Sunday, November 09, 2008


A very hot day of May dawned and the searing heat broke through the asbestos roof of the bedroom at Bijapur. The hall and the kitchen were that much cooler which explained the presence of almost everybody at home in those two rooms. We gave breakfast a skip, had an early lunch at 1000 hrs, waiting eagerly for the eventual to happen.

The tonga arrived in front of the house and we were off to the Railway Station. We passed close to half-a-dozen monuments – all of them under ASI – Bijapur (BJP) is as much a historian’s delight as it is a tourist’s. The last one we passed was the Gol Gumbaz – the magnificient whispering gallery cool as a cucumber on the inside and simmering bright domes on the outside. As we took the road alongside the ROB and veered left to enter the station road, we were really excited.

Somebody bought us one full and two half tickets on exchange of a PTO (Privilege Ticket Order – where the full fare was only one-third of the coaching tariff and the half fare was one-sixth) for just Rs.5 in total. We walked to the board outside the SMs room and saw that our train was about 10 mts late! Milling crowds, chaiwallahs and hordes of vendors selling a dozen other things were the sights of the day. There was also the usual quota of beggars and stray dogs, crows and sparrows, and a couple of cows and a calf.

Just about fifteen minutes to the arrival of the train, the station porter or the signalman ventured out to ring a bell – a bell that would indicate that the train had been cleared to leave the previous station – Minchnal in this case. We would hurriedly check our entire luggage, and all our relatives – yes, there were at least a dozen to send us three out of BJP. One of the seniors would tell us to remain patient; there were at least 10 mts for the train.

Eventually the train was sighted, and as it passed the home signal, the dozen relatives would head off standing one or two to coach to hunt seat for us. The train was usually crowded, and getting a butt on was very difficult. Somehow, we always managed to get two seats for three people, and even managed a window seat within the next 50 kms or so. The train, drawn by steam would hang around for about 10 minutes for watering. The rather languid pointsman would trot to the loco and hand over the token – remember, until recently this was the authority to start a train in the absence of any kind of starter signals. Entry into a station was controlled by a home signal, there were a few gate signals as well. The token in hand meant that the train had the block up to the next station’s home signal for itself.

Tearful farewells with people running alongside the trains to see their beloveds off were routine, particularly with the rustic people. The train crossed over into the mainline, chugging along, letting steam. We picked up speed and traveled at a rather high speed of what I now perceive as around 60 kmph, slowing down on gradients when the engine strained its every sinew to pull the rather overweight rake of about 9 coaches – all MG GS.

After a stop start at Jumnal, the first station towards UBL (Hubli), we crossed a girder bridge laid over a nullah called Honagana Halla – the next halt station was Honaganahalli. Ibrahimpur is a relatively new halt station between BJP and Jumnal, and rather surprisingly for its name, is home to a locally famous Venkateswara temple. Then a slew of stations passed us – though not in the same order – Wandal, Benal, Basavana Bagewadi Road. The last one was earlier known as Telgi, and has the rather attractive code BSRX, probably since BSR was allocated to Vasai Road, earlier known as Bassein Road.

The train itself was rather cacophonous – babies crying their hearts out, kids bawling all over the place, running around (?) in tiny nooks and corners stepping on feet, the adults, mostly rustic, discussing all things about all their friends and relatives like a news broadcast – it was one fun mela all the way. What added to the fun was the vendors criss crossing the coach, jumping between coaches selling ‘delicacies’ that we yearned for – I am reproducing some here: limbihuli – a sour sweet that reportedly kept nausea at bay and came in a variety of colours, pedhas – three for four annas, shenga – peanuts roasted and dry bhel, alle pak (pronounced allay paak) – a ginger and gud confectionery that promised to keep cold, coughs, nausea and a hundred other illnesses away! Also on the list was cheap imitation packaged Glucose Biscuits, Parry’s chocolates, toffees etc. We used to try to wangle a few annas – about eight or twelve annas from our mother from the collection we made at various relatives’ during our stint, to savour these delicacies. Mom would always ignore our requests for a while promising the very famous kanda bhajis at BSRX.

BSRX was a watering station, and the kanda bhajis were hot and spicy, and it was watering time for us too. We would down a bronze jug of water and run to the nearest tap to get our fill. As the LP got the token, the whistle would go off, and so would the train over stations like Almatti, Sitimani and Kadlimatti before we hit our next major town called Bagalkot (BGK). Sitimani no longer exists, having given way for the Krishna project, and in its place has come Kudalasangama Road. Sitimani, situated on the banks of the Krishna was famous for the hordes of people performing the rites for the departed ancestors. In fact, even my grandfather used to visit Sitimani to perform the annual shradhdha of his ancestors.

Bagalkot was a mixed bag. A fairly large station serving a fairly large town, it was almost like BJP. It even had a retiring room like BJP. We would usually arrive at around 1420 and leave at 1430. Little would I realize that in a decade and a half, my love affair with a girl from this town would bring me here very often. It is another matter that we are now happily married for 17 years now! After a fairly long run – the next block was distant, we would halt at Guledagudda Road, then another halt station and then on to Badami. Badami is the railhead for the famous Banashankari temple and the monuments of Aihole and Pattadkal. Badami was treat like a poor cousin of BJP and BGK – the train halted only for five minutes here. As we left Badami, we would stop a few seconds at another halt station and then onto Lakhmapur.

Lakhmapur was a brief halt of about 2 minutes. As we exited the station on the straight for about ½ km we encountered a hill which was cut through to pave our path. As we exited the path we took a sharp curve around the hill. Down below about two kms away to our right, we could see the the next halt station Jakanur. The track would its way curving left around a hill, and the Jakanur station played hide and seek with us. As we finally landed on level ground – after saving on fuel since the down gradient would mean a few kms of coasting, we were braking hard to stop at Jakanur. Jakanur done with, we crossed the river Malaprabha (?) on a half-girdered bridge. The river separated Jakanur from its neighbouring relatively large town Hole Alur (HLAR). HLAR was again a watering station and a crossing station too. The UBL SUR (Solapur) Pass would cross us here, and right from Lakhmapur, we would hope to reach HLAR first to take the PF line. The train arriving second was put on the loop, with no platform. The Lakhmapur – HLAR section was undoubtedly for me the crème de la crème of the UBL SURM MG line.

The rather longish halt at HLAR ensured that we could have another round of kanda bhajis, and wash it down with a not-so-thick, but very tasty glass of buttermilk. Majjige, as it is called there, was slightly spiced with a bit of ginger, hing, and splattered mustard, and went down very well after the kanda bhajis. My mom used to shout from the window not to venture too far, but there I was, at the stall taking my own time to get the glasses of buttermilk. This leisurely activity was, of course, in the smug belief that the crew were inside the VLR downing bhajis and buttermilk, and for the train to leave, they would have to pass me!

The next stations that we crossed, though not in the same order were Mallapur, Balaganur and Hombal. The stations had a halt of about a minute or two each, and as we passed Hole Alur, the familiar black soil – bone dry and raising dust welcomed us. As we neared the only junction on this route, we were sweeping to our left as another pair of tracks joined us from the right. We would ride the track to the left for a fair distance of about 1.5 kms and come to a screeching halt at GADAG – probably one of the few palindrome stations on IR! The halt at Gadag, which we reached around 1710 was a leisurely 20 minutes, though the TTs reckoned it should have been 10. The hot – just off the oil medu vadas in dried leaf cups liberally bathed with spicy coconut chutney was a sure winner, even in the hot climate of May. Mom, my sister and I usually had 2 vadas each – the cost would be not more than Rs.5/- including three cups of tea.

As we were downing the vadas and the tea, the staff worked leisurely and attached a loco to the other end – this was a reversal station. The train usually left around 1730-1740, and we would retrace the way we had come in to Gadag, albeit on the other track. The track on our right was the one that would shortly divorce us on its way to SURM, and we would be off on the next series of stations, with about 60 kms to go to UBL.

Binkadkatti Halt, Hulkoti, Navalgund Road were the next three stations. After these brief halts, it was time for a slightly longer halt at Annigeri, this was a station that saw some express trains stop. Leaving Annigeri, we again halted briefly at Sisvinahalli H, Hebsur and Kusugal. Kusugal, I have heard somewhere was the first station on IR to use solar panels to light the signal lamps of the home signals on either side of the station.

Leaving Kusugal behind, we made a straight way for some time and then banked sharply to the right, past the Anjaneya temple that all crew say a silent prayer to when they cross this part. We invariably were stopped at the distant home signal that heralded our entry into the SBC MRJ mainline for a minute or two, then made our way to the ‘real’ home signal and were received on PF3 or PF4 at UBL at around 1925, well before the scheduled arrival of 1945 or 1950!

That was an account of whatever I could remember of the scores of bi annual trips made on this line from 1967, when I was a one year old to around 1992, when it retained the charm of MG and steam. That my wife is also from this area, and the courtship of around 5 years before our marriage meant more trips was a huge bonus from me. I may have gotten the station names mixed up, but I believe the essence of the trip is captured.

And, finally, what better time to post this trip report than now – as the new BG line is ready and waiting to herald a new era in what must be one of the most drought prone and dry areas of northern Karnataka. Though the charm of MG and steam will be missing, I still yearn for a trip on BG – especially another ‘up-down’ on the Hole Alur – Lakhmapur section!

Hope you enjoyed the nostalgia!



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home