Chapter X

Ian Manning on the Indian Railways: 1965-1969


2. Bangalore and the Goldfields

The growth of Bangalore city started with its becoming the inland terminus of the Madras Railway, continued with its becoming the southern terminus of the Southern Mahratta metre gauge, and included the coming of the Mysore State Railway on metre gauge and the Kolar District Railway on 2' 6". Thus, Bangalore City is now at the centre of many railways: broad gauge to Madras, narrow gauge to Kolar, and metre west to Arsikere and Poona, north to Guntakal, south to Mysore and, since 1969, south east to Salem.

The station thus accumulated an island platform with buildings down its centre separating the broad and metre gauges, a transfer yard and, on top of it all, the loco shed for metre gauge and the terminus for the Kolar District Railway. Fortunately the broad gauge loco facilities were out of the way at Bangalore Cantonment, so the redevelopment of the station could begin with the shifting of the metre gauge goods yards to a flat hilltop where the Poona and Guntakal lines diverged on the outskirts of the city, continue with the building of new transfer yards on another portion of the outskirts and conclude for the present with the transfer of the narrow gauge loco shed to a place ten miles out so that a new station building could come up on its site, away from the old island platform. The design of this new building, while modern in its reliance on glass and concrete, continued the old tradition of a major entrance with portico for first and second class passengers and a lesser one for the majority who travel third. There was, however, something apologetic about the way ‘upper class’ was roughly stencilled on the glass door of the superior booking office.

The 1/65 bank from Bangalore City to Cantonment was the steepest grade on all the line between Bangalore and Madras, and the only real gradient against the up trains. Thus all passenger services from City, with the occasional exception of one or two locals, were banked to Cantonment with whatever engine came handy, usually tender first. Once past the ivy-covered train shed at Cantonment the way was easy – over the plateau, downhill over its edge and then out onto the plains of Tamil Nadu. Just before the descent lay Bangarapet (late Bowringpet, named after an Englishman) which was doubly a junction, once for the eleven mile, broad gauge Kolar Goldfields branch and a second time for the hundred narrow gauge miles of the Kolar District railway, leading back to Bangalore by a loop to the north.

The Goldfields branch had five trains daily, worked by a four-carriage set and an inside-cylindered tank engine. The last train of a Saturday evening was well patronised, the passengers smelling a little of toddy, but nobody was singing drunk; just a general feeling of tiredness and stupidity. The four carriages, with passengers and sacks and jars of luggage, were about the proper load for an F class tank on this line, for the branch climbed sharply away from Bangarapet up a bare, stony slope. The best of the engine was irregular and slow, for she climbed at 15 mph no matter how much the driver jumped round in the cab and adjusted throttle and cutoff. But soon he gave up and contented himself with sitting on his seat and looking out round the side sheet; and the cab light above the firebox door cast his shadow out onto the passing stony ground, sometimes exaggerated round the mouth like Hanuman, more often at the crown of the head like Queen Nefertiti.

A cutting through a sudden sharp outcrop opened out onto the Goldfields, with mercury lamps high on the poppet heads of the mines, and also around the bulldozer factory they are trying to start to provide employment when the mines close down. Then the train slowed down for Coromandel; then Oorgaum, Champion and the terminus, Marikuppam; a forsaken place to reach at nine at night, with the only noise of life a shaking and humming in the adjacent mine works. It was too late for there to be any metre gauge electric engines grinding about the mines system, or skips hand pushed on the little tramways that crossed the road here and there. A solitary passer-by could say no more than that there was a beer shop within twelve furlongs.

On Sunday morning following the goldfields were quiet; a little cool, a little blue-hazy, their colonies of houses scattered among the squared grey mine dumps. The train back to Bangarapet was the same, though; the same engine and the same four carriages. But this time it was loaded with Tamil Christians, wearing their Sunday best and jarringly joyful as they made the carriage bounce with ‘Jesus came and glory filled my soul.’