20 years on the 43 Up Darjeeling Mail

by Arnab Acharya


The 43 Up would leave from Pf8. It was to SDAH-, as Pf9 was to HWH. The 44 Dn, though, arrived at Pf7, if it was late - since the Jammu Tawi Exp was scheduled at 8. Till the late 80's, the journey back to Siliguri was not a journey we looked forward to, as it meant back to the grind.

Armed to the teeth in woollens, we would reach SDAH-, look up the chart and get our berths. It used to be the first week in January. Usually, it would be parked back in. The red tail-light would be glowing. Rarely, a WAM/1 would haul it in. The lights would be off, initially. However, they would be on, before the loco attached itself. The rake would be in an hour before, back then. (Early 90's on, most trains, I noticed, would be put in a half hour before.) The WAM/1 would come in later. Also, never have I seen the 43 Up hauled by a diesel in the SDAH- - BWN stretch, though the 44 Dn was pulled by a diesel, as it was some 3 hours late, way back in 1979 XMas.

C4 was the first 3tier sleeper, right after the loco - the one that went to Haldibari. We got that in 1980 January. The rocking was less, I noted. Into the late 80's, Haldibari got sleepers S7, S8 and 1 general coach.

The 43 Up was uniformly scheduled at 1900, or at 1915, at most. For a short stretch in 1983-4, it was at 1855. People would end up late in arriving, as the jump was from 1915. Then, chain pulling was regular at SDAH-. The DKAE local and the Mail would be switching at the 2 slots - 1900 or 1915. If the local left at 1900, the Mail would end up trailing it till Dankuni, at times being held up, as it was an all-stop local.

As a rule, the TTE would caution the passengers to be careful at Dakshineswar. It was notorious for snatching.

Although we siblings would come with Mother, Father would also be there on the way back. Which meant, I'd try to have the window open till Dakshineswar or, at least the glasspane down only.

The Mail would take about an hour till DKAE, speeding up after that, depending on the traffic. Only once I recall the Mail running smooth till BWN, with only one unscheduled halt. Mostly, late 80's on, it would be late at BWN. The halt at BWN moved from 2052 - 2107 to 2115 - 2135, in the late 80's. Here, the BWN diesel would take charge.

As the diesel took off, I'd see the last strains of Calcutta - the EMUs parked outside BWN, the diesel shed. After these, Father would down the 2 layers of shutters back again. I'd sigh, unheard. The diesel would be getting used to the Mail at 60-70 kph, I guess. One could hear the gentle purr of the diesel as it used to make its way to NJP. Quite unfeelingly, it'd seem to me. However, that movement had its lullaby effect. Add to it the navy blue night lamps. Another 45-50 minutes later, Bolpur would be due. Slept by then, as long as I was in school. In the college days, it was a different excitement going home.

Rampurhat was around 2350 - 0007 for a while. Crossing with the 44 Dn was somewhere between Pakur - New Farakka. In fact, the daytime Kanchenjungha (then S/F) provided a better view. The track from Pakur-side took a leftish (North) turn to Barharwa. The NFR-bound track would make a 180 degree turn South. The BAK loop-bound trains and the then-Tinsukia would also the take the same path, from Barharwa. This turn was not so sharp as Barsoi. So, the trains travelled fast. New Farakka was scheduled around 0210 or so, for 5 minutes. Asleep, though. Once, however, the Mail got held up deep at night. When it was 0700 or so, we were crossing the Farakka Barrage. The sluice-gates were countless and, water gushing out. Somehow, I felt lost!

Malda Town was largely at 0315 - 35, as long as memory goes, late 80's on. NJP used to be at 0830, then. It used to be on time (at MLDT), mostly. You just woke up for a sec, at that hour of the night, clasped your blanket closer and fell asleep again. It was as good as ice-cold! Then, again, I've seen worse in Chicago! That's another story.

Late 80's on, Kumedpur would be at 0430 - 5 (62 km from MLDT), with the last sleeper cut off, for Katihar. Before that, NJP was at 0630/45, to be pulled back to 0830 for a while. That has been pulling up to 0815 (longer), then to 0750, now. MLDT-NJP still takes the same 4:40 hours, with the double track in place!

Barsoi (91 km from MLDT) had that old world smell about it. The early memories tell me, with the Mail late that day, there were some 2-3 steams hissing in and around. Then there was this huge water tank, on pillars, 'up above the world so high', pale yellowish in colour, with 'Barsoi Jn' written on it, alongwith the capacity, et al. There were also those vertical, solid iron water structures - used to fill up the steam locos, I believe. These, naturally, used to be at the ends of platforms.

Late 80's on, Kishanganj was scheduled at 0630 or so. You could realise, it was being passed. Another half hour later, I used to get up, brush, freshen up. Here on, one passed Gaisal, Gunjaria, Dhulabari - lovely names, and, quaint stations. Each invariably had a goods shed, fitting some 3 small wagons, at most. This was away from the main station. Some of these stations even had overbridges, green grass between the cement borders, defining a pair of platforms! They looked no less lovely than their brethren on the HB Chord, where the 44 would zip by, with people staring at us! Early 70's, most of these stations on NFR had a single platform to boot, including Kishanganj! In fact, when the 901/2 New Bongaigaon - TVC Exp got introduced sometime in 1983-4, it skipped Kishanganj! Later, NE did, too.

Kishanganj was also where a few hawkers got up, selling piping hot tea, 'boiled anda (egg)', jhalmuri. Aluabari Rd used to be on the left. The newer platform, on the right, came up later. It served the town of Islampur. Why it was called A Rd, I never knew. This entire stretch from Barsoi - A Rd weaved in and out of Bihar and Bengal. Kishanganj was in Bihar but, A Rd was in Bengal.

There were also many bridges in this post-A Rd section. I believe the BG crosses the Mahananda twice, as also the Balason. Some 3 of these were pretty long ones, carrying 8-10 coaches or more, at one go.

Rangapani was the station just before NJP, some 10 minutes from NJP. Once, my younger sister and I were returning home by the Mail. As it turned out, it made an unscheduled halt just before entering Rangapani. At my insistence, we alighted. It turned out, the station was still some distance. Which meant carrying those heavy bags between the 2 of us. She got so mad that she promised she'd get me scolded once we got home. She kept her word, yes! As NBU Campus was closer from Rangapani (some 7 - 8 km or so), notwithstanding buses every 30 - 45 minutes and the rare rickshaw, we opted for this. In my college days and later, I made it a point to cycle to this station, at least twice - even if I came home for a week.

Early November (till the early 80's) on, if you took the Mail to NJP to reach at 0630, there would be fog all over. As the Mail ran below the road to Jalpaiguri, you knew you were almost home! A little more and, you spotted a lone steam shivering in the cold, on a l-ong dead-end track, with fog all about, on the right. Yes, Father would have got the shutters up and the glasspanes down! Invariably, 43 Up entered at then-Pf3 (the one adjascent to the main station). As you got up on the overbridge over the MG and NG tracks, it was all white. The overbridge was not covered, then. Imagine the cold! Even the goods rakes looked huddled together on the MG tracks, below. there used to lots of them there, back then. You could see the empty tracks, wet by the dews. Sometimes, I wish I never grew up!

Once, we took the C4, in '80 January, 43 Up was late. We came in at Pf1. I still recall the diesel had pulled itself and us out of the platform. There was grass, bound by half-sunk wooden planks - a makeshift thingy. Late 80's on, after the Kanchenjunga started at 1030, and the Mail was late, it would arrive at Pf2. The departing trains always got preference for the then-Pf3. The last I saw of NJP, there were some 5-6 BG platforms, followed by the huge yard for goods rakes.

When you arrived NJP in bright light, it was lovely to see the Mail turning left, go below the road to Jalpaiguri, still continue left, then straighten out. Here, too, was a lovely opportunity to count the coaches. Soon after, the tracks started multiplying, people respectfully waiting for THE Mail to pass the level crossing (leading to the NFR Hospital on the left). The station would be in sight, then. Next would be the pitlines, on the left. there would be the NJP - DLI slip coaches of the 155/156 Tinsukia Mls. Undoubtedly, the, invariably maroon, BWN diesel would do a much better job than the electric.

Kamrup, till the early 80's, would arrive sometime around 0730, leaving HWH at 1855. Later, it was scheduled at 1735, came in as early as 0645. The Mail got pushed to 0830, then on.

In 1976, my cousin (sister) arrived by the Mail, at NJP. Father and I had gone to receive her. I still recall how the diesel stormed in, at 0630 or so, with the Mail and, smoothly, ground to a halt. It was like a skilled ballerina on ice!

Another interesting thing, I've taken the 44 Dn routed through Sainthia - Andal but, never such reroutings with the 43 Up.

It's been some 7-8 years that I've been on the Mail. I wonder... how have the changes affected it? Say, at least 21 coaches, a better rake, better running, vestibules... maybe, a uniform AB rake, with the mail van having a vertical band of red, like those discreet-yet-outspoken bands QE2 hands out to her New Year's Honouree's list?! For the Mail, at least, it would be a well-deserved one!

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