8003 Trip No. 3
by Arnab Acharya
Einstein had explained his relativity theory using the example of a person sitting on fire versus spending time with his girlfriend! I had a similar feeling - after reaching Howrah, for the journey back to the grind at Bangalore, on 7th Feb, 2003. A week had just flown by.
As soon as we alighted from the car, the lights went off. A first at Howrah! Within 10 seconds or so, the lighting came up skeletally, though. After 3-4 minutes, normalcy was restored. My whole family had come to see me off (It might be 2 years before I see them next, who knows!). This time I got WL/7 on 3AC, as per the status on 22 Jan, when I booked. So, I booked in the sleeper class (confirmed in S8) as well. I'd been keeping track of the 3AC. As it reached RAC1, 2 days back, cancelled my SL ticket. The chart showed my berth as U38 in AS1 (0128134/A). Trudged there, coolie and all. This time, I had a very large soft suitcase. As all my co-passengers had already settled in, had some altercation to get my things in. My co-passengers consisted of a Marwari businessman (dealt in bras! I didn't quite know how to react, when he told me) on the side lower, an elderly Muslim couple (70+), a witty Malayali Christian Auntie, an elderly Bengali couple. 8003 departed at 2009 or so. We were at KGP ~2215. A young college-girl got up here and took the side upper. The lower gent had RAC. One of my sheets was unclean, had it changed. It turned out that the other had holes. In the AC hierarchy, the 3AC is lowest! Went to bed, soon after. Being a light sleeper, I got up about 7 or so, but, lay resting. Usually, I get up once, when sleeping on train. This time, I slept soundly. Maybe because, I was dog-tired, packing and giving my family last minute instructions on a dozen things - bank and what not. Finally, got up at 0940 or so. We halted at Kantakapalle from 0959-1004. There were crossings with 2 vacuum rakes (with Acs) at 1004, 1009. Kottavalasa was at 1019. We reached VSKP at 1055 at Pf1, much before the scheduled 1120. As we went in, a light WDS/6 travelled alongside into the yard, in standard orange-yellow-red VSKP livery. Did an extensive study of VSKP. Walked all along to the rear, after stationing Bengali Uncle to fill up water in his bottle. An electric loco was shunting coaches for fun, it seemed! The assortment had an AC coach, some vacuum general ones, some airbraked. Spotted a blue and white SER Second Jan Chair Car, with longish windows, somewhat like the 3ACs, at a far end to the left. I recall having seen a similar one at SBC yard. Checked the Wheelers. The guy there motioned a lot. What I understood, the actual owner was not there. No SCR TT! Started walking to the front, got Uncle and reached him back. Auntie was worrying he was lost! Went ahead. 18553R, a KGP WDM/2 had hauled us this far. At 1110 or so, an AJJ WAM/4, 20479, took charge. Watched the shunting. The plate showed it was a Chittaranjan product. As there was plenty of time, got up on the shorter overbridge. The other one was close to this one. Both were at the front of the station. Saw a black faced DMU moving into the yard at the left. Initially, I thought that was a midway coach but, no, there were windows in the black! Someone was sitting behind the window! The vacuum braked Tirumala Exp from Tirupati came in, behind a BZA WAM/4 at 1113 at Pf5, consisting of 7 coaches in all - 1 2AC, 3 SLs, rest general. Noticed the vacuum braked VSKP-Korba Exp in the yard. Got down from the bridge. On an impulse, called home and talked to a surprised Mom and one of my sisters. Would have talked more but, Mom started getting tense that I might miss the train! Noticed a showpiece NG (2'6"?) outside the station. It was numbered 648 or 684, with a maroon body. It was getting a fresh coat of paint. Incidentally, 8003 was a 19-coach rake, with 1 2AC, 2 3ACs, 10 SLs, 2 luggage-cum-general, 1 pantry, 3 general. The pantry was between the ACs and the sleepers. The first coach from Howrah (now the last) had a 'LV' tag hanging. Most of the SLs had a return date of 11-2003. Also noticed 'X/SRC' on many coaches. What is that? We departed VSKP at 1140, on time. This time, I was on the alert, to see where the MASC and HWH tracks diverted. It turned out at 1155, just a little before Duvvada. That's why, maybe, Duvvada-VSKP is SER territory, though, logically, it should be SCR. A similar situation is in LKO-CNBE/Gonda, I recall. Not sure as to which Rly owns that. At 1159 or so, possibly the VSKP-bound Ratnachal crossed. Duvvada was at 1206. 1255 possibly saw the crossing of 6004. Tuni was at 1315, Annavaram at 1328. We overtook the vacuumbraked Alleppey Exp at 1355. Now, I was sitting on the side lower, as the elderly people slept. Here, I noticed the guy on berth 27 (upper) kept on looking at my direction. Realised soon enough that the girl upstairs and him were having a lot of non-verbal communication going on. Rajahmundry was at 1454-6 at Pf1. Made a quick run to the Higginbotham's, closed! The times on it said, it opened at 3 pm! 8003 picked up speed. Noticed the new MEMU shed on the right. 8003 sped through the curved track, onto the rail-road bridge on the Godavari. As it curved, I turned front and back and counted the coaches. It was a beautiful sight. The rail-road bridge was being painted yellow in some parts. The other newer bridge had 28 semi-circlular arches, I counted. There was a Raj livery electric travelling away from RJY on it. Is that a two-way track?
As we entered BZA, saw the last coach of a vacuumbraked JAT-bound Himsagar. BZA was at 1720-35, arrival 5 mins early at Pf5. searched for SCR TT - was told, the stock was exhausted. Announcements were being made about the imminent arrival of the Gorakhpaur-Cochin Express. I checked the TT to see it was TVC, not Cochin! BZA-Kakinada board-carrying rake left at 1725. Passeneger, I guess. BZA-Dornakal Pass was parked at Pf4 (332?). One of the coaches had a number like 99999/A-X. Never saw 'A-X' before! As we crossed the Krishna, a 17 coach Day Express, with a diesel and an AC coach as the last coach, went towards BZA. Krishna Exp? The sunset was mellowing. Tenali was at 1810, Ongole at 2001-3.
My Muslim co-passengers were sharing bhujiya, apples, grapes with us. I shared chips with the coupe gang. Mom had packed a lot of sweets and other goodies to boot. One of my colleagues, who'd travelled with me to Calcutta, was in S2. As I made my way there, I noticed the only 2 SLs had bulb lights, others had tubes. Some had a wide space beyond the berth 72 space (previously, there were 73-75). Others had no separate space at all. We halted somewhere from 2152-5 but, couldn't make out. I was having dinner. The 7 of us, except the college-girl were sharing jokes (Sardarji and otherwise), having 'adda'. She was busy with Berth 27, at one of the ends of the coach. Finally, we retired at 2200 or so. Didn't sleep well, lest I miss KJM! The 3 elderly ladies assured me, they slept less (due to old age) and would wake me up, before 6! Bengali Uncle was sleeping like a log, whenever he went to his berth, even snoring! Auntie was joking, they'd get down at YPR, in case only one of them managed to alight at KJM! Finally, Malayali Auntie (named Bridgette) called me up at 5. I was already awake. Bangarapet was at 0543-8. Went to the door. It was slightly chilly, for a change! Bangalore never seems to get cold, even in winter! Some nights, I have to turn on the fan! (After Delhi and Chicago, I should complain!). KJM was at 0635 at Pf3, finally, just 20 mins late! Said my goodbyes and got down. Dawn was breaking lazily - it did not have to get down so early! The coolies crowded near the AC coaches. It turned out, there were only 3 coolies in KJM! They used trolleys to cart luggage. A round of haggling with them, the autowallah and, I was done with my journey. Just before that, MASC-bound Lalbagh passed KJM at 0700, hauled by a Raj livery WAP/4 (similar to the one that hauls Brindavan) to MASC. The funny thing was, the front luggage car had no board. The last one said 'Madras-Bangalore Express'. Yes, Madras, not Chennai!