"Bangalored!": BNC 2009 Trip Report

by Karan Desai


Presenting trip report of the Mumbai/Pune-Bangalore journey undertaken by Ajit Rao, Sandeep Bhate, myself, and the Bhavsar Brothers- Raj and Jatin, by 1013 LTT-CBE Express to attend the BNC 2009 Convention.

[The title "Bangalored" is actually a US slang referring to jobs being moved to India, especially Bangalore!]


The exciting journey for me began rather early, in fact even before boarding the train. Myself and Sandeep Bhate had set out from our homes a good two hours in advance to catch the Coimbtore Express from LTT. My mom and dad and also Mrs Bhate were accompanying us in my car to drop us at the station. As luck would have it, near IIT Powai, our car fell into an over sized pothole and the impact broke the clutch rendering the car motionless. Not having much time at our disposal, bidding adieu to the others, me and Sandeep jumped into a BEST bus, got down at Kanjur signal, quickly took an auto rickshaw to Kanjur Marg station, boarded a CST Slow local and reached Kurla station around 21:30, with one hour left for our train to depart.

The real ordeal began now. Reaching LTT from Kurla East is a traveler's nightmare and for us it began with around half a dozen rickshaw drivers blocking our way, persuading us to get into their vehicles with each one promising that his rickshaw would depart first! We got into one of the vehicles and waited for it to get filled. Unlike other areas of Mumbai, here an auto rickshaw is "full" only when at least five passengers board it and only then it departs. After waiting for five minutes, we were asked to board another rickshaw which already had two other occupants in it. Quickly the driver found a fifth one and started off his rickety vehicle on a dark terrible road. I was sitting besides the driver, one hand firmly guarding my wallet and digital camera while the other making sure I don't fall off. The road from Kurla to LTT crosses a level crossing gate across the Harbour lines and to our despair we found it to be closed. It was 21:45 now. Soon, one local crossed. Then another, and another… only after seven trains had passed, the gate was opened at 22:00. All the rickshaws that had piled up in the meantime made a mad dash to the terminus and after negotiating some tremendous potholes, construction material, illegal stalls and other assortment, all in the dark, at 22:05, we reached the glorified goods shed christened Lokmanya Tilak Terminus. If there were ever to be a competition for the Worst Railway Terminus in India, this one would win hands down. At the station, Rajendranagar (Patna) Express, Kushinagar Express and Shalimar "Supercrawler"- all three notorious for running jam-packed and trouble making crowd were giving our train company.

We quickly walked up the length of the platform and located our coach- S7 which was three coaches ahead of where the indicator mentioned it to be. Ajit Rao who had our tickets was already present there. Our coach was a 1994 make BEML but in fairly good condition and clean. Since LTT is notorious for bag-lifters, Sandeep stayed put at our berths while me and Ajit went ahead and checked out the loco. KJM WDP-4 #20025 running SHF was doing the honors. At exactly 22:30, without any indication, we started off from LTT. The run through the suburbs was smooth and quick, we sped past Thane at above 80kmph, crossed Parsik tunnel which had extra-bright halide lights newly installed in it and reached Kalyan without much of a fuss. After Kalyan most of the passengers went off to sleep, Sandeep caught hold of Side Upper berth and dozed off, Ajit Rao made a bed of his Side Lower berth and I lied down on Lower Berth which was not ours!

After Lonavala, a TTE came (it was 1am then!) waking up everyone from their sleeps and asking for tickets. We had ane extra passenger in our bay traveling on unreserved ticket and the TTE made him shell out Rs 544 as sleeper fare plus fine after quite a long round of arguments. The chap made himself comfortable on a vacant Lower Berth till Pune. As we neared Pune, made evident by Sangam Bridge, around 2am, I dared to open the door for some time. Fellow railfans Raj and Jatin Bhavsar were to board from Pune and the two vacant Lower Berths in our bay actually belonged to them. The "extra" traveler thankfully vacated our berth and went away. Raj and Jatin settled in their Lower berths while I took up Middle berth and then began a midnight session of railfan-talk between us, unmindful of the fact that it was 2:30am and others were sleeping! Finally an RPF on duty forced us to close the window shutters and we slept only around 3:30am.

Around sunrise next day, we were put in the loop at Akkalkot Road and braving the chill outside, all four railfans (except Sandeep who was still in deep slumber) jumped out on the tracks. The flag-man confirmed that it was crossing with the legendary Karnataka Express and this made us all the more excited. Within five minutes, KK came horns blaring at its maximum speed led by its customary twin Itarsi diesels and shattered the early morning silence. This woke up Sandeep and in his semi-sleep, he asked a passenger standing near him "DP-4 tha kya?" not realizing that he was not one of us railfans! The poor fellow till now must be wondering what the heck is a 'DP-4'!

The daytime run was smooth with a just a few unreserved passengers getting in for short stints. Thanks to slack time and a clinically perfect run, we reached Wadi a good 30 minutes before time. This meant a long 45 minute halt at Wadi. We used this time to check out the loco, photograph it, get ourselves photographed with it, amidst curious glances from co-passengers and LPs. The run from Wadi to Guntakal was uneventful except for a small "fire scare". A few stations before Krishna, one of the brake pads of our coach got stuck, emitting smoke from under the coach. This scared some passengers with one even asking the TTE- "With fire under the coach, is it still safe to keep the train running?"

After lunch, all of us felt sleepy and since there were no unreserved passengers and the other three passengers in our berth had already made peace with the two Upper Berths and Side Upper, the five of us had two Lower, two Middle and the eternal favourite-Side Lower (which was occupied by yours truly) for ourselves. We woke up as our train took the huge left curve to enter Guntakal. We were greeted by a Garuda waiting with a BCNA load in the yard. On our fellow passenger's suggestion we got off to buy the famous Dosa/Utappam and also decided to buy coconut water. By this time, we got the starter and myself and Jatinbhai were still on the platform. It was quite an experience boarding a moving train balancing two huge coconuts in two hands!

The start from Guntakal ended all the sluggishness and laziness that had crept in through the noon. Within no time, we were blasting past at 105-110kmph, horns blaring and now since it was double line upto Gooty, we had quite a few high speed crossings on the opposite track, the best being a GTL diesel hauled train- it also doing MPS. The crossing happened so fast, none of us know till date what train it was! At all the three stations between Guntakal and Gooty we overtook two freights each, one waiting on each side of the Main Line! After a brief halt at Gooty, it was time for the mammoth right hand curve as the line towards Bangalore separates from the line towards Chennai. We positioned ourselves on all the doors and quite a lot of photos and videos were taken. From Dharmavaram, we diverted to the line going via Sri Satya Sai Prasanthi Nilayam. This line, being relatively newer, is in excellent condition and the WDP-4 made the most of it, going at full throttle with a smooth-as-silk ride! Soon we reached SSPN and myself and Raj got off in search of a good name board to click the extra-long name of this station. This station (probably built by some private trust of Satya Sai Baba) is spanking clean with polished granite flooring on platforms and interestingly designed station building.

By the time we joined the old line again at Penukonda Jn, it got dark, so there was little to see. At Hindupur, as we halted, the Ajmer bound Garib Nawaz Express hauled by KJM's twin WDG-3A was waiting on the opposite platform. The moment it got the starter, the combined power of twin WDG-3A gave the train an EMU-like swift start which left all of us spellbound! After some time, at a very dark station, we were put in the loop. We got down and I aimed my camera flash onto the station board. It read- Makalidurga. The favourite place of the Bangalore gang! This crossing took quite a long time and we could not make out what train was it. Next stop- Oddarahalli, again we were in the loop. We were expecting Udyan or KK, but a little DMU came from the other side! Next stop, Dodballapur, once again, we were put in the loop. This time, within a minute, with a bright flash of headlamps, came the legendary Karnataka Express with its customary twin Itarsi diesels, once again blasting past us at MPS, like it did earlier in the day at Akkalkot Road.

At Yelhanka, once again we were put in the loop. A passenger, which had probably come from Chikballapur side was also waiting to go towards Bangalore. After a long long wait, we saw a headlight in the distance. We all thought it would be Udyan, but it was not to be. It was Yeshwantpur-Secundrabad-Vijaywada Garib Rath! Another ten minutes later, finally Udyan also crossed with its KJM WDP-4. Before we could start, the passenger was given the starter and it slowly crawled out. It probably went towards Yeshwantpur side because we got the starter almost immediately and we had a spirited high-speed run with continuous horns blaring right upto Baiyyappanahalli where we slowly joined the main line coming from Chennai. Crawling slowly now, we stopped at Bangalore East after which we packed up our stuff and went to the door. The indianrail.gov.in website says that 1013 "does not stop presently" at Bangalore Cantt while going towards Bangalore City but we were told by Srinivas sir and others that it always does, so we were a bit confused.

Finally, we entered Bangalore Cantt very slowly, the LP picked up speed, giving us a brief scare, before applying the brakes hard and stopping the train such that our coach came inside the beautiful arched portion of the station. Just as we got off, I spotted Binai (with his physique, it is hard to miss him!) at the platform. We met him and he escorted us out for our final short walk to the United Theological College, the venue for the BNC 2009 Convention ending a beautiful 24 hour journey.


This is Part I of a two part trip report of my return journey from BNC 2009 convention. Myself, Sagar Tipnis and Bhavsar Brothers had decided to take the Rani Chenamma Express from Bangalore and change midway to 6534 Yeshwantpur Jodhpur Express. While me and Sagar were to change at Londa, the Bhavsar Brothers changed at Hubli.

[Bangalore City - Londa by 6589 Rani Chenamma Express]

After the culmination of the Convention, we reached Bangalore Cant station around 19:30, Poochi's superb videos of Saklespur Ghats still playing at the back of our minds. Within ten minutes, a Bangalore City bound passenger train, hauled by AJJ WAM-4 arrived on Platform 1 and we boarded an unreserved 2S coach in the old 4-by-1 seating arrangement which was refurbished with padded seats making it look like a SL coach! The Wammie deposited us at City station in around ten minutes. Since Dilip Setlur, the local chap was accompanying us and we had around 2 hours to pass, we turned to him to suggest a place for our dinner. We first went to Comesum located on the first floor near Platform 1, had a nice long look at the delicacies available there and then decided to instead move out of the station and have some authentic South Indian food. Dilip led us to a small restaurant just outside the station where we had cheap and delicious South Indian food to our heart's content and returned to the station.

The entry to PF-1 was guarded by a metal detector and a sole policeman "frisking" the passengers just for the sake of it. We took the pedestrian subway and were pleasantly surprised to see elevators inside to take the passengers upto the platforms! On reaching PF-8, the designated platform for our Rani Chenamma Express, Jatinbhai decided to try out the elevator. So, he called out everyone of us, some who had already climbed halfway up the stairs, to come down again and board the elevator. The elevator itself is huge, almost as big as a room and has doors opening on two opposite sides. On reaching PF-8, we found the SBC Rajdhani waiting there. Raj Bhavsar went all the way ahead to check out the loco while I boarded a 2A coach to check out the interiors. The washroom was not at all clean and the liquid soap was filled in a used mineral water bottle! I didn't expect this from a Rajdhani!

The platform 8 at SBC has nice amphitheater-like steps for the passengers to sit and we settled there waiting for our train to arrive. After the Rajdhani's departure at 20:25, the rake of Rani Chenamma was shunted in reverse at an astonishingly fast speed. The very first coaches (last once the train starts) were slip coaches bound for Vasco and as luck would have it, the Bhavsar Brothers had their berths in B3 which was a part of the slip link! Myself and Sagar Tipnis were booked in S3 and all of us were standing near the displayed position of S3. So, the Bhavsar Brothers had to take along walk upto their coach. As we saw coach after coach pass us, our coach S3 was the only coach in the rake to have SMBs! What luck! Our seat numbers were 31,32 which were SLB and SUB as per the original configuration but now thanks to the side-middled coach this had gone for a toss and we found our seats in the inner bay! Inspite of the coach being an 81-seater, only 72 reservations were given and since the passengers sat as per their seat numbers, the last bay (73-81) remained vacant! After some coaxing and cajoling with our co-passengers, we decided that we would occupy the Side berths while they occupy the inner six berths!

Since there was still time, we went ahead to check out the loco. Hubli's WDP-4 #20009 running LHF was doing the honors. This is one of the ten "Original EMD" locos imported from USA and the difference was immediately visible. The PU paint of this loco was still shining bright and intact unlike some of the latest swadeshi WDP-4s whose paint has peeled off in months! We returned to our coach and found chaos ruling our coach as everyone's berths had changed out of nowhere. Some choicest gaalis were being given to Lalu by passengers in all possible languages for introducing this "new concept". At 21:15 we departed and within a few minutes a TTE came and started spreading out the passengers as per the original seating arrangement. This process lasted for some half an hour before everyone could be made comfortable.

After around an hour of run through the dark countryside, I decided to pack up and went upto the Side Upper berth and guess what! I actually felt as if I was being made to sleep on the luggage rake of EMU coaches. Due to retro-fitting of SMB in old design coaches, the SUB has been shifted way too up and in any other pose besides flat sleeping, you will hit the curved ceiling! Realizing that it would be impossible to sleep under such inhuman condition, we took a smarter way out. I came down and we opened out the SMB which was anyways lying vacant. The SMB at least gave me enough headroom to breath comfortably (though Sagar's headroom at Side Lower halved!) Interestingly, we were the only ones who had opened up the Side Middle berth while all others decided to somehow climb onto the Side Upper and sleep in various uncomfortable positions.

When I woke up it was around 05:30 and we were reaching Hubli. Myself and Sagar Tipnis had decided to change trains at Londa, thereby avoiding alighting at such an early hour but the Bhavsar Brothers had decided to change trains at Hubli. All of us were to take the 6534 Yeshwantpur-Jodhpur Express for the onward journey. We searched for them on the platform but in vain. As we waited for a long time at Hubli, I was getting worried as our connecting train was just one hour later and I was praying that the worst should not happen- the 6534 overtaking us somewhere before Londa! (Yeah, unlikely but I was just speculating) Thankfully nothing of that sort happened. We left Hubli 25 minutes behind schedule and maintained that upto Londa.

When we got off at Londa, the scene was quite amusing. Besides me and Sagar there were only two other people on the entire platform- the LPs of a WDG-4 pair idling in one of the loop lines! All the stalls at the platform were locked. I walked the length of the platform but found the ticket counter with no one behind the window, the Station Manager's office open but not a soul inside, even the RPF Outpost had no one inside! It looked like a ghost station but the suspense was broken a minute later- the entire station staff had vacated their positions and gone to a ground behind the station for flag hoisting since it was Republic Day! I checked out an old time table painted on one of the walls and surprise! It had no mention of 6534 on it! However it did show a 'Gandhidham Express' in the same slot (on different days of course). After spending around half an hour at the platform, I spotted a vada-pao seller and asked him "What time will 'Gandhidham Express' arrive?" He looked at me in amusement and replied- "Aaj Gandhidham Express nahi chalti. Jodhpur chalti hai!" What a relief! Somebody at the station at least confirmed the arrival of our train.

After a short wait of just five minutes, we spotted a train curving in from a distance led by what looked like a Shakti. 6534 usually runs with twin diesels but to our bad luck, today it was being hauled by a single Gooty Shakti! But this was not the only shock. A bigger shock awaited us inside. What happened next? Watch out for Part II.

[Londa-Mumbai by 6534 Yeshwantpur-Jodhpur Express]

Already sad at the sight of a single Shakti hauling our 6534 YPR-JU Express instead of its usual twins, we were further saddened to find the entire train Side-Middled with 81 reservations given in each coach. We boarded our coach S-7, which was nearer to the end of the rake than the loco, to find a complete chaos inside. The coach resembled a fish-market with people literally overflowing from all the bays. Firstly, thanks to SMB, every bay had one more passenger and secondly, as we later came to know, our Rajasthani brethren traveling on this train follow 'Buy 10 Get 2 Free' policy- all big groups of 10/12/14 people had 2/3/4 extra passengers with them traveling without reservation. The idea to avoid getting caught by the TTE is that some of them simply run away towards the door on the pretext of smoking a bidi on seeing the TTE, some lock themselves in the toilet, the children are "hidden" behind the "pallu" of their saree by the ladies in the group and so on and so forth.

Our seats- 28,31 were both Lower Berths but we found that the fellow passengers had already occupied those seats and even blocked the legroom between the seats with huge gunny bags and other luggage right upto the window level. On the small dining table near the window were around half dozen bottles of water and even one dirty bottle of hair oil! The Rajasthan-bound men "requested" us to leave the windows for them and adjust on the remaining seats, but we demanded our rightful place at the windows and they soon gave in. The Bhavsar Brothers had boarded the train from Hubli and they were in S-9. Soon, Raj came searching for us and the expression on his face on 'finding' us was worth seeing- it was like finding a long-lost brother after years! Apparently the crowd situation in S-9 was equally bad and the Bhavsar Brothers had got terribly bored sitting all by themselves in the midst of predominantly rural Rajasthani crowd.

One of us suggested that we should find out if vacant berths are available in 3A and upgrade if possible. So, myself and Raj started a long walk to locate the AC coach TTE. We slowly made our way through seven SL coaches, avoiding little children and haphazardly strewn luggage in the gangway, a Pantry Car, 2 3A coaches and 1 2A coach till we reached the end of the train- no TTE found! Dejected as we started our way back, thankfully we found the TTE relaxing behind curtains on a vacant Lower Berth in the 2A compartment. We told him about the situation and he agreed to give us berths in 3A till Pune but first we had to get our tickets checked by the SL TTE. So, we began the long walk back. We located the SL TTE only after wading through 10 coaches in S-10! We told him our plan, got our tickets checked, gave Sagar Tipnis and Jatin Bhai the good news and once again started the long walk upto 2A coach- this time with all our luggage in tow!

When we finally reached the 2A coach, the TTE was not to be seen. By this time, we had pulled into Belgaum and we located the TTE on the platform, waiting for new charts to arrive. Post Belgaum, he started a slow long process to allot us four 3A berths. Since the train had already departed from Belgaum by now, he charged us for Belgaum-Pune instead of Londa-Pune but compensated this by asking for a "service charge" (swanky name for bribe!). Since we were desperate to get out of the chaos in SL, we paid him without mush argument and found our berths in 3A- LB, MB, UB and the opposite UB in a Side-Middled 3A coach. Thankfully the coach was not full and we had only one young woman (in her twenties) occupying the strategic window seat besides the four of us in the bay of six seats. Before settling, we located the Coach Attendant peacefully sleeping inside the wardrobe used to store the bedrolls and asked for our rightful supply of pillows, bedsheets and blankets (so what if the entire journey was going to be in daytime and none of us were going to sleep!)

Only now could we begin our "railfanning" part, but not before some 're-fueling' for our stomachs. We took turns at doorplating for short intervals of time but the heat was discouraging us. So, we spent most of the time inside the cozy comforts of the 3A coach chatting for hours stuff that seemed like gibberish to the sole non railfan co-passenger in our bay! Just as we were entering Miraj, Rani Chenamma that had brought us to Londa earlier in the day pulled out of the station towards Kolhapur with its DP-4 now attached at the other end and running LHF. At Miraj, I stepped out to look for something to eat that had no rice involved in it- I have had a month's quota of rice-related items in the previous four days, and found Mumbaikar's favorite food- Vada Pao! Though the others were hesitant at first, on seeing Vada Paos, everyone tucked into them with delight!

After Miraj, I decided to be at the door since I had never been through Upper Quadrant Semaphore territory before. Another item on the agenda was to see and if possible, videograph token exchange from running train, but unfortunately the heat and dust flying into my eyes with the train speeding at nearly 100kmph played spoilsport. But I did experience one thing on this section that I am going to remember for a long time- the line after Miraj passes through what I call the "typical Indian-rural-scene"- just one single non-electrified railway line passing through fields, a smoke emitting, horns blaring diesel locomotive taking a long train through it. Right from Miraj upto Kirloskar Wadi I was at the door of the 3A coach enjoying the continuous horns, chugging sounds and semaphores and every village and hamlet that our train crossed had a few children from here and there coming running upto the tracks and innocently waving at the train and in this process when they saw me replying to their gesture with a wave from the running train, the smile on their faces was just too good! This scene was repeated no less than twenty times in that half hour! Pure bliss!

After Kirloskar Wadi, I felt the need to do some justice to the bedrolls lying unused on the Upper Berth, so I climbed up, made a bed for myself and went off to sleep in the cosy cool confines of the 3A coach. I was woken up around two hours later by a din below with the other railfans getting ready as Satara approached. Post Satara, we all were at the door, enjoying the beautiful rock cuttings and especially the 180 degree horseshoe curve at Adarki. Just as we finished the curve, we met Kolhapur bound Koyna Express waiting in the loop at Adarki for us to cross. A few minutes and another 180 degrees of curving later, we found our train and Koyna moving in the same direction albeit a few kilometers apart from each other! Such is the geography around Adarki!

On returning to our berths, we decided that the young lady who was our sole co-passenger in the bay had spent enough time trying to decipher what we guys were upto and so we gave her a brief introduction about railfanning, IRFCA and everything else that makes us guys so unique and "crazy"! Soon, it was time to head out again- the beautiful Shindawane Ghats beckon us. At Ambale, we were made to wait at the Home signal for fifteen minutes after which a freight came from the opposite side and was also made to wait at the Home signal on other side. For ten minutes, nothing happened- both the locos were simply staring at each other as if a boxing match was about to begin. Finally the controller made up his mind and allowed the freighter to enter the station on Main Line and gave us a signal for non-stop run through the Loop line. The entire Ambale-Shindawane ghat section was shining in the golden evening sun and looked beautiful. Since morning we did not wait for a single crossing and now we were expecting to be made to wait atleast for Goa Express. But it was not to be. At the next station, the 'Super' was waiting in the loop for us to cross non-stop! We pulled into Pune at 18:05, almost half an hour before time!

This was the end of the comfortable AC ride. The Bhavsar Brothers got off at Pune while Sagar and me returned back to the stuffed S-7 coach. Thankfully there was still place for us in our original bay in spite of all the crowding. We grabbed some snacks from the platform and waited for the train to move. At 18:45, after a 40 minute halt, we started and immediately someone pulled the Emergency Chain bringing us to a halt after moving just five feet. The wait now was even longer. Finally we started only at 19:20- after a one hour fifteen minute halt at Pune!

The ride from Pune to Lonavala was perfect with the Shakti cruising at around 100kmph with the 24 coach load. We missed seeing the Deccan Queen as we were being taken through a loop line at some station (forgot the name) with a freight on the Up Main and the DQ whizzed past from the Down Main behind. I was expecting our train to take the Nagnath line in the ghats so that I could enjoy the beautiful view of Khopoli in the night, visible only from Nagnath Line but it did not happen. We descended the ghats through the Mid line. A decent run from Karjat to Kalyan and we finally alighted at 21:45- bang on time, again thanks to slack!

Sagar went to the ticket counter and bought suburban tickets for us while I waited on the FOB with the luggage. A 21:58 Thane bound local was announced on PF-3 and we managed to catch it just in time- climbing into it after it had already started! We were made to wait for some time outside Thane where LTT bound Saket Express overtook us. We alighted at Thane and went out to the bus depot as I had decided to take a ST bus to Borivali from Thane rather than going by train via Dadar. But a huge line of around 300 people at the bus depot made me turn back and come to the station. I quickly took a II Class suburban ticket to Dadar and ran to PF-4 where 22:47 CST Slow was shown on the indicator. It was already close to 23:00 when the train actually arrived. Thanks to the huge crowd from Saket Exp that had alighted at Thane and wanting to go to various parts of Mumbai, the platform was choc-a-block even at this late hour and I could not find any place to get into any of the II Class coaches. Finally, I had no choice but to take a split second decision and boarded the adjacent I Class coach just as the train began to move. I know I did not have First Class ticket but I could not see any other alternative in front of me- there was no way I could have boarded the II Class coach that too with my bag, my parents were worried and had called thrice already asking where had I reached so far and if I let the 22:47 train go, I did not know when the next train would come.

So here I was- sitting in the First Class coach but was a bit nervous- I was mentally prepared to pay the fine if a TTE caught me enroute, the only solcae was that since I had my Matunga-Malad via Dadar First Class Season Ticket, I could have shown that to the TTE if he caught me while alighting at Dadar! (If any TTEs are reading this- I am sorry for this ticket less ride, it was out of compulsion and not for joy!) Thankfully no TTE came at such late hour and none of the co-passengers ever thought I was "ticketless", so I could get down safely at Dadar. Crossing over to WR side, I caught 11:36 Virar Fast and alighted at Malad when the digital clock on the platform was showing 00:15!

This ends the adventure-filled 30 hour train ride back home from BNC 2009! Thanks for patient reading!

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