage, which we carried to the guest house.

As soon as we alighted, we ran on the platform towards the loco to watch the brake attachment procedure. Due to the steep 32:1 gradient down, all trains are mandatorily required to attach beakers to provide extra braking effort.

In the hurry to capture the procedure in pictures, some of us fell down and others lost balance. This was because the platform was covered by a thin layer of moss, which made walking a tedious procedure, leave alone running. Hence, we started walking on the edges of the platform, which was made of paved stone and were devoid of any moss and algae. Later, following the photography session, we all departed from the station to our guesthouse.

Talking of Castle Rock, it is a small village in the Karwar district of Karnataka and borders the state of Goa. The village extends for about a couple of kms in width, on either side of the railway station. The railway station is the soul of the town. On one side of the station is the town, with a few small ‘chai shops’, vegetable stores, a grocery store, a few dilapidated huts, a temple, a church etc. On the other side of the station is the railway related infrastructure, namely a railway school, a railway hospital, running room, quarters for employees, an engineers’ office, etc. Also running in the town is a path for leading to a trekking camp conducted by a private group. A few direction markers stand on the sides of the road, acting as the clues for the trekkers. Without the station, I don’t think there would have been any hustle bustle in the small hamlet. Most of the locals who reside in the town are directly or indirectly connected with the railways, and railways play a major role in the life of all the residents here. The railway is indeed the soul of this town, as it is across many towns across the length and breadth of this great nation. The weather here is quite wonderful. It is cold and rainy all the time. All we could get to see here were dark clouds in the sky and the rain kept pelting down incessantly – sometimes a deluge, sometimes a drizzle. There was not a moment of complete sunshine here. The thick green vegetation added to the charm of this place. The intensely grown grass on the road sides is a standing testimony to the amount of rainfall this place receives every year, thanks to be blessings of one of the greatest biodiversity spots on earth – the Western Ghats.

All of us assembled at the CLR station by 11:30 am immediately after quick baths and refreshing ourselves at the guest house. The group visited the station office, and was directed to the officers at CLR for further guidance. The officers also informed us that the 18048 HWHVSG Amaravathi exp was about to arrive at CLR. Locos 14571 and another WDM-3A were ready to act as the brakers for the train. In the meanwhile, the group hopped from road one to road five, covering each and every track

at a time. We could see a TLC- triple loco consist standing on one of the tracks. The group took their time to visit and explore the scenic station at leisure as there was enough time for the Amaravathi to arrive. In the course of our survey, we did encounter a few friendly railway personnel, who helped us with a lot of facts about the station; one of them being that it would rain for 4 to 5 months continuously in the region, and hence it was very tough for them to go about their normal routine work. This fact was experienced by us, when we tried to simply walk on the platform of CLR station. What we railfans call as a scenic place and consider as a beautiful time to visit the Ghats, the same place and time are considered as a headache by the staff, due to the strenuous work conditions. A posting here for crew is considered as a “punishment” posting and many seek transfers to better areas like HQ, UBL.

At last, the Amaravathi exp arrived at CLR, with a GY WDM-3A baldie

We were to witness a baldie mania for the next two days, we were to see!

The brakers were attached to the train, and the starter changed to the caution aspect. The train then rolled out of CLR, and into the Ghats. More surprise was in store for the group. The officers informed us that there was a Pentaheader (5 loco consist) with a BOXN rake that was set to roll down the ghats, but would not depart immediately as the Super aka Nizamuddin-Vasco Goa Express bound to VSG was about to arrive at CLR. We were all rendered speechless, because Super was supposed to pass CLR sometime in the early hours of the morning (approx 3:30 am), while it was almost noon and the Super had not yet arrived! It was delayed because of a bridge collapse near BSL, and hence it was running late by almost 6 – 7 hours. In the meantime, the group decided to take different positions, to capture the ‘prize’ catch of the day. Some of us stayed at the station premises, while others, including myself went towards the abandoned steam station. Here we saw the coaches of ART – Accident Relief Trains standing. While we awaited the Super to enter into the station, a glance around, revealed huge mountains all around the station. The huge mountains would have hindered the movement of people, if not for the Britishers and the Portuguese, who had laid the line with such precision many, many decades ago. The mountains would have hindered the movement again, if the tracks were not maintained in this condition. Kudos to the railways staff, who are always alert and keep the line in the best of conditions. Super arrived at the station with yet another Gooty WDM-3A baldie and the brakers were attached again. The brakers were another set of Gooty baldies, though WDG-3A and not WDM-3A. All the “ghat-eligible” locos either WDG-3As or WDG-4s are mandatorily fitted with AEB devices (Auto Emergency Brakes, which bring the train to a complete halt if the train crosses 30 kmph on the down gradient. AEBs are disabled on the uphill run, which has a higher Maximum Permissible Speed (MPS) of 50 kmph. The train started off the station after brakers were attached. The MPS of the section downhill being 30 kmph as mentioned earlier, the train passed us at a slow speed. The train disappeared soon into the dense Ghats.

Post Super, it was time for the Pentaheader loco consist with the BOXN rake to depart.

We rushed back into the station, with caution this time, so as not to slip on the platforms or the tracks. The BOXN rake was about to depart from the station and we had a chat with the guard after showing our photo permit, and he kindly obliged us to hop on to the caboose. Soon after a massive jerk, the consist moved ahead. The best part of a ride in a caboose is that anyone on It can feel the notches from the loco being transmitted across the freight wagons like a massive wave out to hit you, and however prepared you are, you are bound to lose your balance! While on board the caboose, Kunal and I chatted with the knowledgeable guard about the Two aspect signaling prevalent in the Braganza Ghats. This caught the attention of a few railway workers who were also on the caboose, who were taken aback about our knowledge, and went on to ask us about how we came to know about the same. We briefed them about our group and its activities and that amazed them even more, and they seemed mesmerized by our knowledge of locos and train operations.

The LP/ALP of the train accorded to our request through the guard over walkie talkie to halt the rake for a few minutes at the Dudhsagar falls, to take pictures of the splendor. After our photo session at DDS, we again boarded the caboose to our next stop at the Viewpoint. Our fellow railfan, Jayasankar, had stationed himself a little ahead of the falls to catch the panorama of the locos passing infront of the waterfall, a shot which could be shot a few hundred meters of track ahead of the falls. We gave him a snack packet packed with various types of buns which we carried specially for him. This was almost a token passing and catching session, as Jayasankar was at a spot ahead of the waterfalls, and the rake obviously did not stop there. One look at the hungry Jayasankar, and the token one-way exchange was complete! During the few minutes that we stopped at the falls, the locos were filled with more than a coach full of tourists standing on the catwalks. The tourists filled our caboose as well, leaving hardly any breathing space.

The light locos, freighter locos/cabooses and the couple of Express trains that halt at DDS are the only means of commute to the hundreds of revelers at the DDS falls, and they made the most of this opportunity. This was the only way they could travel back to Kulem, or in the reverse direction to Castlerock, as the case may be. This work done, the locos started their journey downward with the BOXN rake towards Kulem.

The scenery of the Ghat section is best witnessed by standing on the door plate of the trains or as in our case, a wide angle view from the caboose! A word of advice to the members – it is a great achievement to stand on the door plate of the trains, but with the rain pelting down all the time and the doorplate being slippery, it has to be done with the utmost care and vigilance.

Standing on the outer part of the caboose catwalk, the train seemed to be travelling above the clouds. A thick mist of fog can be observed and felt. The view below is a treat to the eyes. Dark green forests covered with white and grey mist pass by at a leisurely pace. Times are tough for the LP/ALP, when the visibility extends not more than a few meters in front of the loco. The track passes through numerous tunnels and while going downhill, the smoke problem is not encountered, which is a characteristic of the

uphill climb where the alcos or EMDs are in maximum notch pulling or pushing a rake uphill, and the hot smoke engulfs the tunnels and the coaches immediately next to the locos. The best part is the view of vegetation that grows above the tunnel and the mini waterfalls that dot the rock cuttings.

The norm of the Ghat section is that every train has to stop at every station, and proceed. This is the mandatory brake testing halt while proceeding down the ghats. As per this rule, our rake stopped at Caranzol, Doodhsagar and Sonaulim stations enroute.

The group also witnessed a crossing with a uphill boimd coal filled BOXN rake at DDS.

The sound of the WDG4 bankers chugging hard to push the rake up the ghats was a melody to our ears. The group enjoyed every moment on board the caboose. The group reached Kulem, a good one and a half hours after our departure from CLR at around 3 pm. At QLM, a few of the members had their lunch at a local hotel and returned immediately to board the return train to CLR, the VSG-NZM Goa Express.

As per information from the Station Master(SM) of QLM, the up Super towards NDLS was supposed to arrive any time now. The QLMVSG passenger stood at one end of the station, awaiting the arrival of Super. Once the Super would arrive, this pasenger would proceed towards VSG. The group made best use of the waiting time, for the arrival of Super, by exploring the QLM station. The station had not more 4 platforms and a few loop lines, where a freighter waiting to climb uphill was standing.

On one of the loop lines, a caboose “train” was stabled. Cabooses are considered unstable when a banker is coupled to a goods train behind it, since the caboose is of a lesser weight than the rake in front of it and when a banker pushes it from behind, there is a chance of a derailment due to the instability of the caboose to withstand a severe pushing force from behind. Hence for trains climbing the ghat, the cabooses are detached at QLM and bankers are coupled. The freight gets a different caboose once it reaches CLR for its onward journey. At QLM, once a sizeable number of cabooses are collected, they are then transferred to CLR, and this rake is fondly called a ‘caboose special’. Coming back to QLM, the Super arrived with its GY WDM-3A baldie as its lead power and the bankers, also GY WDM-3A baldie locos, were attached to it. The starter was cleared and our train left the station.

Once the rake started, the group took positions on the doors of the train, not wanting to miss one more chance to capture the scenery enroute. The group was not aware of one thing here. Since the ride is up the gradient, all the banker locos chug a lot and emit a lot of smoke. This poses as a problem when the locos enter the tunnels. The tunnels echo with the whining of an alcos and the smoke emitted, has no way out, hence fill the nostrils of the people standing on the doors of the SLR and the last unreserved coach at the back of the train. This also affects the people in the cab, if the windows are not closed in tunnels. After considerable time, we passed on the Doodhsagar waterfalls; this time around there was no halt as we were on an up gradient. Standing for a long time had made our legs pain, and we took turns shuttling back to our seats. A huge crowd of drunken revelers boarded the train at the DDS station, and made the already cramped coach even more cramped. Jayasankar also boarded our train at DDS. Finally we reached CLR at around 6 pm and walked out with a sense of achievement and a great day of railfanning.

The group photographed the locos standing in and around the station and retired to the guest house after having a hot cup of tea and some “namkeen” at a local hotel. The dinner was arranged by some of our railway friends at CLR. The guest house was devoid of electricity due to continuous power cuts and hence we had a hard time arranging for dinner. Once all was done, the group retreated into a fine nights’ sleep, completely exhausted by the day’s activities.

Day 2 – action continues!

The next day, the group was up and ready by about 7.30 am. Breakfast was arranged again by our railway friends in the Running Room of CLR. The running room kitchen cooks up some wonderful idlis and vada at an astonishingly low price. Other than the running room, not many options were available for satisfying hunger hat CLR. Assembling again at the station, the group was informed that Amaravathi exp towards HWH was scheduled to arrive shortly. The group stayed at platform 1 of DDS awaiting the arrival. A loaded BOXN rake was awaiting departure from road 4, towards Kulem. Poorna Express (Pune-Ernakulam) was expected to arrive in a short while. The group decided to travel on this train till QLM and return back with the Super, which we would continue upto Londa, from where we would take the Queen back to Bangalore. The group decided to bring back the entire luggage and keep it in the crew booking office so that, we could alight and pick the luggage while we returned in the Super. A few railway friends again arranged the same for us.

As Planned, we embarked on the Poorna Express from CLR to travel downhill. Once again, the group enjoyed the beauty of the Ghats. The train stopped at every station en route for its mandatory brake testing halt and in this gap, the group jumped out of the coaches to take pictures of the scenery around at every
possible chance.

Poorna Express then reached QLM, where all the group members alighted and moved on to have refreshments at the local stall. We then with all our patience awaited the arrival of the Super towards CLR. Again the station was deserted, with only a QLMVSG pasenger standing on one of the loop lines as it always does. This service comes in, in the morning, the loco is reversed an shut down, and is powered on only during evening when it leads the same service in the reverse direction. We waited patiently for the Super to arrive on the platform. At sharp 16.30 hrs, the Super pulled in with its GY twin power. We were surprised as it was the first non baldie Gooty loco set we had seen on the trip!

All the members tired, the first priority on boarding the train was to find a seat to sit on. The coaches were filled with people, and we managed to travel standing all the way upto LD. When the train halted at DDS, drunk revelers poured into the reserved coaches, thus making it a misery filled journey towards the end. The entire coach reeked with the smell of Booze. Finally we reached CLR, where we ran to the crew booking office to bring our luggage. We met the officers at CLR one last time and thanked him profusely for their support and help. We boarded the General Compartment of Super and made it to LD completely exhausted.

Waiting at LD – the end

The Rani Chennamma, our return link to Bangalore was running 1 hour behind schedule as was announced at LD. In the meantime, we had snacks, refreshed ourselves and even purchased dinner food packets. As the Queen arrived, the group boarded or designated 3A coach, made ourselves snug and started exchanging cameras to see what each other had shot over the last 2 days. In the process, we also had a terrible dinner (of unboiled rice pulao with a pretty bad curry). At UBL, Shishir alighted the train, and bought us all packets of buttermilk, which somewhat subdued the lingering taste of the horrible dinner. Soon after we dozed off as we were too tired to do anything else. We woke up next morning only as we reached YPR where Pawan Koppa was to take leave of us. We bid Pawan goodbye, along with exchanging plans for the next railfanning trip. The queen had reached YPR at 07:15 hrs and was made to wait for a few minutes before the starter turned green. The next stop signal was the home signal of SBC, where again we were made to wait for another 10 mins. We pulled into SBC at 0745 hrs.

Thus ended yet another memorable trip. As we bid adieu to each other, we cherished the memories of this wonderful trip that we will surely remember for a lifetime!


Material provided by Santosh Kulkarni, Copyright © 2011.