Journeys to the Land of My Ancestors
by Jitendra Mulky
Much has been written about the Konkan Railway, its scenic beauty and technical marvels. Winding itself in a very herpetic (snake-like or creeping for the non zoology fans)fashion down the west coast of India, from Roha in Maharashtra through the fabulous Goa down to Thokur in Karnataka, its benefits extend beyond these 3 states to include Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi and now even UP and Punjab and Mahe (Puducherry), Kerala and Tamil Nadu too. You must have read enough trip reports and seen enough pics and videos about the Konkan Railway, so to add to your interest, here is one more. I will attempt to chronicle my trips on this line, but with an emphasis on stories of the human aspect of travel. Too bad I don't have any snaps, but I hope I will still hold your interest.
Trip 1 - 11 December 1998.
The IAPM (Indian Association of Pathologists and Microbiologists) held its Annual National Conference in Kanyakumari and so we had chosen to go there via Kerala, taking in the sights along the way. Naturally we were booked by 6345 (I don't remember its number in 1998) LTT - Ernakulam Nethravathi Express (note the 2 extra hech's - South Indian style).
15 of us took a cab from J.J. Hospital in south-central Mumbai to LTT. None of us knew where this station was located, and so when the cab drivers demanded Rs. 200/- per cab (today I have information that a similar trip costs Rs. 700/-), we agreed. Reached there by 1 pm for a 2.30 pm departure. The Matsyagandha Express which was scheduled to depart by 11 am was delayed and left at around 1.30. I met some cousins going to Udupi for the first time by train, and boy, were they excited! Our train left on time (sorry no knowledge about locos or their numbers - I did not know about IRFCA yet), and after a brief halt at Thane, crossed the Parsik tunnel and entered the Diva - Panvel line slowly.
Our SL coach was the 5th from the engine, and soon after crossing Taloja station, there was a loud bang and after a lot of swaying and screeching noise, we came to a halt. Luckily, no one inside our coach was hurt. A few brave souls got down to see what had happened. Apparently at an unmanned level crossing, a truck had tried to cross in a hurry before our train passed, and had banged into the side of the 4th coach (the one in front of the one we were traveling in). The truck driver was critically injured, and the cleaner poor fellow had died on the spot. No one in the railway coach was hurt. But it took some time for a crane to come and remove the mangled remains of the truck from in between the 3rd and 4th coaches. The front toilet of the 4th coach was dented and rendered unusable, but other than that, no other damage to the train.
The accident had occured at about 4 pm, and we were still there when the sun set at about 6.15. By then everybody was restless. Finally by 7.30 we started crawling forwards, only to stop again at the next station. Then in a series of starts and stops, we finally managed to reach Panvel by 9 pm. By then dinner was over and most of the passengers were ready to retire for the night. Finally we left Panvel at around 11 pm, maybe with another loco - not sure as the lady Professors in our group forbade us to get out and see what was happening. We were now 7 hrs. late, which meant that instead of arriving at Ernakulam at 9 pm, we would be there by 4 am, but we would be crossing the Ratnagiri - Mangalore section in daylight.
The next morning, I got up just as we were leaving Ratnagiri at about 6.30 am, and ran to the door to see the Panval viaduct. Then followed tunnel after tunnel interspersed with river after river, with red soil and lush green fruit orchards in between (what I had pictured in my mind when studying the geography of the Konkan region was all true). Finally the fabled land of Goa also lived upto its reputation with the Mandovi and Zuari bridges, the cathedrals of Old Goa visible in the distance and the brand new swanky Madgaon station. I do not remember any crossings or locos seen or any other things which may interest railfans as I was busy just enjoying my first train trip on this new line.
Karnataka too did not disappoint. From the minute we crossed the Kalinadi bridge to enter Karwar (station in the jungle area, no buildings around), my first foray into coastal Karnataka (the land of my ancestors) sent me spiraling back into childhood memories of stories told by my grandmother - the vast uncrossable rivers, the red soils, the hills and the green vegetation. And the stations we passed - Gokarn, Kumta, Honnavar, Murdeshwar, Bhatkal, Baindur, Bijoor, Kundapur, Barkur, Padubidri and of course Mulki (though we spell it with a y at the end) - all these place names have been adopted as surnames by members of our community - the Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins, though there are not many of us who continue to live in those places. And but naturally, I had to take a snap of the signboard of Mulki station as we sped by.
It was 5 pm by the time we took a great curve around some big industrial plant and entered Kankanadi station. This Kankanadi area of Mangalore was where my mother was born and spent her early childhood and I had often heard from her about wanting to go back one day. So Kankanadi station was also special to me and warranted a snap. Then as we left Kankanadi and again took a curve to enter the Mangalore - Cannanore main line bypassing Mangalore station, we crossed the river after which our train was named, only the signboard read Netravati (without the hech's).
The final lap of the journey was again into a state known for its richness of scenic beauty - Kerala. Many times, we were able to catch a glimpse of the Arabian Sea in between the backwaters and the palm trees, with the setting sun giving it a golden hue. And then it was dark as we hurtled southwards. After Calicut (9.30 pm), we retired as we had to get up before 4 am the next morning. I had warned my colleagues, that first there would be a station called Ernakulam Town and then would come Ernakulam Jn., where the train would terminate and where we had to get down. But our finicky lady professors saw out of the window and in the dark read only Ernakulam, and so it was "Get down, get down fast before the train starts". The train did start and panic levels rose. I, as is my habit, quietly waited it out, again to be the target of the ladies's ire - Why didn't you warn us that there are two Ernakulams?
Trip 2 - 20th December 1998
After the conference in Kanyakumari, the rest of the gang were to catch the Chennai Egmore - Guruvayur Express leaving TVC at around 11 pm and reaching Ernakulam Jn. at 3 am, from where they would board the Netravati back to LTT at 4.30 am. But I had booked for myself in First AC of 2431 Trivandrum Rajdhani from Trivandrum to Vasai Road, from where I would somehow manage to reach Dahanu.
At the station, it was announced that the Rajdhani would be leaving 2 hrs. late (scheduled departure 19.30) as the incoming Rajdhani had arrived late. The gang was ready to take a peek into the "Ultimate luxury" of an AC First cabin, and I could sense some jealousy as they were booked in SL till Ernakulam and also till LTT in Netravati Express. The rake was shunted onto the PF at 9.15 pm, and we left at 9.35. Again I do not recall the loco or even details of the cabin decor as I was too overwhelmed by the luxury and the service. Even at that late hour, orders for dinner were taken, and dinner was served within the next 30 mins. Again no recollection about what I ate - only seem to remember that it was cooked in North Indian style, this being an NR train.
I had an Upper berth in a 4 berth cabin. The only other passenger was an elderly gentleman who was the ex-DIG of the Indore circle, on his way to Vadodara, en route to Indore. The other lower berth was allotted to a passenger from Madgaon to Nizamuddin, so I slept on the lower berth that night. The next morning I woke up as we were leaving Calicut at around 5.30, and promptly went back to sleep again. Got up as we were entering Cannanore for bed tea, followed by breakfast (don't remember what). It was then that I had a bath in the train, that we had recently discussed on the forum. Kankanadi at around 10 am, and the same feeling of nostalgia as I passed through the land of my ancestors.
We were consistently 3 hrs. late and I saw no chance of the train making up lost time. Lunch was served just before Madgaon, where our 3rd companion would be joining us. He immediately asked me to vacate the window seat, thus alienating me completely from the very first moment. I tried in vain to get the TTE to allot me another lower berth/ window seat, but none was vacant and so I sulked the rest of the afternoon, in between trips to the door and going up to sleep on my upper berth. I had my small revenge when the intruder wanted to take a nap and I pretended not to hear him, continuing to remain seated as he curled up his knees and slept in a very awkward position.
By the time the sun set we were at Chiplun, and I thought that maybe we would make up some time at least. But it was not to be and Panvel came at 10.30 pm. Scheduled time of arrival at Vasai Road was 9.30 pm and my original plan was to take a local to Virar and board the 10.45 pm last Shuttle to Dahanu from there, reaching DRD at 00.15. I would be in bed by 00.45, or so I had planned. Now calculating the time required for a Rajdhani to cover the distance from Panvel to Vasai to be about 1 hr., I thought that maybe I could still catch the Dehra Dun Express or Viramgam Passenger, both of which stop at Vasai. And I would still be home by 2.30 am.
But we were held up at Kaman for about 30 mins. I was waiting near the door all that time, because I had not anticipated this long delay. And finally when we did crawl into Vasai at around 12.15 am, Dehra Dun Express had already left and Viramgam Passenger which was waiting on PF 1 had been given the starter. It picked up speed and vanished into the darkness, leaving me alone on a cold wintry night on Vasai Road platform 5 with only the TTE clucking away in sympathy.
There was no train going beyond Virar that night, nor was there any local going to Mumbai (last local for Churchgate was at 11.30 from Virar in those days). I had the option of going to some relative's house in Vasai or a friend's house in Virar, but I did not feel like disturbing them at that hour. So I took a local to Virar and crossed the FOB over to Virar (E) where I had seen a Balaji Guest House during one of my previous visits. Ringing the bell constantly for about 10 mins. finally managed to wake up the person who seemed to be a manager - cum - porter - cum - everything. Luckily a room was available and for Rs. 60, I certainly did not expect a 7 star Maharajah Suite. But the sheets were filthy, the mattress lumpy and the bathroom stained, with a zero watt bulb trying to hide the cockroaches. I didn't sleep much that night and I was awake by 4 am. Literally running to the station, I caught the first train to Dahanu - the DMU (push - pull with Ratlam WDM-2 in the centre) which originated from Mumbai Central at 4 am, Virar 5.15 and Dahanu 6.30. Luckily I had my Quarterly Season Ticket First Class from Churchgate to Dahanu Road, and so I locked the 2 berth non AC cabin and slept peacefully till we reached Dahanu.
Trip 3 - 30th September 2000
This was 2 months after my wedding in July. My wife's family is from Udupi, even though my father-in-law has settled in Valsad since the last 30 years. After a wedding it is a custom that the couple visit the "Kuldevta/ Kuldevi" temple in the "native". And being, Navratri time, it would be also be a good time to offer prayers at all those temples in Udupi and South Kanara districts to ensure the blessings of all the gods.
So accordingly we booked SL tickets on the 6333 Rajkot - Trivandrum Express from Valsad to Kundapura. This train did not have a halt at Udupi in those days, but was suitable for us because it did have a halt at Boisar from where we could board easily. My in laws boarded at Valsad at 5.30 pm and hung on to our berths, and me and my wife boarded at Boisar at 7 pm. Adil Mudassir gave us company at Boisar station where we had to wait 1 hr. for the train.
My mother-in-law is a staunch non-believer of railway catering, and we had 1 bag full of eatables - everything from Theplas with Chhunda (a sweetish Gujarati pickle) to Aloo subzi to Pulao to Chaklis to Banana chips and tapioca chips to popcorn. We could have fed the entire train and given the pantry car operator a run for his money. So as we descended the ramp at Kopar (both upper and lower level platforms did not exist in those days), we sat on the doorplate, munching popcorn. Years back in 1991, when we were working together in Haria Hospital Vapi, my wife's family had made a trip to Hyderabad and Madras, taking 7017 from Valsad to Hyderabad. My only request to her had been to bring back the SCR and SR timetables for me, and I had also given her an idea about the train going round in circles between Bhiwandi and Panvel. She still remembered both incidents, only this time I was able to explain the "circles" part better to her.
I stayed awake till after Panvel, only to wake up as we crossed into Goa at Pernem (the Indianized version of which is Pedne, from which the Maharashtrian surname Pednekar is derived). At Madgaon my mother-in-law brought out her bag of goodies again and we feasted on idlis, vadas and Khottes (idli batter steamed in Jackfruit leaves) with garlic-coconut chutney. Then again we were sitting at the door again, not daring to look down as we crossed the Kalinadi at Karwar and the Sharavati at Honnavar, and almost choking on the diesel fumes inside the tunnels.
This was before the monsoon timings were introduced on the KR and still we managed to reach Kundapura by 11.30. My wife's uncle had come with a car to pick us up and the journey to Udupi along the well-disciplined NH 17 took about 1 1/2 hrs. We stayed 8 days in Udupi making frequent trips to places like Manipal (university fame), Kundapura (Kumbashi Vinayak temple at Anegudde), Katpadi (not the one in Tamil Nadu), Kaapu (the kuldevta), Malpe beach (from where my wife took a bagful of pure white sand for sand painting, and which caused some consternation at the airport X ray security check while returning), Mulky (where we have absolutely no relatives), Kateel (Durga Parmeshwari temple - whose priests played an important role in dispelling any horoscope-related obstacles for our marriage to take place) and of course Mangalore with its famous Gadbad Ice cream. We also visited the 23-room bungalow in Kankanadi where my mother had spent her childhood, before migrating to Madras in 1937 and Bombay in 1942.
Uncle's house in Udupi is situated just next to the bus station, and we were woken up every morning at 6 am by the raucous cries of Mangalore, Mangalore - the bus drivers shouting out their destinations at the top of their voices. Road transport between Udupi and Mangalore is one of the best organized that I have seen, the only problem being that the bus drivers seem to think that NH 17 is an airport runway. Having had enough of nerve-wracking bus rides, I insisted that one trip to Mangalore must be done by train. So accordingly we took an autorickshaw to Udupi station with its pink facade and Krishna statue on top and long airport like ramps for entry and exit.
The KR 1 Madgaon - Mangalore Passenger was due at 18.15, but turned up only at 19.30 hauled by a purple coloured diesel. The train was almost empty and it took us 1 1/2 hrs. to reach Mangalore, my father-in-law grumbling all along that if we had gone by bus, it would have taken us less than half the time. But I turned a deaf ear as I devoured the sights of the great curves around the Petrochemical Refinery, the line from Subrahmanya Road joining us and the Kankanadi - Kerala bypass line. The we turned northwards to enter Mangalore station at 9.30 pm (door to door time taken was 4 1/2 hrs., as opposed to 1 1/2 hrs. if we had taken the bus as my father-in-law repeatedly pointed out). But he had his way because we returned to Udupi by bus. Our return journey to Bombay was by plane.
Trip 4 - 10th January 2009
After that last trip, there was a gap of more than 8 years, where I had to make do with only reading trip reports, watching photos on the gallery and videos uploaded by various IRFCA members. In the meantime, KR saw accidents, landslides, ACDs, monsoon timings and various other changes.
The occasion to travel on KR came, when suddenly, someone realized that, though we had visited my wife's Kuldevta/ Kuldevi in Udupi, we still had to visit mine (Mangeshi/ Mahalaxmi in Goa). And January was suggested as a good enough time (this suggestion was made in the 2nd week of December). So hurriedly going through the websites, I found to my dismay that there was no availability in any convenient train from Vasai/ Western Railway which would reach Madgaon early in the morning and with a departure in the evening. Naturally so, because it was Christmas - New Year time. Finally I settled on 6337 Okha - Ernakulam Express on 10th January from Vasai to Madgaon as this had timings which suited me the best. I tried all classes, but each one showed long waiting lists. My wife was watching, and sure enough, on came the taunt: What good is your IRFCA if you cannot book tickets for us?
I then remembered VSP's talk on various quotas and decided to push my luck. First I tried originating station Valsad. Upto Madgaon there was no availability, so I changed the destination station to Karwar and sure enough 10 berths were available in SL class. So promptly I booked the onward journey by 6337 from Valsad to Karwar, boarding point Vasai Road. Though not AC class (in which we have grown used to travel nowadays), SL was fine because it was just an overnight journey.
The return journey was more tricky. Konkan Kanya with Madgaon departure 18.00 and even Matsyagandha with dep. 21.00 showed long waiting lists in all classes, and there was no quota to fall back upon, as we wanted to travel from end to end. Playing around a little with various trains and stations, I finally got 3AC berths in 2620 Matsyagandha from Udupi to LTT. But I had written boarding point Madgaon, and promptly the booking failed. This happened 4 - 5 times before I finally remembered what VSP was trying to tell us: If you mention a different boarding point from the station from which you are making a reservation, your ticket will be booked in the quota of your boarding point station (which in this case was Madgaon with REGRET status, and that is why the booking was failing.) So I then booked with boarding point Udupi and decided that I would change Boarding Point to Madgaon later at the PRS counter.
But still I was not happy. I did not want to travel to LTT as we had to go onwards to Dahanu by catching a train on the Western Railway, and Dadar/ CST would have been much more convenient. So I bided time till the 6th of Jan and immediately as the reservations opened at 8 am, I was on the net trying my luck for the Tatkal quota in Konkan Kanya. But as is usual, when you are in a hurry to book on the opening day at 8 am, the ISPs and all creation work against you. By the time the connection went through at 8.20 am, Tatkal quota for 2AC was in WL. So I had no option but to book in 3AC Tatkal and I got 1 Side Lower, 1 Side Upper and 1 Upper berth. I then cancelled the Matsyagandha tickets. In all this failed bookings and refund mess, my netbanking and credit card statements are totally unreadable to the common man.
Anyway, feeling mighty pleased with myself for managing the bookings so well, we made our way to Vasai Road station on the 10th by the MEMU (Electric Multiple Unit)departing at 5.20 pm from Dahanu and then changing over at Virar to an EMU. Reaching Vasai at 19.15, we had more than 1 hour to wait on PF 7 where our train was due (PF numbers had changed in Vasai since that December night when I was stuck here at 12.30 in the night).The PF itself was in an advanced state of breakdown (all under the guise of repair works going on). and we managed to seat ourselves on some steel beams which resembled catenary pillars. 9311 Pune - Indore Express slowly pulled into PF 6 hauled by a WCAM-1 and departed after a 30 minute halt.
There was a very Punjabi looking crowd waiting at the PF, and as we got talking, we learnt that they were waiting for the Trivandrum Rajdhani which had been announced as running 1 hour late. I remembered my ordeal after traveling by this train and gave an involuntary shudder. By then it was 8.15 and yet no announcement was made for our train. So I dialed 139 from my mobile and found out that 6337 was running 30 mins. late. My wife (influenced by her mother) had packed food for us, but we were glad this time, because our scheduled boarding time was 8.30, and half an hour late meant 9 pm. So my son was quickly fed, and as I started to eat on that shoddy PF, a bright light shone in the distance, and pulled by an orange colored ERS diesel, 6337 came into PF 6 at exactly 8.30 pm (So much for Rail Poochtaach - IRFCA quizmasters please note). I quickly gobbled down the food and we had to run to the front of the PF where our coach S12 was due. Finding our berths (1 LB and 1 UB and MB on the opposite side of the same bay) was easy, though a big fat Malyali man in an advance state of stupor was occupying our window seat. In no mood to evict him, we occupied the side seats which were booked from Panvel to Kudal. The Trivandrum Rajdhani which was said to have been 1 hr late passed us somewhere near Bhiwandi. Many passengers without confirmed reservation got in at Panvel, and tried to occupy whichever berth was free. I was sleeping on the lower berth and my wife and son occupied the middle berth. Our upper berth was kept vacant as my wife would go up after our son went off to sleep.But he refused to sleep alone and so I let one young man have our upper berth.
I slept like a log and woke up again just as we entered Goa. There were halts at Karmali and Thivim for crossings, but I do not remember which trains crossed. Being a Sunday, many Goans were dressed in their best, off to church. We had a longish halt just at the outer of Madgaon station, right next to a slum, and finally pulled into PF 1 at 7.20 am (20 mins late).
Trip 5 - 11th January 2009
I had booked a private taxi through the net to take us from Madgaon to Mangeshi and back, and we were quite satisfied with the service. After having visited our Kuldevta and Kuldevi, we were free by 3 pm and returned to Madgaon for some shopping (kokam, cashews) and were back at the station by 4.30. The ugly abandoned skytrain project marred the beauty of the new Madgaon station? Where exactly is the old Madgaon MG station situated? Is it on the Kulem line?
We had time to kill at Madgaon and luckily managed to find seats to sit on the PF. There was a WDP-4 standing idle a little distance away, but I could not see the number. I took off to explore the station and was surprised by the number of foreigners who take the train to Goa. Finally at 5.40, WDP-4 #20059 came in from the south side leading the rake of our train, 0112 Konkan Kanya Express. This was the same loco which Karan Desai had snapped bringing in the Koyna Express from Kolhapur to Mumbai the previous night. This meant, that immediately it took out the CSTM - Madgaon KK Express and was now on its way back to Mumbai.
Our coach B2 was right in front, 6th from the loco with KR/ SWR markings. All KR trains have this marking and I presume that maintenance of the rake is done by SWR staff. And our neighbors were less surly too, a Punjabi family heading back to Delhi via Bombay after a holiday in Goa.
I got in touch with Karan over the mobile to confirm if the KK too has the same pantry car as the Mandovi, because both share rakes at the Mumbai end. He assured me that the PC indeed was there and they had counted 41 items totally when Akshay, Apoorva and he had traveled on the Mandovi. Well I did not count the items, but there were a lot. The only problem is that being an overnighter, the pantry car does less business in the KK than in the Mandovi.
WDP-4 for a train which has a stop every 30 mins. or so, means that it cannot do full justice by showing off its power. By the time we accelerated and attained MPS, it was time to slow down again. I have experienced this on the Udyan Express too. As soon as we left Madgaon, the sun went down, but not before I was at the door to see the majestic Mandovi river with the cathedrals of Old Goa still visible in the fading sunlight.
Then followed a gastronomic feast like I have never witnessed before. Anything and everything from Vada - Paav to Aloo Parathas to Tomato soup was on sale. And they expected us to order dinner too. I ordered just a Fried Rice, Noodles and Manchurian for dinner. From 8 pm onwards dinner was served, but the waiters all bypassed us and went ahead into the 2AC and 1AC coaches. We waited and waited and then waited some more, till it was 9.30, and then could tolerate it no more. On enquiring about the reason for the delay, the waiters replied that the food was ready, but since there was no extra staff to pack it, they had to do it themselves and hence the delay. They "forgot" to tell us that first they would serve the 1AC and 2AC passengers and then it would be the turn of the lowly 3AC folks (I hate to think at what time the SL passengers got their dinner). I had to literally go to the end of the coach where a harassed looking waiter was trying to sort out our orders, and just grabbed the casseroles from him and came back to our berths. Yes, instead of aluminum foils, there were nice plastic casseroles. We finished off the dinner at that late hour and my wife and son went off to sleep, But I lay awake waiting for the waiter to come and collect the bill. I could have easily gone off to sleep, but I was sure he would come very late and then wake us up to collect the money, and once I am woken up halfway from sleep, I find it difficult to sleep again. He finally came at 11 pm - "What do do Saaheb, we are having a shortage of staff."
I had set the alarm for 4.45 am next morning as scheduled arrival time at Dadar was 5.20. I had booked onward reservation to Dahanu by 9023 Firozpur Janata Express in 2S (S7 coach which is the Surat quota is given out to sitting passengers between BCT and Surat). I thought that if the train was late, we would get down at Dadar itself and wait for 9023. But if the train was running right time, we would have enough time to go upto CST, head home (Gamdevi/ Grant Road), freshen up and then head out to BCT in time to catch the 9023. At Dadar, the train was right time, so we decided to head out to CST and go home. But we were held up outside Masjid station for more than 30 mins, and by the time we entered PF 15 of CST it was already 6.40. The LED boards at CST PF 15 read 0103, indicating that immediately the rake would head back to Madgaon as Mandovi Express. As we walked to the taxi stand, I could not help shudder passing the very area that so many people were mercilessly shot down.
By the time we got into a taxi, it was too late to go home and freshen up, so I ordered him to take us directly to BCT. Early morning the roads were still deserted, and we reached BCT in a record 15 mins. Shortly 9023 was backed onto PF 1, and we made ourselves comfortable. This coach had SMBs, and the numbers were totally confusing even for a "2S" accommodation journey, so imagine the plight of overnight sleepers. We had a toast sandwich hurriedly prepared on the PF stall, and made ourselves comfortable, totally ignoring the changed position of the seat numbers, because from Borivali onwards the daily commuters would board with their "Please adjust - we are only traveling for 1 hour" in polite or not so polite tones, and suddenly seat numbers would not seem important anymore.
Trip 6 - 26th February 2009
My son will complete 8 yrs. in July. In olden days, when Brahmin boys entered their eighth year, they underwent an Upanayana ceremony, in which they were made independent of their parents and given both practical and spiritual training to prepare them for life in the Gurukul where they were sent to study. Today this practice is still practiced amongst Brahmins and marks the initiation of the boy into the spiritual community and also teaches him to be learn to be independent from the sheltered life he has led so far.
I had planned for my son's Upanayana (thread ceremony - because he is also invested with a thread to be worn around the left shoulder) since last year. Our community, the Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins, hail originally from coastal Karnataka, but today are based primarily in the big metros (Bombay, Pune, Bangalore, Dharwad, and there is a sizable population abroad as well). The spiritual head of our community (the 11th in line of Gurus in a continuous lineage of 300 years) is based in the Shri Chitrapur Math in Shirali, which is a small town in between Bhatkal and Murdeshwar in North Kanara district of Karnataka, and accordingly we decided to have the thread ceremony in the Math on the 1st of March 2009.
The problem was how to get there. There is a small station called Chitrapur in between Bhatkal and Murdeshwar, but the only train that stops here is the Mangalore - Verna - Mangalore Passenger, and the road from the station to the Math is a kachha road with the possibility that there may not be any autorickshaws available when we arrive. So we had to get down at either Bhatkal or Murdeshwar and take an autorickshaw from there (10 km from either town) to Shirali. But the most convenient train from Mumbai reaches Bhatkal at 3 am (5.30 during the monsoons), so the Matsyagandha was ruled out. That left the Gujarat - Kerala trains. Since the ceremony was planned for Sunday the 1st of March, we had to reach the Math by the evening of Friday 27th February, so that means we had to leave on Thursday 26th Feb. Now the train on Thursday is the 6333 Veraval Thiruvananthapuram Express which does not stop at either Bhatkal or Murdeshwar, but goes directly to Kundapura. But we had to take that because there was no other option. It was decided that my in-laws would go 15 days ahead to Udupi to meet up with their relatives, and then hire a vehicle there, pick us up from Kundapura and then we would proceed to Shirali.
The next hurdle was the booking. My aunt (81 yrs.) from Pune was to accompany us, so I needed to book 4 berths. Luckily the train stopped at Boisar, I checked that the quota from Boisar to Kundapura in 2AC was indeed 4 berths. So accordingly 90 days in advance, when I tried to do the booking through IRCTC, as usual the connection went through very slowly. It showed 4 available when I started, but when the booking was completed, it was 2 confirmed and 2 WL. My wife was not happy with a WL ticket and neither was my aunt, so I had to refer to notes taken during VSP's presentation on quotas again. With a bit of jugglery, I managed to get 2 confirmed tickets in the Viramgam quota (GN)in the same coach. But this time I had mentioned boarding point Boisar and I got confirmed tickets. Question to VSP: why were my tickets not taken from the Boisar quota which was already in WL? But my work was done and we had berth numbers 17,18 and 35,36 (both SLB and SUB). The return journey was by Matsyagandha Express on 1st March to LTT.
Then just a month before we left, it was decided that my brother-in-law, his wife and two daughters (8 and 2 yrs.) would also be joining us. They had already booked their tickets by 6335 Gandhidham - Nagercoil Express for the 27th Feb from Valsad to Murdeshwar in SL class. But it was left to me to book return tickets for them. By that time Matsyagandha 2AC was in WL, so I had them booked in 3AC (confirmed). Then my father-in-law also changed his plans and decided that he wanted to return with us, so I booked for them also in 3AC (same coach B2 but different bays). Matsyagandha reaches LTT at around 6.30, and since we wanted to go directly to Dahanu/ Valsad, I had also booked onward tickets for all of us by 9215 Saurashtra Express in 3AC from Dadar to Dahanu (for us) and to Valsad (for the in-laws).
My aunt who stays in Pune was to come to her son's house in Mumbai and then he would drop her to Panvel station where she would join us in 6333. So accordingly on 26th Feb, we took the 17.20 MEMU (Electric Multiple Unit)from Dahanu to Boisar. This time Adil Mudassir was not there to give us company at Boisar station (he is at present in Philadelphia), so we settled down to a long wait. Trains came and trains went, amongst them many freights in both directions, a slightly late running 9024 Firozpur Janata to BCT (WCAM-1), Borivali - Dahanu Shuttle and finally a MEMU (Electric Multiple Unit)to Dahanu. A friend who stays in Virar and works in MIDC Boisar was at the station, and he gave us company. He was waiting to catch the 2936 Inter City, which was announced as being 20 mins. late. He gave us the information that ever since the rake has started coming from Jamnagar, the Inter City is invariably delayed. 20 mins. became 30, then 40, 50, 55 and then finally 75. Behind the Intercity were the Valsad - Bandra Shuttle and the Dahanu - BCT Shuttle. The crowd of 3 trains had piled up and the PF had absolutely no more space even to stand. Then finally the culprit which was causing the delay was spotted - the GM's salon sped by with its 3 coach consist hauled by a WCAM-1. Then in quick succesion came the 3 trains on the Up line, the Intercity, the Valsad Bandra and Dahanu BCT Shuttles. And the most amazing thing was that even though there was a train standing at the PF, the next train was waiting at the outer signal - akin to Mumbai EMUs when there is a hold up, bumper to bumper trains I call it.
6333 hauled by an ERS diesel came in finally at 19.52 and left at 19.55 (1 hour late). Our coach A1 was 5th from behind. On requesting the TTE, he asked us to occupy 11,12 berths (also SLB & SUB) in exchange of our 35, 36 numbers, as 11,12 were Madgaon quota. At the very next station, Palghar, we were taken on the loop PF to allow the Ahmedabad Shatabdi to cross us. Then it was a sometimes fast, sometimes slow run upto Vasai, which we reached 21.27. Luckily our halt here was only 10 mins. In the meantime we finished off our home cooked dinner and left some for my aunt who would be joining us in Panvel. I was in touch with my cousin in Panvel who said that the announcements there said that the train was only 20 mins. late. I took a short nap only to get up before Bhiwandi which passed at 22.07. Finally we reached Panvel at 23.05, still 1 hr. late. My aunt had already finished her dinner by then, so the pulao we had carried with us had to be disposed off by giving it to some needy person, but we could not find any such persons at Panvel station at that time of the night, so I left it on a bench. As the train pulled out at 23.20, I saw some dogs hungrily gulping down the food.
The next morning at 6.55, we were still in Maharashtra, and had stopped at Kankavli for a crossing. This was 2617 Mangala Lakshadweep Express with GOC WDM-2 #17519. The next crossing was at a scheduled stop Kudal at 7.20 where the Deccan Odyssey was waiting for us pulled by Pune WDM-3A 17854. I was quite amused to see that the coaches are all named after famous forts in Maharashtra. The 3rd crossing of the morning was again at the unscheduled stop of Sawantwadi Road, where we waited for 6346 Netravati Express to cross with a WDM-3D, most probably 11135. And finally the most insulting of all, again at the unscheduled stop of Thivim, we had to wait for KR 8 Madgaon - Sawantwadi - Diva Sindhudurg Passenger hauled by ED WDM-2 16678. In the meanwhile we ordered breakfast from the pantry car - 3 plates masala dosas and 1 plate upma. Each plate of Masala dosa contained 3 large size dosas, and we found it difficult to push down all that food. We reached Karmali at 8.40 (scheduled time 6.15) and finally Madgaon at 9.15 (STA 7.05).
At Madgaon, an elderly Marwari couple came to claim their 11,12 berths. They willingly agreed to go to 35,36, but the only problem was that we were booked upto Kundapura, and they were going upto Trivandrum and 35, 36 were Calicut quota. But they were also co-operative and so was the new TTE, and he alloted them berths 25,26, so everyone was happy in the end. At the very next station Balli, we had a longish wait for another crossing - this was the Trivandrum Rajdhani with its mixed lineage of coaches hauled by GOC WDP-3A #15501, I think a regular link for this train. By the time we entered Karnataka and stopped at Karwar, it was 10.35 (STA 8.10). My father-in-law was already waiting at Kundapura station with a Qualis for us. Ankola passed at 11.03 (STA 8.36) and then as we zoomed past Murdeshwar and Bhatkal and made a stop at Baindur, I realized the amount of slack time the train has in this section and we were at Kundapura at 12.35 (STA 11.16). The delay had reduced from 2 1/2 hrs. at Karwar to 1 2/3 hrs.
We then proceeded to have lunch at a restaurant in Kundapura, visited the Anegudde Vinayaka temple at Kumbhashi and then proceeded to Shirali via the scenic NH 17 which actually touches the beautiful Maravanthe beach with its pure white sand. We reached Shirali at 6 pm and God's grace, the function went off very well. We could even manage a trip to Murdeshwar beach with its gigantic Shiva statue visible from the train, 5 star resorts and clean beach.
Trip 7 - 1st March 2009
At the outset, let me apologize for my deteriorating counting skills. I have made a total of 7 trips on the KR, and not 6 as I had originally thought. Therefore this "addendum".
Our return journey from Shirali was by 2620 Matsyagandha Express from Bhatkal to LTT on the 1st of March. As mentioned earlier, we were booked in coaches A1 and B2. We had hired a Maruti van to take us from Shirali to Bhatkal, a journey of about 7 km, taking about 20 mins. We reached Bhatkal at about 5.15 in time for our 5.35 departure. There were no indicators for coach positions on the PF, but there was a sort of manual indicator system just before the climb upto the PF level. On the PF itself are only permanently painted boards stating the coach position towards Mumbai side and towards Mangalore side. Bhatkal station itself is one of the poorly maintained stations on KR compared to Madgaon, Udupi or even Kundapura.
As we were waiting on PF1, an announcement was made about the arrival of KR2 Verna - Mangalore Passenger on PF2. Last minute passengers headed towards Mangalore side ran across the railway tracks to clamber onto PF 2. Shortly our train was also announced. Bhatkal station is on a curve, and the ED WDM-3D hauled express suddenly came into view, not leaving me any time to note down the number (11108 as I came to learn later). This would be my first ride behind a WDM-3D and I was eager to enjoy the ride behind this hybrid loco.
We pulled out at 17.40 and by the time we settled in, we had already crossed Chitrapur and Murdeshwar. Since my in-laws were in B2, there was a constant flow of kids between our two coaches, with me being roped in to escort them. We gave our order for dinner - 3 Veg Meals and 1 Noodles. In the meantime, I sent a message to Karan that I am in Matsyagandha, and he sent me a message to contact Mr. Sampathkumar. I sent Mr. S a message saying "Just to say hello, I am in 2620 passing through your area.", but received no reply.
After Karwar, dinner was served, but my in-laws in B2 had to wait till Madgaon as their food was to be uploaded from the canteen at Madgaon (forgot the name, begins with a B). So this subtle partiality towards upper class passengers existed even on this train. One Veg meal was sufficient to feed 2 people, so again we had an excess of food (compare with the situation in Udyan Express where 1 person needs to eat 2 of them to fill his stomach). The quality was also superb compared to that which we get in the Udyan. At Balli we were again held up waiting for the Mangala Lakshadweep to cross. By the time we entered Madgaon PF 1 it was 21.30, already 45 mins. late. As I stepped onto the PF, I heard someone greet me, Hello doctor, how are you?
It was Mr. Sampathkumar, I was so surprised and touched by his gesture of coming to visit me. He had sent me a return message (which I received after we had left Madgaon) saying that he would meet me at the station and asking for my coach position. Since I had not replied, he assumed that I would be in the AC coaches and so waited near them. Talking to him was so nice, and co-incidence being that he was the LP from Ratnagiri to Madgaon of our train 6333 Veraval TVC Express on the 27th of Feb. I informed him about the reason that the train was late in the first place (GM's salon on the Western Railway). 6333 had been massacred by halts for crossings as he put it, but still had managed to reach Shoranur only 15 mins. late even though it was 2 1/2 hrs. late at Karwar. Mr. S. also told me that after Madgaon, the WDM-3D of 2620 would show its full power as the number of stops was also less. Since we wanted to give away our food to a needy person, I asked Mr. S if there were any of them around, and he gave me the surprising answer that 15 mins. before any train arrives, all the needy persons are rounded up and hounded off the platforms. Mr. S. also told me to inform him about any forthcoming journeys beforehand so that I could have more interaction with him (I am sure you all got the meaning).
Our original plan was to reach LTT, and hire a taxi or two from there to Dadar in order to catch the 9215 Saurashtra Express for our onward journey. But our Guru was in Karla (near Lonavla) and he had asked me to meet him there immediately after the thread ceremony was over. Therefore I had decided to get down at Panvel/ Thane, order for my car and then proceed to Karla. From there, we could drop my aunt home in Pune and then return to Dahanu. Thane seemed a better option than Panvel, because at Panvel STA of 2620 is 5.10 and at Thane it is 5.55. So if my driver had to meet us in Thane he would have to leave Dahanu with the car latest by 3.30 am (2 hrs. Dahanu - Thane by road), but if he was to meet us in Panvel, he would have to leave at 1.30 am (3 1/2 hrs. Dahanu - Panvel by road). So to give my driver those extra hours of sleep, I asked him to meet us in Thane. Thus our onward transport problems were solved, but my in-laws were to travel to Valsad immediately. They had absolutely no knowledge of traveling in Mumbai, forget about LTT. So I had the idea of calling for a Private cab (Megacab - I got the number from one of the IRFCA posts), as they would charge by meter. I estimated 1 hr. travel time between LTT and Dadar at 6.30 in the morning with an approximate cost of Rs. 400. When I had called from the train just after leaving Madgaon, the person who took the call told me to do the booking 1 hour before the cab was needed. So I instructed my brother-in-law to do the needful in the morning.
But when we got up in the morning at 5.00 am, we were running 1 hr. late. In the darkness, I could not see the names of the stations also and my mobile too did not show the name of the town. But the attendant assured me that we had not yet reached Panvel. We were all waiting impatiently for some sign as to where we were. Finally at 6.05 am we reached Panvel. That meant that we were almost 1 hr. late. I rang up my driver, who was already waiting outside Thane station. But the problem would arise for my in-laws who would have a very short gap between reaching LTT (7.30) and going to Dadar.(Saurashtra Express Dadar departure is 8.30). Then agonizingly slowly we crawled forwards, entered the main line at Diva and then finally through the Parsik tunnel and were admitted on PF 7 at Thane at 7.15 am. I told my brother-in-law to forget about Saurashtra Express as there was no chance they were going to make it, reasons being: 1) they would reach LTT earliest by 7.40. 2) They had to mobilize mother-in-law with her leg pain, 2 children, 8 bags (1 suitcase with a broken handle) and find the cab, make it to Dadar (either CR or WR), cross the bridge to PF 3 of Dadar (WR) and board the 9215 all within the span of 50 mins. The next train touching Valsad was the Virar - Valsad Shuttle departing Virar at 11.30, but this was not feasible for all the reasons mentioned above and having to take an EMU (Electric Multiple Unit)from DDR to Virar and then change again. Then there was a choice of some more like Paschim Express, Karnavati and Ajmer Express, but traveling with so many liabilities in these long distance trains was daunting. Therefore I suggested that they take a cab directly to Bombay Central, wait there and then proceed to Valsad by 239 Ahmedabad Passenger (dep. 12.15). It would be hot and tiring with the train stopping all along the way, but they would get good seats at the originating station and they would be well fed, and they were going home, so they could all go home and sleep it off. That is what they actually did, but my brother-in-law did not call for the private cab. Instead they took a yellow-black regular cab (meter not used) and were charged Rs.700 from LTT to BCT.
We got down at Thane, found my car easily and went to Karla. After the function there, we went to Pune to drop my aunt who stays on Law College Road. She actually forgot the turn off and we found ourselves on Karve Road (where Apurva stays). But there was no time to contact any of the Pune members, as it was already 4.30 pm and we had a good 5 - 6 hours drive back to Dahanu. On the way back, in the Ghats I saw a train pulled by a WDP-4 on the Nagnath line, the Udyan because of the AC coaches up in front. And then where the Belapur - Thane road crosses the CR mainline just outside Thane station, we passed under this same train again. Finally reached home at 10 pm, happy, but tired, looking forward to when I could ride the KR to the land of my ancestors again.
Thanks for the patient reading.