When Once is Not Enough : A journey from SZM-SNP-SZM-KHKN

by Shikhar Parjan


Looking outwards from Delhi Sabzi Mandi (SZM), it appears as if the Almighty took a dull razor and ran an uneven swathe across the face of Delhi’s underbelly. All one sees is the packed, back portions of rows of walled, brick structures, houses, factory units, testifying to the heavily built-up areas which are layered between single room factories, houses and other urban built-up areas. This is an area which was, till Independence, was well on the outskirts of the city, and hence found to be suitable to have warehouses, a large vegetable market (hence the name sabzi mandi), and other urban industries surrounding it, as a large influx of newly homeless came into the city, uprooted by Partition. The larger cousin, Azadpur Sabzi mandi, did not come up till the 70s, and for Delhiites, SZM remains Sabzi Mandi, and Azadpur is called, well.. Azadpur, or now renamed Adarsh Nagar.

On 18th Jul, a Sat, around 11 AM, after negotiating the alleys and the calm oasis of Roshanara Bagh (named after Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s daughter, and sadly now a congested trucking locality), I got dropped off across the platforms, where a small gap in the high walls let me onto the over bridge towards the platform.SZM is the first station after the bifurcation from Delhi Sadar Bazar and Old Delhi tracks, and houses the lines that will be the ‘main line’ towards the North, going via Sonepat (SNP)-Ambala Cantt (UMB) on towards Ludhiana and Jammu. The other line heads off in a North Westerly Direction towards Daya Basti, Shakur Basti (SSB), Rohtak, Jind-Jakhal direction.

My intent was to head out, again, to a rural setting, and capture some good action. While my traditional rail fanning spot is on the main NDLS-MTJ line, to the south of Delhi metropolis, today I wanted to see movement Northward out of Delhi. I bought a 12 Rs ticket for Gannaur, a small station in Haryana, about an hour or so away, planning to take an EMU (Electric Multiple Unit)to head there. What I did not realize, and it struck me right after I had bought the ticket, was that the next EMU (Electric Multiple Unit)was not due for another couple of hours. I did not much relish hanging around SZM, as there was a good chance that many trains would simply bye-pass this station, or be obscured by the freighters on the 10-12 pit lines. I always find the local vendors a better source of info, and asked them for the next train due to come, as he lit the flame under a near black pan of what could only once have been cooking oil to re-fry a batch of already soggy ‘pakodas’. He told me ‘Shaheed aa rahi hai’ (Shaheed Exp is coming). I realized, looking at the speed with which he was working that the train was not too far away, and I had to take a quick decision. I got back to the ticket window, asking if I could switch out the EMU (Electric Multiple Unit)ticket and buy an Express ticket for Sonepat (SNP), as the Shaheed would not stop at a small station like Gannaur. Of course, the counter clerk lady was not interested, in returning or swapping, so I bought a second ticket (30-35 Rs), and just made it in time as the 4673 Shaheed Express was pulling in, on its run to Amritsar. This train, starts from a mofussil town called Jaynagar, almost on India-Nepal border, and passes through North Bihar, Gorakhpur, Basti, Gonda, on its way to Delhi and Amritsar. This train connects the labor-rich, yet poor areas in Bihar, with the farmlands in North India in Punjab and Haryana, and hence, is a heavily patronized train, ferrying the labor to and from the wheat fields in NW India. Since it was July, and hence between seasons, with the paddy sowing in process in Punjab, it was well patronized, esp. in the General classes.

The Shaheed came in, and had a 1-minute stop, which it did not prolong for any reason. Since the PF was on a curve, I did not much catch which WAP4 was in charge. Soon enough we, were passing through the plastic-manufacturing backyards of Ashok Vihar Industrial areas, the air smelling faintly like a Chemistry lab. We passed through the newly renamed Adarsh Nagar (the erstwhile name of Naya Azadpur, the larger produce market), which does not make sense, as Adarsh Nagar is further North, than the Azadpur area in the vicinity, so beats me why anyone would cause confusion to the hapless traveler coming into the city from the North. As it was standing room only, I was content being a bit on the inside as did not want any issues getting off at SNP. After crossing Badli, we soon covered the 41 km distance to SNP.

Sonepat is known for its Atlas bicycle manufacturing plant, one time known to be the largest cycle maker in India. There were 3 lines between PF 1 and 2, and the island platform had a couple of additional lines to the other side for holding freight traffic. It was a warm, slightly humid day, with the sun and clouds interspersed. As we pulled into SNP, I could see a lime green GMO WAG 9 attached to a freighter at the Guards van end.

I got down at SNP and took a stroll. There was a small group of individuals working on the ballast further ahead, and the platform had an occupied, but not bustling look. Soon enough, the Shaheed had moved on, and the tracks were empty. Soon enough, following us, came in a white GZB WAP7 30214, possibly hauling 2459 NDLS-ASR Superfast.

I got a few steps off the PF and took a couple of snaps. Soon enough, the starter turned green and the Superfast got on its way, for its next halt at Panipat (PNP), making it a convenient train for day trippers heading back to Punjab. From the northern (PNP) end, came in a maroon 21128 WAG5A from TKD shed, bearing a freighter, rumbling through on the mid line.

Most Delhi bound trains had cleared the morning rush, and these harried crews were getting a move on, after possibly waiting for hours on the sidings. A maroon loco with a maroon freighter is a favorite sight for me, as it has ties to the classic look and feel from the earlier days â€" when there were no fancy liveries, so I’ll take it any day.

The ballast cleaning and screening was going on at a snail’s pace, and I headed outside, got a quick mango drink, and came back. Soon, in came 2716 Amritsar Nanded Express through the middle line, as it does not have a stop at SNP, headed by a red-cream liveried 22534 GZB WAP4, coasting through at 30-40 km/h towards Delhi.

However, possibly due to non-availability of PF, it was held up on the middle line. From Delhi side, came in another smooth shelled White WAP7 beauty, GZB’s 30234 WAP 7, which could possibly be a late running Paschim Express â€" though I doubt it as Paschim gets a BRC WAP- or some other special train, as the CDG Jan Shatabdi was not due at this time.

Soon, both the expresses had departed, leaving the lines clear for a while. The GMO 31049 WAG9 appeared, with its freighter end and took the pride of place, on PF 1, facing towards PNP.

It looked magnificent, with its crisp lines, beautiful lime-green shell and brand new look and feel. What interested me was that it only had a couple of square heat dissipating vents/windows in its shell, unlike the massive arrays of vents usually seen on other freighters. From Delhi side, came in CNB 22301 WAP4 with another possibly late running express towards the north. But after the WAP7s and the WAG9, the WAP4 had a tough act to follow.

As the Express departed, I saw that the WAG 9 had detached itself from the freight load, and stopped a few feet away, possibly indicating that there would be another loco taking charge at the other end, as it seemed to be in no hurry to turn around and attach itself to the other end.

After about 20 min or so, came in another express, and I could not help notice the poorly painted job done in renaming the shed while transferring the erstwhile GZB based WAP4 22700 to Ludhiana, thereby allowing the Hindi writing of Ghaziabad to peek around from under Ludhiana.

A bunch of these trains were running late that day, as the timetable only showed that the next train was the CDG JS, due at 3 PM, so I kept getting surprised at these arrivals. Another freighter came in from PNP end, this time TKD 27981 WAG 7 in a sky blue-cream livery was in charge, passing through the middle line on its way to Delhi.

By now, I had had my fill of station side shots, and wanted a change of scenery. It was clear that the EMUs I was waiting for to go to Gannaur would not be in till late afternoon. Hence, I decided to board the next train and head back to either Badli, or Narela, or another intervening station. I asked for the next Delhi bound train, and boarded the 5708 Amritsar Katihar Express for a quick 35 minute trip back to SZM. I was hoping that there would be a stop over at an intermediate station, but that did not happen, and around 3 PM or so, I found myself back at SZM.

But clearly, this day could not end like that â€" I did not have the chance yet to catch any high speed action, and it would be a waste to let the earlier purchased EMU (Electric Multiple Unit)ticket go waste. So I hung around, waiting for an EMU (Electric Multiple Unit)to show up, as by now, a decent crowd of day trippers had gathered awaiting an EMU (Electric Multiple Unit)service. Next to me, a couple of holy men were standing, and they were trying to reach LDH. They had been offloaded from an earlier train, and obviously were travelling ticketless. My earlier ticket to SNP was of no use to me, so I gave it to them, much to their surprise.

Soon enough 303N Delhi-Kalka Passenger came in and I boarded it for a 4 PM departure. I knew with this train, I would have a good chance of getting down at the 8-odd stations between Sonepat, so hung close to the gate, to disembark at a station which seemed promising.. and after 17 km, and a 26 min journey, came at Khera Kalan (KHKN).

For those who grew in Delhi, and got to join the NCC in college, Khera Kalan is the village where NCC camps are held, so I had heard of this place. It is a nice location, and while within Delhi state, had none of the congestion of Badli, Azadpur and little human traffic. Furthermore, the station is close to a 120-degree curve, and hence allows good views of curve-side and straight line action.

My arrival at KHKN met an inauspicious start, as I witnessed a dog run over by a freighter on the curve. The curve was a pretty sharp one, and a level crossing straddled it to the North. From SNP end, came is a container at a high speed, hauled by Sky-blue and Cream CNB WAG7 27514.

At the Delhi end of the curve, you can see a max of 4-5 wagons, so it only gives a few seconds, in the case of expresses, to make out a speeding train, and get out of the way, on a clear day.

I walked past the curve, going towards the SNP end, crossing a sozzled man searching for ‘dhatura’ fruit in the bushes for his next high. From SNP end, came a nice long consist of sky blue freight wagons, hauled by a GMO 31105 WAG9 in a green and yellow stripe livery.

As I was admiring the new freighter wagons, I saw the North bound signal turn green, and in came the 2057 CDG Jan Shatabdi, hauled by a dirty GZB WAP1 22038, on the move on the curve.

This was an odd pairing of a Shatabdi with a geriatric WAP1 which had seen better days. It was followed by a hard-charging 7DPM DLI-PNP EMU (Electric Multiple Unit)with a cream and blue livery and people at the doors having a blast.

In the air was a smell of freshly cooked ‘ma-chawal’ and I was pretty hungry. The tracks bordered a well fenced compound of a farm house, as this is farmhouse country, and I was waiting for the 2005 Kalka Shatabdi to show up, before I made a move. I came across an interesting signal, with 1GF and a starry-eyed look seeking a ‘Girl friend’ by the amorous 1GF signal.

In the waning hours of the day, came white WAP7 30222 from GZB, hauling the 2005 NDLS KLK Shatabdi. The cream blue rake had a mismatched red-cream-blue EOG car, and the curve showed a good amount of the rake.

This was followed by a packed-to-the-gills DLI-UMB MEMU (Electric Multiple Unit)with passengers leaning out, and on the roof.

The setting sun brought in the 2920 Malwa Express, hauled by a red-cream LDH 22690 WAP4, puffing dust at the level crossing as it zipped towards Delhi.

I walked back towards KHKN station, to get on another EMU (Electric Multiple Unit)to head back to SZM. From Delhi side, came a surprise visitor â€" Kazipet based WAG7 27827 with a long line of BOXN wagons towards SNP. I boarded a PNP-DLI EMU, and after a half hour, got off at SZM.

This was an interesting day, made more interesting by the changes in plans. The traffic was interesting in its frequency, and while less than the NDLS-MTJ section, it was pretty interesting to see the mix of trains that head out of Delhi area, esp. the ones coming from the eastern parts of the country.

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