Grand Trunking to Chennai
by Mohan Bhuyan
Like most of my trip reports, this one is way overdue - I actually left Delhi on Dec 28 last year! Anyway, this was a business trip to Chennai - our little firm doesn't earn much, so my partner and I decided not to fly. Good for me! While on the way to the reservation office, I dropped by at a friend's office. Hearing I was planning to book tickets the hard way, he promptly swivelled round to his pc and did the needful on irctc.com using my credit card. I was a bit nervous about putting my card on the Net for the first time ever, but added MAS - SBC for good measure. There was no Raj on the chosen day of travel and TN was full up, so 2616 GT it had to be. I was just a tad disappointed, because I've been hearing good things about TN for years now. But historic GT was good enough for me - especially as I hadn't ever done NDLS to MAS by rail.
On the adjacent platform at NDLS a long queue had formed almost half the length of our train. I guessed it was for the general compartments of an eastbound train possibly the Magadh. I queried one of the poor sods standing resignedly with virtually no chance of a seat 3/4 down the queue and he said they had all lined up for the Vaishali to Barauni. Their rake came in before we departed and seeing the hopeful look on their faces as the queue shuffled forward made me sad and a little guilty about my 3 AC berth.
We were off on the dot at 18.40 and crawled to HZN. Our co passengers - apparently veterans on this train said that the old GT more or less crawled all the way to Chennai, but that it was reliable and convenient. They extolled the virtues of TN and rued the fact that the Chennai Raj was only twice a week.
We stopped before HZN and the slow run continued till Ballabgarh. Thereafter our Erode WAP 4 opened up, but I knew we would be late getting to Mathura and we were - by 20 mins. My partner has a sweet tooth so I bought a packet of Mathura's famous "pethas" - yummy but a sure invitation for Diabetes.Our 3AC was half empty but I was assured that it would fill up later. In fact there would be continuous traffic throughout the night!
The first of the newcomers came in at Agra Cantt, a newly married couple. They asked me to give up my lower berth. The girl was pretty, so what the hell! But I told them to remember that the window was mine during the day!
My partner went upstairs to sneak a few shots of the booze he was carrying. I demurred, the train was enough of a high! There was little to see outside at night and the newly weds beside me had eyes only for each other so I turned to some reports on the banking and consumer finance industries that I had to read before our Chennai meeting. Of course, I was asleep much before Gwalior!
At 5 am I sensed we were at Bhopal. I thought of getting down for the lovely run through the Vindhyas to Itarsi but everyone below was fast asleep and it was too cold for the door. I finally descended just in time for the Narmada crossing. I wasn't too disappointed at missing the Ghat section - I was more interested in the Itarsi Amla ghats, which I had never seen by day.
We were early at Itarsi so the halt was long. The last time I'd gone by Itarsi I had noted how dirty it was. No better this time round, which is a real pity for one of the great junctions of India. We were the only train in the station but not for long. The Katni Bhusawal pax came in and a BOXN rake went right through towards Bhusaval at a rate of knots, making a tremendous racket. Next in was the Punjab Mail from CSTM and as we were leaving, the Jhelum from Pune.
Soon we had left depressing Itarsi far behind and were in the lap of the Satpuras. The section was living up to its name - lovely forests of sal and teak covering the hills and stations with quaint names. Ghora Dongri was one such, where we stopped for a minute and I wondered if there was a train ahead slowing us down, perhaps the Andaman Express. But the TT revealed that the Andaman wasn't running that day.
We stopped again at Dharakhoh where I saw a catch siding with a sign saying Gradient Diagram. Banker stop I thought and wondered if I should try and check from the door. But that would mean giving up my window seat to the newly weds who were eyeing it as a comfortable perch for their koochie kooing.
We moved off slowly and the railfanning moments came in rapid succesion. First a long tunnel followed by a short one, then a bridge - high over a ravine, then a third tunnel long and curving left, followed by another bridge and finally a cutting lined with restraining concrete walls . All this amidst scenery to match.
Thus we moved slowly through the Ghats - I wasn't complaining, the hills are meant to be enjoyed at slow speeds. We stopped at Maramajhri, banker off - I thought, but couldn't be sure.
We reached Betul on the dot. Speeds were slow even through the relatively flat portions. I guess speeds are restricted in this section or perhaps it was just the good old GT trying to her own reputation. The Rajdhani has a similar speed on NFR so I wasn't disappointed! During this time many coal bearing rakes and one carrying containers crossed us - didn't see any expresses. Amla came and went on time.
KM 921 proved interesting - the train crawled down a steep curved gradient frequently applying brakes. Another hilly and forested area with the up line nowhere to be seen. Plastic trash trackside attested to the fact that all trains slow down severely or stop here. I kept an eye out for a gradient marker but none was forthcoming. After a while we rejoined the Up line at a signal box but the crawl continued to Teegaon.
At Pandhurna the Dakshin crossed us comprising of the genuine item from Hyderabad plus a "link"express from Vizag. Between Pandhurna and Nagpur there were some nice tight curves as the line swerves to avoid hills. This line would have been great in a first class coupe'.
We stopped again at a place called Narkher. Besides being a crawler the GT seemed to stop everywhere or were we too early for Nagpur Jn? In the event we reached Nagpur about 15 mins late thanks to a few working gangs. As we entered Nagpur a ZDM3 was busily shunting the NG Nagpur Chhindwara passenger. I went out for a stroll and to replenish our water supply and soak in the atmosphere. A really bustling station with loads people milling around. The Puri Ahmedabad Express came in on the adjacent platform and as we left, a rather decrepit looking vacuum braked Chennai Varanasi Express.
After Nagpur we had lunch and I went out for a smoke. Just as I was finishing, a TTE admonished me. I agreed I was breaking the law but added courteously that it was impossible for the nicotine addicted to sit for 36 hours without smoking, whereupon he took my seat no. I don't know whether he intended to come back later and fine me ( a 4 against 1 argument lay in store for him) or was merely ascertaining that I was a bonafide pax on that coach. In any case he didn't show up again, thankfully.
At Sewagram I went for another smoke - this time on the platform not wanting to antagonise the TTE again. As we left, I commandeered the door in anticipation of the great sweep south. For weeks I had had the picture of TN from Shankar's Showcase on this curve as my wallpaper and I didn't want to miss it. The curve was indeed spectacular but not as great as the one at Barsoi, I thought. As I squeezed into my window seat (the newly weds had fallen asleep in each other's arms) I saw an obviously late TN hurrying towards Nagpur with "Happy New Year"emblazoned on its destination boards. At Hinganghat, the Andhra Pradesh Express sped by followed by an Erode WAG 7 Mu''d with a shedless WAG5HA.
We halted at a wayside station called Nagri . Next to us was a flatcar rake bearing those long welded rails. In fact each rail was at least as long as 3 flatcars - I wondered whether the rails would be subjected to stress everytime the train bent around a curve. Perhaps the techies on this forum can shed some light. Soon a pointsman ran past towards the loco carrying what looked like a fresh caution order explaining the unscheduled halt at Nagri.
The afternoon wore on at a steady clip interspersed with speed restrictions. Soon I was the only person not sleeping in our cubicle. Majri has a medium sized yard full of coal rakes and a line heading west. I assumed it must be a spur to a power plant nearby but couldn't see any smokestacks behind the low hills. A glance at the map showed that Majri was a legitimate junction and so was Tadali that followed. Basically lines to coal mines.
We reached Chandrapur and its decent sized yard about half an hour late. Couldn't spot any diverging lines at Chandrapur but saw a line from the East joining the main line at the next station - Babupeth. Maybe Samit can verify?
The TT gives 2616 fifty minutes to cover the 14 km from Chandrapur to Ballarshah but we were 5 mins late nevertheless. I got down to observe the crew change - our coach wasn't far from the engine. Looking around, I couldn't help wonder that Ballarshah is a complete waste of railway money. It's not even a junction and Chandrapur is a far more important town commercially. Far better to have developed Chandrapur as the zonal changeover and left Ballarshah as a normal wayside station. You don't need two biggish stations within 14 km of each other, especially if one isn't anything but a railway town.
Not long after Ballarshah we entered a nice curve to cross the Wardha River with the sun low in the Western sky. We slowed down often and were 20 mins late at Sirpur Kaghaznagar and about the same at Ramagundam which meant we didn't get a very good view of the Godavari as we crossed. With night descending I turned my attention to a magazine but the bright lights of the Kazipet yard in the distance alerted me for the byepass. We were still about 20 mins late at Warangal. Soon after I went upstairs and slept.
I became conscious of a long delay at Khammam and descended once again. Someone said that there was a problem in the line ahead. Soon some gangmen came by carrying heavy tools and got in with the under guard. We left shortly afterwards but I must have slept off because I don't recall another long wait for the gangmen to do their job. Maybe the problem wasn't on our line at all.
I had asked to be woken up at Vijayawada - I always pay obeisance to great junctions by getting down and looking around and it had been a while since I had touched BEZ. But this time I was far too tired and went promptly back to sleep.
Next morning I clambered down as soon as I awoke and realised that we were near Chennai. Wanting to catch Pulicat Lake and thinking it couldn't be cold I opened the door, only to promptly head back for a jacket! I saw a water body in the distance which I first thought was the Pulicat lagoon, but as the train completed the curve I saw a huge thermal power station and realised we were at Ennore.
My partner and I stayed at the door right through the grimy suburbs trying to get the "feel" of the city - it was still Madras when I had last visited. A nervous chap armed with luggage joined us at the door. He was worried about making his connection at MAS and a longish wait at Basin Bridge had him hopping around in frustration. I think we were just a few minutes late at MAS, I forgot to check my watch - in any case the man was smiling as he descended and rushed off.
After meeting up with the friend of a friend who had come to receive us I headed off towards the loco for my rendezvous with Poochie Venkat in black cap and green shirt, who was waiting anxiously for his copy of the NR TT!
Later that night Poochie accompanied me to the station to see me off on the 6222 Mysore Mail to SBC. A wonderful high speed run before it got too cold to leave the window open! I slept after Arkkonam and only woke up at Whitefield so you can all be thankful that there won't be another long winded trip report!