Botad Jn. - Jasdan
WR, 54 km. 30 April 1975
In April, 1975, my friend Ian Manning was visiting me from Melbourne and together we went on a tour of Gujarat and Rajasthan. After covering as many of the n.g. lines of Gujarat as feasible, we headed via Ahmedabad to reach Botad Jn. by 22 hrs on the 29th April. Rushed to the dining hall which was about to close and got a meal of chappathis only, for Rs. 1:25 P. each, the standard rate. A cup of tea, and, by 23 hrs., both of us stretched ourselves at the Sn. end of the sole pfm., an island in fact. Could not sleep properly as the asphalt floor was too hot, and I was repeatedly awakened by passers-by who me asked to take care of my small suitcase which I was holding in a sort of embrace. Six express/mail trains passed during the night, but most were running empty. Woke up by 05 hrs when it had become chill. Had tea. Ian went by the foot overbridge to the booking office to the W, was given the usual advice to go by bus to Jasdan, before being issued the tickets.
Botad was at the border of the erstwhile princely state of Bhavnagar. Jasdan was the capital of a smaller native state, which explained the raison d'etre of the branch. In fact much of Kathiawar was a conglomeration of native states with the British administering only the tracts around Ahmedabad. The branch is not shown in the Imperial Gazetteer of India maps of 1909. It had been constructed some time later and was closed down in the late1970's or early 1980's as being unviable in the face of competition from the roadway.
In April 1975, there was a once daily mixed to Jasdan that was scheduled to leave Botad at 0600 and return at 1220, taking 2h. 50 m. each way. A short rake with a WT wagon in front, which would also carry mail, stood on the loop adjoining the mainline to its W. At 0600 there was no sign of any engine or of passengers. I was wondering whether there would be a service, but was reassured by the fact that the booking clerk had issued us the tickets. At 0615 Ian found a bathing cubicle at the other end of the pfm., took a bath and returned before an SN engine, steam of course , was attached to Nn. end of the rake at 0630. A few passengers ambled in just before the train started, they were all aware that it would start only at 0645.
Botad Jn. (119.6 M) d 0645. Took off into the N, past turntable to the left at 0-8, curved steadily to the left, settling into a WNW course by 1-3. 0-9: L/400 up; across gently undulating terrain, very open and bare, with low ridges in the distance. 2-6: 600 dn/L. 3-2/5: slight left curve to hit W-WNW. 3-11: unmanned level crossing of a tar road. Some houses to the left on gentle upslope; bare, open fields, occasionally cutting across a low mound. 7-6: 200 up/? After traversing shallow corrugations,
10-2: Bhadravadi, a 0726, d 29; no loop or siding. Pfm. at right, with small corrugated tin office and waiting space. A few young trees on the pfm., no lights or lantern posts. No need for them anyway, as no train passed this way in the dark. Most of the few who were travelling with us got off here. 10-9, crossed dry R. Utavali by 6 x 10' girder. A few green plots on a relatively level terrain, as low mounds closed in on both sides.
14-6: Paliyad Road, a 0739, d 42; again no loop or siding. Pfm with tiny tin office at left. Open all around. To the right, past some low mounds, the land dropped some 50' to a level plain. The station was on the edge of a low plateau which we were ascending. We had the carriage for ourselves. 16-1/6: Steady left curve to proceed WSW. 16-8: 200 dn/175 up; A 5 km. wide, shallow dip ahead, then more low mounds to ascend. 17-7: some stunted trees on otherwise bare and open, gently undulating terrain. Soil light grey. But the thin fields were barren. 18-5/8, cutting across a low mound, curved right to do W-WNW. 19-9: 150 dn/200 dn. To the left (S), low ridge about 10 km away.
20-6: Pipardi, a 0755, d 56. Layout, as before. A few scattered houses about 2 km to the left (S), with the low ridges having edged a little closer to us. Ascended a low, flat mound, then 24-5: level, open, bare fields with a few small houses. 26-7: 175 up/L; 26-7/10: right curve to do W-WNW again. 27-7: R. Kandhevalia by 4 x 20' girder. Then leveler fields but bare with thin, grey topsoil. 28-7: noticed a large crowd at a fair in the open, 250 metres to the right. The ridge to the left, 5 km away, rising about 500', with a small fort atop a peak, 10 km away to the fore-left. 29-4: 4 x 10' girder across a stream with the dry bed of a reservoir to the left. There was a well with a water tank to the right of the track.
29-6: Vinchhiya (134.1 M) a 0820, d 44. The only 'proper' station on the branch. Pfm to the right (N) of a loop with a modest brick office; siding off the loop past the Wn end of the pfm. with a small goods shed. It was open all around, save for a few stunted trees dotting the bare, uneven landscape. The tar road from Botad to Jasdan ran in the N at some distance and a bus would often ply. No passenger got off our train and no one got in. We two were the sole occupants.
The station master, a lean and stiff gentleman in his mid-forties, stood at the door of his office, staring at the two of us. The engine was detached and went on the reverse to the water tank, some 200 metres to the E, to collect water. Ian stepped out and walked towards it. I was seated catching up with my notes.
The SM watched Ian following the loco to the water tank, went back into his office. He then came up to me and asked "What are you two doing here?" "Going to Jasdan", I replied. "What business do you have there?" "Nothing particular." "Why are you not going by the bus?" "We are interested in travelling by this train." He could not comprehend it. "What are you?" "A government college lecturer in the South." "Who is that whiteman?" "My friend; an Australian; he worked with me in my college for four years." "Why are you both going to Jasdan?" "I said we like travelling by trains, it is a hobby." He could not understand that either. "Your friend has a camera and took a snap of the engine collecting water; he has taken a snap of the station too. It is against law. Does he have permission?" "I do not think he has; we are just touring for pleasure." "Do you have a camera?" "Yes", I showed him my 35 mm Voigtlander, "but I have run out of film." "You are taking down notes!" I showed him my notebook. He certainly was unable to decipher my scribblings. He said, "I think that both of you are spies." I was astonished.
He continued, "I have been watching both of you and have reported to the railway police at Botad. They are on their way here. I have been asked to detain you both." Ian meanwhile had returned but hovered at a distance sensing that some trouble was afoot. I told the SM, "I am a Government servant like you." He was not impressed. "Your friend may be a spy." That thought had not occurred to me at all. "See, he is an academic, teaching in an Australian university." "He may still be spying for our enemies; with the help of the photograph that he has taken, they might fly over this station and bomb it." "See, these are small amateur cameras; they cannot give any useful details." "I know all about micro-filming." He must have read all the latest spy thrillers. He continued "You have committed a serious crime; you both will be jailed!" I was now really starting to get premonitions. "You say that you have travelled a lot. Don't you know the law?" I told him, "Photography of bridges, tunnels and strategic installations are prohibited and there is usually a notice." "No!", he was emphatic, " Photography of all railway property is strictly prohibited!" I did not know what to reply when he was so vehement. I certainly did not want to argue with him. He stared at both of us.
The train was being held up, though we were the only passengers. After a long pause, he asked me for my name. He thought over it for a long time. "I grant that you cannot be a spy, but your friend may be one, without your knowing it." That took my breath away. "I know him for ten years; he is more Indian in spirit than I am." As an afterthought I added, "He knows more Hindi words than I do; he has learnt to play Carnatic music on the flute; he can even sit cross-legged!" The inquisition lasted more than ten minutes and it took a lot more effort on my part to establish our credentials. In the end he was convinced. He said "I will ring up the police at Botad and tell them that you are clean." He went into his office and came out again. "You can go on", he said. "Sorry, I was only doing my duty." I could appreciate that . Then he added, " I will get you both some tea." A tea would be welcome, but there was no stall anywhere in view. "I will get it from my house", he said. But that would take time. "No, thanks for the kind offer", I said; beckoned to Ian to get near us and Ian greeted the SM with an affable Namasthe. We chatted genially for a few minutes. Then, the crowning irony after all of it, Ian said he wanted to take a photograph of the SM and the latter gladly consented; he stood rigidly in front of his office, with Ian next to him, while I clicked the camera .
The rest of the journey was an anti-climax. 30-3: 300 up/150 up; Ascending a little more,
30-0/6: curved left into SW closing on to the ridge. 31-7, ascended a 20' mound, then curved right. We were traversing the outliers of the Mandav Hills. 32-8/11: gentle left curve, ascending to a shelf. The ridge with the fort atop lay to fore-right, with houses on a mound below it. Headed towards the Sn terminus of the ridge with tiny hillocks opening up a way for us. 37-7/11, right curve; 38-4/7, left curve; 38-9/11 right curve, passing the fort to the right. More mounds and low ridges around. 40-1/41-3, in a 10-12' cutting. 41-9: 150 up/L; across relatively level terrain with thin, bare and open fields. 43-10: 150 dn/1000dn.
44-2. Kalasar, a 0915, d 20. Low pfm. at left with tiled, rock-walled office that had a deserted look. A short goods pfm. to the right, but the loop there had been scrapped. Some houses 1 km to the right below some low, short ridges. Wide. Shall and open dip to the left, beyond which low ridges. 44-6: 1000 dn/? Made our way SWwds between low mounds with flats tops. 46-6/8, right curve, 47-0/48-3, cutting across a mound in a 18' trough. Worked our way slowly up between mounds; 49-10: 150 dn/?; 50-x: the road ran parallel to the right, 500 metres away, but closing in at 52-1. 51-9: 150 up/? A low flat hill 1 km to the left, with a wall atop. 53-4: 150 dn/1000 dn.
53-7. Jasdan (232.3 M), a 0935. Long but low pfm at right on a loop with a medium size tiled office and a large waiting hall. But very few people around. No electricity, but a few lantern posts on the pfm. Past the SWn end of the pfm., a siding served by a tin goods shed. A loop other the main track served as one side of a reversing triangle. No stalls or shops anywhere around. Regretted having declined the offer of tea by the SM at Vinchhiya. A small temple stood atop a low mound outside the station, but the walled town was 2 km away. Though buses plied regularly on the road outside, could not think of going to the town. Watched empty tea chests being loaded in the goods wagon in our train.
Our tickets were issued just before the train d. 1030 on the return trip. Very few got into the train; we waved to the SM at Vinchhiya and he reciprocated, the stop was brief this time as the engine collected water again; reached Botad Jn by 13 hours, had a filling meal at the dining hall and caught a train towards our next destination, Palitana.
- I find that, unfortunately, I have not made any note of the wheel formation and other parameters of this class of engine, which must have been a sort of rarity. I have a vague notion that it was designed more for shunting. I will get the information from Dr Ian Manning or Dr Ken Walker. Meanwhile, I will be glad to receive inputs from co-members of IRFCA.
- If any rules have been framed restricting photography on the railways, it should have been in the Imperial period when the British had a constant fear of Czarist expansionist designs on India. The masters and servants of independent India zealously guard every administrative trivia inherited from the British, buried in God knows which archives. I am yet to see the said regulations on print.
Whether they serve any purpose, except harassment of rail fans, and whether they have any relevance in these days of three-dimensional satellite pictures of high resolution that can be downloaded from the internet, is beyond debate.
And I wonder how the railways permit cine photography for a fee. I have seen more than a dozen Telugu films that give excellent views, from various angles, of the Dorabhavi viaduct near Giddalur on the Guntakkal - Guntur line, with heroes, heroines and comedians dancing thereon to glory or the heroes fighting with the villains. Is it not a structure of strategic importance? Though the above episode at Vinchhiya ended on a friendly note, the 10-12 minutes of inquisition that I faced left a lasting bitterness in my mind. The gentleman certainly had suspicions, but was amenable to reason and was willing to be convinced in the end. Imagine our plight if he had been otherwise, especially as neither of us could speak Hindi or Gujarathi. I decided that thenceforth I would never take photographs during railway journeys, not wanting to spoil the pure pleasure of railway travel by such distractions.
- We promptly posted a print of the photograph to the SM from Delhi.