Khangra Valley Railway NG Trip
by Vikas Singh
After several attempts in last one year, the Pathankot-Baijnath trip finally materialized last weekend. Reached Patankot station by Shalimar Express early morning at 0415 hrs on 29th May. After quickly freshening up at a very very dirty first class waiting room, I was soon on the NG platform. Unlike other stations where NG platform is pushed way to a secluded and often dirty corner, KVR has an exclusive and clean platform for itself. Vinod Khanna has recently inaugurated the platform shed. Since the train left at 0650 hrs, I decided to inspect the diesel shed which is located close by. The shed is home to 14 ZDMs and one renovated 2-6-2, ZB 66 loco. The turntable is still well maintained. A MG steam crane of O&R.Rly. manufactured by Alley and Maclellan engineers, Glasgow was also spotted. The crane is in very bad shape and should be preserved at Rail Museum. I had put my luggage in the last compartment of the train next to the guard compartment as this offered the best vantage position for photography. However just before the departure when I came back to the seat, a lady sitting there politely informed me that it was a all ladies compartment. I had to pay for not learning from Mohan's experiences last year.
The train left on time powered by ZDM 179. The first station Dalhousie Road can hardly be called a station. There are no buildings or amenities with only a small makeshift shed functioning as ticket counter. KVR has a total of 971 bridges. After Dalhousie road station we crossed over from Punjab to Himachal Pradesh state. Bridge No-32, popularly known as Chakki Bridge, 12 kms from Pathankot serves as boundary between the two states. The route up to Jawanwala Shahr is pretty non descriptive. Two crossings with down trains happened at Nurpur Road and Jawanwala stations. No station has exclusive cabins and the track levers are on raised platforms right on the station. KVR had been built primarily to transport heavy equipment during construction of Uhl hydroelectric scheme. After signing of Indus treaty in 1960, construction of Pong Dam on river Beas started near Talara station. Due to submergence of existing track, line between Jawanwala and Guler was dismantled in 1973. The track was opened after realignment in 1976. The new route passes between the Pong reservoir on one side and the mountains on other side. Two magnificent bridges are there between Jawanwala and Guler station. The first one, Dehar bridge, over the Dehar khud (Bridge no-203) consists of one span of 60 ft and nine spans of 150 ft. The other is New Gaj Bridge over Gaj khud (Bridge no 254) and consists of eleven spans of 150 ft. By this time I had picked up a friendly conversation with the guard and he offered me a ride in his cabin. Tea at Guler station was added favor bestowed upon me. He was quite impressed by my interest in the line. At Guler station he radioed the loco pilot and requested him to allow me to footplate.
It was dream come true for me, as the route beyond Guler is the most scenic route. Between the Tripal halt and Lunsu halt at 77.1 km is the famous Reond steel arch bridge. Fabricated by Braithwaite and Co, it was the first and is perhaps the only steel arch bridge on IR. The loco pilot was a very friendly and helpful guy. Though the permitted speed on this stretch was 15kmph, he actually slowed down to 5kmph and offered me his seat so that I could take photographs of the bridge. Despite the approaching track being in a straight alignment with bridge, I could take some photographs of the train entering the bridge. The same help was again offered when we approached the Dhundini tunnel at 86.7 kms and Daulatpur tunnel at 93.1 kms. The 250 ft long Dhundini tunnel is between Jawalamukhi Road and Kopar Lahar stations while 1070 ft Daulatpur tunnel is between Kangra and Kopar Lahar station. At the Kangra station I was treated to hot chai and pipping hot pakoras. After thanking him profusely for the courtesy extended I came back to the compartment.
I have been following the recent mails regarding cab ride authorization. I must admit that it pained me to read suggestions of offering Scotch, money or other gifts to loco pilots in exchange for a foot plating experience. I have had excellent foot plating experiences across the country and never a polite request has been turned down. On all most all occasions, I have been treated like a guest with loco pilots going out of the way to make the trip exciting. It is high time that we started treating loco pilots with more respect.
Four important stations after Kangra are the Kangra Mandir halt (near Kangra temple), Nagrota, Chamunda Mart halt (near Chamunda devi temple) and Palampur. At Nagrota, I could see the BG steel sleepers being cut to replace the wooden and old steel sleepers of KVR. As per the version of the staff at Nagrota, more than 75% of the track needs renewal and old BG sleepers are being cut to replace the old sleepers. Palampur station is 8 kms from the Palampur town famous for the tea gardens.
The otherwise crowded compartment had become almost empty after Palampur station. After three one minute stops at Patti Raipura, Panch Rukhi and Majharan we reached Baijnath Paprola station at 1445 hrs, 15 minutes behind schedule. This was truly commendable considering that we had considerable time in four crossings enroute.
The Baijnath town is 2kms from the station and I took a cab from the station. After checking into Shankar View hotel and a quick lunch, I took the cab for the Ahju and Joginder Nagar station. Of the seven trains from Pathankot, two go up to Joginder Nagar, one terminates at Jawalamukhi Road and rest five go up to Baijnath Paprola. At 1290 MSL, Ahju is the highest station on KVR. The Baijnath (948 MSL) -Ahju track is quite steep. The steepest gradient is 1 in 19 for 700 feet. This is the steepest gradient for any adhesion line on IR and is close to gradient of 1 in 12.5 for Nilgiris Rack line. Baijnath to Joiginder Nagar track is mostly on 1 in 25 gradient. The Ahju station was deserted with a car parked right outside the stationmaster's office. Joginnder Nagar station, the last on KVR is a quaint little but beautiful station. IR has placed two plaques on the station wall in memory of soldiers who lost lives fighting for their country. A similar plaque was also found at Palampur station. The line from Joginder Nagar extends 2.5 kms to Shanan powerhouse but this track is not used nowadays. A quick 1 kms trek along the track revealed large portions lost under dense overgrowth. Pathankot to Nagrota section of KVR (109.5 km) was opened for traffic on 1.12.1928. Nagrota-Joginder Nagar section (56.2 km) was opened on 1.4.1929. During the world war the Nagrota-J Nagar section was closed, and permanent way material was sent in aid for British war efforts. The section was again opened in 15.4.1954. After chatting for some time with the stationmaster for some time, it was time for rest back at Hotel.
Baijnath town is famous for Shiva temple constructed in 12th century AD. After a good sleep in hotel, got up early and walked down to the station. Bridge no-821 on Binuwa Khud was photographed at leisure. Baijnath station has excellent retiring room. The charges are very nominal. The station also has holiday homes for class 111 and 1V employees of IR. There is also a diesel shed, washing line and accident relief rake. The second-class fare from Pathankot to Baijnath is Rs.26. The first class ticket is for rs.180. But the only train with first class coach leaves Pathankot at 0200 hrs. An ordinary bus ticket from Pathankot would cost Rs.110. A cab would take anywhere from Rs.1500 to Rs.2000.Even the 2 km ride from station to town in cab costs Rs.100.Yet for some strange reason the second class fare for the 142 km long journey is only Rs.26. The rates for the holiday homes are stranger. Rs.12 per day for class 111 staff and Rs.5 for class 1V staff. The highest income recorded by Baijnath station was Rs.27 lacs in 1997-98, which has dropped down to Rs.15 lacs last year. The stationmaster said that no minister wants to interfere with price as it might go against him in election time.
The journey back was by ZDM 161 powered 0720 passenger. At the Jawanwala Shahr station the train was held up for close to two hours. Reason- the engine of one of the trains from Pathankot had broken down. The engine from our train had to act the brave savior. The rake was bought till Jawanwala Sahar station; engine was again attached to our train and journey commenced. I was told that most of engines on KVR are 1975-76 make and have outlived their stated life of 20 years. Original spares are no more available and hence next best alternatives are used. In hot summer months there are cases of engines breaking down enroute causing great hardship to passengers.
Luckily for me there was a four-hour interval between the scheduled arrival at Pathankot and departure by Jammu mail. We reached Pathankot station, two and half hours behind scheduled. Some time was spent in photographing the three-coach rake of the "once-run" Kangra Queen train. A quick search on net would reveal that the train is still running. The truth however is different. Only after six-seven runs the train got cancelled for want of sufficient patronage. For a station like Pathankot, it is strange that there is only one stall selling drinking water but there are at least twelve hawkers selling exclusively chole-bhatur!!
The Jammu mail was dot on time at 1825 hrs and got back to Delhi next morning at 0525 hrs.