by Vivek Manvi
Photos from this trip can be viewed here: Udaipur Odyssey
My office declared a holiday on Friday, for Ramazan Id and I decided to make the most of this long weekend. A trip to Udaipur had been on my agenda for quite some time. Now, getting train tickets during the height of the festive season and that too with just a week to go for the trip was going to be tricky. But, thanks to a promotional scheme launched by GoAir, India's newest low-cost airline, I got tickets to Ahmedabad and back for less than a thousand bucks! Air-tickets booked, it was now time to book tickets on the only express train to run on the Ahmedabad - Udaipur (ADI-UDZ) Metre Gauge route - 9944/9943 ADI-UDZ Express. 2A showed a waiting list, but I got a confirmed ticket in First Class for the ADI-UDZ leg. For the return journey, I got a Waitlisted ticket (WL-1) in First Class whereas 2A again showed a long waiting list. As the status was WL-1, I was confident that I would be able to atleast board the train! This was going to be my first journey on MG in atleast 10 years and that too on FC - a fast vanishing class I have fond memories of as a kid.
Eight AM saw me getting ready and leaving my place in a hurry. A late night conference call meant that I could only get about three hours of sleep. I reached the airport well in time to be amongst the first ones to check-in and also with ample time to catch up on much needed tea and breakfast. I enjoy watching the action at the airport as much as a railway station. One gets to see a variety of people with interesting stories to share. Air-fanning discussions list anyone? Anyway, I soon boarded what was the inaugural flight for GoAir. The inexperience of the cabin crew showed as they committed one goof-up after another and they eventually earned the wrath of their GM - Jeh Wadia, who was on board for the inaugural flight. Anyway, after a delay of 40 minutes (on the first flight!) we took off on a pretty uneventful 50 min flight to ADI or should I say AMD? I drove down from the airport to the railway station to check whether a retiring room was available. I had more than ten hours to kill before I was to board the UDZ Express and I wanted to grab as much rest as possible. I was greeted by two extremely bored staffers who told me that the retiring room was not available but I could get a dormitory bed if I wanted to. Not wanting to share a room with half a dozen strangers, I decided against it and proceeded to check out the action at ADI station. Repeated announcements were being made about the arrival of the 2009 Shatabdi Express from Mumbai. I could soon hear the hum of approaching Generator cars as I headed off to explore the MG platforms. The MG passenger to Patan was getting ready for departure. This nine coach passenger was packed with people. Some of them had started devouring their packed lunches even before the departure of the train. Anyway, the passenger finally departed at 1340, after a long blast from its YDM-4. ADI station had a collection of Sabarmati YDM-4s parked in the sidings. One of them was in a really funky lilac-yellow livery
There were four YDM-4s parked head to head in another siding.
Ahmedabad is a major MG junction even today, which sees trains going towards Botad, Patan, Khed Brahma and Udaipur. One can only imagine the action here in the glory days of MG. Anyway, in about nine hours from then, I was to experience the MG magic first-hand! With an elated feeling I headed back to the Broad Gauge section where the Shatabdi was getting ready to leave for Mumbai. One look at the reservation charts told me that this 17-coach train was absolutely full! When will IR realize that they are losing big money here and a second Shatabdi needs to be introduced on this route ASAP. The drivers ran routine checks on the loco as the train staff connected the telephone cables. At exactly 1430, the driver sounded the twin tones of the WCAM-2P and the Shatabdi departed. After the Shatabdi departed, the BCT-ADI passenger arrived surprisingly headed by a BRC WAP-4, towing along a dead BRC WAM-4! Another surprise was the arrival of the HWH-ADI Express behind a BIA WAM-4 instead of its usual SRC WAP-4. By this time, I had enough and decided to head to a hotel to catch up on some much needed sleep. I got a decent "deluxe" room at 400 bucks which was cozy enough to lull me to sleep. I woke up at 1900 hours, feeling relaxed and refreshed. After having a sumptuous meal of aloo parathas and curd, I headed back to the station, in a Maruti Omni - courtesy Hotel Raj Palace:-)
The action at ADI station was heating up with the arrival of the Karnavati Express from Mumbai. This is one train, which is always full, no matter what month of the year it is. The Karnavati arrived at platform no. 1, which meant that the Gujarat Mail was scheduled to depart from platform no. 4 instead! This prestigious train, with its nine AC coaches always amazes me. As I was checking out the Mail, I could see the rake of the 9944 ADI-UDZ Express parked at platform no. 12. The lights were not switched on yet, as it was just 2200 hrs. Announcements were being made about the arrival of the Saurashtra Mail from Okha. Bidding farewell to BG, I headed to platform no. 12 to greet my home for the night - the 9944 Ahmedabad-Udaipur Express. I walked down to the rear SLR of the train and began to check it out - coach by coach. It was a 12-coach train consisting of eight Sleeper coaches, one First Class and one Second AC coach. I decided to first check out the 2nd AC coach. The MG 2nd AC coaches do not have side berths like their BG counterparts.
Additionally, each bay has lockable doors a la First AC!
The loco doing the honors was Sabarmati YDM-4 #6523. I asked the driver about the MPS on the route and was greeted with the usual question - "Where are you from?" which sounded more like "bugger off!" He finally told me that it was no more than 60kmph and 50kmph in the ghat section. With not too much to talk about, I decided to head back. After stocking up on a bottle of water and a pack of chips, I finally boarded my coach. The coach was FC coach #01024 - brand new by MG standards built by RCF Kapurthala in November 2001.
I was booked into coupe "E" and the reservation charts showed me that I was to be the lone occupant!
The coach lights were finally switched on at 2230 - 30 minutes before departure. The incandescent lights made me nostalgic and reminded me of the innumerable journeys I had made on First Class as a kid. This was before the proliferation of AC coaches on IR. As the coach was new, the only thing missing were the speed regulators for each of the fans in the cabin/coupe
With a long whistle from the YDM-4 at exactly 2305, we were on our way. The acceleration was ever so slight as the YDM-4 overcame the inertia of each of the twelve coaches and their occupants. We soon parted ways with the BG mainline to Abu Road and the MG line to Patan. This section has LQ semaphore signaling and it was great to see the faint semaphores at night. After a slow trundle through the suburbs of Ahmedabad, we arrived at our first halt - Asarva at 2322. After a halt of just one minute, we were on our way. The acceleration was swift this time and we sprinted through Naroda and Nandol Dahegam. The night breeze mixed with diesel smoke flowing through the window was simply awesome. James Hetfield, Mark Knopfler and Kurt Cobain kept me company but I sorely missed the "Buddha Sanyasi" Looking at the pale shadows cast by the coach lights on the passing terrain, I could not help but reflect on my MG journeys as a kid. We used to travel quite frequently on the Miraj-Belgaum-Hubli section, which at that time was Metre Gauge. The night grew colder and darker as we sped away from Ahmedabad telling me that it was now time to hit the bed. I must have fallen asleep in no time. I woke up once and felt the train going great guns with the YDM-4 making some awesome music. However, I was too tired and sleepy to get up and open the window shutters.
I woke up at 0615 and quickly freshened up. Dawn was just breaking and the morning air was really cold. However, the water in the washroom was pleasantly warm. I still haven't figured out how the water could remain so warm in such cold weather. We were slowing down now and I guessed we were approaching Zawar. I was right; the train slowly crossed the points and came to a halt at 0625. Zawar station was a bee-hive of activity even at this early hour. Tea-vendors were sprinting up and down the length of the train and were making brisk business.
There's nothing quite like sipping on a hot cuppa tea at a small station early in the morning and I enjoyed it to the fullest. There were two tanker rakes parked on the adjacent lines, one of which we were just about to overtake.
Zawar is the starting point of the extremely steep but picturesque Zawar-Udaipur ghat section. This section sees some sweeping curves and gradients in the range of 1 in 60. We departed Zawar at 0640 with the passengers and the crew refreshed. I remained pinned to the door braving the morning chill as I did not want to miss out on all the fun!
The YDM-4 gave it all it could to haul the 12-coach express train up the ghats. The grace and style with which it hauled the train would have put even a WDM-2 to shame.
The Zawar-Udaipur ghat section is a part of the Aravalli range and features short stubby hills. There are numerous bauxite and silver ore mines in this area. It also has dense forests featuring a variety of wildlife. There is a solitary tunnel on this route - the Ord tunnel, which is around 250metres long. After about an hour and a quarter worth of huffing and puffing, we arrived at Kharwa Chanda, the last notable station before Udaipur. The time was 0705, and our destination was about 30 minutes away. A lone YDM-4 #6197 was giving company to grazing cows at this sleepy little station.
After a halt of two minutes, we were on our way for the final leg of the journey. I decided to head back to my coupe and relax for some time. It was great to watch the rising sun play hide and seek with the hills. The gradient in the Kharwa Chanda - Udaipur section is relatively gentler as compared to the Zawar-Kharwa Chanda stretch. There was some sustained running at 40kmph and at last I could make out the outline of a fort on top of a hill. Udaipur was just around the corner now. A new alignment was being built to suit Broad Gauge in this area. However, as the terrain is difficult especially in the Zawar-Udaipur stretch, this line will surely remain MG for atleast the next four-five years. We slowed down as we negotiated the final curve while approaching the station. In the distance, I could see a blue-white WDM-2 from Abu Road, which had just brought in a BG Express train into Udaipur from the Mavli Jn side. At exactly 0745, we came to a halt thereby ending what was a cracker of a journey. As I walked towards the exit, the YDM-4 bid me farewell with a long hoot as it was detached from the rake.