Double headed diesels, historic forts and a sleepy tiger

2005-02-18

by Abhijit Lokre

Just back from a great trip of Central India...full of double headed diesels, historic forts and a sleepy tiger!!!! Read on....

Part 1: Ahmedabad to Ujjain

Shelly and I were planning to visit Allahabad (her hometown) for the past few months, but work at the office kept pushing it back. Finally, in the second week of February, we decided to make the trip.come what may!!!! Ahmedabad to Allahabad..surprisingly, only two trains connect these cities direct..one is the 9569/9570 Okha-Varanasi Express via BRC-Kota-Bayana-Agra Fort-Tundla and Kanpur and the other is the 9149/9150 Parasnath express via the same route. Both run weekly and neither on a weekend. The other and better option is to take the Ashram express to Delhi and the Prayag Raj to Allahabad. Both good, fast trains and the best on their sections.

But with no tickets available on the Ashram, we were forced to look at other options. After discarding ADI-JP-ALD, ADI-Mumbai-ALD and ADI-Jalgaon-ALD for various reasons, we finally settled for ADI-Indore-ALD!!! What tilted the scales was the chance to see Mandu. Mandu is an old historic city about 100 kms from Indore. We booked ourselves on the 9311 Shanti express, departure time at 1945 from ADI for February 18. We had a ticket from ADI-ALD via Ujjain, with change to the 9305 Shipra at Ujjain. Return was via New Delhi..

We rushed, as usual, from our office to the railway station..only for Shelly to discover midway that she had forgotten her mobile at the office. After some frantic calls from my mobile, a peon was deputed from the office to the railway station with the mobile...at 1935, we were hopping around in anticipation for the peon when he zipped in on his scooter and relay-like handed over the instrument to us without alighting!!! We then rushed off to platform 6, where Shanti express awaited us. Bareilly bound Ala-Hazrat was on platform 1 with a VB rake and only one coach in the air-brake livery. From the over bridge, I caught sight of a maroon colored rake on platform 6 and thought that our train had not yet arrived (its starting point is Gandhinagar). However, to my surprise, it was the Shanti express with a VB rake. I had traveled on this train earlier and it was always an air-braked rake. This might be the first IR train to convert from an air-braked one to a vacuum braked one!!! After 'checking in' S4 (we had SL and SU), I took a walk around the platform. The entire rake was a mixture of bogies from various zones and not in a very healthy condition..I moved to the south end of the platform to catch the loco. Fully expecting a WAM4 from BRC (its regular link) at the helm, I was taken aback to find a Ratlam WDM2c # 18570R in charge. Stranger and stranger..

ADI departure was 10 minutes late at 1955 and we crawled through Maninagar and Vatva, before picking up speed. The reason was soon apparent as we overtook a WAM4 hauled passenger train. With the side berths our own, we made ourselves really comfortable and settled down. Anand and Nadiad were the two stops before BRC. Two old ladies joined us at Anand and settled down on the LBs opposite us. I was quite keen on watching the action at BRC since the departure timings for the 2951 Raj and our train is only 3 minutes apart. As we pulled into BRC (around 2155), caught sight of WAP5 # 30014(Raj power) proceeding towards platform 2. WAP4 22395 was idling on a siding.must have been the AKs power for later in the night. Anyway, we pulled into platform 4 to find the LHB Raj already in. The Jaipur-Ernakulam express with a WDM3a from RTM in charge pulled into platform 3 soon and pulled out within 5 minutes. 2951 had departed by then and we also left soon. As we were pulling out, the Ranakpur express pulled in with a WCAM1 #21832 in charge.

Now, things became exciting in our coach. A lady with her daughter had boarded at BRC and had the same berth numbers as the two old ladies. It turned out that the old ladies had RAC tickets which had been confirmed...only in the S5 coach. Some idiot at Anand had written S4 on their ticket and so here they were!! The TC went to check out the S5 coach and reported back that RAC passengers had already been allotted the two berths because the ladies didn't turn up at Anand..and the TC who did that had got off at BRC. The present TC was inclined to blame the old ladies..but after some backing from the co-passengers, including us; he went off to arrange two more berths. All through, the lady and her daughter were very cool..and stood around for almost half and hour till new berths were allotted to them.

We went off to sleep at 2300 hours. My side lower berth was very uncomfortable, with the two sections refusing to align at one level!!! The snow in Kashmir compounded the problem and the night passed by verrrry slowly. The 2953 AK Rajdhani overtook us at some point after Godhra. Ujjain arrived at 0420. we had planned to freshen up at Ujjain and then catch a train to Indore from where we could explore options for getting to Mandu. The retiring rooms were full and so we opted for the waiting room, where we got ready for the day ahead.

We had two options for getting to Indore. The Dehradun-Indore express at 0620 or the Ujjain-Mhow passenger at 0615. Ujjain-Mhow is a MG train and I was hoping to travel by it. However, at 0545, Shelly suddenly had a brainwave to visit the Mahakal temple at Ujjain for a 'darshan'. Bowing to her brainwave, we rushed to the cloak room, booked our luggage and took an auto out to the temple. I rushed her through the mandir and after a lightening meeting with Lord Shiva, we were back at the station at 0613!!! I purchased tickets for Mhow and we rushed (as usual!!!) to platform 5 where the passenger was ready for departure. It was quite dark even then and quite chilly. We left at 0625 and ambled along in typical MG fashion for some distance. At Ujjain, the BG lines towards Indore are towards the east while the MG lines take a westward route and run parallel to the BG tracks coming from Nagda before diverting southwards. Our coach was a dirty general coach and quite crowded. The crowd was quite amused by my frequent trips to the door with my digicam!!

We rattled along with stoppages at quaint wayside stations. At Fatehabad-Chandrawatiganj, we were made to wait for the Mhow-Chittorgarh fast passenger, which pulled in behind a YDM4 #6300 from Sabarmati. The line branches out from Fatehbad-Chandrawatiganj with one line going towards Ratlam and the other towards Ujjain. Incidentally, this is part of the longest remaining MG route in India. We left soon after. The train became even more crowded. This train is used by the surrounding small towns and villages as a convenient way of getting to Indore in the morning. Soon, we crossed the BG track from Ujjain towards Indore and halted at a junction. The Dehradun-Indore express (TKD WDM2 # 17340 in charge) was waiting on one platform and another MG passenger on another. Since, the MG track cuts across the BG track here, there are a lot of complicated points. We pulled out before the BG express and cavorted our way into Indore by 0845. The Shanti express rake was being shunted out. Indore is a BG terminus since only the MG track continue southwards. But nothing in the station and the buildings suggest that it is an important BG station. The platforms are dirty, poorly maintained and the main building is a joke.

We got off on the MG side of the station and walked over the tracks for the exit. I checked our loco only then. It was a Sabarmati YDM4 #6736. As we walked out of the building, we saw a YG loco plinthed outside the station building. After getting a few snaps, we decided to explore our options for Mandu. Shockingly, the state transport did not have a direct connection to Mandu. We were advised to go to a place called Dhar from where we would get a private bus. A bumpy, 2 hour ride later, we reached Dhar..a dusty, sleepy district headquarter. It was already 12 noon by then and we were even more frustrated when we were informed that the next connection was at 1300. Our train from Ujjain was the Shipra scheduled to depart at 2345 and we were running out of time. We hired a taxi next and sped towards Mandu, a distance of 35 kms or so.

For those of you who have not been to Mandu..do plan a trip here. Reaching there is a pain..but the architecture and legends/ stories of Mandu are stunning. Half a day at Mandu was an injustice.but there was a train to catch..we left Mandu at 1700, reached Dhar at 1800 and took the return bus to Indore. We had planned to take the Shanti express to Ujjain (departure Indore 2100, arrival Ujjain 2240), which precedes the Shipra express that leaves Indore at 2205. The general coach of the Shanti express was not a very pleasant experience for Shelly and me, with people lighting up their bidis and cigarettes and a crush of people on the berth above..there were some altercations between the long distance and short distance passengers and an uneasy truce prevailed!! Shanti express was again VB with the morning loco in charge.

At Ujjain, we rescued out baggage from the cloak room and settled down for the Shipra. Meanwhile, the Chennai-Jaipur super fast pulled in with a WAP 4 # 22513 from Jhansi shed in charge. What was a Jhansi loco doing on this train???? An ironic sighting as the train left Ujjain. A man boarded the general compartment and was struggling to get a toehold on the footstep. As he struggled to hold on, the AC 1 bogie passed by. We saw a person reclining comfortably on his bed, with a book in hand, enjoying the comforts of a warm bed..makes you wonder about the fairness of life..

The Jabalpur-Veraval express was running late and pulled in with a WAP4e # 22066 from BRC in charge. Slight overkill as this is a 16-17 bogie train with not very fast run times. The train left at 2310 and at 2340, Shipra pulled in with a WDM3a # 18608R from Ratlam in charge. A BRC WAP4e 22383 was quickly attached at the other end (the train reverses direction at Ujjain) and we were off at 0000 hours..

Part 2: Ujjain to Allahabad

Now began the long journey to Allahabad. Shipra takes the Ujjain-Bhopal-Bina-Sagar-Katni-Manikpur route to Allahabad. I had never traveled on this route before and this was one of the main reasons for this unusual route. Of course, Shelly was not very amused when she heard my reasons for this route. But then, I told this to her only when we were nearing Allahabad!!!

We had a SU and a UB. After spending a miserable previous night on the SL, I opted for the UB and Shelly settled down on the SU. Our co-passengers were a Bengali family traveling to Asansol. Two gents and two ladies with two kids. However, the luggage they had could easily have suggested a party of 10-15. I had promised Samit that I would check if the double line continued all the way thru to Bhopal.but my tiredness won the day (or should I say night) and I woke up next morning at 0600 to find the train halted at Bina. The train had reversed direction at Bhopal again. I stepped out on the platform in the early morning cold, but didn't have the inclination to check out events at the driver end. Meanwhile, the Indore bound Malwa express left Bina. I crept back into my comfortable UB and was back again to the land of nod. An hour later, and Shipra seemed to have developed an affection for Bina. We were where we were at 0600. Just as I thought of making the trek to the engine, the starter turned yellow and I beat a retreat to my coach. At 0710, we finally moved out.

With a new line to spend the day gazing at, I was eager to take the side seat (which was mine anyways!!). But the Bengali family had other ideas. I found that the two ladies had made themselves comfortable on the side berth and the gents were all fast asleep on their MBs. I didn't have the heart then to move them, so I contented myself by some rail fanning at the door. Soon it became too cold for me there and I wandered back to find the MBs put down and about six inches of space was reluctantly cleared for me. I was beginning to get irritated by now and after counting to 10 (or was it 100??), I requested to ladies to vacate my seat. They were horror-struck at my suggestion and said that the lower berth was theirs. After convincing them that one half of that berth in the daytime belonged to me and I intended to park myself there, they reluctantly made way. The men grumbled that they had never heard of such a thing..a SU meant that I had to stay there.on top!!! After Shelly decided that the sun was up sufficiently for her to come down, I forced them to give up their half of the side berth and shift to my seat in the longer coupe. With so much luggage, half of which was piled up on the seats, and with shutters and the window panes down, that side of the bogie looked distinctly gloomy and unwelcome and I resolved to resist all attempts to force me to move there.

The outside scenery looked distinctly better and as Shipra picked up speed, I braced myself for a great day ahead. Bina-Katni is double line electrified and has some SERIOUS FREIGHT activity. I started to keep a count and very soon gave up. Rake after rake of freight with electric locos and diesel locos in charge rolled past. All rakes had twin locos. There were all types of combinations. WAG5 + WAG 5, WAG7 + WAG 7, WAG5 + WAG 7, WAG9 + WAG 5, WDMS in all types of combos. Only one rake was single loc hauled and that was a WAG 9 hauled one. I remember that because that was the first one I saw. All of them were carrying coal. In the 263 km stretch from Bina to Katni, I saw only one passenger train and that was the VB Bilaspur-Bhopal passenger. I stood at the door, and watched waves of goods rakes zip past. Khurai, Sagar and Damoh were the only halts and we had fairly long, uninterrupted runs. The countryside was typical Madhya Pradesh, rolling hills, sal and teak forests, and slight gradients and looked very very wild.

Katni arrived at 1120, an hour and ten minutes behind schedule. As the line from Bina approaches Katni, the line takes a sharp turn to the left, joins the lines coming from Jabalpur and immediately enters the platform. Two electrified lines continue straight over an over bridge over the Jabalpur lines and continue onwards to New Katni Junction and then Bilaspur. Katni is a major junction with five lines converging there. One from Bina, second from Allahabad, third from Jabalpur, fourth from New Katni and the fifth from Singruali. Only the New Katni and Bina lines are electrified, while the rest are diesel territory.

Shipra came in on platform 2, which is the main platform. Platform 1 is a small affair for passenger trains to the left of pf 2. I went ahead to see the loco change and the check out the power for the Katni-Allahabad run. The WAP4 has already moved out and a WDM2 ;-(crept in to take charge. (WDM2 #18960 from Katni). It was in the maroon-green livery. Meanwhile, a passenger train from Bhusawal (or was it Itarsi??) arrived on platform 4. The WDM stopped just below the foot over bridge where some workmen hanging from a sling were busy painting the underside. They got the shock of their life as the hot exhaust hit them.literally!!! They scrambled up, at the same time yelling out to the driver to move his **%%#@@@ engine..all in vain!!! They had to suspend operations for some time.

Since Katni involves a traction change for many trains, a lot of diesel and electric locos are parked on sidings near platform 1. I wandered over to take a look at some of them. Amongst a host of WAM4s from Itarsi and Bhilai sheds, I found a WAP4 22593 from BRC with a single wind shield. Now what was a BRC WAP4 doing at Katni?? Except for the Shipra, I could not think of any other train which could have this loco link? And the Shipra's power could be seen resting behind the 22593. so who's link was this? Any ideas?? One likely contender could be the Jabalpur-Veraval express via Bina...that runs twice a week.

We left Katni at 1135 and I felt the WDM2 struggle with our 20 coach load. We left electric territory behind a km out of Katni and were soon on our way to Satna.the next scheduled stop. I am not very good so far at recognizing signals and their type..and in any case other members seem to have confirmed the signal types...all I can add is that all the signals had solar panels on top oriented towards the south (for max sunlight). I was all eager to check the crossing with the Mumbai mail.all the more because we had been discussing whether it had twin diesels only a day before on the forum.

Satna was also late by an hour and fifteen minutes. We left quite quicky for the next stoppage, Manikpur. The double line ends at Manikpur from where it is single line till Naini. Just before Manikpur, the Bengali family (who were giving us dirty stares since morning), started grumbling again about how we had hijacked their berth. They had a small child and the lady wanted more space. I asked them to move some of their luggage under the seat and create more space..but the side berth had become a prestige issue by now. According to them, the side berth was wider (!!!) than the LB and hence they deserved it more!! No amount of logic could sway them and kind hearted Shelly offered them their half of the berth (thank God she was not kind enough to offer them, the whole berth).

I was pissed off and wandered over to the door to do some rail fanning. The train had stopped just before Manikpur and it waited there for a long time. Just as it moved ahead with a jerk, my watch slid down my hand and fell on the tracks below.!! It happened in a split second and I could only watch in horror as it slid between the gravel. I rushed back to Shelly to tell her about the "little" incident..and the train stopped again!! I rushed back to the door and was off the train in a jiffy..searching in the gravel for some sign of my beloved watch.I started walking back along the length of the train with people craning their necks out to see what had happened. They must have thought I had pulled the chain or something. About 15 seconds later, the train started moving. Shelly appeared at the door and started screaming for me to get back in. With the lure of my lost watch to be found, I ignored her for a few more seconds before better sense prevailed and I climbed back. I was wild at the Bengali family for having forced me to go to the door (conveniently forgetting that I had actually spent half the day there!!). After steaming for some time, I finally calmed down enough to snap a beautiful water tank on the platform (old habits die hard!!). Anyway, that was that.and I was short of a watch..

It appeared that Shelly's policy of giving half a berth to the family worked because they soon vacated it with the belief that it was theirs anyway after Allahabad. Little did they know that those seats were booked between Allahabad and Howrah!! Manikpur to Allahabad is 'god forsaken' territory. It is just 104 km and the train took an eternity to get there. Track doubling is in progress, but looks like it is going on very very slowly. At a small wayside station called Katiya Dandi, we finally stopped to let the Mumbai mail pass. The mail screamed through with a WDM3a and WDM2 from Itarsi in charge. Since it was my first photograph of a train passing at high speed, I clicked a little early..:-)

We entered into NCR territory at around 1650 and crawled through the 'Link Junction'. This junction basically is a cabin from where lines towards Mughalsari diverge. The 2141, Tapti Ganga express take that route to avoid Allahabad. Naini was a brief halt (and the station is exactly as described a little earlier on the forum)..

We crossed the Yamuna bridge from where we caught a glimpse of the new cable stayed road bridge to the north. We finally entered platform 9 at 1720, about an hour behind schedule. The NE express crossed us just before Allahabad...my father-in-law had come to pick us up and we crossed the over bridge to get to the car parking lot. I brushed of the usual rickshaw wallahs with 'car hai..zaroorat nahi' etc.

End of the journey???? Not quite!! After dumping the luggage in..the car refused to start...and the very rickshawwallahs I had disdainfully brushed off earlier came to our rescue!! Everyone had a field day with the Maruti 800 and various diagnoses like the filter, carburetor etc were floated around. Nothong doing.the car refused to start and Shelly and I, contemplating our third day without a bath wondered whether we would ever reach home!!!

Anyway..we limped home by 1930..to finalize plans for our next trip to Bandhavgarh..via Rewa, Satna or Katni????

But then, that is another story!!!!

Part 3..of my journey continues....

What is the best way to get to Bandhavgarh? Ok.first let me tell you what Bandhavgarh is. Bandhagarh is a national Park in the Vindhyan mountains in Madhya Pradesh. The park is famous for its tigers and the chances of seeing a tiger in the wild are very very high here. The nearest railhead as per the TAAG (the TAAG for 2004-05 had a section on National parks of India) is Umaria on the SE railway. Umaria is on the Katni-Bilaspur line about 65 km from Katni

We reached Allahabad on Sunday evening. Our break was for a week and we had decided to spend a couple of days in Bandhavgarh with my in-laws. Sunday evening and Monday morning was spent in hectic discussions about the best route possible. There are two trains that run directly to Umaria from Allahabad. One is the Sarnath express which leaves Allahabad in the afternoon and reaches Umaria late at night. The second train is the Gorakhpur-Durg express, which leaves Allahabad late night and reaches Umaria early morning. Since the Sarnath timings were unsuitable, and the GKP-Durg ran only on Fridays and Sundays, other options had to be explored. A completely new thought was to hire a Qualis. But most of the taxi operators we talked to declined saying that the roads in MP were a horror!! Shelly and I had experienced some of the roads during our Mandu sojourn and immediately shelved the Qualis idea.

After discussing Rewa, Satna and Katni and checking with the tiger resort at Bandhavgarh, we finally settled on Katni as the appropriate rail head. Shelly and I went off to Prayag station to get the tickets booked. After an interminable wait at the counter (things at railway booking counters in this part of the country are very slow. The clerk takes all kinds of enquiries, gives options and assists the potential passenger through the entire process. He would have been lynched in Mumbai!), we finally came away with AC3T tickets for the Gyanganga express for Feb 23 and return tickets by the Kurla-Patna Janta express for Feb 24.

Two days at Allahabad were spent in absolute bliss. Shelly's house at Allahabad is next to the Allahabad-Rae barelilly line and trains whistle past throughout the day. I felt too lazy to go out and do some rail fanning there and spent the days listening to the sounds of WDMs chugging past.

Gyanganga departs from Allahabad at 0755 and 0740 found us on platform 9 at Allahabad on the appointed day. Traversing Allahabad station is very confusing. Not all over bridges lead to all platforms. Some fall short and one takes a curious turn in mid-air to meet another. For example, going from 5 to 10 might include a short detour via the bridge to pf 4 before taking a u-turn in mid-air and going in the opposite direction.

On our way to pf 9, we saw the 2418 Prayagraj express on pf 1. I looked at it with particular interest since I was to take it for Delhi a few days later. We settled down in AS2 and as usual, I went off on my stroll. A1 and AS1 were sparsely populated and so were the sleeper coaches. I began to regret our extravagance on AC3T. But as events later in the day proved, it turned out to be a wise decision.

I strolled down to the loco to see our power for the day. From the over bridge I had glimpsed a green WDM3a and guessed that a PUNE loco would be in charge. At the train end, there was no loco in charge and the railway staff awaited the loco which must have been reversing. Suddenly, from the other side of the train the WDM3a # 17871 with brand new WDP4 trundled past. This was my first glimpse of the beast and I completely forgot Bandhavgarh and everything else. I ran down the platform ramp to wait for the pair to reverse back to take charge. After what seemed an eternity, the pair came in towards the Gyanganga and were duly coupled to the train. WDP4# 20023 was dead and looked really fresh. After snapping away to my hearts content, I finally returned back to AS2. Shelly and her parents were wondering if I intended to return and looked relieved to see me back. (After all, I had the tickets!!).

1032 decided to make its move at 0830 finally and I heaved a sigh of relief. With an arrival time at noon in Katni, we intended to hire a taxi to cover the 100 odd kms to Bandhavgarh and reach there by 1500 for the evening safari. And with a WDM3a and a (dead) WDP4 at the helm, I was hopeful of a good run to Katni. All my hope evaporated when at 0833, we screeched to a halt again, half in and half out. About 10 minutes passed, during which the Patna-Kurla Janta express came in behind a WAP4. At 0845, we finally moved. 1032 crossed over at Naini onto the WCR lines and had its customary one minute halt there. Meanwhile, I was showing off my latest WDP4 photographs to Shelly and her parents and they just could not understand what the fuss was about!! I gave up and instead clicked some photographs of us having breakfast.(home cooked, of course!!).

1032 didn't seem inclined to make up its lost time and sort of trundled along at 30-40 kmph for a long time. I finally gave up on it ever reaching even 60 and went to the door to enjoy the 'sarson-ke-khet'. It was a nice time of the year and the fields were lush green. We stopped at every passing, even when the oncoming train was already waiting for us on the loop line. We passed the Kurla-Allahabad Tulsi express led by WDM3a # 18731R from Jhansi shed and one more express train whose name I could not catch. All along 1032 rarely touched even 60 kmph. I suspect that with a WDP4 on the track and maybe the track not in a very good condition, speeds were restricted. This is a guess and I may be wrong.

Manikpur was reached an hour and 30 minutes late and we found both the Sarnath express and Kamayani express waiting for us to clear the single line towards Allahabad. I had half a mind to take a walk on the line to Satna to check if my watch was still around!!...but 1032 suddenly seemed energized and we were off very soon. I still went to the door to catch a glimpse of the spot where I had dedicated my watch to some fortunate gang man...

Speeds increased significantly after Manikpur (better track condition??) and the train finally was clipping along at 90 kmph. We had a fairly uneventful run to Katni..ordered some lunch from the pantry and dozed off for some time. The food was good.a private caterer from Pune, and food cooked in the train and not from a base kitchen.

As soon as we got down at Katni at about 1345, I pulled Shelly along with me for one last glimpse of the WDP4, with my poor in-laws in charge of the luggage!! Katni station had its usual assembly of WAM4s from Itarsi and Bhilai along with a Howrah WDM3a (pointed out by Rabi in the uploads section). Katni station was getting a fresh coat of paint and some civil work was in progress. We slipped and slithered our way to the exit where the TT asked for our tickets. Finally we made our way out of the station to search for a taxi.

I had expected a proper taxi association with taxis parked neatly outside and a little bargaining before we would be on our way. Unfortunately, Katni boasted nothing like that. We walked for some distance to a cycle shop that also advertised taxi services. After asking for rates to B'garh (2200 for a return trip), we decided to explore some more. After locating a second taxi service, we closed the deal at 1700 in a Maruti 800. The owner promised to send the taxi where Shelly and her mum were waiting with their luggage. Unfortunately, this was right in front of the original taxi service who decided to make a scene now. Our driver also joined in the fun and refused to go. After a lot of to and fro and threatening and cajoling, we were finally ready to departure at 1500.

100 kms, we thought..should not take more that 3 hours. We were in for a rude shock. A little outside Katni, we paid a toll tax for a bypass we did not use and then were on one of the worst roads it has been my misfortune to travel on. No wonder Digvijay Singh lost the elections!! The Maruti pitched and rolled like a steamer on the high seas and we braced ourselves for a long and bumpy ride. At places, there was some work going on and there were some detours. Finally after about 25 kms, we came upon a stretch that in comparison felt like a jet runway. We bumped our way across this 'new' road. About 40 km before Bandhavgarh, the Maruti decided that it had been abused enough and slowly started losing power. We coasted along at 20-30 kmph for the next 20-25 km, with trucks and jeeps zooming past and coating all of us in a healthy layer of dust.

About 10 km before Bandhavgarh, in the middle of dense forest, at around 1800, the damn car broke down. That stretch was part of the National park and we started getting increasingly nervous. The driver had no clue about the problem and all of us pottered around the engine trying to locate a loose wire. I just have to upload a picture to the gallery..it captures our predicament in great detail!!

After trying to flag down a few buses and trucks to request for a tow, one bus finally decided to help us out. We were attached to the bus and slowly made our way for 3 kms where the rope broke. Three attempts later, the bus walla had enough and after pocketing 100 for his part, he moved off. So we were back to square 1. Finally, a local veterinary doctor who was passing by took pit on us and offered a lift to Tala, the entrance to the National Park. We abandoned the Maruti without much regret and made our way to his "Marshall". 2100 found us thanking our benefactor profusely and checking in a small hotel at Tala for a much deserved dinner and a well earned sleep!!

The early morning safari was great and we managed to see a lot of wildlife. The elephants with the forest department managed to track down a tiger and we got a ride on the elephant to watch the magnificent beast slumbering in a bamboo thicket. Got a few shots of the sleeping beauty before returning back to our hotel.

We left Tala by a better option-a Marshall and a bumpy ride later reached Katni for our return journey by the Kurla-Patna express. Departure time 1745. I spent an hour in Katni doing some railfanning. The 2321 and 2322 Howrah mail were running late by one hour and both arrived behind twin diesels from Itarsi shed. The Shaktipunj express from Howrah to Jabalpur arrived behind a WDM2 from Patratu (where is that?). The Gondwana express arrived behind a Katni WDM2 and gave way to a WAM4 6P from itarsi (photographs uploaded). A curious thing about the general coaches on the Gondwana; all were marked as running between Jabalpur-Bina only.

The Kurla-Patna super fast crawled by at 1745 with twin WDM3a s in charge and our own Kurla-Patna Janta came in soon after. I was dead tired and put out my berth and was fast asleep even before we left Katni. Allahabad came at 0030 hours and we took our Maruti 800 back home. Thankfully, it didn't stall this time!!

Part 4: Allahabad-Delhi-Ahmedabad

We were booked on the 2417 Prayag Raj express for Feb 26 and then by the 2916 Ashram from Delhi to Ahmedabad for Feb 27. But before that, our tug-of-war with the Maruti 800 continued. On the 25th, the whole family decided to go for a drive to the new cable stayed bridge on the Ganga. We reached the bridge by 2330 and enjoyed the view. Allahabad was hosting the magh mela and there was a wonderful view of the lit up tents near the Sangam. On the other side, trains rumbled past on the old rail cum road bridge. At 0000, we decided to head back.only for the car to put its head between its ears and refuse to budge. It took us the better part of two hours to coax it back to life and at the end of the time; I vowed never to buy a Maruti 800 in my life!!

On the 26th, we made our way to Allahabad station. Prayag Raj was on pf 1(as usual) and we headed towards S-12, our coach for the night. Shelly's father was also accompanying us to New Delhi on his way to Warangal and he was in A1.

As we entered S-12 and proceeded to our berths, we found a group of 7 men already settled down. They looked so confident that I double checked my tickets. We were at the right place and I requested them to make way. We settled down and this time I did not take my usual walk to the front of the train. S-12 was way back. 12 sleeper coaches plus 7-8 AC coaches plus the GS coaches seemed a little too distant for me and I decided to check the loco next morning.

We pulled out at 2130 with the most horrible jerk. In fact, these jerks were a constant feature of the journey and there were times in the night when I had to catch hold of the berth to prevent myself from toppling over. The Prayag Raj has different coaches. I remember reading that they use the LHB coupling or something (please correct me if I am wrong) and maybe that was the cause of the problem. All coaches were 03xxx manufactured and had different kind of toilets. The interior was completely white in some material I could not fathom. In many places, the white was turning yellow. In fact, the whole toilet looked like a pre-fabricated unit. Any ideas, anyone?

In our 'coupe' of six, we had nine people and I wondered it was going to remain like that the whole night. Shelly and I put out our bedding by 2230 till which time the TC had not made an appearance. The other six people made themselves comfortable on four berths. When the TC finally arrived, two of them muttered "staff" and said that the other people were with them. To my amazement, the TC accepted that and did not ask for any proof. Since the four berths were Kanpur quota, there was no problem till Kanpur.

Kanpur came at 0010 and then these people had to shift. Soon enough, two of them laid out their mattresses in the space between the two LBs and made themselves comfortable. This was highly irritating because a) they were traveling without any tickets and b) I thought that a journey by the Prayag Raj would mean freedom from something like this.

I woke up in the morning at 0640 at Ghaziabad. We left in a couple of minutes and I took out my camera to catch some early morning action. Just as we left, the 2904 Golden Temple mail pulled in behind a WDM3a. We picked up speed and then slowed down at Sahibabad. In fact, we had a brief halt there before proceeding. Just as we left Sahibabad, the Swarna Shatabdi to Lucknow zoomed past with a WAP5 in charge. It went so quickly that my camera registered a streak!! Soon we left the lines for Delhi and took the curve towards Anand Vihar and New Delhi. We crossed the bridge on the Yamuna and the NE express with WAP4 # 22363 from HWH in charge. The train took a sharp curve to the right as it joined the mainline from Mathura. I confirmed that a WAP5 was indeed at the helm. A brief halt at Tilak bridge and we crawled into New Delhi on pf 10 at 0720, about 15 minutes late. A SC rake was on pf 11 and I racked my brains trying to figure out the train. Was it the APSK or a special? Imagine my surprise when the name board announced it to be the AP express? It was almost 14 hours late and obviously the derailment near Ballarshah had taken its toll. There is something about a delayed train that looks very forlorn. The rake looks tired, the people inside weary and the caterers look half asleep. Meanwhile, the Lucknow mail was announced as 15 minutes late and the Golden Temple was announced as arriving on pf 9.

Our earlier plan was to take a ride on the metro before heading home to Shelly's aunt's place at Chanakyapuri. But with the luggage having doubled after the Allahabad trip (don't know how it happens!!), we shelved our metro plans and decided to go home instead.

Ashram departs Delhi at 1505 and arrives at Delhi Cantt. at 1530. Since Chanakyapuri is closer to Cantt., we decided to board from there. We arrived at Delhi Cantt at 1500. My experience on this route always has been that trains from Delhi arrive at least 15-20 minutes late. I did not expect Ashram before 1545. At around 1520, a Katni WDM3a, smoking heavily, brought in a strange rake from Rewari side. The bogies looked like converted double decker coaches, a photo of which I had uploaded a few days back.

Delhi Cantt. does not have any facilities for announcing bogie positions. We were in S-11 and I tried to make a guess about where we should head. I decided that S-11 would be right in front, just after the AC coaches. I decided to double check and asked a coolie about the correct position. As expected, he said..right at the back!! I groaned and started lugging everything to the back. At 1545, the twin diesels from ABR were sighted. The lead was WDM2 # 16794. I couldn't catch the number of the twin. As the AC coaches passed us, to my horror, I found the S-12 and S-11 coaches following them. So much for relying on the coolie!!!. There were a lot of people getting in at Cantt and everybody seemed to be running helter-skelter. We managed to squeeze into S-11, just as the train started.

We had a LB and MB and I found a Gujarati family reclining comfortably there. To my surprise, they shifted willingly when I requested them and I heaved a sigh of relief. I had bought a copy of "Men are from mars and women are from Venus" at the book stall and I settled down comfortably at the window with the book in hand. North India is a very nice place to be at this time of the year and as we sped through Haryana, the fields on either side were resplendent with their sarson ki kheti.

Rewari arrived at 1700 and we had a brief 2 minute halt there. I went to the door to catch a glimpse of the train as it would curve to the south after Rewari towards Bandikui and Alwar. On the adjoining platform, Fairy Queen waited with a rake of three. I cursed myself for having forgotten my camera on the berth.

The next stop after Rewari was Alwar and we crossed the Porbander Delhi Sarai Rohilla express. With the Ashram getting priority, we got the main line, but passed very slowly, enough for me to notice that the Porbander express was a decent rake with 96xxx and newer coaches. Alwar arrived about 20 minutes late at 1805 and we departed after a brief halt.

Ashram crosses the Pooja express between Alwar and Bandikui and I was eagerly awaiting this. Soon enough, we were taken on a loop line and waited for the Pooja express. I have traveled on this section often and it is the Ashram which always waits for the Pooja as well as the Shatabdi following it. This is true in the up and down directions. I took my customary walk outside the train with the camera in my hand. After my 'watch' experience at Manikpur, I had the camera strap firmly attached to my hand!!

The signals on the mainline soon turned green and I walked over to the far side to take a few snaps. The train went by in a flash and I had my customary two snaps to show to Shelly inside. We took off shortly afterward and 20-25 minutes later were on a loop line again waiting for the Shatabdi. It was getting dark by now and I decided to stay by the door. The Shatabdi screamed past at us at high speed and with the darkness and speed combined, all I had on my camera was a dark smear. This snap I didn't show to Shelly!!

We had a 2 minute halt at Bandikui soon afterwards, before leaving for Dausa and Jaipur. Dausa was the constituency of the Late. Rajesh Pilot and Ashram has the 'rare' distinction of a halt here!!! None of the other ADI-DLI trains halt here including the Delhi Mail and Ala Hazrat.

Even after running 20 minutes late from Delhi, we arrived at Jaipur RT. Jaipur is a pretty nice station, well lit with wide platforms (at least pf1) and an efficient refreshment stall. Dinner for Ashram is picked up from Jaipur and there is crew change.

We left Jaipur at 2100. It was pleasant night journey with the cold having given way to a bracing cool breeze. Mehasana came at 0630 and I was wide wake after that. Ashram has a crossing with the Aravalli between Mehasana and Ahmedabad and I didn't want to miss that.

I have traveled by Ashram on many occasions and Mehasana-Ahmedabad is the stretch where it invariably gets delayed. The main culprit is the Aravali express. As per schedule, Aravali waits for Ashram between Kalol and Mehasana, but is usually late and it is the Ashram which has to wait at some wayside station. Sure enough, we got the red at Kalol and were kept waiting on the platform for 15 minutes. Finally, Aravali turned up behind its usual ABR twin WDM2 s and crawled to a halt. To add insult to injury, it left before us!!! We left a couple of moments after Aravali. By the way, Aravali is a 24 coach train with 6 AC (AC2 and 4 AC3).

Well, after that Ashram seemed to loose all hopes of getting in right time and we cantered along at disappointing 40-45 kmph. Just after Khodiyar, a branch line from IFFCO joined the mainline and ran parallel with us for some distance before merging with our line. This is an electrified line specially meant for IFFCO. The MG line ran parallel to us on the right (towards ADI) and we crossed the early morning passenger to Mehasana. At a certain point, the MG line crosses to the left via an under bridge and we were in single line BG territory again for some distance. As we approached the mainline from Viramgam, one line took off to the right to merge with the Viramgam line towards Viramgam/ Rajkot. This is one arm of the triangle, the others being the route Ashram would take curving left to meet the Viramgam line, while the Viramgam line itself is the third arm of the triangle. The first arm is used by goods train from the ports of Kandla and Mundra for proceeding towards the north without having to reverse at Ahmedabad.

At 0825, we reached Sabarmati. The Ashram now has a halt here for people from the western suburbs and as expected, half the train emptied here. Sabarmati is a junction with the MG lines mentioned earlier (from Mehasana) joining here again. There is a huge goods loading/ unloading yard and MG diesel shed here. There are chances of the main railway station at Ahmedabad being shifted here in future. We took the over bridge for pf 1, just as the Bangalore-Gandhidham express passed through.

We made our way outside to the hordes of auto-rickshaws. We finally picked one we liked ;-) and soon were on our way home...after a very satisfying trip..an old historic town in the heart of India, the king of beasts and other beasts on IR..i think I managed to be behind almost all kinds of locos..from the WDM2 of the Shanti, to the YDM4 at Ujjain, from the WAP4 of the Shipra to the WDM3a WDP4 combo of the Gyan ganga, from the WAP5 of the Prayagraj to the twin WDMs of the Ashram.what more could a rail fan ask??

Material provided by Abhijit Lokre, Copyright © 2005.
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