Sunday, December 09, 2007

C 2 C

Like Vinod Jairaj an active member of IRFCA always does, I too spent the night of 30th November 2007 sleepless, and I am sure that we are not the only two to lose sleep the night before a train journey. I was embarking on a journey to Mangalore, and in fact this was my first beyond Coimbatore in more than 25 years. I was to take the 6627 West Coast Express on the 1st of December with my family – wife and two daughters. My sleepless night had another reason – four of us were split down the middle by IRCTC – we were allotted two berths in B1 and two in B2.

My friend who is a TTE was supposed to help me out by speaking to the MAS based TTE of 6627 before the departure, but still…..sleepless went the night. On the marked day, as I arrived on PF1 of MAS, the West Coast was ready and beckoning my family. My friend was there before me, though he had the 2679 to CBE at 14.30 to work. He told me that the TTE of 6627 would help me out, but asked me if I could help myself. Giving him a quizzical look, I told him I could not figure out what he meant. He broke the ecstatic news – there was a cabin for four vacant in First Class (the non a/c FC that would be extinct in the next few years), and knowing me, he had asked the TTE to block the same for me. I shifted all the luggage to F1, Cabin H, extremely elated at what this journey had to offer me. After all my last FC travel was on my honeymoon – on the 10th May 1992 on 6201 SBC VSG MG Mail, on the 15th May 1992 on the 6202, and on the 17th May 1992 on the then 6007 SBC MAS Mail. I thanked the friend, and we informed the TTE of our consent, thanking him too. Simply imagine the huge space that we had for ourselves – the corridor itself was like this:

At 1127 hrs, I set out for the bottle of water that we would need on a rather warm day. I returned with the bottle, ruing that I had no time to check out the loco. I casually asked the guard about the loco number, and he radioed the LP and informed that Gowri was to be in charge – yes, the loco was 22550 – the monster ED P4. We trotted out exactly at 1130, and rather slowly negotiated the points and hit the advance starter and BBQ home at proceed. We hit about 80 briefly, and slowed down to 30 to get from the loop into the main line at VPY. We did not pick up much speed beyond VPY – the Perambur Bridge girder was being replaced that night, and we were riding a caution of 20 kmph right at my doorstep. Passing Perambur, the LP notched up bigtime, and Gowri blasted past Gowrishankar’s hotspot at a cool 100-105 kph. Suburban stations came and went in a blur, and in no time we hit Tiruvallur. As we made into the main line from the fast line at 1210 hrs, we picked up speed and crossed TRL PF at 1212 hrs at about 80 kmph. We stopped at AJJ at 1235 and left at 1238 (12.28-12.30). A WAM4, coupled to another dead WAM4 was ready to leave AJJ, probably to MAS to work the numerous specials that leave MAS on Saturdays. The pair looked squeaky clean – probably they were just out of their fortnightly schedule at the AJJ Loco Shed:

At km 91, exactly 90 minutes since we had left MAS, we crossed the 2680 Inter City from CBE, and from the coach I missed out the loco number. Shortly thereafter at 1315, a couple of kms before Walajah Road, the 2610 SBC MAS Express crossed us. We hit the loop line into WJR in a couple of minutes, and a very rare speed restriction board was sighted. SR has most of its trunk lines rated for 110 kmph, and the permanent speed restriction of 100 is a rarity – unlike in territory rated for 130, where the 30 kph could make a huge difference. This permanent Speed Restriction board is just before the loop entry into WJR and is of, course for the main line:

Our timings at WJR were 1319-1320 (1258-1300), and I was really not worried about the delay – after we would have a slack large enough to absorb even an hour’s delay. Little would I know what was to transpire next – and I was partly right about the slack. We left WJR, and as we hit the main line, the remains of what was the first railway line in South India from Royapuram to Arcot were seen. The line still remains, and is being talked of being revived as part of a new line from Tindivanam to Nagari, but this is how the line diverts from the main line and looks like:

We covered the next 25 kms to Katpadi in about 20 minutes, arrived at 1340 and left at 1345 (1320-1325). After a rather uneventful halt at KPD, we made our way out to join the main from the PF1 loop. I saw frenzied action into getting the OHE structures into shape for the scheduled inauguration a week down the line on 8th at Tirupathy. Laluji was to inaugurate the MAQ SBC train on 8th morning at MAQ and jet it to TPTY to inaugurate the TPTY KPD electrified section. The conversion of BG line towards Vellore was also under progress, with new signals laid out with a cross, indicating they were yet to be commissioned. The line slowly veered off towards our right, and, as we gathered speed, came right over us to cross us on a bridge. The few pictures that I have taken of this area have come out very badly shaken, and hence not uploaded.

The shock of the trip awaited, and most of us were not aware of it. We came to a grinding halt at KM 135, just at the home signal of Latteri. We would have waited for about 7 minutes, when from my 18th coach, I could make out some figure handing out some paper to the Loco Pilots. I thought that there was some signal problem, and a T369 was being issued to pass LTI home at danger. It was not to be, as subsequent events turned out. We slowly snaked into the loop, crossed over to the wrong line – the main line towards MAS, and made our way out of LTI. This was due to some engineering work on the correct Down Line between Latteri and the next station. This meant we could not top our speed beyond 25 kmph, as we were on the wrong line. An agonizing few kms later, we were passing Virinchipuram – on the loop – of all lines. We were already on the wrong line at a restricted speed, and I could not understand the logic of being taken on the loop of the wrong line, when the wrong main line was itself free. We joined the main line, again the wrong one, after doing the wrong loop at 15kmph. It was such a refreshing change to hit 25 again! We trotted again at about 25 till Kavanur, when we were again looped on the wrong line, joined the main wrong line, and changed over, at last to the right line – the down fast to JTJ. Here is a pic of the train on the wrong line – the line to the left is the down fast line that we should have been riding on:

We arrived at JTJ at 1540 and left at 1542 (1440-1442), where a GTL WDM2 was idling, its road number 16601 showing off brightly in the sun. Tirupattur was done at 1557-1558 (1457-1458), and we later halted at Morappur and Bommidi before hitting Salem an hour and a quarter late. I had lost all patience due to the late running, and stopped noting exact timings. Being a week end, the train was extremely crowded – at least the three GS coaches and the SLR behind us were choc a bloc. Many people entered the SL coaches, and it was a hell of a job for the TTEs thereafter. They had to check all the people, issue EFTs to most of them – they were going to CBE. The discomfiture on the faces of TTEs showed – a couple of families even opting for 3A for that short ride. The TTEs had a wonderful handbook, which showed the differences, distance slab wise, to be collected from passengers who wished to travel in a higher class. This was brought out by some union. Ironically, this book did not contain upgrade to FC from any class, and the TTE had to do some hard calculation to collect the fare difference from me at MAS. He came back well past AJJ and issued the EFT for Rs.490/- (for three adults and one child, upgrading from 3A to FC from MAS to MAQ).

The catering contractor was woeful – the coffee was very turbid, and we rejected the same. It turned out be a result of making coffee with spoilt milk. The chapathi kurma and the VeG biriyani were at best insipid, and turned into severe dysentery inducers for my elder daughter the next day. We hit Erode at about 1915, as against the scheduled 1745, and I had already reached S10 through the vestibule to catch the loco change. 22550 was detached in a jiffy, and we were being piloted by WDM 3D 11112, for the remainder of the run. I came back to S10 as the starter was cleared, and then as I made my way through the vestibules, I picked up some idlis for my younger daughter. I also then understood the frenzy of the TTEs in issuing EFTs to the passengers – the DRM of the newly formed Salem Division had boarded the train at Salem, in fact, he footplated upto ED in the P4. At ED, he got into the 2A coach. I wanted to meet him, but he was taking a much deserved rest. All the staff members on the train were surprised at the simplicity of the man – he had even turned down bedrolls, saying they should not be short for fare paying passengers!

At CBE, which we hit at 2105, I got wonderful Dosas from the Neethu’s kitchen – a suggestion given by our TTE. I had to do the vestibuling upto S5, and pick up the Dosas, and rush back into S6, and vestibule my way back to the 18th coach. I saw only a solitary passenger getting off at Podanur, and waited at the door to have a look upto PGT. We hit PGT at about 2210 and left at 2215, an hour and 5 minutes late. After picking up the final two bottles of water for the night, I hit the sack, hoping the slack would then take over and we would make it to MAQ on time at 0500 hours. I got up in the middle of nowhere at night, and found us at Kannur at 0245, still about 50 minutes late. Hitting the bed again, I got up only as we were pulling into Nileshwar at 0330 – now only about half an hour late. After a couple of more halts, we crossed the Netravathi into Mangalore, parting away from the Konkan bypass and entered MAQ at 0535 – we had made up more than 40 minutes since CBE. As we entered I saw the MAQ MS express on PF1, with 11111 as the power. Coming in by 11112, and seeing 11111 leaving from an adjacent platform – the numbers game could not get better. Read on – there is an even bigger surprise at the end!

A hectic 55 hours then followed, journeying by a cab into the hinterland to various temples, and we were back at MAQ station from our lodge for the night of 3rd Dec – Poonja International. Towards the end of our trip, as we came back into MAQ on the evening of 3rd December, I caught this bridge – one that would see passenger action after inauguration on the 8th of Dec.:

As we got off from the autorickshaw, I caught sight of this:

The work of renaming Mangalore as Mangalore Central was very well complete, and now all that remained was to change the name boards, which looked very good at that time. Hope they remain as clean and bright for a long time to come.

IRCTC had again split us into two groups – two in B1 and two in B2. This time, we noticed some berths vacant in B2, and occupied 33-36, duly informing the TTE about our predicament. He readily agreed, and also confirmed that we could upgrade if some berths of the PQ from Kozhikkode were vacant. I quickly went off to see the loco, and caught it on my camera just a few metres before it could hit our buffer:

The use of flash has probably resulted in the fluorescence of the road number showing prominently. As I was to experience later, the ED WDM 3D 11206 was great! On the shunting neck beyond the PF1, this clean looking GOC loco was ready to take work – waiting for the shunt signal:

After snapping the GOC loco, I turned my attention to the shunting of 11206 to our train, and was surprised to see this:

This was the result of the curve on which the PF2 at MAQ was situated. The loco was attached in this condition, and the shunter made sure to give a small tug both ways, just to ensure that the mating, er, screwing of the couplers was just as tight was required. I just switched off my camera and got into the coach at about 1310, waiting for the train to start, and also to check up with my wife if they required anything. As I sat near the window, the Matsyagandha was being readied and the B3 coach of the Matsyagandha was visible from our B2. This is how the B3 looks from the tinted glass of our B2:

I could not settle down, and went about, camera in hand to snap some more. The Netravarhi cabin was my next victim. This is the place where the line SRR-MAQ line separates towards Kankanadi (now Mangalore Junction) :

As I came back to comfort of the AC coach, my eyes caught this LED board. This was the GPS enabled indicator. This board indicated the current time, the place of the next halt and the distance to the next halt. A very useful tool indeed, right in the middle of discussions on the mailing list about mid night wakes etc. This is how the board looked like:

We were off at 1315, and were keeping steady pace, and were on time for most of the early run out of Mangalore. The stoppages were very brief – the first five minute stoppage for the train was not expected until Kannur and those before Kannur had only a two minute stoppage time. I was also waiting for the TTE to announce that we could upgrade to a bay in 2A at Kozhikkode, and hence was more eager than I would normally be. May daughters too were pestering me as to when we would reach Kozhikkode and upgrade to 2A. Then suddenly the train came to a halt – but amidst breathtaking scenes. The entire stretch from MAQ to CLT is alongside the Arabian Sea, with lots of openings in the coconut groves for backwaters, and the sea only disappears from your view if it is bored of your presence. It makes a reappearance after only a couple of kms again – reminding you to keep glued to the windows – after all, these sightings do not happen every day for children of lesser God like us. So we were there, stranded momentarily, at some desolate stretch, but a beautiful scene opening out on our right. We took in the beautiful scene as much as we could – and another surprise awaited me. As I moved from the door on the trackside with the sea view to the door on the right side, I just opened to see the signal aspect, I was struck with awe. There was a wave of mellifluous singing hitting me. Young girls were rehearsing or singing an orchestra of great Carnatic music in groups. Each passing second on the signal made me feel that we could wait here for eternity – such was the scene on the right with the seas gently backpatting the shores and the coconut groves; the strains of wonderful music from either the trained or trainee singers we wouldn’t know and I wouldn’t care too – making for a wonderful combination and soothing to both eyes and the ears. Suddenly, as if awoken from my slumber, the train moved slowly out and I found out it was at the home signal of a station called Trikkapur that we were being treated to!

We then halted at Kannur, delayed by about 20 minutes. At Kannur, I had my first taste of the Jack Fruit Bajji, albeit the sweetened form, what the locals call the Pazhappori or something similar. It was disappointingly cold and sweet. The batter used to make them was too thick I suppose, more like a dough, and the softness had given way to sogginess. The sweetness of the batter also didn’t help either. I was reminded of a Mohamed Ali, whose belly was swollen with Jack Fruit and hence led to a toilet being provided on trains. I wasn’t destined to be an innovator that day – the toilets were already there and I discarded the packet as soon as I had a bite. My wife too gave it a thumbs down, and my children did not venture anywhere near it.

On the trackside, meanwhile, a KJM loco headed Kannur YPR Express was ready to be moved to the PF. As we rolled out of Kannur, this is what the CAN-YPR train looked like – awaiting the signal or the shunt signal I would never know:

As we left CAN, after this sighting, clearing points, I came across this very clear board embedded alongside the permanent way. This was the mandatory board for announcing the Fouling Point or Mark, but many stations do with painting them as FP or FM. Some just have these white boards. Most stations on this section have the entire text painted on them as “FOULING MARK”, and this is how it looks:

As on the run to MAQ, we were waiting for another dignitary on the train. This time it was the Deputy Speaker of Pondicherry who was booked with his family in a cabin in First Class. This was the first reserved coach from the train engine and the second in front our our B2. The dignitaries boarded at Mahe, and without any fuss. After the next two stops, we hit CLT at about 1745. Nothing eventful happened at CLT except the large number of passengers that boarded the train in various compartments. I was now eagerly awaiting the TTE to confirm that PQ berths in CLT quota were vacant, and I could upgrade. No such thing happened for about 20 minutes after the train left. The TTE then came to me suo moto, and told me that though there were six berths, four of them were not available in a single bay – and most of them were only side upper and upper berths. He also told me that I could travel in 2A comfort for the price of 3A – the other two berths of six in our bay were vacant! I took this alternative, and like on the outward journey, we were all to ourselves on the return too – though in a different class.

The TTE had advised me to pick up my dinner from a stall at SRR, since the food at Palakkad would not be good enough and since he was HQ’d in PGT, I took his word. Right in front of our B2 coach was this privately operated stall that sold hot dosas, parathas chapathis with chutney, sambar and optional veg curry for six bucks. For about 30 rupees, I was able to pick up enough for all four of us. I handed over the packet to my wife, and rushed to see the loco change. Imagine my surprise when I found the loco being attached – it was again another P4 from ED – this time 22660. Even CLW could not have managed the feat I had. I had made the 22660 work exactly 72 hours after the 22550!

I later had the meal and did some station watching upto PGT. As we left PGT, I hit the sack and had sleep in phases – sometimes deep and sometimes not so sound. I had intended to get up at ED to catch some late night action, but when I woke up, I found myself in very familiar territory – it was AJJ at 0420. We left AJJ with me at the door, waiting for AVD to wake up my family, so that we could get off at PER. My wife too woke up shortly thereafter, and was with me at the door briefly, as we hit TRL in about 17 minutes, riding all greens. As we switched on to the fast line at TRL, it was a wave of greens that hit us and we were out of the train at PER at exactly 0505 – and the arrival at MAS would be bang on time, save for PF availability issues.

Thanks for patient reading, and hope you enjoyed it. Apologies, though for the length.



Blogger Krishna Kumar.S said...

I suggest that you can upload photos in the blog itself. The ones in the upload sections are removed after some time.

I like the professional style of writing. Well spaced, no short forms, proper spacings, non-SMS style. That's what I like. Treat for the eyes.

I like formal things.


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