Friday, November 28, 2008

A Chalukyan Baraat

Dabbas of besan laddoos, moong flour laddoos, crispy masala poha, chaklis – Karnataka style, murukkus – Tamilnadu style and an assorted mélange of around 50 people occupied what seemed to be their own space on the FN1 coach – that last coach of the 6010 MAS CSTM Mail on a very sultry night in May 1992. Well, the ruse for this gang was to travel to the wedding of one Sridhar Joshi, which was to be solemnized on 5 May 1992 at a small town called Bagalkot – some 800 kilometres away.

An affair that began in July 1989 was to culminate in a wedding – in about 57 hours from the departure of the train. On board were an assortment of relatives – many of whom were employed with the railways – and had their own FC free passes – that meant the entire FC half of the coach with 10 berths (4+4+2) was their own. The children of a lesser GOD – the other section of 32 SL berths also had around 40 people – again all were either friends or relatives of the ‘hero’ – who was to have his two minutes of fame later.

The coach itself was an old one – incandescent bulbs threw a bit of light both in FC and SL sections, and only brightened as the train picked up speed. The number, I recollect, began with 6xxx. The advent of the Air braked stock was just happening, and this was one train from SR that was almost the last set to be air-braked (Well, I am also following the ‘Language in evolution’ on irfca-derailed). That meant, during that time an assortment of coach number – appendages painted with a ‘/’ after the actual number. X meant that the train was on newer 110V lighting, Y meant it was the older 24V with incandescent bulbs; A was air-braked stock. So you had xxxx/A-X, etc. painted.

All the close relatives had arrived - some from Hubli, some from Bijapur and many from other places in Karnataka. They had come all the way for the pre-wedding rituals, and would leave with us to Bagalkot for the wedding.

There was a small twist to the tale – a couple of office friends joined in at the last minute and we needed unreserved open tickets for them. The queues at the counters were too long, and train was only a few minutes from departure. In spite of protests from the huge milling queues at the counters, I located a friend working a counter, and bought the tickets in a jiffy.

The train would have been probably headed by a WAM4 – little would I know the loco classification then – even IRFCA was learning to walk with a few legs, as against the six thousand odd pairs that support it now. We left at 22.20 hrs sharp, which was the then departure time, and slowly made our way through the maze of points and crossings and picked up speed only after we passed Veysarpadi (VPY). Our first halt was at Tiruvallur (TRL), where we spent about a minute and a half. Then on to Arakkonam (AJJ), we spent around 5 minutes. All the way, the compartment was a gaggle of voices, laughter and healthy leg-pulling – I was the main target, being the ‘hero’. Most of the group went off to sleep, exception being a few youngsters, and that included the Electrical Engineer on IRFCA now – Gopalakrishna Kadni. Whenever we meet, it is always trains – and it has been like that even before IRFCA was born – and that night was no different. We were wide awake till we reached Renigunta (RU), before we had a cup of tea and went off to sleep. We were absolutely unaware of what happened after that, and woke up as we neared Rayalacheruvu (RLO), a few kilometers before Gooty (GY) at about 0700 hrs. Most of our gang was still asleep, and as we finished the morning chores, the reality hit us. Being the last coach, even behind the SLR meant that we could not get a cup of tea at small stations, where the coaches were out of the platforms. We really rued that we could not get up and be ready before Kondapuram – we would have had the time to get a tea at the watering station. However, we would soon pull into GY at about 0840 hrs, for a scheduled 5 minute but an actual 10-15 minute halt for a loco change. That gave us the time to haul a chaiwallah into our coach, and start counting the cups. By the time the last person had been served a cup, the first was ready for his second! The loco change over, we soon hit the mainline again at a very good speed, and thanks to the slack, were into Guntakal (GTL) at about 0825, around five minutes before time.

We unloaded ourselves and the hordes of luggage onto the fag end of the platform, by which time the coach had been uncoupled from the formation and the starter was cleared for the mail to continue its halting journey to BBVT. We trudged along the trolley path with our luggage and hit what I now recall as PF5, the MG platform. We spread our wares on the platform, and the dabbas begin opening one by one. Masala poha, chakli and besan laddoos were served on paper plates and handed over to the gang. We took turns filling up water containers – the days of mineral water had not yet dawned then. At around 0925, the shrill tone of a steam loco perked us up, and it was clear that a train was being backed up from the yard. This was the Chalukya Fast Passenger from GTL to Bijapur (BJP), with a scheduled departure of 1000 hrs at GTL and arrival of 1800 at Bagalkot (BGK) and around 2130 at BJP. We rushed into a coach and placed all our luggage and then allowed the ladies in and settled down into our seats. The entire train was unreserved, and I think we were in the penultimate coach – Gopal should correct me if I am wrong.

We left at 1000 hrs to the shrill whistle of the steam loco – must have been a YP – maybe John Lacey or Prof Siva could correct me, as I am not aware of the holdings of the GTL steam shed. We stopped at many stations, skipping a few – this was after all a Fast Passenger. We skipped GTL North, Virapur and stopped at Daroji for watering. The parallel BG line shimmered in the bright late morning sun, and the heat was already searing. We had a plate of Kanda bajji at Daroji, and we were on our way without tea. We then stopped at some stations, but the one I remember was Bellary (BAY). After Bellary we stopped at Bellary Cant, and made our way through stations like Kudatini, Pappinaikanahalli, etc., though I may have got these names mixed up. We also stopped at Tornagallu (TNGL), the origin of scores of iron ore rakes headed to Madras Harbour (HOM) for disgorging the iron ore into the huge bowels of ships for export to Japan and China.

Between BAY and Hospet (HPT) we had our lunch comprising of idlis, puliyodarai and curd rice, packed the previous evening from home. The packets were devoured as fast as they were unpacked. We filled and refilled water at HPT – the loco did the same, and a fresh crew took over. We left HPT and ran across the Tungabhadra, parallel to the dam, and crossed over to Munirabad town for another brief halt. Post Munirabad, we stopped at Koppal. We then made our way through small stations, stopping at what seemed important to the time tablers but insignificant for us – the big city brash bunch. The locals from Hubli were explaining the importance of the halts, and even they sneered at a halt or two.

The stunning experience of the trip was at Bhanapur. As we waited for a crossing, we were on the PF line. Locals descended on the train with pots, and started selling buttermilk – freshly made at their rustic homes, with a sprinking of rock salt. The buttermilk tasted wonderful in the mid-afternoon rural heat of Karnataka, and we would have easily downed at least two glasses each. I do not remember how much we paid, but it must have been around two rupees for a glass. We then retreated into the shade of the coach as we started to leave, and the long journey continued. We hit Gadag (GDG) at around 1500 hrs and I ran to where the Vada stall would have been. The disappointment was palpable, as the fellow had closed for the afternoon, and would come in only at around 1645-1700 hrs for the evening round. I am not sure we had a loco change from steam to steam, but left GDG far earlier that our usual halts there – probably because we did not need a reversal.

We took the track to the right side as we faced Hubli, and swerved a huge right curve about a couple of kms after GDG. The one the right would go to UBL. As we went to the right, we were accompanied by swathes of arid black soil. This was, if not the heart of the drought prone areas of Karnataka, pretty close to it. We then stopped at all stations, I presume. Hombal, Balaganur and Mallapur had nothing to write home, except an SM cabin, a lever cabin situated bang in the middle of the platform at an elevation, a counter from where the SM issued tickets and if lucky, a closed tea stall. Maybe a water tap or two that was dry and hot!

After Mallapur, we hit Hole Alur (HLAR) – another watering station, and home to wonderful kanda bajjis, cool buttermilk and a rather decent tasting tea. The entire gang feasted on the stuff before we left, and the stall owner would have probably had his largest single bill of his lifetime that day, like many others at preceding stations.

We quickly crossed the river bridge and stopped briefly at Jakanur. As we left Jakanur, the wrangle for the doors began. Many did not know what it was for – I have always loved to see the wonderful left curve on a high gradient – seeing the tracks wide to our left well before we actually hit them, and head off behind a small hill into Lakhmapur. I took in the entire route and none the less sated – I longed to come back for more – in fact, I still do!

A halt, what I now recall as Yeragoppa was skipped, and we headed into Badami – the railhead for the famous Banashankari temple and the Chalukyan heritage sites of Aihole and Pattadkal. A brief halt later, we stopped at Guledagudda Road, and then made our way across the longest block of the day – to BGK. As we hit BGK at 1800, it was my time to be embarrassed – embarrassed by the reception. I was garlanded, a band accompanied the gang that had come to receive us and was belting out instrumentation of the latest Hindi and Kannada hits. I was far too embarrassed to be the centre of all attraction, but that is the way the cookie crumbles in this part of the world.

That was a report of what I remember of my trip to my wedding – Gopal will surely correct me wherever I have gone wrong. I will not detail the return by the SUR UBL passenger’s slip coaches to SBC and thence to MAS, and understandably so, even though we traveled SL class!

And, finally a big thanx to Shanx, whose Shaadi ke Laddoo inspired me to try this out!


Blogger Krishna Kumar.S said...

Nice writeup. I like your selection of words and choice of language. The tone was also pretty good. I couldn't understand much about the routes, as I haven't travelled much. I never knew that GTL ever had a MG running. Wish you good luck!

Blogger Sridhar Joshi said...

KK Jr: Guntakal was always an important Junction in the MG days. It was one of the main stations you encountered when you did an MG trip from DLI to RMM, TVC or CAPE.


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