Reflections on Joydeep's Darjeeling Mail Tribute

1980-2003

by John Lacey

Thanks Joydeep for this interesting description. When I first caught the Mail from Sealdah in 1980, it was a well turned out rake, and my First Class carriage was in excellent condition.

This was only my second non suburban trip in India, and I was amazed by the amount of luggage being loaded into the compartments, particularly my own! (I had ordered a bedroll too). This was at a time when permits were needed to visit Darjeeling, and I had arrived in Calcutta without one, my first attempt to take the Mail was thwarted by my lack of a permit.

My companions were an Indian Army Colonel, and I presume his adjutant ( he was junior, and deferential; and fussed over the Colonel's comfort).

After departure, I was reading my timetable, looking at my map (I was trying to work out the route from Sealdah),and making notes, and the Colonel kept watching me very closely. After some time, I started to feel uncomfortable, as I was subject to his unremitting gaze from across the compartment. But I kept on reading and making notes-it was quite a slow trip to Burdwan, and I was hoping for a loco change to a WP! But given the load I thought this would not be the case. Anyway, after seeing the WDM2 come on to the front, I returned to the compartment: the adjutant had retired to the opposite upper berth. Again, I was subject to the Colonel's searching gaze.

Eventually, he spoke. The words were,: "Care for a spot of rum, Old Boy?" So this was what the careful appraisal had been about! He broke out a bottle, I think of Old Monk. I don't remember what mixer we had-maybe my own water(purified by tablet -there was no mineral water in those days). And I broke out my box of cigars. So we had quite a convivial evening, and I was invited to dine in the Mess on my way down from Darjeeling: alas, that did not happen.

A year later, I caught the Mail back towards Sealdah, and alighted at Burdwan; this gave me time to photograph a steam NG arrival there, and some WG/WP departures-some of these photos have been in showcase.

A year later again, I caught the Mail through to Sealdah. And the First Class was virtually empty after Burdwan.

Another eight years passed, and I caught the Mail from Sealdah, after having arrived directly form Australia. I had pre-booked tickets through an agent in Calcutta, and these had arrived by post about 2 weeks in advance. This time, there was a composite AC Chair/ AC1 carriage as the best available. My friend and I were booked into the coupe in AC1, but some of the fittings were broken, the compartment was dirty, there were cockroaches, and it was pretty disappointing journey. NJP arrival was over three hours late. Then I spent hours in the city booking office queuing to arrange our onward journey reservation.

Then in 2003 I had a perfectly delightful journey with very interesting companions in the composite AC1/AC2 bogie. In the coupe was a former Railway Board member and his wife; in the other 4 berth compartment was an Australian family from the area where two of my sisters live. I only spoke to all these people in the morning; while I had intended to have a quiet night catching up on reading after a wonderful days with Samit and Mrinal in Calcutta, I ended up in deep discussions with my tea planter and publisher companions until well after 1 am.

Such are some of the delights of traveling on the Darjeeling Mail in F/1AC!


Material provided by John Lacey, Copyright © 2004.
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