Hindi Heartland Travels
by Shikhar Parjan
I have always felt that someone with a cruel sense of irony laid out the Varanasi-Allahabad rail corridor. (My last train trip here was in 84, so I hope things would have changed- but as it is good ol' UP, I know they wont change that much ;). This is all flat, agrarian territory, with good bridges, so no problems of unsurmountable obstacles here. Even the Ganges actually flows North in Varanasi! Even though Varanasi was the recipient of the largess of the legendary Kamplapati Tripathi (the famous temple shaped station was built under his Union Ministership), the Mughalsarai-Varanasi- Allahabad line stayed unelectrified,(is it still the same way?),and in turn got bypassed by the Grand Chord traffic.
You see, the Grand Chord by-passes Varanasi as it goes from Mughal Sarai to Allahabad -leading to a situation where a train like Mahanagari Express goes unelectrified from BSB to ALD, then changes to electric and heads back to MGS- which is not more than 3-4 halts away across the Ganga from Varanasi itself..!! Even rickshawwallahs can take you to the famed Banaras Ghats from where you see the Dufferin Bridge at Rajghat in the distance, beyond which lies Mughalserai (pardon my interchanging abbreviations).
Mughal serai- was the home of the macho WDM4 locos imported from US, with their high crowned foreheads and deeper rumble and shriller whistle blasts, as their paired wheels would seemingly flit across the tracks
Anecdotal incidents remind me of students of a particular college near the Bridge, who would pull ashore floating unclaimed bodies from the rivers' ghats to 'scare' their female colleagues. That should be scary.. On the positive side, the pontoon bridge which linked to Ramnagar with a beautiful fort and a museum would be a real treat to watch, and when a steamer would cut off the pontoons before a foaming Ganga would tear them away just before monsoons was a sight to behold
And then there are MG tracks - the home of the Purvanchal Express. The MG tracks were colocated at Varanasi with BG, but curiously would end up at a different location in Allahabad, miles away from the BG station- and then stay terminated..!! What a waste. If I am not wrong at Manduadih (near the famous DLW, once a dreg of criminals, now perhaps even worse), a mentally challenged youth boarded a unattended engine, with a train attached, and drove it for a few kilometers before getting derailed and in the process hastening the departure of a few unfortunate souls form this planet (Can anyone confirm this..?)
My memories of DLW (Diesel Loco Works)as I came back from St John's school in DLW is that of very pristine WDMs - with Cellophane wrapped at the top (it seems incongrous, wont it block the expelled air..?) sitting like new born babies, while seemingly wizened steam locos chuffed by, blowing smoke at them like a Ajit blowing smoke in the face of a 'till then innocent' Amitabh Bachhan..!! It makes me cringe when I see open doored diesels, (for ventilation) bearing oil streaks like tears down a young girls face, and any other locos in a bad condition.
So, the trip from Varanasi to Allahabad used to be made by a train like Bundelkhand Express or the 13 UP Upper India (no longer running). My maternal Grandfather was in the railways and used to tell me that any train that ran late or with a bad record for punctuality would invariably be shifted to 'Gadhi line'-Platform 6 (she-ass line, pardon the sexist comment, but the Brits did so - to shame the crew). Guess what, the crew did not improve but the train got stuck at the Gadhi line..!! And bear in mind this used to happen when there were very few platforms.
Bundelkhand would ply till Jhansi-Powered by a Giant WP locomotive - named Mariyam (Mary) (Probably christened by the Anglo-Indian community which sent a lot of folks to the railways). Mariyam was based out of Jhansi -with a green caboose would come in slow, like a cat, and then erupt in a spray of ash and dark clounds as she was lined up on the platform - making kids cry and adults cringe at the liberal doses of coal dust.
Journey on board the Bundelkhand would be like travelling on a rickshaw through city streetse - with assorted vendors selling real tasty roasted gram, the over head fans doing little to cool the heat. Stations like Bhadohi (carpet country), Janghai, Mondh would come and go.
Once, at Mondh, My mama took me in search of a functional tap of water, as the train was on a side line, awaiting a crossing with the famous Punjab Mail. Little did he realise that the empty track we crossed to get to the platform would soon be blocked by a screaming Punjab Mail, cutting off our access to our waiting train. As luck would have it, for some reason, our train started moving even as the Punjab was approaching, and we were on the wrong side.What followed was sheer pandemonium, as my mamoo grabbed me by my collar, took one leap across the blaring Punjab mail, and threw me in head first, from ground level,into the always-open doors of the now coasting Bundelkhand. A memory to remember... He got in somehow in the last door of the Brake van - to be roundly chastised by my mom later.
At Janghai, the finest Boondi laddoos would be sold. Phulpur would be a wonder to see the Fertiliser plant and then, from Phaphamau, would be the anticipation to cross the Ganges, with people throwing coins- and once a wristwatch- to the river below, to the joy of urchins who would pick the coins below. The loud clanging as the train would cross the girders would thrill and also scare a youngster like me.
And then, from the left would come the thick vein of Electrified Grand Chord twin lines from Naini, to envelop us and take us all the way to Allahabad Jn. mostly 5-6 hours behind schedule.