Titbits from my Archives: Jumbos on Rails

This article previously appeared in a post on the IRFCA mailing list.

Few will remember that caparisoned elephants, mostly tuskers, with their gaily dressed mahouts (drivers) formed a very gorgeous part of the invincibly colorful 'mega' inaugural ceremony of the Asian Games held in New Delhi in November, 1982. The games were called ASIAD '82 and its mascot was 'Appu' - a baby elephant of that name. These unusual participants came all the way by rail from India's distant elephant-state of Kerala!

The Special Train (a 'mixed goods') carrying a total of 34 elephants - 26 adults and 8 calves - was flagged off at Trichur railway station on Southern Railway by Shri K. Karunakaran, then Chief Minister of Kerala, on 1 November, 1982. A large motley gathering cheerily saw off this most unusual train.

Twenty-six adult pachyderms were carried in 13 open 8-wheeler bogie wagons (BFR's) with each BFR duly partitioned and barricaded all round by strong vertical (about 4 feet high) and lateral iron stanchions to shelter one elephant in each of two such partitions. Exit was given for mahouts to attend to their individual two pets in the BFR as well as for facilitating their entraining and detraining at the time of loading and unloading. The front legs of the individual animals were loosely chained to keep them stable during the journey. It was a very ingenious jerry-building by the Railways in consultation with the elephant owners and mahouts to transport them as securely and conveniently as possible, for Indian Railways did not have any special wagons for elephants like they had for livestock and horses.

Eight elephant calves were put in two closed bogie covered wagons. The Special also had four water tanks and four bogie covered wagons with 100 tonnes of luscious palm leaves as fodder. In addition there were also a number of passenger coaches as part of the train for carrrying a large escorting retinue of a total of 264 persons. It included 112 mahouts, 6 veterinary doctors, 19 personnel of the Kerala Police and a big number of helpers, attendants and cooks apart from officials. A dining car was also present.

Lastly, the total distance covered by this quaint Special from Tichur to its destination New Delhi was awesome - 3011km! Indian Railways, I think, lost a golden opportunity by not claiming its deserved place in the Guinness Book Of Records for this unprecedented rail transportation record. No Railways in the world has ever achieved such a fantastic feat of moving such a large body of elephants, that too for such a gigantic distance! I wonder whether it's not too late even today for it.

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