Kangra Valley Weekender
by Bharat Vohra
Photos from this trip can be viewed here: Kangra Valley Trip Photos
Of the 5 mountain railways in India, it was the Kangra Valley Railway or KVR as it's referred to that had eluded me thus far. I had been planning a trip since the middle of 2004 and it was only to materialize in June '05. Mohan Bhuyan and me were very keen on traveling on the only first class service out of Pathankot which left there at the unearthly time of 0240 am. There was no way an overnight connection from Delhi would get us there in time for it, so Mohan worked on an ingenious way of connecting with the train. We were to leave by the evening Amritsar Shatabdi from New Delhi and travel to Amritsar. Change to the Ferozpur - Jammu express from there and make it to Pathankot by 0200 with 40 mins to spare between trains. Our plans to board the 0240 departure changed last minute but our bookings however remained as they were!
Departure from New Delhi was on time on train 2013 to Amritsar. Led by a rather dusty looking WAP1 22071 from Gaziabad, the 12 coach train made very good progress all the way till a few stations short of Ambala where we were held up for what seemed like eternity. At Ambala I was at the door hoping to get out for a quick cuppa but instead we just sailed through the station - I had forgotten that the evening Shatabdi for Amritsar does not have a scheduled halt there. While at the door I spotted Gaziabad's latest WAP4 22623 at the head of the Saharanpur bound express from Nangal Dam and that effectively put to rest my claim of having experienced IR's latest WAP4 22620 a week earlier! CLW had obviously gone ahead and produced a few units more!
The rest of the journey was spent in the chilled confines of our chair car coach no.15835. Many snacks, 4 halts and some pretty good dinner later we had pulled into Amritsar some 20" late. We had an hour and a bit to go till the departure of train 9113 towards Pathankot and we spent that time hanging around at one of the less busier platforms admiring the fine structure of the station shed and sipping on an aperitif as we did so! We also devoted a few minutes of our time marveling at NR's latest invention - the fly catcher which they've put up at most of the big stations we passed that evening. A pretty useful and effective solution to the menace no doubt! Closer to the scheduled arrival of our train from Ferozpur we had moved to its earmarked platform and soon heard a distant horn on our platform line. Moved to the edge of the platform to discover a train heading our way from the Atari side with a 'waist level mounted headlamp' locomotive in the lead. Not only that this particular train showed no signs of slowing down for the station and was approaching us horns blaring! What on earth could this be? The train from Pakistan of course! And soon it was gone - the 4002 Atari-Delhi Express - without even bothering to call on an important station like Amritsar! Quite a sight indeed - led by a WDP3 the 15 coach train had armed escort on each coach and mostly occupants from across the border. It left behind a trail of dust and a pretty startled platform crowd! An interesting observation Mohan made - the train has a special number 4001/02 and even though it doesn't stop at Amritsar and am sure a lot of other stations en route, it is still not numbered as a superfast!!
Train 9113 for Jammu was a 15 coach WR rake which formed a link with the Ahmedabad - Jammu Express. A Bhagat Ki Koti WDM2 no.17825 brought in the train a good half hour late and after a quick run around headed out from Amritsar in the reverse direction 40" late. Lower berths on sleeper coach 91215 proved to be pretty uncomfortable on the journey to Pathankot and the drivers obsession with the horn didn't help matters either. Neither of us had ever encountered such excessive use or shall I say abuse of the loco horn till date! Pathankot arrival was an hour late and we thanked our stars we had changed our plans a few days earlier - that of connecting with the 0240 NG service to Jogindernagar. Not only that, after confirming with the staff on duty, we realized that there had been no FC coach attached to the train that morning!! So much for the only scheduled FC service on that line!
While pulling into the main platform at Pathankot, I spotted 3 DEMU sets parked on the adjacent termini platform of which 1 was the new aerodynamic set which Jalandhar car shed hosts thesedays! While it looked very impressive, we were far to tired and scruffy after our journey to trudge back the length of the platform to check it out or photograph it and by the time we came back to the station later that morning it had already departed on a scheduled service! Am told it runs through to Udhampur on most days.
With the retiring rooms offering no availability, we hired a cycle rickshaw and went through the dead streets of Pathankot town to find accommodation. Finally found a half decent aircon room not to far from the station and crashed for a few hours. After a much needed bath and several cups of tea we were back at Pathankot station close to 0800. The reason why we had changed our plans to board the 0240 NG train was because we had been informed a couple of days earlier that there would be a steam up of ZB 66 at Pathankot on the same morning. We couldn't possibly resist that offer and so landed up to meet our contact at the NG diesel shed at Pathankot. The next 2 hours were spent photographing and riding on the graceful 1952 built ZB locomotive. ZB 66 had served its working life on the NG lines of WR centred around Baroda and was recently transferred from Pratapnagar shops to the KVR with the hope of running steam excursions on the line one fine day. While that hasn't quite materialized on account of certain technicalities, it is steamed up every now and then to run up and down the stretch from the shed to the station and back. On this day it was our turn to enjoy that very treat! And enjoy it we did.
Pathankot NG shed is home to 14 ZDM3's with a trip shed facility at Baijnath Paprola. These locos which sport the now familiar dual tone orange cream livery of Shakurbasti shed once called on Kalka for their POH but are now overhauled at the workshops at Amritsar. Coaching stock however continues to patronise the services of Kalka! Steam traction on the KVR was replaced entirely by diesels in the early 70's but the adjoining BG steam shed continued into the early 80's holding mostly CWD class locos till its last days. The remains of the BG steam shed now house a trip shed for WDS4's from Shakurbasti and a lone example could be seen there - powered down - on that occasion. To the west of the station are 2 fine railway attractions - a dual gauge turntable in full working order (NG locos run SHF on the ascent to Jogindernagar) and an 1895 built Oudh & Rohilkund (O & RR) BG hand operated crane! I have since written to the concerned authorities requesting them to have this transferred to the National Rail Museum - let's hope something positive comes of it.
On our arrival at Pathankot and while walking to the NG side, Mohan noticed that the alignment of the NG platform had shifted from the left of the BG platforms (as one faces east) to the right hand side across the BG yard! We found out later that this had been done to eliminate long closure of the busy LC gate (which lies a few hundred metres ahead of the station limits) on account of NG rakes being shunted in and out of their coaching depot. With the alignment having shifted, all NG infrastructure at Pathankot now lies south of the BG yard. The main carriage depot for this NG line is at Pathankot with pit lines available at Baijnath and Jogindernagar for inspection of rolling stock before and after hill section working. Further south of the NG yard and just outside the boundary wall of the station runs an almost disused (but yet to be uprooted) BG track on a regular thoroughfare into a military siding and a ballast quarry. This was also the subject of discussion on this forum some weeks ago. I was telling Mohan on our return that it would be some sight to see a WDM2 come charging down this stretch taking everyone by surprise - especially those who've treated it with contempt thus far - parking their vehicles across and over it!!
The KVR has always been spoken about as the most underrated of the 5 hill railways in India. I was most curious to discover this for myself. Mohan had seen the line a couple of years ago upto Baijnath but not beyond that and not all in day light. So we had decided to do the line in 2 stages ensuring that we cover all of it in good light. The 1st journey would be from Pathankot to Baijnath and ZDM3 191 was to be our base for the next 7 odd hours on the ascent to Baijnath. Train 3PBJ was a 7 coach consist and eventually departed a leisurely 35" late. With no less than 5 crossings enroute one would imagine a rather delayed arrival at Baijnath and beyond at Jogindernagar but generous slack time ensured that this was not to be. We were actually right time at Baijnath!
It was hot that morning and we couldn't wait to get into cooler climes. The journey began by cutting through the built up areas of Pathankot town which has numerous LC gates to its credit. After a long spell of continuous hooting we were finally rid of the town and out into the countryside with the National Highway giving us company on our left. An armed forces ordinance facility was soon passed with all the neatness and order that goes with it and that was in stark contrast to the urban area that we had just traversed. Soon after the ordinance depot, gentle grades on a relatively straight track are encountered and with that some very tall Deodhar trees which line the permanent way on both sides making for a very charming avenue. The national highway disappears just short of the 1st station at Dalhousie Road and the station possibly derives its name from the road going upto that very hill station.
Dalhousie Rd is the only station on the line to boast of a signal gantry at each end and unlike other stations enroute which only have a home and a starter signal, this one provides the statutory 4 - outer, home, starter and advanced starter! Signalling on the route is lower quadrant semaphore with signals provided for all manned LC's and of course all crossing stations. Stations can broadly be classified as crossing stations and halts with the latter making up the majority on the line. The stations of any respectable size are Pathankot, Baijnath Paprola, Jogindernagar and Nagrota. The last one notable for its sleeper cutting yard. Most crossing stations have a main platform and a much smaller island platform to serve trains on loops.
We had the 1st of 5 crossings at Dalhousie Road with a 7 coach train headed by ZDM3 190. The interesting thing on this line is that in most cases, the train coming in last at a crossing station is actually the 1st to leave! So if your train gets into a scheduled crossing station early, be prepared to wait..and wait! Another notable and fascinating thing about this line is that in a majority of stations there are women to operate the points/signals and hand over tokens to crews. They are dressed either in a sari or salwar kameez with the colour blue as a constant! In keeping with the 'last one in goes out first' philosophy, we were soon on our way from Dalhousie Road. The 1st of many major bridges lay ahead - the one over the Chakki river which also effectively splits the states of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. It is here that the national highway joins us again briefly in the form of a parallel road bridge. The amazing thing about the KVR is that none of the bridges that we encountered en route had any speed restriction on them - irrespective of how old or delicate they were. While the track condition out of Pathankot doesn't exactly inspire confidence with limited ballast and packing, things take a turn for the better as the line trudges on. The grassed over stretches soon give way to clear sections of track laid on steel sleepers with a liberal packing of ballast. The track is laid with steel sleepers all the way to Nagrota from where the original and older wooden sleepers take over. Permanent way gangs were encountered at a few places with linesmen being a fairly regular feature trackside. As with the Kalka - Simla Railway (KSR), a lot of stations on the KVR have spring loaded points on their entries and exits. While the KVR doesn't quite match up to the high permanent way standards of the KSR, it isn't to far behind either.
With the dry riverbed of the Chakki crossed, we moved on through Kandwal halt into Nurpur road. After Nurpur, the speeds drop and the gradients increase till Talara - the altitude rising by a couple of 100 metres. The height gained is lost immediately after Talara by way of a descent through till Jawanwala Shahr. After Jawanwala Shahr the line is undulating all the way till Jawalamukhi Road where it rises to about the same height as that of Talara. From there on it is uphill all the way till Baijnath town. While the KSR begins a no-nonsense ascent right out of Kalka town with numerous twists, turns and tunnels to gain height, the KVR does it at a more relaxed pace stretching itself over twice the distance of the KSR but to a height which is only half (1200 mtrs) of that reached by the KSR.
Even though the KVR does not get to the altitude of the Simla line or offer as many screams in the form of numerous tunnels, it offers an assortment of landscape that is unmatched by that of the KSR or any of the other hill railways in India. This is of course a very personal opinion but it only grew with every kilometer of the line that unraveled itself before us. To me the KVR has all the hygiene factors one would expect from a hill railway - be it gradients, curves, bridges, tunnels, etc. Only difference being it achieves all of this in the most relaxed manner with the utmost of grace and style. And in doing so it reveals facets of the Kangra Valley that one cannot possibly experience through any other mode of transport.
The speeds on the KVR vary with the degree of ascent. The 1st 20 kms upto Nurpur is relatively flat terrain and allows for a 40 kmh MPS. As the gradients kick in after Nurpur, the MPS is a more sober 30-35 and eventually drops to a very restricted 20 on the Baijnath - Jogindernagar section, which is in fact the steepest stretch on the line. Gradients encountered upto Baijnath are in no way mild or easy. 1 in 40 is the order of the day here and the incline is most apparent when viewed from the locomotive. The stretch from Baijnath to Jogindernagar boasts of the steepest non adhesion gradient on IR - that of 1 in 19.5. Although we didn't quite spot a gradient marker of this magnitude, we did spot enough in the 1 in 25 range which seems to be the ruling gradient there. Of the 7 one way services on the line, only 2 cover the entire 164 km stretch to Jogindernagar and both of these have a rather long halt at Baijnath where 3 coaches are cut off for the ascent to Jogindernagar and 3 added on the way down to Pathankot. Having footplated the Baijnath-Jogindernagar section one realizes that there is no way the puny ZDM3 can cope with anything more than 4 coaches - it struggles to keep pace with the MPS and touches it only on descents! Having said that, it would have been a fabulous sight to see steam locos working the same gradients 30 or more years ago!
The 2nd of numerous major bridges - Dehar Khud - is crossed between Jawanwala Shahr and Harsar Dehri. It is around this point where one can see the waters of the gigantic Pong Dam reservoir in the distance. The Dam was built on the River Beas in the 70's and most of the water channels we would cross that day were tributaries of the same. The area between the reservoir and the railway line is made up of a large expanse of endless fields which are nothing more than well defined brown patches of land. Am told that the very same patches of land are stunningly green in the monsoon months - I can well believe so. Traces of the old alignment between Jawanwala Shahr and Guler that were washed out on account of the damn being built can be seen at a distance, albeit a lot lower in height than the current alignment. The most visible remnant of this is a bridge with only its columns remaining. The railway line offers the best perch possible to view the reservoir from - rising well above its surroundings with a large mass of rolling land on the one side and the mountains on the other.
At Harsar Dehri, I decided to take a bit of a breather from the locomotive and spend time in the guard van. I was to remain there till Jawalamukhi Rd while Mohan stayed on board 191. We had our 2nd crossing at Harsar Dehri with no.162 on yet another 7 coach train bound for Pathankot. The guard's van was a freshly overhauled coach and certainly a lot cooler than the interiors of the loco cab. Besides there were 2 trailing windows and 2 doors pretty much to myself to enjoy the views from! Needless to say the views were quite different and the first attraction to watch out for from my new vantage point was that of the new bridge over the Gaj Khud. This happens to be the longest of the bridges on the KVR and measures almost half a km in length. The train takes a sweeping curve right while approaching the bridge and curves right immediately after as well..giving great views of the bridge on both ends.
The stunning vistas of the Pong Dam reservoir which often looks like an ocean continue in the distance providing a perfect backdrop to an already enjoyable rail journey. After Guler, another tributary from the Beas, the Banganga river follows the railway alignment closely all the way through to Kangra. It starts of on our right as it meanders its way through a deep gorge and has all the makings of a high altitude Himalayan water channel complete with large well rounded rocks forming the river bed, crystal clear waters & lush greenery. It is here that the landscape changes quite a bit, takes on a lot more greenery, loses those brown patches, the line twists and turns a bit more and picks up on the ascent. At a point where the Banganga takes a drastic turn north, the railway has no option but to go over it in the form of a striking girder bridge which painted a bright silver recently contrasts well with the stunningly deep green surroundings and forest. The alignment approaches it dead straight and just when you think your headed into the hillside, it curves sharply left to try and catch up with the alignment of the Banganga. And catch up it does. From then on the Banganga river gorge does not leave sight of us - only drops deeper and deeper as we continue to rise on our ascent to Baijnath. If the 1st 3 bridges were fascinating, the views of the Pong Dam reservoir enthralling, the line running alongside the Banganga river beautiful, the best was yet to come!
At Jawalamukhi Rd, the halfway point on the line, Mohan caught sight of the Dhauladhar mountain range in the distance which could be ignored quite easily at first glance - due to its limited visibility - but when viewed more closely it leaves one completely awestruck. It stands there like a wall behind the lower Himalayas and the snow capped peaks not only look stunning but very imposing to. Everything in comparison suddenly seems quite miniscule. As we headed further up the line, the views of the range became clearer and clearer and the mountain range kept getting closer. I'm told this is the closest any railway line in India gets to a Himalayan mountain range. I could well believe that given that at the closest point it couldn't be more than a few kms away as the crow flies. So close and yet so far we thought. Sweating it out on the lower reaches while snow capped peaks were in full sight from most parts of the line!
Jawalamukhi was a leisurely halt and whilst there we were treated to some very good tea and pakodas at a stall run by a very gracious Sikh gentlemen. Destiny had it that we would return there the next day and call on his stall once again.
Crossing no.3 was had at the next station - Kopar Lahar where ZDM3 160 was on the 7 coach 2PBJ to Pathankot. We seemed to be reaching all the crossing stations first and as a result this was yet another long halt. We weren't complaining though as the hillock ahead of the station offers some great views of the line curving ahead and this provided us with some fine shots. As a matter of interest, ZDM3 160 was in fact the only loco we saw running LHF on the way down - all locos heading to Pathankot are turned at the triangle at Baijnath to ensure SHF running.
The section between Jawalamukhi and Kangra sees the line gaining quite a bit of altitude and it does so with able assistance from deep rock cuttings and some tight curves. The rock cuttings on this section are some of the highest I've ever seen. The only 2 tunnels on the KVR are also crossed in this short section - the 1st after Jawalamukhi Rd and the 2nd and longer one after Kopar Lahar. Meanwhile, the Banganga river continues to plunge deeper with the gorge becoming that much more apparent as it heads towards Kangra. The Kangra fort can be seen some distance before the station is reached - perched high on a cliff across the valley from us. Kangra station has a picture perfect setting - the Dhauladhar range having become a lot more noticeable now and some gorgeous views to be had of the meandering river gorge below.
While it is commonly believed that the steel arch bridge over the Reond Khud lies between Tripal & Lunsu halts, it actually lies just a little beyond Kangra station as you head towards Palanpur. More importantly though, there is no way this magnificent bridge can be viewed from the train. Even though the line does curve a little to the left on the exit of the bridge, the views are blocked by a small hill. The khud needless to say is deep as hell! The only way this bridge can be viewed & photographed is from the road that passes on the other side of the Banganga valley. Next time we thought!!
Between Kangra and Nagrota, the line seems to flatten out a bit now offering unrestricted views of the Dhauladhar. The KVR's way of bowing down to the mighty mountain range! Despite those long delays on account of crossings, Nagrota was reached 5" before time. The sleeper cutting yard can be seen to the right of the train across the sprawl of the 5 track yard. There are many stations on the KVR where remains of goods sidings can be seen - Nagrota is one such location. I wonder what the railway carried other than what it was purpose built for?
After Nagrota, the grades are a lot more gentle than before but the curves increase in their sharpness. An interesting feature of the line appears after Nagrota and continues through to Jogindernagar - that of countless waterpipes laid over the railway alignment by means of overhead bridges. The astounding statistic of 971 bridges on the KVR cannot all be attributed to conventional bridges alone. These very waterpipe carrying bridges share some of that honour and by conservative estimate account for some 5-10% of that number! The Nagrota - Palanpur section first encounters some very dense pine forests whose fragrance is quite evident and most welcome to! Closer to Palanpur Himachal where the line takes a sweeping curve to the right, these give way to open stretches of track, slightly elevated with terraced cultivation on both sides. Makes for a very pretty picture with the Dhauladhars in the background.
The same feat was repeated at Palanpur - that of reaching 5" early! Palanpur Himachal (as the station is referred to) is one of the most delightful little stations amongst many on the KVR and is possibly the prettiest of the lot. It seemed Palanpur liked our company as much as we liked being there! We were kept waiting there for almost 30 mins to allow for 2 crossings. The 1st train was already there when we reached with ZDM3 159 heading the 7 coach 6PB. This train had on it a First class coach which we were pleasantly surprised to see! Interestingly it wasn't a scheduled first class service either confirming our earlier belief that the coach is added to any train as and when available - quite a nuisance when you have to plan around it! After 6PB was dispatched we were kept waiting for the last through working (from Jogindernagar) to Pathankot which showed up quite a while later behind ZDM3 195 and that in effect completed our 5 crossings enroute from Pathankot to Baijnath.
While most crossing stations on the KVR have their station buildings slightly elevated from the platform and steps leading upto it, Palanpur had the customary steps as well as a concrete ramp leading upto the station masters office. This ramp was something out of a forest walk in a hill station - decked up on both sides by bougainvillea and assorted bushes and trees - truly picturesque.
Baijnath was eventually reached 5" late - not bad given all the endless waits at crossings! The last downhill working - 8PB was being prepared for departure and since that starts from Baijnath, our train had been kept on the loop. Meanwhile ZDM3 191 busied itself cutting of 3 coaches from our train and composing the rake for its onward journey to Jogindernagar. As was mentioned earlier, 4 coaches are the maximum load allowed on the steep stretch to Jogindernagar. Locos are expected to run SHF on the journey through to Jogindernagar and SHF on the journey down from Baijnath to Pathankot. The only stretch where they run LHF is between Jogindernagar and Baijnath. At Baijnath the same locos are turned around to run SHF by means of the triangle in the station yard. For this reason and for the purpose of attaching / detaching coaches, Baijnath is the longest of scheduled halts for the 2 pairs of through trains on the line.
We waited for the departure of our train to Jogindernagar and set up position at the end of the yard to photograph it as it negotiated the Binuva Khud just below the station. The Binuva khud effectively splits the twin towns of Paprola and Baijnath and Paprola is the town closer to the station. We seemed to be unlucky with retiring rooms on this trip and so made our way up to the highway to look for a hotel We were told that the only decent ones to be had were in Baijnath so we wasted no time in catching the next available bus there. The bus journey to Baijnath takes no more than 5-10 mins and costs all of Rs.1! A very efficient way of shuttling between the 2 towns! At Baijnath we checked into Hotel Standard which unfortunately was devoid of any standards so to speak! Very very basic accommodation but we had no choice! Suprising really given that Baijnath is a pilgrimage center and should surely have a variety of accommodation on offer. After a very tiring and sweaty day we had a most refreshing hot water bath (it was pleasant there compared to the plains) and then set out to find some dinner. After overdoing it at the dhaba we trudged back to our hotel and called it a night. Slept well and were awake early enough the next morning to catch in some breakfast, get ready and make it down to the station well in time for the 0950 departure of the IPBJ to Jogindernagar.
The 23 kms to Jogindernagar was done on board ZDM3 160 which departed with its 4 coach train about 25" late from Baijnath Paprola. Immediately out of the station is the 1st of many sub 1 in 40 inclines and this particular one straight away brought us upto Bhore/Thull Ghat standards - 1 in 37 down!! After the short descent we turned right to cross the Binuva Khud and then wasted no time in beginning our climb up to Baijnath Mandir. The mandir halt we thought would have been a lot closer to the town of Baijnath but since the train halts at Baijnath Paprola forever, most people would sensibly make their way up by road. The initial ascent up is through the lower reaches of Baijnath town and that is interspersed with a thick green forest cover with some very tall tress. The water pipe crossings start to reduce at this point and we see them again only closer to Jogindernagar.
In my opinion, the stretch from Baijnath Mandir to Ahju is undoubtedly the most stunning stretch of railway amongst any of the 5 hill railways in India and having done the other 4, I can say so with some confidence. It starts of with a thick forest cover and some mighty trees with a river valley to our left. The railway alignment is perched on one side of the valley. The river valley is deep and even at this time of year had a decent amount of water running through it. At other places the river bed was exposed complete with large rocks that one sees only high up in the mountains. The other side of the valley is laden with some of the thickest pine forests I have ever seen in my life. All you have is this one railway track truly in the midst of nature with absolutely no signs of habitat, no man made object in sight and not even the obstructive telegraph pole marring your view. At this point, the only setting in my experience that I could draw a parallel to was my walk through the valley of flowers several years ago. The surroundings were equally mesmerizing only this time I was on a train!
The river changes its course a few kms upstream and meanders right while the railway is forced to go over it through yet another marvel of a bridge. Short as it may be, it would be a dream to photograph a train at this particular bridge which seems to have been placed by magic in the lap of nature. I cannot help but repeat that the images that keep coming to mind are that of the Valley of flowers - and here I am imagining a train running right through it! J And all this while we hadn't even turned back to look at the snow capped peaks of the Dhauladhar which although visible were slowly receding in the distance. The river moves further away from the railway alignment at this point and so does the thick forest cover giving way to meadows and terraced gardens. The meadows come right upto the railway alignment and one could only imagine what a fine picnic or camping spot this could be for a railway enthusiast or even a nature lover for that matter! Which brings me to another very important point. The KVR is completely devoid of trackside dirt almost throughout its stretch from Pathankot to Jogindernagar and that I'm afraid is a feat none of the other mountain railways can boast of any longer. It probably helps that this railway carries more locals than tourists and thankfully their access to and possibly availability of plastic packed junk food & beverages is a lot more limited than their more touristy hill railway counterparts across the country!! Thank god for small mercies which have given us unscathed stretches of track amidst the most stunning countryside possible!
Closer to Ahju where endless terraced gardens backed by the graceful lines of distant mountains have now provided for a change in scenery, habitat finally comes into view in the form of livestock and farmers toiling hard in their fields. And while there appears to be no road access nearby, the farmers houses have all been set up closer to the railway alignment. Houses are mostly double storeyed and of the sloping roof variety which harmonise well with their surroundings unlike the concrete monstrosities most of our hill stations have become synonymous with today. Another great thing about the KVR is the relative lack of construction activity along the hill slides and the artificial land slips that result from it - when compared to say what one see from the Kalka Simla railway. The construction activity is concentrated around the bigger towns of Kangra, Palanpur, Baijnath, etc and all other parts of the hills that we saw on this line were left untouched with their forest cover intact - a refreshing sight indeed!
After the river crossing, the grades start easing up a little while the curves are long sweeping ones indicating that the summit on the line isn't to far away now. Standing at a height of 1210 metres, Ahju is the highest station on the KVR and catch sidings can be seen on the approach in and out of the station. An almost continuous descent of 1 in 25 out of Ahju was tackled skillfully by the crew who were hard on the brakes throughout never once letting the speed exceed the limit of 20kmh. On the ascents however the story is altogether different with the ZDM3 being flat out and yet straining to cope with the load! After Ahju, one also encounters some of the tightest curves on the line - a lot of them sporting guide rails - and one of these necessitated a caution order as well! And while we were busy negotiating our way downhill through these steep descents and tight curves, the thick forests reappeared and began to envelop us yet again, completely cutting out the view of the surrounding mountains.
Between Ahju and the 2nd last station on the line - Chauntra Behetrah - a humongous Buddhist monastery and school complete with housing complex is passed on our left. Unfortunately the railway line passes by the rear boundary wall of the monastery and what seems to be an impressive fašade is missed out when viewed from the train. Buddhist monks in their maroon robes wave to passengers on the train from the adjoining housing complex which although a modern construction has been aesthetically built. In the meantime, the thick forests continue and finally after a sharp curve to the right the valley that was so far hidden is suddenly revealed in the most stunning manner possible. And with that begins the last ascent into Jogindernagar with the grades alternating between a low of 1 in 40 and a high of 1 in 25. The last of the waterpipe crossings can be seen just before the approach to the station and that traverses both the mainline as well as the catch siding.
Jogindernagar arrival was 15" late with an impressive 10" made up on the ascent from Baijnath! Jogindernagar is yet another pretty station on the KVR and beyond it one can see the line ascending steeply towards the powerhouse but in reality is gets truncated a little further up. Part of that line is still in use and serves as a shunting neck when the incoming rake is backed out of the platform into the pit line for inspection and vice versa for the outgoing rake. The remains of a goods siding complete with rusted crane can be seen a little west of the platform. Given that the power plant had a dedicated feeder line from the station, I wonder what this siding and a lot of others on intermediate stations on the KVR were ever used for?
With the KVR having been covered by train in daylight from end to end, the plan now was to head back to Baijnath on the train and then look for road transport to hire for the journey down to Pathankot. The end purpose being to chase the train and photograph it along the way as we did so! So train 4PBJ it was with a 5" late departure from Jogindernagar and Mohan and I took our seats in the very comfortable and sparsely patronized GS coach no.547. As has probably been mentioned before in this report, a lot of coaches on the KVR now sport padded seats making the journey that much more enjoyable. Coach 547 was one such coach which was fresh out of POH from Kalka. We ended up reaching Baijnath Paprola 10" early and while pulling in to the loop line, spotted the rake of the 6PB ready to depart for Pathankot with a first class coach in tow!!! We couldn't resist this one and with Mohan providing the impetus, we changed plans almost immediately - wisely forfeiting the road journey for good ol First Class!!
With the tickets bought, we quickly stocked up on food and beverages and made section B of coach FC 63 our base. This was an all first class coach which 4 individual sections of seating and each section had its own doors for entry/exit. We chose the section that had berths laid out along the length of the coach with an attached toilet - akin to the one we had traveled on in the Satpura lines. For the first 2 and a half hours we had the compartment entirely to ourselves and relished every moment of it. The weather became cloudy and most enjoyable almost immediately after departure but the rain at Kangra and Jawalamukhi brought with it a stream of co-passengers! At first a couple of them which was perfectly tolerable but soon it became a crowded house with just about enough place to rest our bottoms on! Sacrilege to first class we thought!! But we carried on regardless.. Agreed that the last few hours to Pathankot were not the most comfortable ones especially when compared to the initial few but then we had glorious weather throughout and the privilege - even if for a few hours - of having the compartment all to ourselves to treasure the views outside and the journey downhill.
So without further complaint we reached Pathankot at 2125 about 15" late which was rather commendable given that we were running 80" late at Jawanwala Shahr!! Since I have covered the journey up in exasperating detail, I've intentionally left out journey details on the descent. But I'd be failing in my duty to all fellow rail enthusiasts and nature lovers if I didn't mention a few noteworthy facts which for some reason or the other could only be noted on the way down! Firstly, thanks to the rain that we had on day 2, the snow capped peaks of the Dhauladhar range can be seen all the way from Jawanwala Shahr which is only 40 kms from Pathankot as compared to our 1st sighting on day 1 at Jawalamukhi Road - a good 80 kms from Pathankot! That's how much difference a clearer day can make for a good sighting. 2 great bridges which missed mention on the journey up - the 1st is the bridge over the Jougal Khud which lies between Nagrota and Kangra Mandir and the 2nd bridge is the one over the Bathu Khud which lies between Harsar Dehri and Jawalamukhi Rd - both are built on a curve with long columns providing support. Some great photographic opportunities here!
On arrival at Pathankot, we boarded an autorickshaw outside the station and headed towards Chakki bank station where the 2446 Up Uttar Sampark Kranti from Udhampur would take us back to New Delhi. The train came in right time behind Tuglakabad's WDM3 18942R and soon after claiming our berths in the sleeper coach we turned in for the night. Awoke to a pleasant surprise with the train running well ahead of schedule. Mohan got off at Subzi Mandi and took the metro home while I continued on the train to New Delhi where arrival was 15" early!
It doesn't end here for me. Even at this unpleasant time of year when not only is it hot but nature understandably doesn't quite offer its best, the KVR seemed beautiful to me from every angle possible. Throughout the trip, I was told repeatedly by Mohan how much more stunning it looked during his visit there a couple of years back soon after the monsoons. I have sworn since to go back there either in the monsoon or winter months and savor the line yet again. To all of you who haven't done so yet and have had the patience to read this report, go plan that Kangra Valley weekender soon!!:-)