by Arnab Acharya
Rangapani. 'Essentially means 'Red water'. More likely to be water with a lot of iron content in it. That's the next station some 8 km west of New Jalpaiguri, towards Kishanganj/Malda Town/Katihar. It was some 10-12 km by cycle, from North Bengal University - where we stayed. It turned out to be a comfortable 35 minutes ride or, a fast 30 minute one from home. R was - still is - my favourite railway haunt, even before IRFCA moulded me into a grammatically correct railfan. I fell in love with this place, after getting into college. It was somewhere I just made it a point to visit twice, when home on vacation, even if it meant I was there for a week.
If you approached the station area through State Highway 12 (leading to Phansidewa), from the northern side, you had to turn east towards the station. As you moved along, there were some houses (railway quarters) on the left, while there were (goods) tracks on the right, sloping up westward. These gradually branched out, as you moved east. Then, one branch of this road (on which 2 ambassadors can comfortably pass alongside) took you right next to the goods tracks, turned south, crossed some 3-4 of them, turned north and went on. On the left were more goods tracks. On the right, some 8 feet above, the platform started off soon. The main station complex was on the left, below the platform level, right of the goods tracks, if you faced east. Rarely were the goods tracks empty. Open wagons, closed ones, you had all types - in maroon, green, faded, unfaded, small, large and what have you. No, not a single WDM/2 grumbling to itself. Maybe, due to the close proximity of NJP.
The north had the gorgeous Himalayas, far in the horizon - seeming more like one of those awesome picture postcards. Undoubtedly, it gave you that feeling of a hamlet at its feet, adding if not magnifying Rangapani's solitude. The track led east to turn somewhat south to NJP. Almost close to the northern pink house, there was a small level crossing, mostly for cycles, scooters. The main west-bound track-pair, too, had a large level crossing with SH12. Soon after, they dived south towards Kishanganj/Malda Town/Katihar. However, one track would branch out north, towards Bengdubi, passing - yes, you got it right - a kilometre west from our quarters! Bengdubi was a large military area, but not a Cantonment. (This had goods movement, usually once a week, from NJP.)
The entire station from one pink house to the other must have been some 1.5 km or so. There were 3 platforms - 2 of which were for long distance trains. Between these 2 were 2 tracks with no platforms, totalling 4 tracks in all. The third platform/5th track was unimportant. The timings of my visit would usually be 1630 - 1830. This time had substantial movement, including oil tankers from the IndianOil Depot, next to NJP.
On the right, beyond the tracks, were fields. If you went during the crop-growing seasons, the fields were full, with mustard and whatever. (On a day journey, these regions had yellow mustard fields all about.)
In Summer, the day was long. So, I'd arrive, alight, park my cycle on Platform 1 and get up on the overbridge - a perfect vantage point. The tracks below would be gleaming, more so if you moved about and caught the Sun's last rays glinting on them. The stones below the tracks would be blackened more by oil seepage than dirt. As the light breeze cooled me, I'd soon spot some goods rake or the other. You knew a train was coming, when the long distance and the closer signals would show green. It was a thrill anticipating which train was coming.
Mostly, the goods would be comprising of those green coloured wagons. An MLDT WDM/2 would be doing the honours, light blue in uniform, as was prevalent then. It was a low, monotonous purr of the diesel approaching you. I'd stand almost on top of the track, on which it passed. Sometimes, I'd notice the driver looking up at me. Was he wondering if I'd be jumping down?! As the purr of the diesel subsided, the rumbling of the wagons would grow... till the guard car passed. In his white trousers and black coat and cap, Mr.Guard would be enjoying the evening on the deck, usually. The 2 tracks in between would be the through tracks. As the 3142Dn Teesta-Torsha was scheduled to leave NJP in the 1545/1600 slot, chances are I'd catch it, if it was late. However, I'd get the Kamrup, almost without fail. Mostly, a faded maroon MLDT diesel with a rake of 17-8 maroon coaches - mostly weather-beaten. Some had that typical maroon, with a yellow border each above and below the windows. This happenned to be a typical NFR uniform in the late 90's for all the Expresses originating and belonging to GHY, like the Kamrup, Kanchanjungha, Avadh-Assam - the last having a cleaner, neater rake. You got to see 8-10 Sleeper Classes, the pantry, one 2AC, one 3AC, unreserved coaches go by. The huge yellow boards at both ends would proclaim in big letters "KAMRUP" with "Express" below, as an afterthought. You could see people standing and puffing at the doors, some just enjoying the sights and the breeze, a few arms at the windows, with a whiff of a saree fluttering, above a bangle or two or, with a 'thonga' of jhalmuri or some such eatable. As the train would take the turn south-west, getting lost behind the trees, you could see the red lamp get smaller, the large yellow 'X' on the black back having got lost before. You would invariably feel that tug of wanderlust at your heart!
The North-East, or 'Super' as it is known informally, would be in the 1700/1730 slot. I've seen it many a time at NJP, waiting to take the Darjeeling Mail to SDAH- but, never at Rangapani.
Once I had a surprise. I was looking towards NJP, anticipating some train from that direction... Darkness was descending. Suddenly, I heard the slight screeching, behind me. I looked back to see the NJP-bound, 6-coached, Mahananda Link (or, Sikkim, now) coming to a total stop at Platform 1, the leftmost one. How it creeped in so slowly, I do not know. It was running late by 3-4 hours.
One of those rare days, when I visited R in the morning (~0740), I was thrilled to see a long Express/Mail hurtling down towards NJP. No diesel honk, nothing, apart from the usual noise of a rake at 70-80 kph. I managed to to catch its board - Darjeeling Mail. It was before its schedule (0815), expecting to arrive NJP at 0750.
The morning was not preferred, as there were not many trains, at one go. Particularly with uncertainties in Assam, it was useless anticipating Avadh-Assam or Kanchanjungha. I went to the extent of arriving at R at 0500 to catch the AA but could not! However, on the way to R, I saw the (MG) GHY-Varanasi Exp. From far, it looked like the train in Satyajit Ray's 'Aparajito'! But, that, is another story.