Katpadi Jn. - Pakala Jn.

Mon., 19 Sept., 1966

This was on the first leg of my first long railway tour. I had as my companions an Australian, who was then on a teaching assignment in my college in Madras, and a friend of Indian origin, who was none too keen on travelling but whom I had enticed into the venture. We boarded #69 Madras - Coimbatore Parcel Passenger [1] at Madras Central in the night of Sun., 18 Sept., 1966. Our carriage (No. 01331, comp. B) was rickety, with longitudinal rows of seats. Hauled by steam, WG 8985, the b.g. train departed on time at 2130 and brought us to Katpadi Jn., 130 km. to the W. at 0240, late by 35 mins.

We went out to the booking office, got class III, ordinary tickets for Guntakal, via Pakala and Dharmavaram (fare Rs. 9: 15 P.), and went to the m.g. pfm. No. 3, to board the rake of the 0445 passenger to Pakala.

Katpadi Jn., aligned E/W, on the b.g. line to Bangalore, lies at the edge of the Eastern Ghats [2] at an altitude of about 700'. It has been a typical railway town, the more populous and historical Vellore, a district headquarters, being 9 km. to the S, across R. Palar, on the m.g. line to Villupuram Jn.

Just N of Katpadi, one enters Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, which is bi-lingual, both Tamil and Telugu being spoken. The En. Ghats there are actually clusters low hillocks and the m.g. line to Pakala, 63 km to the N, winds its way, ascending a little. The mean annual rainfall is 75 cm. But much of the rain drains away quickly given the nature of the terrain. Shrubs and stunted trees cover the hillslopes amidst scattered rocks; where the land is somewhat level, maize, other cereals and groundnuts, are raised. Only on lands adjoining rivers, rice and sugar are grown.

From Pakala, the m.g. line turns NE to Tirupathi East (42 km), at the foot of some serpentine hills in the N, above which, at an altitude of about 3000', nestles the temple town of Tirumala, the abode of Lord Venkateswara, and the most important place of pilgrimage for the Hindus in the South, who flock daily to it in their thousands. The hardier among them climb up by a 7-km long footpath to fulfill a vow, but the more hurried pilgrims go by the bus along a much longer ghat road. The railway line then crosses the Madras - Bombay b.g. at the major junction of Renigunta, to press further NE past the Saivite temple town of Kalahasthi to Gudur on the Madras - Calcutta East Coast line. The Katpadi - Gudur line has since been converted to the broad gauge in phases.

An old M&SM m.g. line runs from Pakala, in the general direction of NW, winding its way between the hills and ridges of the Eastern Ghats, to reach Dharmavaram (228 km) on the Deccan plateau, whence another m.g. line ran nearly N to Guntakal, a major junction on the Madras - Bombay line. It was thither that we were heading that day.

Katpadi Jn. d 0445, on time. It was quite dark outside, and our dimly-lit carriage was fairly crowded, mostly with pilgrims, coming from the E, S and W, and heading for Tirumala. They had taken up their seats much before we arrived; many had stretched themselves on the luggage racks and others sat awake or in semi-slumber. As the train departed, sudden shouts were raised, almost in unison, by the pilgrims in all the carriages, "Govinda, Govinda!", accompanied by calls from a native trumpet or a conch shell and gongs. These words, another name of Venkateswara, raised repeatedly till they reached a crescendo, on every occasion when the train moved out of a station, were intended to intimate the Lord of Tirumala, some 50 km. away, that these devotees were indeed on their way to keep their vows. The piety of those unkempt 'rustics' was simply moving.

(10) Bommasamudram and (16) Ramapuram were passed in the dark. As the dawn broke, we were across a rugged terrain, with rocks, short trees and coarse grass around occasional maize plots.

(25) Siddampalli, a 0536, d 0557, held up on the loop with pfm. at right, for the Tirupathi - Tiruchirapalli Fast Passenger to cross our train. The main track on which the fast passenger passed, the loop and the pfm. were all curved. I strolled on the pfm. and noted that our own engine was YP 2214 (4-6-2), Munich, 1954. With the light bright, we ran NNW, past a hamlet at 26.5; terrain became harder with more rocks and fewer fields as a chain of hillocks, rising 200-400' above us, closed in on the fore-right; passed through at 29.0, emerging on a slightly leveler, but still rocky terrain.

(33) Chittoor (988'), a district headquarters, but only one pfm. at left, two crossing loops and 4-5 more shorter to the right (East). A quietly busy station that morning. A large town sprawled outside the block of offices to the left (W), past the highway, which turned right (E) and level-crossed our line just past the station; soon we curved left to cross R. Chittoor, then curved right to run N-NNE between two ridges.

(41) Muthiravel Halt. Some groves then hills to the W; shrubland to the E with a ridge at some distance. Crossed R. Poiney; some tracts of sugar cane too appeared, but little rice.

(48) Puttalapattu, pfm at left (W) with a big chunk of hill close to the right (E). Then crossed R. Puttalapattu, curved a little to the left.

(55) Kottakotta Halt, rhyming in a way with Puttalapattu, otherwise non-descript.

We curved into the E; the mg. line from Dharmavaram closed in from left (NNW), and we entered

(63) Pakala Jn., a 0708.


  1. Parcel passengers were my favourites those days, just as the Rajdhanis and Shatabdis are for the present day fan. The slowest of passenger trains, they covered long distances on some trunk routes. Almost always the last train to leave the originating station, after all the expresses and the faster passengers had left, they stopped at every station, including halts, even at the dead of the night. Besides upper class accommodation, they hauled three or more parcel vans, in which all sorts of items, including bundles of local newspapers and magazines, household goods, gunny bags containing all sorts of commercial and industrial commodities, bicycles, baskets of vegetables and dried fish, and whatnot, that could be booked up to an hour before departure from a station, would be loaded and unloaded at many of the stations, thus enforcing long stoppage times.

    Very popular, their arrival at junctions created a commotion unrivalled even by those of mails and expresses. They were often crowded, but one could always get inside a compartment at any station and hope find a seat sooner or later, for someone or other would be getting down at every station. If boarded at the originating station sufficiently early, one could occupy a luggage rack to sleep the night through, but I never got to sleep in any of them.

    Most of the travellers used them only for short or medium distances, but I have travelled from end to end on the three of them on the SR: the Madras - Vijayawada Parcel Passenger (that covered 441 km in about 16.5 hours), the Madras - Coimbatore Parcel (494 km in 19 hours; it for some time ran up to Olavakkot), and the m.g. Madras Egmore - Madurai Parcel (556 km in just over 24 hours , this ran for some time up to Virudhunagar).

    They ran so slowly that there was barely a reason for running late; however, if they ran late by over 30 minutes on the last 50 km or so before the destination, they were liable to be held up further at intermediate stations to let the faster passengers, expresses and mails, that were right behind them, to overtake. That often happened when I travelled by the through coach from Pondicherry to Madras which was attached to #116 Madurai - Madras Egmore Parcel passenger at Villupuram; they were otherwise very convenient trains.

    I enjoyed travelling in them since I could observe all sorts of people and hear (overhear) their conversations and get to know the local goings-on; in daytime, they were my ideals, for, being slow and stopping at every station, they afforded me the maximum opportunity to observe everything that passed by.

    I am not attempting to list all the parcels that ran on the IR. In 1975, ER had a pair of "parcel & passengers" between Gaya and Howrah via Kiul, Sahibganj, Barharwa, Katwa and Bandel, another pair between Gaya and Sealdah via Kiul, Sahibganj, Barharwa, Ahmadpur and Burdwan, taking 25 - 27.5 hours to cover distances of about 600 km. They did skip a few stations in the late night hours. A Parcel, with Class II only, ran between Vadodara and Kota in 1975 (527 km in 24 hours).

    A relatively short-distance m.g. parcel passenger ran between Barauni and Katihar in NER, covering just 179 km. in 7.5-8hours, and another, also on m.g., between Lucknow and Gorakhpur (278 km. in 13.5 - 14 hours). I have not travelled by any of these north Indian 'parcels', and there should have been more of them in the earlier decades. Their speeds averaged around 24-27 kmph on the b.g. and 21-24 on the m.g. Their demise, sad to me, started after 1980, with the introduction of more of the fast trains and the phasing out of steam traction.

  2. The Eastern Ghats, extending for over 1,800 km. from the Nilgiris near Coimbatore to the Rajmahal Hills in South Bihar, and forming the eastern sentinels of the Deccan plateau, are not as spectacular as their western counterparts. Barely reaching 3000', they are, nevertheless, interesting formations, often granite, consisting of a number of clusters or blocks of hills and ill-defined ranges that extend to cover much larger areas of peninsular India than the shorter and narrower, but more continuous, Western Ghats that often scale 6000' and above.

    Not receiving much rain, the modestly-wooded hills of En. Ghats hide valleys in which streams flow to join forces and bring alluvium to the fertile deltas of the Cauvery, the Pennar, the Krishna, the Godavari and the Mahanadi. The terraces that lead to Deccan plateau are rich in deposits, including coal, haematite and magnetite (iron oxides), bauxite (aluminium oxide), pyrolusite (manganese dioxide), besides mica, barytes (barium sulphate), dolomite and magnesite, and a variety of stones such as granite, marbles and slate. The soil is usually red due to its iron content and has to be usually topped with better soil from elsewhere to raise crops, mostly of cereals and oilseeds. Near river beds, paddy and sugar can be raised.
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