All India Trip

by R.Venkatesh


Itinerary Report 1: Kalyan — Quilon

Just waiting with bated breath to spill out the much-awaited tour report (the beans!!). Most of the write-up is about the train journeys. We travelled in a total of six trains (and I added two more towards the end). Consequently, I guess I'm going to bore all of us with EIGHT parts of the tour!! One each day. Please don't mind!! Thanks, anyway!!

For our information, 24-hr clock (like in our most coveted Rly timetables) is being followed.

We started on Feb 14 to travel to Quilon (QLN). Daddy wanted to travel by the Konkan Railway during the daytime and we took the 2618 Up NZM-ERS Mangala-Lakshadweep Express from Kalyan (KYN). This train was hauled by a WDM-2 Erode (ED) loco, and reached 20 minutes before time at KYN on PF 6 (10:10 instead of 10:30). Many passengers (probably heading around Mumbai, etc) alighted from the train. This was the strangest experience. We were travelling TOWARDS Mumbai for the first time at the start of the trip!! (Via Dombivli and then out on the Diva-Panvel-Shoranur line)!! We were curiously awaiting the much-hyped sayings about the "largest no of tunnels", "Bhoke tunnel", "largest overbridge" amongst a number of others.

The Panvel line that we subsequently went over was a double-line. Strangely one line (the old one) is DC electrified with those very strong poles, while the other line "looked like" A.C 25-KV electrification (with those thinnish poles -- but is also DC). Arrived Panvel at 11:25 and it was a rather longish halt. As we approached Panvel, we saw the harbour line coming from Mankhurd from quite a distance. While we were leaving Panvel we saw the HP Diesel tank at the southern end of Panvel Station. And subsequently the second line took off to the right (I guess it was heading to Uran, but we were continuing on the left towards Apta).

Lunch was being prepared in the Pantry Car. The staff was uniformed (dark brown uniform) -- I guess it was Southern Rly staff (like the one on the Trivandrum-Mumbai Express I encountered during an earlier Pune-Mumbai trip in that train). Central Rly and South Eastern Rly staff looked like having grey uniform instead; however one SER guy I encountered in a later trip had red-and-black as part of his attire. (Strangely also, the 1064-Up Chennai-Dadar Express [Central Rly] I've noticed before, were neatly dressed in red-and-black. Could someone give an idea about these uniforms?)

More about the food tray. This one was a pinkish-white plastic tray beautifully covered with a well-designed protective topping, and it had a number of rather deepish compartments. Mostly rice was served on these trays. The helpings provided full satisfaction. (Do they serve on such trays on any other railway? Certainly not on CR, SC and SER -- they still provide food in those pint-sized aluminium casseroles that drip on the sides!!)

Most of the tunnels still looked new and fresh with that cement-like smell. In fact, particles fly into the eyes as we approach them incase anyone tries to pore over the grilled window (I know, we all do!!) and I escaped from an eye injury!! In many viaducts, nets were found nailed to rocks, obviously to prevent landslides in the monsoons.

Ratnagiri (RN) station was easy to spot, at 17:00 hrs (more than 30 minutes late), with that lovely zig-zag flight of stairs looking black like a shadow bang opposite the setting sun. We were heading westwards while approaching the station. After RN, the train immediately took a crazy left turn to proceed further towards the south.

In came Sawantwadi Road (SWV) at around 19:30 hrs where the train was not supposed to halt, but we were waiting for a crossing. (Couldn't see which train that was). Then we were out of Maharashtra and the train hurtled thru Pedne (or Pernem as some would call it) and had it's scheduled halt at Thivim. Again -- another long halt -- this time (I guess) it was the 2620 Up Matsyagandha Express crossing on time. Lot of passengers were alighting and boarding this train on the way. Many passengers alighted at Thivim.

We went rather slowly at Karmali. Maybe someone could shed some light on this -- is Karmali a Junction station? (SCR line from Hubli-Castle Rock meets at Karmali? If not, then where?) I noticed the lovely pillars at Karmali station -- these looked like the pillars of many village-houses in Southern India with those lovely designs at their top (supporting) ends.

Finally we crossed the Mandovi bridge on the outskirts of Panaji, the National Highway 17 and hurtled towards Madgaon (MAO) which we reached at 22:10. Wow!! MAO sure looked like an International airport, with that circular wall-like profile on the main platform, and it could well beat a number of stations in terms of cleanliness!!

As we were leaving MAO, I tried to see the line that takes off to Vasco-Da-Gama (VSG) to my right. But this line was obscured among the many trains parked between our line and the supposedly-VSG line. (What happened to Mormugao Harbour that used to exist earlier after VSG?)

I could wake up at midnight just to see Karwar; it was a pity to miss out Udipi (UD) subsequently!! Finally, as the train was slowing down at around 04:00 hrs, I woke up with a start to see the MG line from Mysore (MYS) to my left, obviously revealing that Kankanadi Jn was approaching and we left KR and entered SR territory. Many passengers alighted at Kankanadi Jn (obviously to head towards Mangalore MAQ). It's sad to hear that the MG-BG conversion is now getting delayed -- the worst thing is that we lose out on the lovely ghat-sections between MYS and MAQ.

One could notice a solitary AC traction mast (looked like |^^^^^^^| without the projecting links that hold wires) standing on a loop line at Kankanadi Jn.

The following morning I was greeted by strangely different-looking passengers (different from the previous night). Most of the train was empty, with commuters travelling between Tellicherry and Calicut, etc on the SR line. It is a very nice and rare experience (for me, at least) to pass scores of houses on either side of the (single) railway line; this is noticeable in almost the entire Kerala. (Does this prevail in any other state?) At times, suddenly, backwaters become visible amongst coconut trees. Very beautiful scenes, indeed!!

Then passed Calicut (CLT), and subsequently, Shoranur Jn. (SRR). I could simply not see the SRR-Nilambur Road line as we entered SRR station (a bearer pointed to that line on the other half of the main platform where our train was parked). Electrification began at the approach to SRR while we were leaving, and turning rightwards to meet the electrified Chennai line. Most locos we now spotted were WAG ED, double-headed and hauling freight.

Arrived Trichur (TCR) at around 11:00 hrs (slightly late -- wondered how we made up time at midnight after all those delays at RN and SWV). Saw the Hyderabad Express (SC) in the opposite direction with the pantry car bang opposite our coach.

We were subsequently slowed down considerably due to a series of track maintenance and repair works carried out by SR along TCR and Alwaye, and just before Ernakulam (ERN) (eight more minutes left before the train parked at Ernakulam Town -- ERS -13:45), we were put onto the up-line and made to wait for a very long time. Therefore we finally reached one hour later, at 14:45, at the last stop, at ERS.

Know why Ernakulam Jn is called ERN and Ernakulam Town, ERS? The local people called ERN as Ernakulam North and ERS as Erk South.

After enquiring about bus availability to take us further to Quilon Jn and returning to the station platform to pick our luggage, I was delighted upon seeing on the late arrivals board that the Mumbai- Trivandrum Netravati Express was two hours late (16:15 instead of 14:15!!) We finally waited and took that train. During the wait, some train spottings. The first of two ERS WDM-2 locos (mued together) was sighted on the line between platforms 1 and 2. The livery was yellow and red, with yellow on the top half and red on the bottom. Electrification terminated at ERN / ERS. (I don't know about the electrification between ERS and Cochin CHTS -- it looks like the 10-km line is electrified ). Most of the other WDMs in the vicinity were Erode-based (with the grey-top and red-bottom livery).

Meanwhile, sleeper coach tickets were purchased for the ERS-QLN length of the trip at the counter itself. The Netravati went via ERS- Alleppey (ALLP) -- Kayankulam Jn. Plenty of back-waters were seen during this part of the trip. A very beautiful sight!! As we were approaching Kayankulam Jn, I was waiting for the ERN-Kottayam- Kayankulam Jn line and got distracted and turned my face away, and turned back to see that line suddenly next to me at my right!

Subsequently the MG line from Tenkasi appeared to our right and we knew that Quilon Jn (QLN) was nearing, and it ran parallel to our BG line for quite a while as we were gearing up to alight at QLN. At QLN station itself, the MG platform was situated at a slight distance away from the main BG platform, and a train was visible (I guess it was the Quilon-Nagore Fast-Passenger cum Express via Tiruchi and Thanjavur).

Part two is not so big, and will talk about the following Quilon- Sengottai metre gauge route on the 764 Passenger.

Itinerary Report 2: Quilon (QLN) — Sengottai (SCT) on Valentine's Day

Actually we were rather keen to board the 744 QLN -- Tirunelveli (TEN) passenger that leaves QLN at 06:40 hrs, for alighting at Tenkasi (TSI) enroute. Reservation attempts made for this train from CST Mumbai proved futile as the operator stated that "no reservation is made on this particular train". Therefore we had to purchase tickets at QLN itself, which meant we had to reach fairly early.

Also we unfortunately woke up rather late and therefore there was no scope to board that train (good thing there was no resv otherwise it would've been a strain). That meant we would have had to board the next train -- the 750 SCT Passenger -- at 08:10 hrs.

The way this started was rather not too good. We reached QLN station (thanks to the scant taxi / auto services available so early in the morning for which we had to walk a very long distance from the hotel) at 08:07 hrs and I rushed to the ticket counter. The console operator there suggested that we first go board the train as it was about to leave.

We encounterd the MG entrance which upon entering, revealed the last coach -- the guard coach -- of the 750. My brother ran upto the guard stationed in this coach upon seeing the train inch forward and asked him. Immediately the guard removed his walkie-talkie and instructed the loco-driver to stop the train, explaining that a family was to board. We went to the next coach (the penultimate coach when viewed from the loco). We informed the guard that we had no tickets; he immediately mentioned that this be sorted out later and we were beckoned to move on to the next coach.

As cited by a number of our IRFCA friends, we certainly do agree on this one, the railway community is definitely the best!!

The train was then held up for another ten minutes -- I don't know why -- but at least, this proved to be a boon!! I was feeling very bad on two counts. [1] We were travelling ticketless. [2] Due to all of us, the train was stopped on the platform and some inquiry must've been in progress (was this the reason for the longish wait? I thought....)

The train started at 08:20 -- ten minutes behind schedule -- partly due to us. (I was confident however, that it'd make up time and there'd be no problems because I was as aware as all of us, of the buffering in the timings).

When the train started we found that the coach was remarkably empty! That gave me an idea that the journey was going to be fun, 'coz I could keep loitering around the coach and taking photographs from the doors without too much hindrance.

The BG line was running parallel to the MG line to the latter's North, after which the MG line went on further straight while the BG line turned off to the left to head northwards towards Kayankulam Jn.

The first station on the MG line was Killikollur. We were awaiting a crossing here; some passengers (ladies) alighted onto the tracks to proceed to their destinations. (The platform levels on a number of stations on this line were having very low levels -- almost on track level). My guess was that, the crossing train that arrived powered by a Golden Rock green-coloured loco, was the 743 SCT-QLN Passenger.

Then we dragged on, admiring the scenery. Here again, just as on the MAQ-QLN line there were those lovely cottage-type houses on both sides of the track with gardens visible. I'm asking once again -- is this true in the entire Kerala State, and is there any other state in India where there's such a thick population on both sides of the track THROUGHOUT?) Of course, between MAQ and SRR, there have been a few barren stretches but this is in sharp contrast to most of the other lines in the country where there are more stretches between (small) stations and houses only around these stations.

I was informed about the ghat section and it didn't appear for quite a long time, attracting criticism from my brother who came down heavily on me for insisting on this train saying that we should've gone by bus instead of having to delay the train, travel ticketless, etc!! I chose to remain silent until the ghats appeared. Most of the stations were in Kerala and I was wondering when the border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu would appear. This is the first time ever, that I travelled on a MG train in a state other than Tamil Nadu.

Much later came Punalur. We were all very hungry and I figured that I'd have to travel almost the length of the platform to get snacks for our people in the coach; the snack bar was at the other end and the non-vestibuled train had been halting for around one minute all this time at the stations. I was told that SCT was the only major station that we'd encounter next. And the train dragged out, leaving us all hungry. (Luckily a decent vendor came into our coach a little later and we could take a good break). Just then the signboard "Ghat section begins" appeared and I waited with bated breath.

The ghats that followed were simply -- BEAUTIFUL!! I take this opportunity to sincerely thank my friend and fellow-IRFCA member Dr.Vasudev Kamath for almost urging me to include this journey in our tours, particularly for the ghat sections and for saving time, otherwise we wouldn't have known and may well have taken a circuitous route instead. Have taken quite a few photographs of some of the Ghat sections. For your information, and as Vasu suggested before, these ghats appear on your right when you sit facing the locomotive as you head away from QLN, towards SCT. The left side only reveals the wall of the hill on which the line is laid. According to the SR time-table, the ghat section should last around 1 hour and 25 minutes with a distance of around 35km.

Among the ghats, we waited at a station (I think it was Aryankavu) for sometime for another crossing. This was the 6783 Virudunagar-QLN express hauled by yet another green-coloured Golden Rock YDM4. This train leaves Virudunagar at 07:00 and arrives at QLN at 14:15 hrs. Very strange -- as per the time-table this train had 2A, SL and II when it's only a day-train!! (I don't remember noticing the 2A on the train -- it mus've been there -- but I definitely saw the sleeper coaches).

There was another station on the ghats on the opposite side of which was an abandoned stone-built cabin with the letters "1901" clearly inscribed on it. Is this line as old as 1901?

We were still in Kerala and much later, noticed the ghat sections disappearing fast. (Probably we crossed the border at this point). Then came Bhagavathipuram, written in Tamil (apart from Hindi and English of course) for the first time, and we knew that we were in Tamil Nadu. JUST AFTER the train dragged out we saw the signboard "Ghat section ends". Now ths is interesting. That signboard should logically have appeared before Bhagavathipuram arrived just as the corresponding match appeared earlier AFTER we left the platform of Punalur. This reveals yet another intricacy of Indian Railways. One can never ever assume such logic because I feel these IR guys may have gone by the techincal notion of "Ghat Section" rather than by pure logic!!

Meanwhile as SCT was approaching I asked my dad about what to do for the tickets, and he suggested that we were going to do something about it once we alight.

Finally arrived SCT. The train reached there at 11:50 hrs, 20 minutes before it's scheduled time of 12:10. We got down on the platform and had some GREAT stuff (late breakfast) at the station. Meanwhile daddy went to the station master's office to inform about the tickets with my brother, and they later recounted to us what happened there.

I understand that the station master appreciated the fact that we approached them and reported this. As per rules a penalty was to be added to the ticket fare, and the station master was reluctanct on doing this. Instead he gave us the benefit of doubt by charging luggage fares instead of the ticket fare plus penalty and thus we actually got away!! Another example of why the railway community is the best!!

I remember an earlier thread (sometime in August) about Important Stations in Unimportant Towns. I now think SCT is another such example -- the important town is TSI which is 8km ahead. (However, TSI is a Junction Stn while SCT is not). SCT is however important from the point of view that I saw the maintenance crew immediately swinging into action once our train parked, closing the windows and getting set for some routine work, and also those water-tank filling pipes lined opposite the platform. Another green-coloured Golden Rock loco was leaving SCT from a loop line -- possibly for shunting or -- to attach to some train at nearby TSI.

As we were proceeding along the length of the train towards the exit, I noticed a couple of SLEEPER coaches on this 750 passenger train -- the one with those sofas -- note that this train does not have SL on the time-table or even FC (only II class).

Itinerary Report 3: Dhanushkodi

The trip to Dhanushkodi was during our Rameswaram (RMM) visit (which we made to by bus from Kanniyakumari, incidentally, and although this may be outside the scope of our beloved group here, the bus trip is not even worth explaining).

The trip to Dhanushkodi began like this. Dhanushkodi is 27km away from RMM. We hired an autorickshaw that took us for an 18-km stretch on the highly uninhabited road. This road had sand on both sides. Suddenly the ocean appeared on both sides of the road and we understood the part of the map of Tamil Nadu (India) along which we were travelling. The map reveals a rather small, constricted path connecting RMM and Dhanushkodi.

The 18-km road ended at a point beyond which it is not quite motorable. Plain, barren sand. But this time the ocean was visible only to our right -- while heading towards Dhanushkodi. Autorickshaws simply cannot ply for the remaining 9km beyond this point because their rear wheels'd begin rotating relative to the sand, and begin sinking.

Incidentally, for your information, a town bus (on which is labelled "Dhanushkodi") operates between RMM and this point. It's frequency is around 30 minutes.

Well, actually, this point is where the fisherman migrate during this season from Nagercoil (16km before Kanniyakumari). While they're here, they'd drive tourists in those Mahindra tempo vehicles further down to Dhanushkodi. This community has somehow succeeded the local politicians to stop private tourist taxi operators from ferrying passengers to Dhanushkodi, and back to this point, in other vehicles -- depriving them of their livelihood. Anyone wanting to go further from here has to necessarily go via these tempo vehicles. Well, not quite, when the fisherman move on to other places during the off- seasons. In those cases I guess, jeep vehicles from RMM can directly take one there.

More trouble. These tempo vehicles who charge Rs.20 per head, simply refuse to take a small family of four (like ours) so long as they don't get a collection of Rs.400/- per drive (to-and-fro). They agreed to take us only if we'd pay up Rs.100 per head (for four of us, this works out to Rs.400 which satisfies their requirement). We refused, and had to wait in the hot sun for more tourists to get here, and fill into the Mahindra vehicle.

Some of us may be wondering how these vehicles relatively heavier than autorickshaws could ply thru the 9-km sandy stretch without slippage and sinking, if mere mortal autos don't. Well, that comes next.

After a 45-minute long wait, a few more passengers filled into the van and although the number of them did not reach 20, (and we had to therefore pay a little more), we began our slow drive on the sand. The tempo had a wooden plank used as a step by which we'd climb onto it. Well, this step served more than one purpose!!

No sooner did the vehicle pull out and the driver of the vehicle sense some slipping of the wheels, than the cleaner and another assistant deftly pulled out the plank from the rear end of the van. One of these two guys slipped it directly beneath the front wheel of the tempo and allowed that wheel (one side only -- this is sufficient) to roll and move on top of the plank. Immediately after this, the other guy other ensured that the rear wheel crossed the plank, then removed it, and gave it to the first guy to repeat the operation on the front-end wheel of the vehicle.

This happened for around 0.5 -- 1km until the sandy stretch got covered. Thereafter the tempo began accelerating -- albeit slowly -- on the comparatively hard sand, towards Dhanushkodi. This operation did not repeat (until upon return). As we were driving, the coastline on our other side (to our left) began getting visibile and the Old Pamban Railway Bridge now appeared in the horizon. I have a pic on this and will inform us of the web address in a separate posting (wanted to include the pics here and now). Hope the bridge's visible in this pic.

Arrived Dhanushkodi. We were greeted by the erstwhile Railway Quarters of Dhanushkodi. Most of the buildings were made of stone, with broken rooftops. But the walls appeared to be very much intact.

In a few minutes, we stopped at the erstwhile Dhanushkodi Railway Station. I've got quite a lot of pics on these. A platform appeared to our right (when the face of the tempo was pointing towards the tip of Dhanushkodi). My dad and I pored on the platform. At first I thought that this was the platform of the station and a pair of parallel lines was visible on them -- I thought those were the railway tracks. But then we found that these parallel lines were made of concrete -- not metal! Daddy told me that this appeared to be the service shed for those YP's which were berthed there after their journeys from Chennai and other places. We guessed that the parallel lines formed a pit and apparently provided a facility by which those servicemen could get under the YPs for maintenance. Maybe we are wrong. Has someone else gone there recently?

I visited some room-like items on the premises (these looked like station toilets) -- they're filled with stones and broken bricks -- and I could make nothing out.

Another thing that was worth noting there was that tall tank, similar to the 25000-litre one on the eastern side of Thane Station (Central Railway, Mumbai Division). Only the tank wasn't there -- but those supporting pillars and railings were clearly standing out -- apparently intact, after the cyclone. Got a few pics of this tank support, too.

In the backdrop was visible, a Church, a Temple, among other runied houses.

A wonderful sight, indeed! They're all ruined by that devasting cyclone which occurred in 1964 (I don't know when). One single fury of Nature, and it wiped out a full-fledged fishing village -- and that too, containing a railway setup -- in a matter of a few days!! I wonder why Nature chose to destroy a lovely village with a beautiful Railway station, and lots of people there. Maybe God Himself wanted to take a small piece of the golden-hearted Indian Railway Community -- along with many others -- and He chose this place. What must've been the fate of the loco drivers (presumably YPs) who visited there from Trichnopoly (now Tiruchhirapalli), Madras (now Chennai) and other parts of India? What would their families be going through? It seemed to be a very wonderful sight -- had it been alive now -- and I actually felt like crying upon seeing it in ruins. A pity!

My father tells me that during the storm, a train from Saurashtra (now in Gujarat) carrying passengers on the Pamban Bridge connecting Pamban (Jn) and Dhanushkodi was washed away. Strange -- it looks like trains to Dhanushkodi operated from places as remote as Saurashtra. In fact, I thought, unbeliveable! How can an MG train operate on SUCH a LONG route??!! Wonder what the route itself must've been like. Could it have been along the WR line from somewhere in Saurashtra, then Ajmer -- Ratlam -- Indore -- Khandwa (now WR), Khandwa -- Purna -- Secunderabad -- Guntakal -- Pakala -- Katpadi (now SCR) and then Katpadi -- Villupuram -- Tiruchhi -- Manamadurai -- Pamban (Jn) -- Rameswaram Road -- Dhanushkodi (now SR)? Wow!! That's REAL long for an MG train, I must admit! How long must that train have taken?

Unless he actually meant - PASSENGERS from Saurashtra?

John had put up a picture (something like "Boatmail") of the Pamban Bridge in the file pictures section. This and the All-India Station Code Index, suggested that Pamban was earlier a Junction station. My guess is that, one line from Pamban went off to RMM (that's the present line on the very long current Pamban Bridge) while the other line takes off and goes via Rameswaram Road to Dhanushkodi via the ill-fated bridge (the one in the picture).

I also heard that the noted film actor-director, Gemini Ganeshan of South Indian Cinema (Rekha's father) escaped the Boatmail (the one now called 6701 Dn / 6702 Up Express), or something like that around that time.

Well, nothing more after all this. Only that we drove down further to the tip of the Dhanushkodi beach. We were warned not to venture far out for fear of LTTE militants suddenly swimming out onto the shore. (My mother was disallowed from alighting from the tempo by the operating fishermen). We spent a few minutes and then returned to the tempo, after which we started on our way back to the motorable point.

We passed the Dhanushkodi Railway premises (this time we didn't stop), and then through the last soft-sanded lap (where that wooden plank was used again) until we hit the road. Our waiting autorickshaw took us back to RMM.

On our way back, I thought -- it seemed as though the 18-km road was not inhabited for fear that sometime in the future, this stretch too would be under water. I pray that this never happens.

Can someone tell me the station code of Dhanushkodi? I could not find it on the All-India Station Code Index 1995, but definitely found that of Rameswaram Road. It is ROD, and the last two columns indicated that the two stations on either side of the railway map of India are Pamban Jn and Dhanushkodi. ROD is reported now closed to all kinds of traffic. Another station reported is Rameswaram Port (RMMP) but nothing else is reported of this station. Can someone tell me where RMMP is located? (Is it along the ill-fated line?)

Itinerary Report 4: 764 Rameswaram (RMM) — Palghat (PGT) passenger

After the Dhanushkodi visit among a number of other places in Rameswaram, we proceeded to Palani (PLNI) by the 764 RMM -- PGT Passenger. This was a night journey. The train left RMM on time, at 21:50 hrs. Our coach was the eighth coach from the locomotive. The loco was a YDM4 Golden Rock with the green livery that plies on these MG lines. This was quite a long train. But we were aware of the fact that the front half of the train (immediately behind the loco) was going to be detached at Manamadurai Jn (MNM), to proceed to Tiruchhi.

First came the (current) Pamban Bridge. The train slowed down significantly before crossing the bridge. The Pamban bridge was VERY LONG (how many Kilometres must this be?). While the train slowed down further on the middle of the bridge, I could hear waves lashing beneath us and shuddered to think of the 1964 Cyclone. The memory of the Dhanushkodi was still four hours fresh in my mind! At this point the entire long train was right on the Pamban Bridge and I everytime thought -- will this never end and will we never see land again?

Fortunately after almost 7-10 minutes of what seemed to be rather fearsome for me, we reached Pamban (PBM) and there was a halt here. A lot of people got into the train here at the loco end -- most of them were probably heading for Tiruchhi. In the next few minutes I went off to sleep.

At midnight, I got up at around 00:15 hrs to feel the coupling of the front (loco) end of our coach shaking heavily. That's because all the front coaches upto but excluding ours, were detached to be put onto the Tiruchhi train and the loco (probably another) was being coupled immediately ahead of our coach. The coupling was so strong that I felt the vibrations of our coach itself! My eyes were burning however, and I didn't venture alighting down -- mine was the topmost of the three-tier berths on the MG coach and as we all know, we get sort of cramped up upon trying to move on this berth after climbing up or before getting down.

Then at around 02:10 hrs, I woke up again, this time to see Madurai Jn (MDU), and now climbed down to see the station. The station wasn't very crowded given that this was a very important junction and a Southern Railway Division at that!. Interestingly, we were travelling from RMM to PLNI all along the MDU Division only -- no division changeover occurred.

When the train dragged out to proceed towards Dindigul (DG), I could see the broad-gauge line next to me. This is probably one of the fewest MG sections that made NO noise -- apparently they've been well maintained for many years during the reign of the MG, to carry the superfast Vaigai and erstwhile Kudal express trains when the neighbouring BG line was being laid. Any other MG noiseless sections exist? (My guess is, between Villupuram and Tindivanam on the Chennai Division).

Vaigai express now runs on BG and is 2635/2636 between Chennai Egmore (MS) and MDU, while the 2637/2638 Kudal Express used to run between MS and MDU on the MG until 1997; this was subsequently terminated. The start and end times of Kudal were very similar to that of the 2859/2860 Gitanjali Express that runs between Mumbai CST and Howrah. (2637 used to start from MS at 06:00 hrs and reach MDU by 15:15 hrs, while the return 2638 used to start from MDU at 12:30 and return at MS on the same night, at 22:00 hrs). (Incidentally, just to share a personal liking with all of you -- Gitanjali is the name of my computer at the workplace and my home PC is called Kudal)

I was trying hard to wait for Kodaikanal Road (KQN) and our MG line to cross on top of the BG line somewhere here. But the eyes were burning, I had no comfortable position down to crouch around the low-slung window and pore outside, and the TTE kept driving me away from the door ensuring that it is shut. Therefore I could do no more and had to climb up to my berth.

Early next morning, I woke up to see the DG-PGT line and waited for PLNI. Some small stations came through. One of them was called Odanchattiram (ODC) and I learnt later that this was a rather important town. Quite a lot of town buses from PLNI plied to DG and ODC.

Subsequently came PLNI and we had to alight. I took a pic of the YDM4 Golden Rock loco that hauled us, and the driver came from behind me (apparently he went to fetch water), saw me hurriedly putting the camera into my pouch, and gave a smile!

The same afternoon, I was back at PLNI to take a couple of more pics and have a small spotting session. There was a Hindi library next to the ticket booking counters at the main entrance; it appeared locked.

Nothing very eventful during this one, though!! Thanks very much for reading patiently!!

Itinerary Report 5: Sirkazhi

A rather significant portion of this report may be language-specific and would talk about Sirkazhi (SY) as WRITTEN in the Indian Languages of Hindi, Marathi and Tamil. It's quite possible that the relevant pronunciation and script aspects may not be quite understandable to our dear International friends on the IRFCA and I sincerely apologize for the inability in expressing these aspects in writing. God willing, incase I am able to actually meet some of you (either while you're here in India or I'm abroad) and the question comes up, it'd be easier for me to explain verbally because the pronunciations could then easily stand out.

However I can try to spell the pronunciation aspects out into an audio clipping, and associate these with scanned copies of the script aspects (handwritten by me) of the station names of SY in these Indian languages, to make the case clear to everyone. I'll inform you in a later posting when this is done though I'm not quite sure how to do this.

Now, before talking about the Chidambaram (CDM) -- Vaithiswarankoil (VDL) trip, I forgot to inform something interesting about the earlier report (Palani), about the Winch Station.

The famous Palani Temple is situated above a hill; to visit the temple one climbs around 900-odd steps. An alternative to the strenuous climbing of these steps is to take a trolley bus that operates on a pair of rails, hauled by a guy rope. Atop the hill, the rope winds itself onto a motor-operated winch. Incidentally, this is NOT a single-line. I took many photographs of this one; they'll be scanned and posted with the Dhanushkodi photographs once the electronic albums get ready.

I noticed three tracks and -- I remember -- two platforms for passenger traffic. The third track -- I remember -- merges with the second track as soon as we are out of the winch station and begin the ascent. On this third track are a pair of goods wagons -- they're apparently made of wood -- that haul supplies to the temple.

Now for the SR (Tiruchirapalli -- TPJ -- Division) CDM -- VDL mini-trip.

I call this a mini-trip because this one was a 24-km train trip, somewhat similar to the Mumbai CST -- Kanjurmarg local train trip on CR, Mumbai Division. VDL is 13km before Mayiladuturai Jn. (MV) (or Mayavaram, as some would like to call it).

Actually we waited at CDM platform for quite some time. A goods train was arriving from the Villupuram (VM) end and the announcement was made that our train, the Villupuram (VM) -- Thanjavur (TJ) passenger, was waiting at Kille (KII) which was 5km before CDM. The goods train was hauled by a Golden Rock YDG4 loco (I think it was YDG and not YDM -- never quite heard of YDG's) and was picking up speed as it passed CDM on the opposite platform. We were still waiting.

Now this wait was because another train was approaching CDM in the direction opposite to our intended direction of travel (i.e. towards Chennai). I think this was the TJ -- VM Passenger. This train finally arrived, very strangely, on a third platform CDM far away from the main two, and was parked there for some time. It did not start because our train was now crossing KII to reach us at CDM; this finally arrived around 45 minutes late! As I noticed, both trains were remarkably empty.

A lot of high school and college students were boarding our train at CDM, probably to go to the nearest colleges around MV, I guess. My dad tells me that earlier, Annamalai University at CDM -- a premier Institution -- have now stopped offering the three-year Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) courses, it seems, due to a variety of political problems. I don't really know how far this is true. And due to this, students are made to go to other institutions in neighboring towns for their studies along this (B.Sc.) and other related paths.

The two trains have been noticed empty because I felt, most people in these parts preferred to travel to nearby places by bus. One of the very important places is Sirkazhi (SY), apart from MV of course. Also trains are rather sparse around the daytime. I thought it's a little better these days because some more trains now take this route since the VM-TPJ chord line is broad-gauge. An example is the Sethu Express (Tambaram -- Rameswaram). Then we used to have the Chennai Egmore -- Madurai train called the Mahal Express running on the chord line until around October 1997 when I noticed it; next, I saw it once on the main line in July 1998 -- obviously rerouted after conversion -- and nowadays, this train is not visible even in the SR time-table!.

We got into our passenger train and it dragged out in a few minutes. The train was going at a good speed. I do feel very strange why people go by those silly buses. Trains are much cuter, I thought. Nothing much happened during the journey. A few small stations passed and the passenger train stopped at each of these for around a minute, as usual. The most important event for me was to occur at SY, around 20km from CDM, before our alighting stop at In February 2000, I was travelling on this route by the 6701 Up Chennai Egmore -- Rameswaram Express (the one that used to be called the Boat Mail). CDM came at around 01:15 hrs midnight, on time. Then at around 02:00, I woke up with a start to see the glaring lights atop the name of SY -- Sirkazhi thru my middle-berth window. In particular, I was absolutely amazed with the manner in which the "zhi" was simulated in Hindi.

You see, since there's no letter directly available in Hindi for the "zhi", most of the time they'd simulate the "zhi" as a "li" in Hindi. (They used to do this in English too and SY used to be written on the maps as "Sirkali" -- but -- no longer.) At this station I saw something unique instead. Most of you are not going to believe this -- but although I just woke up from my sleep -- I suddenly became alert upon seeing this one.

They put a dot under the "shi" to make it "zhi"!!

(The "shi" here was not of the "sha" that had the shape of the number "2" -- it was of the big "sha", with the principal diagonal from left to right across the y-shaped "pa". The dot was put under this "shi").

That I thought, was the absolutely correct way to represent "zhi" in Hindi, and wanted to photograph it this time, while encountering SY and demonstrate to all of us on IRFCA as to how Indian Railways beautifully educates us on pronouncing "zhi" in Hindi by appropriately reading the letter!! I was waiting with bated breath upon learning that SY was approaching us, to see what the station name in Hindi on the platform / entrance-exit signboard was going to look like this time. The camera was out. I was standing right on the coach entrance with the flash positioned and the flash indicator ON as the SY platform approached. And much to my dismay, this one happened.

They removed the dotted "shi" from the Hindi name and replaced with the "lli"!!

(The one often represented in Marathi and Hindi with the horizontal eight -- or partly, the Mathematical symbol representing "infinity" from an International standpoint -- and available in Tamil).

I was shocked -- simply shocked -- to see why these guys changed that letter. Don't quite know who initiated them into changing like that!! At Least, I thought it was a very good way of reading Tamil pronounciations not directly available in Hindi or other Indian languages but being simulated for other folks to be able to learn how to pronounce such letters -- i.e. from an educational standpoint. I thought, get lost, and did not photograph this yet another mundane, routine-looking interpretation of "zhi". I still hoped that the one at the main entrance-exit of SY (which I actually saw last time at midnight) would've not been changed (who'd climb all the way up? -- I thought). But the paint was clearly removed and replaced; the marks easily stood out. Sadly I closed the flash of the camera and put it into its pouch as I got back into the coach, and did not do anything else.

Another interesting point on the distance. SY by train appears to be way shorter than by bus which takes lots of zig-zag paths between CDM and SY. The railway line looked straighter and much shorter. Those high school and college students were even more sensible in going by train than those local folks going by bus from CDM to SY by that zig- zag route, I thought!!

In my next report on Sunday, I'll discuss the visit to Tarangambadi (Tranquebar) and the Chidambaram -- Tirupati night trip.

Thanks for the very patient reading as usual.

Itinerary Report 6: Tarangambadi (TQB) and Chidambaram (CDM) — Tirupati (TPTY)

While going to Thanjavur (TJ) earlier on by bus from CDM, we crossed the railway bridge overlooking Mayladuturai (Mayuram -- MV) and while heading towards TJ, I looked to my left to see the two MG lines beautifully turning away from each other. The left line was turning towards Nagore (NCR) via Nagapattinam (NGT) while the right line was turning to run along with us -- along the road.

My dad told me -- I don't know how far this is true -- that a third line directly shoots off from MV and heads towards Tarangambadi (TQB).

Earlier TQB used to be a Dutch colony and was being called Tranquebar (hence the station code TQB). Similarly, for your information, Parangipettai (eight Kilometers before CDM while approaching from Chennai) has the station code PO; this was a Dutch colony and was called Porto Novo (hence the station code PO). My dad also mentioned that the TQB railway station was closed for traffic. We were to visit TQB by bus from CDM by taking the NGT bus. I was extremely curious to see the now-closed TQB station and study the MG line there -- probably with the help of the natives around.

The bus went along the zig-zag CDM -- TJ -- Tiruchi (TPJ) state road up to Sirkazhi (SY) (in the earlier report I mentioned that going from CDM to SY by train may have been faster). Then it turned off the proceeded to a village called Karvi. For your information, a small 12-km-long road takes off from Karvi and heads off straight to Poompuhar beach (where we went later).

From Karvi the bus proceeded further towards NGT and I didn't quite notice that SUDDENLY we were on the NATIONAL Highway (NH-45A). Didn't quite know from where it came and our road suddenly ended up there. I think this is the highway connecting Pondicherry (PDY) and NGT. Then came TQB and we alighted.

It was so hot during that noon that we went to a nearby vegetable stall for some cool drinks. My brother and I thrived on the popularly- prevailing Nannari Sherbat (they put barley in that ice-cold juice). The vendor was very resourceful and I could notice a certain amount of enterprising charm and extremely good organizational capability in this guy. Also, he was very good in what he was doing -- the vegetable stock at this place was always maintained in top condition from what I could notice. And he was very charming to us customers.

It was at this point that we enquired about TQB station and how to get there, so that I could take some pics. Much to my dismay this guy said that the station was not only closed and locked up since around 1990, but that the station itself was dismantled!! I couldn't simply believe it!! Because, it's an enormous cost to dismantle such an old station and move such heavy materials like rails, etc to be scrapped.

You must've also noticed that after trains derail and rail sleepers break in accidents, and after the track is restored, whenever we pass such places during susbsequent journeys, some of the carriages are kept strewn alongside and even rail wheels (with axles) are just not lifted until after several months or even years!!. Is it because of a similar reasoning? Such as the high cost incurred to lift and move scrap? These heavy items may be jewellery for scrap merchants, I thought!!

Nothing much happened subsequently at TQB and after a good amount of sight-seeing we visited Poompuhar beach (via Karvi village) and then returned to CDM.

Now the CDM -- TPTY trip. For your information, and as most of us are aware, this is the 6801/6802 MG train that used to operate between TPTY and Madurai and used to be called the Meenakshi Express. Then in around 1997 they cut the route and since then, it operates between TPTY and TPJ.

The train was scheduled to arrive at CDM at 18:13 for a two-minute halt; it arrived at CDM around 27 minutes late hauled by a YDM2 green- coloured Golden Rock loco. We had no problems locating the coach -- in fact, this was right around the place where we stood on the platform. It finally left CDM at 18:50 hrs. The scheduled route was: CDM -- Cuddalore Port (CUP) -- Tiruppadiripuliyur (also called Cuddalore New Town or Cuddalore NT -- CUD) -- Villupuram Jn. (VM) -- Vellore Town (VT) -- Katpadi Jn. (KPD) -- Chitoor (CTO) -- TPTY.

In fact, the VM -- KPD line whose photographs were beautifully described recently. (Refer: Ode to the lonely gatekeeper.)

There was a small stop at Kille (KII -- 5km from CDM) due to a crossing. Couldn't quite see clearly in that darkness. Thereafter the train was going at amazing speed on that MG line between CDM and CUP. I was quite amazed to see the token pickup at this good speed in the darkness, with the pointsman down there holding a flaming torch. Actually I didn't quite know who this guy with the torch was; my dad informed me this.

Then we placed our food with the uniformed SR attendant. There was no pantry car in this train; in fact I don't have an idea of ANY metre- gauge train that is vestibuled and/or that has a pantry car. This guy informed NINE items that were to be available in the dinner-tray. I thought -- he must've vaguely sputtered off some food items, and all of these would not be available.

In came VM and the BG lines from Vriddachalam Jn. were to our right (when we faced the loco). Dinner promptly arrived in those usual lovely plastic trays with that pinkish-white colour and that tightish protective plastic cover sheet. We were amazed that ALL food items muttered off by the attendant earlier, were indeed present!! Not only that -- the food was SIMPLY EXCELLENT!! This was a very, very satisfying dinner and I thought it could have easily laughed off the other lunches I had during the last several years, particularly in the 2859 Gitanjali Express at Bhusaval (BSL) (first day) and Tatanagar (TATA) (second day), and the 2860 Gitanjali Express at Akola (AK) (second day) in those casseroles!!

The train was already around 40 minutes late when it took off from VM and we immediately went off to sleep. Next day, when I was least expecting this, I was woken up with a start by my fellow-passengers.

TPTY arrived 25 minutes BEFORE TIME!!!!

Itinerary report 7: Chennai (MAS) -Howrah (HWH) by the Coromandel Express.

It's been a very long time (around five days) since I gave my last report (on CDM-TPTY). I've been extremely busy for these days and could not even have much time to check out our postings!! More news I'll inform a little later.

As the itinerary approached towards the end for the other members of my family, they had to return to Mumbai by the 1064 up Chennai -- Dadar (DR) express. And on the same day I was to leave for HWH by the 2841 Coromandel Express. 1064 was leaving for DR at 06:50 hrs. We came to the platform at 06:20 hrs and I helped the family into the train with our luggage. I had not sufficient time to go ahead to spot the locomotive.

You see, I had expected that it would've been the Arakkonam (AJJ) WAP-4 loco which I remember hauled earlier 1064 trains (in around 1997 and 1998, in which I had travelled before) up to Renigunta Jn (RU). I still remember while waiting thru midnight at MAS on Feb 8,2000 (last year) for the 1064 to come up to the platform when I saw at 05:20 hrs the Mumbai-MAS Mail arriving onto a platform being powered by a WAM-4 Itarsi (ET) loco (I don't remember this -- I think it was Jhansi -- JHS. Does ET have an electric loco shed in addition to the diesel shed also?) Very unusual seeing an ET (possibly JHS) loco hauling a train from RU to MAS!! Usually it's AJJ locos I thought!! Nothing unusual however happened this time.

I thought, WAM-4's also do haul the 1064, and I could not go ahead to check out which one it'd be this time. The train dragged out perfectly on time -- 06:50 hrs. And I was back on the platform while watching it going with my family, heading to DR.

After that I was left to myself and thought I would've had to roam around do some train spottings there, until 09:05 hrs when the 2841 was to take off with me inside it. Well, not quite.

I sincerely thank Mr.Krishnan, our fellow-IRFCA member from Chennai, for having come all the way to MAS so early in the morning from a somewhat distant location, to see me and spend those enjoyable two hours with me as we walked around the station exchanging our interests. It was unfortunate that I could not meet our other fellow- IRFCA friends, notably Mr.Subbu -- he had sent a posting passing on his contact info -- but I was only able to check e-mails the day earlier and not a single posting. However I think I'm going to be very lucky this time in the first two weeks of April and will not miss out -- ANY fellow-IRFCA friend at Chennai -- I think.

We exchanged a lot of ideas -- and also saw a number of SR trains -- Particularly the Kovai Express, the 2639 Brindavan Express, Yellagiri Express, Trivandrum -- HWH Express, Circar Express (the one arriving from Kakinada Port -- COA -- wow!! What a station code!! Similar to Cuddapah -- HX -- and also on SCR), and finally, the Charminar Express (arriving from Hyderabad Dn. -- HYB) (am I right, Mr.Krishnan, about these trains that we had seen?). A number of WAP-4 locos -- Lallaguda (LGD) (SCR) were also seen around.

Finally we made it to my train -- 2841. Most of the waiting time was spent around the locomotive that was to haul this train on the electrified MAS -- Vishakapatnam (VSKP) line. The loco was a WAP-4 22201 LGD and the personnel were doing those checks. (I must admit that 22201 was a very interesting number -- a perfect square of the number 149!!). No way I was going to photograph in these parts!! Might be asked by nosy personnel. (Of course, they're justified).

The train took off at 09:05 hrs on the dot. I bid goodbye to Mr.Krishnan and came to my seat. Was waiting with bated breath for Basin Bridge Jn (BBQ) to see us taking off from the AJJ line, and along the coastline. Didn't notice anything special around subsequently.

At Ongole (OGL), the first halt for this train, lunch was served. I noticed the uniform worn by the pantry-bearers. In the first of my itinerary postings, mention was made by me that the South Eastern Railway pantry-men I encountered in earlier trips in the Gitanjali Express had those grey uniforms. And Central Rly pantry-men I noticed in earlier 1064 trains had the attractive and neat-looking red-and-black uniform; the Southern Rly guys on the 2618 NZM-ERS Mangala-Lakshadweep Express were in dark brown attire.

In this train however, the attendant who took our menus had red-and- black uniform, breaking the Zonal Railway -- Pantry Car Uniform hype that I constructed earlier. He was an old guy, with that innocent behavious and I liked him.

While waiting at OGL an oldish beggar walking rather briskly, approached me and muttered something in the local language, and I didn't have much change -- save the 20-paise coin which I wanted to use up anyway -- and I gave that to her. Instantly, she took the coin and flung it right on the track on which my train was parked!! And gave me one look while walking on, as I sheepishly battered myself into the coach! These people DO have sense of the value of the money they're getting, or so I thought!!

The train dragged out, and the next halt was at Vijaywada (BZA). I must admit that this station was simply fantastic!! Quite a lot of amenities were available here. It was a very hot afternoon, and the time was around 16:05 hrs. One very interesting stall right outside my coach was the fruit-juice stall which gave different kinds of fruit-juice at amazing speed. They charged ten rupees per glass and I took one instantly. You see, unlike most other stations where they'd charge something like Rs.3.50, or Rs.5, for those small cups of juice, and we'd first have to scrounge around in our wallets looking for coins and change -- here, they smartly increased the size of the cups, and provided a cost of a round-figure of Rs.10 which most of us have and did not have to look for change!! Add to this the timing -- very hot afternoon and increase in the size of the cups! And also to mention, the juice was very tasty. I thought that these were some of the reasons why the business in this stall was so brisk. These smart guys will do really well, I feel.

The train took off from BZA and this time I failed to notice the two tracks taking off to Kazipet (KZJ) as we were progressing towards the VSKP line. However one strange thing happened. Our train was on the WRONG track for a full SIX Kilometres until just before Gunadala (GALA) after we switched onto the right track (the down track). This reminds me of the last track on Platform 7 at Kalyan Jn. (KYN) on CR (Mumbai Division). Suppose some train were to arrive on this platform 7 from Mumbai, and wanted to proceed towards Pune. It would subsequently continue going on the wrong track until half a kilometre, up to the point where Vithalwadi (VLDI) would be barely visible when it would switch on to the right track and then pass VLDI. (However in the case of KYN this is the only way out from Platform 7 as we go away from Mumbai, while in the BZA case, there must've been some track repairs or some other work otherwise my train would perhaps have crossed earlier).

Then came Rajahmundry (RJY) late in the evening and subsequently, Vishakapatnam (VSKP) at around 22:15, when the WAP-4 loco had to change. I was asleep and was just awake to see the train dragging out IN THE REVERSE DIRECTION, towards Howrah. Eyes were burning and I couldn't quite see the earlier line from where we came into VSKP. Subsequently I came to know that the changed loco was a WDM KGP loco.

Next day in the morning, the train, which was already one hour late, was pulled into Balasore (BLS) (or Baleswar as some would call it). And it was held up for a very long time because I learned that some strike was on and trains were stopped. Next to our train the HYB-HWH East Coast Express arrived and parked. Our train finally dragged out after a one-and-a-half hour halt at BLS.

Kharagpur (KGP) subsequently arrived at 13:10 hrs and lunch was provided there. While waiting, I saw the 2859 Mumbai -- HWH Gitanjali Express pull in onto the opposite platform at 13:15 hrs and it was right on time. As I suspected they dragged that train out before ours, and I sincerely wished that I changed over from 2841 to get into that train -- but finally decided against it. We finally dragged out and when we reached HWH, it was 15:00 hrs -- around 1 hr, 45 minutes late.

After alighting on the platform and proceeding towards the exit, I saw the loco of 2841 and this time it was a WAM-4 (6P combination) High-Speed Tatanagar (TATA) loco.They apparently changed the WDM KGP loco during our wait at KGP. These TATA locos used to haul the 8001/8002 Mumbai-HWH-Mumbai mail and the Gitanjali Express trains. From around July 1999 till date, the WAP-4 Santragachi (SRC) loco hauls the Gitanjali Express; I don't know the current loco status on the 8001/8002 trains. Could a fellow-IRFCA friend from Calcutta inform this?

Thanks for the patient reading, as usual.

In my next report, I'm going to discuss the last trip on my itinerary, viz. my favourite 2860 Up HWH-Mumbai Gitanjali Express.

Itinerary Report 8, part I: HWH-DR trip by Gitanjali Exp

Back I am, again, and this time I want to share some of my experiences with you while moving in and around Calcutta by train.

While at Calcutta I was camping at Lake Market (nearest railway station is Ballygunge [BLN] and nearest Metro railway station is Kalighat). I was scheduled to visit my Institute -- the Indian Statistical Institute on Barrackpore Trunk Road (B.T Road; nearest railway station was-is Baranagar Road [BARN] overlooking the B.T Road) and suddenly got the news that my professor there rescheduled his meet with me the next day -- and that indicated that the rest of the day in question was free. I decided to satisfy my curiosity this trip.

You see, for the last several years I've been to Calcutta at least once each year. I wanted to explore the terrain, particularly the railway lines connecting India and Bangladesh. More specifically, I wanted to move around the Sealdah (SDAH) -- Bangaon Jn. (BNJ) line. After having read recent reports of our fellow-IRFCA members Mrinal and Jishnu, amongst others, particularly about the exchange programmes of Railway Goods Wagons between India and Bangladesh, I wanted to actually see some of the goods wagons trying to snake through the border beyond BNJ. That's why I undertook this trip. To proceed to SDAH, I first went to BLN by tram.

I purchased a local train ticket at BLN and took a rather crowded train that morning, to get to SDAH South. The place outside the station is under renovation -- I guess a subway is under construction. Upon getting directly to the platform of the main SDAH station, I was pleasantly surprised to see the Rajdhani Express from New Delhi [NDLS] parked on the platform of SDAH. I guess, this train now operates between SDAH and NDLS for some days and between Howrah [HWH] and NDLS on the others. Can someone inform me, does this Rajdhani halt at Dakhineshwar [DAKE}?

Subsequently I saw the Lalgola (LGL) passenger arriving at SDAH, and many people were alighting. Guess this train was quite crowded.

Then I went to the local counter to purchase a ticket for BNJ, and boarded a local train for the same. The announcement was made and the loudspeakers weren't clear; I asked someone in the train and the guy said: "Ponga" -- and I could not figure out the pronunciation clearly and had to alight. But then I moved a few coaches and once again got into the train. Wouldn't want to risk missing it. Who knows -- the trains didn't look to be quite frequent given the crowd, and I might end up catching another one after quite sometime. Once again, I asked someone this guy said: "Ponga" -- I didn't know what to do!! This time I decided to take a calculated risk and wait in the coach, and get moving. Maybe I'd be in the right direction -- otherwise I might get out a station after Barasat Jn. (BT).

The train did take off. At Dum Dum Jn. (DDJ), there was no dilly- dallying and the train immediately turned off to the right instead of going parallel to the tracks for sometime (as is often the case with branch lines). I enjoyed this part of the ride. We went through Dum Dum Cantonment (DDC), and a few other stations. Birati (BBT) is one popular suburb. Then 24km later (from SDAH), arrived BT after which the second of the double line (the one to my right as I was facing BNJ) took off towards Hasnabad (HNB) and disappeared behind the EMU carshed (much similar to the Kolhapur line after Pune Jn. disappearing behind the CR Pune Diesel Loco Shed). Then I knew that my train was indeed heading to BNJ.

We went through a number of beautiful, lush green fields. Among the stations there were a number of popular looking ones -- I thought popular because of the good number of houses and transportation around these. The suburbs looked very rich and none of them were isolated, village-like. This is indeed very interesting given that these parts are close to the Indo-Bangladesh border and surround the Calcutta Metropolis. Between suburbs, there were beautiful, lush green carpet-like grass stretches on both sides of the single electrified line. Also, these parts are very rich in water. I wonder what crops are grown in these parts. Terrific sight!!

We passed a rather important town -- Habra (HB) -- and after sometime -- Thakurnagar (TKNR). Finally arrived BNJ, 78km from SDAH. Just before BNJ station, the Ranaghat (RHA) -- BNJ line approached us from my left (facing BNJ). Actually it was that line that was straight -- OUR line took a crazy right turn before joining the RHA line as BNJ was approaching.

The BNJ -- RHA passenger was on the main platform and it dragged out just after I reached BNJ. Then, our local also took off to SDAH, leaving me and a few others at BNJ. I decided to catch the next local to return to SDAH to do a few more sightseeings there.

While at BNJ, I saw a few things. On the station wall, a black- coloured plate was mounted with the inscription "Govt. of India" in white paint. Also in white paint was the "X" overstriking this inscription badly damaging it -- obviously done by miscreants (could they have been Anti-India nationals from the other side of the border or something, I thought).

BNJ was written as "Bongaon Jn." on the station board. That explained why the local people at SDAH were trying to tell "Ponga" -- I didn't hear well!!

The town of BNJ looked very deserted. I don't understand this -- most of the other towns were well-populated with people around, plenty of MOVING autorickshaws and in general -- the towns were buzzing with activity. But BNJ looked to be ONE sleepy town, given that this was a terminus for local trains. A number of autorickshaws were seen parked outside the station, waiting to take passengers. NO movement!! It looked that the town was having a siesta during that hot afternoon.

A goods train was parked on a loop line. No WDG loco was visible heading this train. I thought, this train was Destination Dhaka or something -- it should be taking off and heading to Petra Pole -- and then as our fellow-IRFCA member wrote some months ago -- Bena Pole? -- Dhaka? Or it must've just come from Dhaka. I wished that this goods exchange programme was shown LIVE in action around BNJ. But much to my dismay, there was absolutely NOTHING!! Could this be occurring at the Gede (GEDE) line? Also, what about the 4-km BNJ -- Petra Pole link -- is it electrified? Do wagon exchanges here take place at midnights (to stop intruders from sneaking to / from Bangladesh)? I'm anxious. Wish some of our friends could inform these.

An International bus service plies between Calcutta and Dhaka. It takes off on the 83-km Calcutta -- Petra Pole road. Does this road run parallel to the railway line? I don't think so because I could see no such main road along either side of the railway line. Does this road exist ANYWHERE near BNJ? This also, I don't think so. Can some of our friends inform these?

I took a photograph of the small town of BNJ from the overbridge. Was terribly scared snapping the parked goods train and finally -- mustered courage and took one from the overbridge and another from the SDAH end of the platform -- after ensuring that no railway official was in sight. Wouldn't want to be caught taking snaps around the International border that's just about 4km away!! This film reel is to be given for development (not yet exhausted). As soon as I scan, I'd post a few of these shots of BNJ along with a few others.

As I was sadly wandering on the platform during the hot afternoon, the RHA -- BNJ passenger arrived on the main platform of BNJ. Meanwhile I thought of upgrading my return journey ticket to a first class but the station master informed that there was no first class in these local trains. Then another local train came in from SDAH and I got into it. Finally after around 2 hours, I alighted at DDJ to proceed to other places.

Most of the other places I made to were by train. First, DDJ -- Bally Ghat (BLYG) to visit the Belur Math, and back to DDJ, then the Metro Line from DDJ to Kalighat to return home that night. On the way from BLYG to DDJ that night while our train was waiting at BARN, a passenger train with a WAP-4 was hurtling on the platform at full speed in the opposite direction. I think, this was some night North- bound train, as I was watching this train going past us at full speed and then onto the overbridge, overlooking the B.T.Road. This was the first time in years that I saw a high-speed train going right above a contrasting (not unusally) traffic-congested B.T Road. (Rarely do trains go on this overbridge at full speed, I thought. I lived in the area for two years, between 1995 and 1997 while at my Institute).

For your information, as soon as you leave DDJ northwards on the double line to head towards BARN (on the overbridge), there are THREE lines to the left heading towards Barrackpore (BP) and beyond, and one would see a fourth line to the right of the BARN double line (facing north) returning from BP. Thus there are actually four lines between DDJ and BP.

A fifth line appears from underground to the right. This line is the metro line, and it travels with us for a few moments (but away from us). And this line unfolds itself into the Metro Railway Workshop (or shed, I think) at Dum Dum (North) that is visible far away. I've taken a couple of snaps of this one and will get it uploaded once blown up.

Actually the metro Dum Dum station is on level with our platform (i.e. not underground) and this metro line is to our left (double line). These travel with us for a few minutes (as we progress straight from DDJ instead of turning towards BT) and then they go underground (I think they merge into one before that). Then the metro line crosses our line below, and re-surfaces to our right as the fifth line (mentioned in the earlier paragraph).

During the next day, I visited my Institute by metro from Kalighat to Dum Dum (and then by bus), and went to Bidhan Nagar Road (BNXR) the same evening by a train from BARN, enroute to the nearby Salt Lake.

Now for the Gitanjali Express.

Most of my friends (and a few of the IRFCA gang) know why the 2859 / 2860 Gitanjali Express is my die-hard favourite train with all it's aspects. It's so for a variety of reasons -- one of them being historical and the other, with the way the train has been looking after me for the last five years when I've been travelling between Mumbai and Howrah. Maybe I'll keep posting these when we all discuss other threads. But yes, this planned journey back home from HWH was yet no ordinary journey.

I reached HWH at leisure (12:00 hrs) to find that this train had already arrived. But the doors were not opened; this'd be done shortly. The train had a number of the usual, standard dark-and-light blue livery coaches EXCEPT ONE which was brown, and that happened to be my coach!! (I think another coach was also brown but this one was unreserved).

The train had a WAP-4 22254 SRC (Santragachi, South Eastern Railway) loco. This was a beautiful red-and-yellow coloured loco with a small humming noise. As usual, the personnel were checking the lights, etc. on the loco.

About food on this train, the usual procedure is that there's only one dinner on the first night at Rourkela (ROU) and the lunch on the second day at noon at Akola (AK). None of these items were being prepared in the pantry car; they're picked up at the respective stations. No lunch is served on the first day. However, some of those uniformed vendors came in with biryani preparations and I took one. Much to my dismay this one was not well-cooked, however.

The train took from HWH off at 12:40 hrs on the dot. I waited for a few minutes before the brown wall appeared to my right (facing the loco), with the South Eastern Railway on one side of the wall and the rest of the Eastern Railway on the other side.

We passed Tikiapara (TPKR) as we were gradually picking up speed. For your information, TPKR is the last station on the SER, Kharagpur Division. HWH is excluded from SER (and included in ER as a Division). However, SER has it's headquarters at Garden Reach Road in Calcutta. This is very interesting. I don't know of any other zonal railway in India with it's HQ detached from the point where the relavant trains take off. (Guwahati [GHY] may be a noteworthy exception because the NFR HQ is at Maligaon, elsewhere in the city and not around GHY station). Can we think of any other zonal railway having this feature?

SER also has a couple of reservation counters, one main complex on Strand Road and the other, at Rabindra Sadan. (These are evident from the reservation forms supplied at these places.) I think, all the other counters on the Calcutta side, and the ones at HWH are of ER.

Finally, SER is the only railway in India which owns two tourist hotels. These are popularly called the BNR hotels (Bengal-Nagpur Railway), now also called SER hotels, and are situated at Ranchi (RNC) and Puri (PURI). We must have discussed this in some earlier thread.

Back to my journey. As we were approaching SRC, 8km away from HWH, we were joined by the Shalimar (SHM) line. I couldn't see the state of this line -- is it electrified completely right now?

We were hurtling past Uluberia (ULB), 33km away from HWH, and I think, one of the last stations of Howrah district before we get out to Midnapore district. The rest was routine except at Panskura Jn. (PKU), 71km from HWH when the Haldia (HLZ) line joined us before the station approached.

Subsequently, Kharagpur Jn. (KGP) arrived six minutes (at 14:22) before time and we had to therefore wait for eight minutes before dragging out.

As soon as KGP left and we went along with the third, DOWN line (only, note -- not the up line) to Chennai, this down line turned off to my left (facing the loco) towards Hijli (HIJ) to meet it's up-line while we could see HIJ from the overbridge. The up-line from Chennai approached us from below the overbridge and immediately came to our right, took a full circle along with us (and a number of other goods lines) until it turned away further to head for KGP to meet the down- line there while we forged ahead towards Nimpura Yard and Kalaikunda (KKQ). I cannot explain this part any further because in all honesty, some of us feel that this is one of the most complicated track networks and we need to do a full exploration and come up with a diagram of the distribution of these tracks. The exploration would consists of a full 11-km walk from KGP to KKQ via the Nimpura Yard and back to KGP along the up-line from Chennai.

The journey between HWH and KGP was full of greenery. In sharp contrast, as soon as we were leaving off the Chennai line and approaching Nimpura Yard, I saw the green colours disappearing fast and the soil around us suddenly turning towards reddish brown. Very interesting, I must admit!!

Then we started playing cat-and-mouse game with (I guess) the National Highway No.6 (Howrah -- Dhule Highway) until it disappeared from our sight and we were hurtling towards Sardiha (SUA). During these parts of the journey we subsequently encountered an alternating sequence of bushes and empty land a number of times. Then we slowed down past Gidhni (GII -- around 180km) and in a few minutes, were out of West Bengal, into Bihar.

Ghatsila (GTS) is one of the scenic and tourist spots in Bihar, for your information. At this point, the twon was quite visible along the railway line (somewhat like in Kerala, to some extent) and the soil was a bit of reddish brown. Beautiful!! Subsequently, Tatanagar (TATA) arrived right on time (16:45) for a seven-minute halt. That's one place where I went to visit the loco, and it was still giving out that humming sound inspite of all the heavy 250-km long work so far. The famous Indian companies of TISCO and TELCO were all visible to our right (facing the loco).

The train dragged out of TATA on time to head towards Chakradharpur (CKP), a Division of SER. On the way, we passed Gamhria Jn. (GMH) after which the line towards Hatia (HTE) and RNC took off. Subsequently we passed the line approaching us from RNC -- HTE at Sini Jn. (SINI). In fact, I remember our earlier thread on "Important Stations in Unimportant Towns" in which I mentioned a counter-thought on "Unimportant Towns with Jn Stns", citing GMH and SINI as some examples.

Nothing special happened as dusk approached. Only that earlier this train did not halt at CKP and it does, nowadays. (I still remember my Oct 18,1996 Friday trip when the train slowed down at CKP, then the loco hooted and as I waited with bated breath, we went past the station without a halt!!) I noticed a Railway Magistrate's Court on the main platform. Does every such division of a Zonal railway have such a Railway Magistrate's Court?

We passed Lotapahar (LPH) and Sonua (SWR) and subsequently approached the ghat sections. Our ascent began in the darkness when Goilkera (GOL) passed. Mahadevsal was one odd-looking station around which our up-track was going at a level higher than the down-track; the latter actually went through a longish tunnel.

As soon as we began our descent, the train approached Manoharpur (MOU) and after crossing this station, began hurtling at full speed. Subsequently we were out of Bihar,entered Orissa and were going at full speed for the remaining 40km. When Bisra (BZRA) passed, we could see the RNC line crossing above us and then approaching us from our left (facing the loco). Then the goods yard and the Bondamunda (BNDM) diesel loco shed passed and ROU arrived right on time. By this time we were 415km away from HWH, and dinner was picked up from the station.

After having all that lovely food in other parts of the country, particularly in those plastic beautiful trays with rather deep slots and that tightish plastic covering, I was saddened to see that nothing much has changed here. The food is still being provided in those aluminium casseroles with the gravy dripping from the sides; these casseroles tend to squeeze under the weight of the food!!

The train began it's journey towards Jharsuguda Jn. (JSG). As it is I felt that we were on a high level and the speed was not that good. Some of the important stations on this belt (we did not halt here) were Garposh (GPH) and Bamra (BMB) after which there was heavy storm. It rained heavily and the train pulled the brakes; the speed must have been about 15km per hour at this point. It was dark. I could feel the wind banging hard on our walls and the rain water pricking the window panes like needles. Then approached the Larsen and Toubro Cement factory (Jharsuguda Works) and just at this point, as I opened my window and looked outside, I saw a very heavy spark (like a minor fire) at the loco end and thought that the loco caught fire. The brakes were immediately applied and the train was brought to an abrupt halt with half of it outside Dhutra (DTV) station. We waited here for 10 minutes before we crawled for the remaining 7km to reach JSG. It was 21:25 hrs, and the train was about 20 minutes late.

At this point, I alighted onto the JSG platform and saw that our reservation chart pasted on the coach at HWH, was completely washed away and hanging on the toilet window grills like a piece of cloth!! It was just a small piece of pulp that the storm reduced the chart to!!

Then something went wrong.

As I was standing on the platform, the signal turned yellow with the top four (or five) yellow lights lit rightwards, indicating track changeover. The train inched forward as I hurried into the coach.

And the train stopped!

And the signal turned back to red. We were subsequently stationary for a long period of time. Finally when we moved out of JSG, it was around 22:30 hrs (we left JSG 1 hr, 20 minutes late!!).

Then I crawled up to my berth and dozed off. I was fed-up with the delay and did not see anything else, like Ib (IB), the overbridge immediately following IB (I think we crossed the Hirakud river), Brajrajnagar (BRJN), and subsequently, Raigarh (RIG). When Bilaspur Jn. (BSP) arrived, 720km after HWH, I woke up with a start to find that the train was 1 hour, 45 minutes late (at 01:55 hrs instead of 00:10 hrs)!!

I was dazed and angry about all the delays that have happened after what seemed to be a timely cruise. In my earlier trips, (like the Oct 1996 trip mentioned earlier) I used to reach Raigarh at 23:00 hrs (instead of 21:45 hours) and I used to hit the train window grill with my hands!! That's why I got so fed-up this trip -- got so used to being phenomenonally late around RIG and BSP -- that I actually went off to sleep after JSG itself!!

Only to find that in those days on the following day, the train was RIGHT ON TIME at Nagpur (07:45 hrs). In fact, in that Oct trip, I woke up at Durg (DURG) with a start to see that the train reached only FOUR minutes late (02:59 instead of 02:55), and then, on time at Nagpur Jn. (NGP -- 07:45) and at Dadar (DR) and Mumbai (CSTM). And I used to gently pat this window grill at Sion (SIN) the following night before alighting, and apologetically mutter "I'm sorry about last night. You've done a very good job. Keep it up!! All the best!! I look forward to our next meeting!!"

What's your guess, gang? Do you think this would've happened on THIS trip of mine?

Itinerary Report 8, part II: HWH-DR trip by Gitanjali Exp

The story so far.

In my last report (Part One), I was talking about Bangaon Jn. and my travel on the Gitanjali Express from Howrah (HWH) to Mumbai (CSTM). The report was getting very long and therefore I decided to stop at this point, Bilaspur (BSP), 720km from Howrah (HWH) when the train arrived 1 hour, 45 minutes late (01:55 hrs instead of 00:10 hrs). I was simply fed-up, having gotten used to this kind of mood due to the delay of this train in these parts during my earlier trips, and went back to sleep.

I never noticed Raipur (R) station, and when Durg (DURG) arrived it was around 04:30 hrs or something like that. Then Gondia (G) came at around 06:50 hrs. At 07:45 hrs, NGP should have arrived had the train been on time but since it was very late, we were fooling around Bhandara Road (BRD) going at a kind of a leisurely speed. I was woken up by the pantry staff; breakfast was ready.

As Nagpur Jn. (NGP) approached, I got the opportunity to see the diamond crossings. Nagpur finally arrived at 09:00 hrs -- about 1 hr, 15 minutes late. I had a foreboding thought that similar to an earlier trip in May 18-19 (Saturday-Sunday) 1996 when the train reached NGP at this time -- 09:00 hrs -- and I ended up reaching Mumbai at 01:20 hrs the following midnight!! And I thought this was going to repeat!! Terrible, I must admit.

NGP was the third station when I alighted to visit and see the WAP-4 22254 SRC (Santragachi) loco hauling this train. It looked okay, but the pantry guys said that due to the loco failure at Jharsuguda Jn. (JSG) -- I thought it must've been the spark and mini-fire that flared up the previous night before Dhutra (DTV) just after we crossed the storm -- the train was late. I saw the SER loco staff leaving off the loco and the CR staff taking over. Incidentally, NGP is a Division of two zonal railways -- CR and SE. Is there any other station that is a Division of two such zonal railways?

The cleaning staff went about working on the toilets with the disinfectant vehicle but this was limited to only the first few coaches. They had to withdraw immediately because the hoot sounded and the train began dragging out.

I found most of the journey during the second day boring. Nothing much. The only point of interest for me was when the train was running at full speed between NGP and Wardha Jn. (WR), parallel to the Varanasi -- Kanniyakumari National Highway (NH-7) to our left (facing the loco), and the junction between Sewagram (SWG -- this used to be called Wardha East -- WRE) and the double line taking off between SWG and WR to go towards Vijaywada (BZA). I was asleep for most of the day during this stretch, though. Got too used to travelling through these hot parts and was very uncomfortable sitting throughout. And all the time, my fellow-passengers kept on hankering that the train was one-and-a-half hours late, giving me negative vibrations!! Then someone'd ask me and I'd reply "half-an-hour late", hoping to eke out some optimism but I'd never know.

Badnera (BD) came and I woke up with a start. This was because our fellow-IRFCA friend, Mr.Dotiwala, was scheduled to meet me. I sincerely thank him because he had to come all the way from Amravati (AMI), 10km from here, for this purpose. I found at this point that the train was only half an hour late!! (BD arrived at 11:05 instead of 10:35 hrs).

It was just a two-minute meet we had but I was already excited upon noticing that the train made up time!! And I realized I was jumping around while talking to him in that excited state. The train began dragging out and I still wasn't leaving the platform, and he asked me to get into the coach first, which I hurriedly did. We bade farewell until I could no longer see him.

Lunch came at Akola (AK) where the train was 45 minutes late -- once again -- this annoyed me because I thought we made up time earlier and were losing again. This time all the losses were due to the leisurely speed. Once again, the lunches were served in those silly casseroles and the food was not quite tasty -- nothing unusual I thought -- it's happened every time I came this way.

Then once again I got up to my top berth and went to sleep, wondering what the train was going to do and how it was going to make up time. Bhusaval (BSL) arrived at 14:40 hrs (55 minutes late). And then I thought -- there's still some scope that we'd make up time if the train moved as fast as it used to in those prestigious days. (In around 1978-79 when the train was new, it used to arrive at BSL at 14:20 and depart at 14:40 hrs).

Once again I got onto the top berth and crashed to sleep. I got up at Odha and then it was around 17:50 hrs when the train reached Nasik Road (NK). I finally concluded that we were going to reach Dadar late!! And my heart sank!!

More so, when I learned that the train has now started stopping at NK since around November 2000. (Earlier there was no halt here).

Sadly I gazed out of the entrance as we were now snaking through the curves and towards Igatpuri (IGP) at the usual leisurely speed. IGP finally arrived at 18:35 hrs. This was the point where the traction changed from 25 KV AC to 1100 V DC, and the loco had to change. I went to visit the WAP-4 SRC loco to bid goodbye to it after its 1831-km-long work from HWH, and watched a WCAM replacing this one. I still thought, there'd be hope if we passed through the ghat sections and move fast to reach Kalyan Jn. (KYN). Another 137km to cover.

The train finally dragged out from IGP at 18:50 hrs. The routine brake check-up point was cleared at 19:00 hrs and we began the descent down the Kasara Ghat. All the time we were going at the rated speed.

Then as we passed Kasara (KSRA) at 19:20 hrs, we were racing at a very high speed. It was dark and I was unable to feel the speed. In these parts, the stations were as far as around 14km but -- we could still encounter them in very short time intervals -- Kilometres were flying past us in the opposite direction -- and before long, we passed Titwala (TLA) and stopped just before Kalyan (KYN) for track clearance. At this point of time, we were five minutes before time!!!! KYN finally arrived at 20:25 hrs, 10 minutes late on Platform 5.

As we were dragging out of KYN, I thought for a moment, that the first train was taken by us on the neighbouring Platform 6 (the 2618 Up Mangala-Lakshadweep Express) and I was completing our circuit!! You see, our tour began in the first train on the KYN -- Mumbai up- line (up to Dombivli [DI]) after which that train took off to the left to proceed to South. And I was subsequently repeating our journey by that very up-line but at that time were going straight, to head home!!

The rest was history. I knew what the train was going to do, between KYN and Dadar (DR). On this belt, trains nowadays take around 32 minutes to reach Sion, 4km before DR, and this was exactly what had happened to us.

We were one minute before time outside the DR platform, waiting to enter. On the dot, at 21:15, I got down at DR to proceed homeward by taxi. Before leaving, I said a few good words to the train, and gave it a warm send-off as it was proceeding to complete the remaining 9km stretch to Mumbai (CSTM), with all my respects. Oh, once again, I'll ever salute this train for life!!!! Always, always, I've been hoodwinked since the last four-plus years by getting phenomenally delayed during the first half of the journey, to going thru those angry bouts and stomach problems, and subsequently to passing some stations before time the following afternoon, and finally, to reaching home the following night right on time!! No wonder, this Gitanjali trip was yet another unusual trip!!



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