Non Stop to Bangalore - KSK Trip Report
by Mohan Bhuyan
The early morning of May 24, found me excited though bleary eyed, at Hazrat Nizamuddin station. The previous night had passed somewhat restlessly; a fault in the building mains had cut off electricity to our flat. So I was happy to be leaving dusty and hot Delhi for salubrious Bangalore, that too by a new kind of Express, the pretentious sounding Karnataka Sampark Kranti, with supposedly no commercial halts for the next 2300 odd km. I quickly found my 2AC berth (inner lower-thank god!) in the composite 1A/2A coach towards the rear of the train and set off to examine the loco. Expecting a WAM 4, whose performance I was all set to monitor, I was slightly disappointed to find that Lalgudda Shed's WAP 4 22516 was in charge. I love WAP 4's but I can't remember the last time I was behind a WAM 4.
Walking back I did a rough count of the coaches and determined there were 18 plus. I briefly thought of buying some reading material but preferred to be glued to the window instead. My family had preceded me to Bangalore by air - for once I could do whatever the hell I wanted to, without having to run a hundred errands, buy enormous quantities of snacks & fizzy drinks, escort my daughter countless times to the toilet, et al!
The general coaches behind my composite were a surprise, with not a soul on board. Just a lone Sergeant standing desultorily on the platform with nobody to police. I had never seen a general coach that was anything less than "crowded" and neither had the Sergeant! He said the train was new and no one had heard about it. "Give it time", he said twirling his mustache confidently.
I took my window seat to see what else was happening at NZM. The vacuum braked Dakshin Express from Hyderabad had obviously reached a while before, for it's rake was empty and ready to be shunted to the yard while on the adjacent platform to us, the rake of the Taj Express was being shunted in. Suddenly with a blast of air horns, the Bombay bound Punjab Mail rushed by on one of the through tracks from New Delhi.
Our coach was one of those new ones - well appointed. The reading lamps had telescopic lenses (for want of a better description), an airline style sign on the bulkhead told us if the toilets were occupied or not and the side lowers had a folding table (though nobody used them). Also, the AC duct on the ceiling could be closed if it got too cold, and wonder of wonders: there were two pin plug points with which to charge our mobile phones!
We departed on time at 6.40 a.m. but halted before clearing the platform, an inauspicious start; no doubt a last minute scrambler had pulled the chain. While we waited, a Rajdhani hauled by what looked like a WAM 4 screamed by towards New Delhi, probably the one from Raipur. We resumed our journey at 6.50 and my companions, all young executive types, instantly went off to sleep in their respective bunks. By the time we crossed the stately mansions of Friends Colony, we were already into a delightful gallop, as if the Chief wanted to make amends for the disgraceful start.
But we slowed down after Tughlakabad and trotted through Faridabad where the sight of a dead cow being gnawed at by dogs made me thankful for the signal at "Attention". The slow speeds continued till Ballabgarh after which I timed us at 85 kph, followed by an all too brief burst of 100 kph.
The fields of Haryana wore their usual unremarkable look so I concentrated on the rail activity. At Salokhra we overtook a goods train with unusual BTPN type wagons designated "for bulk use" and at Chhata an air braked parcel train. Soon after, the NDLS bound Mumbai Rajdhani crossed us, radiant in LHB coaches. After Hodal we picked up speed and began to overtake the cars on the parallel NH2 or the Grand Trunk Road. But these bursts were infrequent and quite short; the run to Mathura is always unremarkable unless you are on a Rajdhani or Shatabdi.
After Ajhai we were obviously riding the yellows and we endured a long slow approach to a work gang just outside Brindavan Road, where a WAG 5 bearing the legend "Provided with Weak Field" (whatever that means) waited patiently with a BTPN rake. The slow approach to Mathura continued long after Brindavan Road and we even endured a signal stop at Bhuteshwar, where the branch from Alwar joins the mainline. When we finally passed through Mathura it had taken 2 hours and 5 minutes from NZM. Years ago on the Mumbai Rajdhani I had reached as far as Bharatpur in the same time.
At Mathura, the Lucknow-Mathura Express had drawn in before us but I only had eyes for the MG side. Alas, there was nothing to see except JCB's loading ballast on to hopper wagons. After Mathura I kept an eye out for traffic on the Mumbai line (nothing) and took a good look at the Refinery at Baad. But the only thing of interest was a splendid WAG 9 in green livery pulling a BCNA rake at Kithar.
The approach to Agra wasn't very quick, which meant I got a good view of Emperor Akbar's Tomb at Sikandra. We glided through Raja Ki Mandi with scarcely a pause but stopped for a signal just before Agra Cantt Jn, perched on a bridge over the lines from Agra Fort. Before we restarted, the long wail of a diesel horn alerted me to the fact that a train was going to cross below us. It was a YDM4 with a crowded passenger heading for Achnera Jn & Mathura. So, what I had missed at Mathura, I was finally rewarded with at Agra and I sat back satisfied.
We were given a double yellow at one end and a green at the far end with which to pass through Agra Cantt and we did so with aplomb, overtaking the WAP 1 hauled Punjab Mail in the process. I was delighted -- the KSK is indeed a prestigious train if it can overtake the storied Punjab Mail! On another loop at AGC, I spied a smart bluish green OHE Inspection Car with a nice name - Kalindi.
Not long after Agra the landscape changed drastically - drier, sandy soil in the fields and no standing crops whatsoever. Confirmation that we had left the fertile Gangetic Doab behind and were approaching the badlands of Gwalior. As if to sympathise with the dreary landscape the line became bumpier and I could barely jot my notes legibly. To add to this, the folks on the side berths escaped behind their curtains so I could only look out on one side now.
At Jajau - I saw a BOXN rake with an unusual power combination - WDM3 in the lead with a WAG 7 trailing. Most likely the latter had failed. Next we passed a station with an unusual name - Mania, "an apt description for your fixation with trains", my wife would have said, had she been there! Just kidding - no doubt it's pronounced differently in Hindi.
Dhaulpur came suddenly and I missed seeing any NG action on offer because of the tightly drawn curtains on that side of our compartment. But I was looking forward to the Chambal River and the famed ravines. The Chambal never fails to exhilarate - a beauty in blue amidst the drab brown that was all around. Sarus Cranes and Water Buffaloes doing their thing in the inviting waters ignored our passing but a woman and her daughters paused from washing utensils to wave at us - pastoral India at it's most charming.
At Sank, a pair of WAG 7's (one in a lovely bright red livery) and hauling a fleet of very slick looking army trucks waited for us to cross. Soon after the converted line from Bhind joined us at Birlanagar and I knew that Gwalior was up next. I wanted to get a glimpse of the fort, but the side berth curtains were in the way. So I decided to overcome some recently acquired inhibitions and headed for the door. Good decision because we crossed Gwalior at a gentle trot and I was able to get a good look at the city, the fort and the railway activity. As we passed, the Bundelkhand Express was being shunted to the yard while the Gwalior-Barauni Mail was being readied for departure. After Gwalior the branch to Guna seemed reluctant to leave the mainline so I remained at the door to see where it would finally veer off - just before the next station Sinauli (or Sithauli).
Not long afterwards we had to negotiate a range of low hills, covered in shale and barren for the most part. Elegant walls made with the abundant stone marked the boundaries of numerous smallholdings, and I wondered how anybody could possibly eke out a living from those unhelpful slopes. The line twists and turns through these hills, at times sharply, at other times giving up and using cuttings. On one or two occasions the Up line meandered off on it's own till we could barely see it. We weren't doing much more than 70 kph but the scenery was worth it, marred only by the plastic trash that had lined the rails all the way from Delhi, and was to remain with us till Yeshwantpur. Made me think that Laloo's "kulhar" only policy was not without some merit!
As we were passing a station called Datia, I could feel the previous night's sleeplessness catching up with me and I dozed off. After some time, I woke with a start to see an electrified line pass below us. Believing Jhansi, our first technical halt had arrived, I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. But it was only the Up line, which had apparently changed sides and was now going back to it's normal position.
In the event, we were 20 minutes late at Jhansi. On the approach, a diesel hauled Express was waiting on the line from Kanpur so that we could precede it to Jhansi- I was really getting to like the KSK. And just as we were leaving, the Mysore Swarna Jayanthi Express drew in with a WAM 4 in charge - it had left Nizamuddin much before us! As you leave Jhansi, next to the branch to Khairar is a huge yard with lots of flat wagons interspersed with the odd military coach, signifying Jhansi's importance as a base for armoured forces.
After Jhansi we were served lunch by a talkative waiter. I was hoping for a typically railway spicy chicken curry full of red chili powder and dubious cooking oil, but was told that the only non-veg option was egg curry. I demurred, settling for a drab meal of rice, dal, roomali roti and aloo-gobi, and for once I was thankful for the mango pickle in the plastic bubble!
After lunch, most of my cabin mates went promptly back to sleep and I was left to my own devices. I decided to have a smoke outside and resolved that if officialdom intervened I would pay the fine without protest and flash the receipt upon any subsequent interventions. I need not have worried - on the KSK all the TTE's get off at Jhansi and they are not replaced all the way to Yeshwantpur. In fact except for the mild looking Train Superintendent I didn't see a single official on board thereafter, not even a GRP constable. We could do pretty much as we pleased. So much so, the young chap on the side upper spent that evening and most of the next day sitting at the door.
The run to Bina was unremarkable except that all the wayside stations had a smart looking cement signboard showing nearby places of interest - mostly temples, the odd fortification, archaeological site, etc. We didn't stop at Bina and not long afterwards I fell asleep again.
A change in the motion of the train woke me up and I saw that we were just entering Bhopal our second technical halt about 45 minutes late, if my July 2003 TAAG was correct. I went out for a cup of tea and realised happily that we would be crossing the Vindhya Range in almost broad daylight. Didn't see any interesting trains at Bhopal, except for the Jabalpur Jan Shatabdi, which was making ready for departure at Habibganj.
We made short work of the plain between Bhopal and the Vindhyas and I headed for the door, this time armed with a camera. The Vindhya Hills were bone dry and forest fire ripe so I was careful with my cigarette butts. But they still looked great, covered as they are with trees and with no human habitation in sight. Almost throughout the Vindhya run the Up line is some distance away and I hoped to get a couple of good shots of passing trains. Though we did cross an express and a goods train, just as soon as I was sure I had the perfect shot, a clump of trees would come in the way. Wouldn't have hesitated if I had had a digital! So I had to satisfy myself with an angled shot of the Mid Ghat Cabin from where the signalman stared suspiciously down at me. The Cabin appears to be at the top of a steep slope with a catch siding running up it, and is in the direct line of fire should a train be unfortunate enough to find itself on it. Don't want to be a signalman at Mid Ghat!
As we exited the ghats I could see the tunnel that allows the Up line to enter the Vindhyas at almost a right angle to the Down line. But it was too far away for a decent shot, so I had to satisfy myself with a rather unremarkable photograph of the Narmada Bridge. Still, the run through the Vindhyas had been fun and skillfully controlled by our chief, using the train's momentum on the down gradient and gentle applications of the brakes whenever necessary. I returned to my compartment to chat with the young executives who were all curious about my frequent visits to the door and my note taking.
We paused briefly at Powerkheda (a subject of much discussion on IRFCA on the etymology of it's name) for a signal, and again outside Itarsi Junction, where I was able to photograph a bunch of WAM4's on a siding next to the main line. In fact the halt before Itarsi may not have been just for the signal, because a loud hissing (air escaping from the brake pipe, perhaps) could be heard from one of the general coaches behind us and the Guard had to come up and fiddle with something before we could resume.
We trotted through Itarsi proper without stopping, unlike lesser trains such as the LTT-Varanasi Express and the Gondwana Express, whose passengers looked at us enviously. Not long after Itarsi we were into the forested Mahadeo Hills and at one point the train went slowly round a curve tilting quite precariously as it went. A trackside sign read "Cant 135", is that very high? Then a military train bearing tanks passed by, bound for Jhansi perhaps. Soon it became dark and being in AC, there was little to see. I had enjoyed the Itarsi-Amla Ghat section in broad daylight on the Grand Trunk Express about a year and a half ago so I wasn't too disappointed. Besides, our compartment had become a fun place:
The young executives were all returning from home leave so they had a lot of goodies to share. I had nothing to offer in return but a bottle of Old Monk Rum so we decided to make an evening of it, after some gentle persuasion from me. Thus, I happily missed the bankers at Dharrakhoh and Maramajhri, and Betul and Amla went by in a flash. Dinner proved to be as disappointing as lunch. The only change in the menu was that the cauliflower in the aloo-gobi had been substituted with cabbage! Our garrulous waiter said that the reason for the poor fare was that IRCTC had not yet awarded a permanent contract for this train because it would only be decided in October whether the KSK would become a permanent feature or not! I decided that that was the last meal I'd take from the pantry and would henceforth get by on the platform food on offer at the various technical halts.
After being late at Jhansi and Bhopal, we had apparently made good time while I was busy with the rum and reached Nagpur early enough to have to wait next to a nice looking Gurudwara for ten minutes. When we reached the station, I got down for a stroll and the last furtive smoke of the day. The Coimbatore-Nizamuddin Express pulled in to the next platform and I was surprised to see a WAG 5A in charge. I have no quibble with WAG5's but I'd much rather see a WAM or WAP in charge of superfast expresses. Soon after Nagpur I went into a deep rum induced slumber and didn't stir till morning.
Morning found us in bright sunshine, amidst a landscape dotted with palm trees and rock-strewn hills. No doubt we were deep into Andhra Pradesh, but where? I had hoped to wake up in time to have a good look at Kazipet Jn, a place I have only glimpsed from the bypass on earlier journeys. A town called Bhongir went by boasting of a magnificent almost hemispherical, boulder covered hill topped by a ruined fortress, but there was no sign of Kazipet.
Seeing that everyone in my half of the HA was still asleep, I decided to make first use of the washrooms before they would get all wet and icky. On returning I saw a single unelectrified BG line join us from the south and guessed that this must be Bibinagar Jn and that Kazipet would have to wait for another journey. Confirmation came with a 5-minute signal halt at Bibinagar. It was just after 7 a.m. and it seemed we would be in Secunderabad (scheduled 8:15) well in time.
After Bibinagar I decided to stay at the door all the way to Secunderabad. It was the first time I would be touching the twin cities and I figured the best way to soak it in would be to switch between the two doors. So I got to see Moula Ali and it's MMTS shed as well as Lalgudda home shed of our WAP4, which at first appeared to be on a hill, fairly high above the mainline. On the way in a couple of diesel and WAM 4 hauled expresses passed us on their way out. The kinds that go to places like Vijayawada and Guntur in the morning and come back at night. On the approach to Secunderabad a DMU climbed and passed over us on the old MG route to Nanded, Ajmer and Jaipur and we had to pause to let the Kurnool Express take the Kacheguda line.
At Secunderabad I jumped out even before the train had stopped, in search of a good South Indian breakfast that would rescue me from the swill of the pantry car. Salvation could be had from the numerous Idli-vada vendors on the platform and within a few minutes I had wolfed down a plate of each. The outlying, newly refurbished platforms of Secunderabad were spick and span but without a single dustbin in sight. After wandering around unsuccessfully with my Banyan leaf plate, I could see no option other than tossing it underneath the train, comforting myself with the thought that the plate was 100 % bio degradable. Later I saw a Safai Karamchari sweeping up the plates that other passengers had chucked into various corners on the platform, and felt stupid.
As I was washing up, a familiar figure strode down the platform evidently looking for somebody. It was our very own Sashanka "Stormcatcher" Nanda who had said that he might drop by to see me, and had thoughtfully brought along a couple of newspapers with him. We'd met a few times in Delhi and it was a delight to see him. He brought news that Praveen "PVS" Kumar, IRFCA's foremost authority on the South Central Railway would be joining us shortly and my happiness was complete. Praveen is so tall that we spotted him a mile away and soon we were happily exchanging notes over a cup of steaming coffee. Later we moved to my end of the train to watch a Krishnarajapuram WDM2 attach itself for the run to Yeshwantpur. With Shanky & PVS for company, the half-hour plus halt at Secunderabad was quite inadequate and in what seemed to be no time at all, I was waving at them from the door.
I remained at the door to see what the rest of Hyderabad had to offer and it was worth it. First of all I was impressed by the modern looking colour scheme and signage of the MMTS system, as also the trains - a couple of which whizzed by us on their way to Secunderabad. Secondly, it's a very large city that seemed to go on and on, long after we had left Secunderabad Jn. Near Kacheguda I saw a man standing trackside hold up a sign showing the numeral 2 to our loco crew, and I guessed that that must mean a gang was busy at work 2 km ahead. We then stopped at a suburban station to let the Mahbubnagar-Secunderabad passenger clear the single track from the next station - Falaknuma.
A stately white Victorian mansion overlooks the suburb of Falaknuma, the kind of place where the British Resident would have stayed in the days of the Nizam - perhaps not as magnificent as the latter's palace, but imposing enough to remove no doubt as to who was really in charge!
After Falaknuma the city finally yielded to the countryside and I saw a few vineyards, orange groves and teak plantations. But the city is fast spreading southwards - private developers had already marked out layouts for future housing estates with names like "Lakhsmi Mega City". NH 7 to Bangalore wove a parallel course, and though it was only a two-lane road, it looked super smooth and was no doubt the main reason why the private developers' are pushing southwards.
Mahbubnagar is a town with several new or freshly painted mosques, indicative that most of it's residents were expatriates in the Middle East and were keeping Western Union busy. It also marked the end of MACL signaling and the advent of upper quadrant semaphores. Additionally, the town also seemed to herald the beginning of those parts of Andhra that had not received much rainfall for the past 3 years, because the colour green was remarkable for it's absence, thereafter
The railway that heads due south from Secunderabad is a single line with modest speeds. The highest speed I recorded after Secunderabad was 87 kph. It's also quite a curious line - there didn't seem to be any goods traffic or signal cabins, all wayside stations were two line affairs and the MG heritage was evident from the tight curves & the vestiges of an older alignment at bridges and culverts. Communication between stations may have been through OFC or microwave because the telephone poles were either askew or absent. For long stretches the only signs that a telegraph line had even existed were small heaps of discarded ceramic insulators every 25 metres or so.
The fields were full of stones - many of them looked ploughed and ready for the monsoon, if there was going to be one. The area looked drier than the region around Gwalior and the sight of so many stones in otherwise fertile looking black soil was quite baffling. The only smidgens of greenery, if one could call it that, were next to water bodies - the odd canal or tank that looked like they had benefited from one or two brief pre-monsoon showers.
It was only along the Krishna River were there any standing crops, but the river itself was a disappointment - so shallow that one could easily wade across it. In fact a large family had braved the hot sun and the general misery to picnic beneath the rail bridge right in the middle of the river, and waved gaily as we passed.
After the Krishna we came to the town of Gadwal and stopped, apparently for a crossing. While entering I thought I had seen a board saying Gadwal Jn with the "Jn" partially painted over, though the map showed no branch line at that point. The GRP outpost at Gadwal seemed to have had a lot of time on their hands because they had a nice little garden in front of their post with shrubs, flowers and vegetables. The crossing at Gadwal didn't materialise and as we left I saw what looked like a new alignment under construction heading westwards, a likely explanation for the hastily put up and later removed "Jn" on the station boards.
One of my co-passengers stirred and said that he had observed that all the houses in Andhra seemed to have their staircase on the outside, almost as if the need to reach the second floor was an afterthought. I can't say how true that is though at that time every house seemed to have it's staircase on the outside. But what I did observe for a fact was that unlike their northern counterparts, all the houses no matter how humble, were painted or whitewashed. North Indian villages and towns would look less sloppy if paint or whitewash could be applied to all that ugly brickwork.
Afterwards we trudged at 50 kph right through the middle of an extraordinarily vast and featureless plain on the edge of which I could see a sizable town. There was hardly any tree or even a small rock outcropping to interrupt the view of this town though it was several kilometers away. Just field after field of the typical black soil of the Deccan, some of which had been ploughed for the monsoon, while in others the desiccated stalks of the previous crop remained.
At the edge of the plain we crossed the Tungabhadra River, so shallow that a boy tending his buffaloes was only waist deep in mid stream. And the town we had seen from afar turned out to be Kurnool, which we crossed at the same 50 kph that we had been maintaining for a while now. The empty rake of the SC-Kurnool Express that had left before seemed to be the only occupant of the station. It had taken us exactly 4 hours to come 243 km from Secunderabad. Not bad I reflected, considering the single line and the overall slow speeds, plus a couple of stops for crossings.
Meanwhile my companions were getting thoroughly bored and said that two days on this train (as opposed to two nights on the Rajdhani) was too painful to bear repetition. They were all waitlist cases from the Rajdhani Express and couldn't believe that I had actually opted for the KSK over the Rajdhani. Our voluble waiter came to serve lunch (cauliflower once again taking over from cabbage I noticed) and said that while all the AC coaches were full, he estimated that one entire coach load of Sleeper Class berths were vacant. Of course, the GS coaches were still virtually empty.
I was hoping we'd stop at Dronachellam so that I could get lunch, but I didn't know if it was one of the designated technical halts. I stood at the door to see the line from Vijayawada joining us and was gratified to see that the starter at the far end of the station was at "On". Moreover, there seemed to be a replacement loco crew waiting on the edge of the platform. As I passed them, I yelled out "crew change, how long"? They nodded and yelled back " 5 min stop" so I had a little time to grab something to eat. Trouble was that I was in the front of the train and all the vendors were in the middle of the platform, apparently opting for shade over higher sales. As we passed on the approach, I even motioned to a couple of them to come to my rescue but they declined, so I had to make a run for it. I was hoping for a change of menu but all I could find was idli vada and more idli vada, though it was definitely better than what the pantry car had dished out after Kurnool. Another odd thing about Dronachellam is that all the station signs read Dhone Jn whereas all TT's & maps refer to it as the former, I wonder why.
After Dhone Jn we were back in MACL territory and passed through some really hot arid country with negligible signs of agricultural activity & scarcely populated to boot. Looking out, I could comprehend why the entire Rayalseema belt had voted en masse to kick Chandrababu Naidu out of power. However, there was evidence of recent rain with little pools of water here and there. A good sign that the monsoon may be better this year, but a little too late for Mr. Naidu. Of equal interest were the numerous hills with unusual rock formations on each, some so precariously perched that a child could have pushed them over. On one such hill stood the ruins of an old fort. It wasn't an important looking fort nor very big, more like a border garrison, a relic of the Vijayanagara Empire perhaps or one of the Deccan Sultanates.
20 minutes after Dhone, we passed Penukullu Jn and moved into the Guntakal bypass. I reckon the bypass is about 20 km long and has a crossing station around the halfway mark. There must have been a speed restriction because we trundled quite slowly through it's entire length so it was a relief when the double lines from Guntakal appeared just before Gooty to prompt me to head for the door to spot some WDG4s.
We crossed Gooty Jn at 2.40 p.m. without stopping, albeit slowly so I got a good look at a couple of WDG4s for the first time as it were. They look quite impressive from the short end and would have immediately moved into first position as my favourite diesel loco but for the really off-putting triangular thingy on the long hood! At the southern end of Gooty we left the Chennai line and entered the long westward curve towards Bangalore and our Chief notched up with a vengeance, as if to make up for the slowness of the past half hour. Before long we were rocketing along at 100 kph or so and I headed back for the safety of my berth.
The Bellary-Guntakal-Pakala MG line, the last remnant of a once great system that dominated the Deccan, joined us just before the Pennar bridge on the outskirts of Kalluru. The Pennar didn't have a single drop of water, which I found quite strange for a major river. At Kalluru, we were made to wait for the Hubli-Yeshwantpur-Guntur Passenger, an air braked rake. Outside Kalluru I saw a speed limit board that read "40" and below it in a font much too small to be visible from afar - "DURING NIGHT". Well, thank god for Working TT's!
Anantapur the next town, looked liked it had received a heavy dose of rain in recent days because some of the streets were waterlogged. The river on the edge of town was almost in spate, in stark contrast to the Pennar, just a few kilometres away.
Fresh ballast had been laid on the track after Anantapur so we entered another long phase of gentle speeds. At one wayside station I saw a goods train with unusual & modern looking grey wagons bearing the legend "Rajarshi Cements". These turned out to be BCCW wagons and I would see plenty more during my southern sojourn.
At Chigicherla my constant vigil of the parallel MG track was rewarded by the approach of a YDM4 led Passenger comprising of a few decrepit coaches. The slow undignified death of the metre gauge really does tug at the heartstrings.
A diamond crossing to allow the MG line to move on towards Pakala, signaled the arrival of Dharmavaram Jn, our final technical halt. And a couple of dal vadas signaled the end of a hunger unsatiated by Dhone's Idlis. We left Dharmavaram with a SWR crew in charge and paralleled the Puttaparthi line for a couple of kilometres before it veered off to the Southeast. I was glad we weren't going that way, unlike the Rajdhani and the Karnataka Expresses - how will a line to the Sai Baba Ashram ever break even?
Though it was only a little after 4 p.m. it had already started to get cooler, heralding the superb climate of the Bangalore area. This prompted several co passengers to enjoy short stints at the door, while the young man from our side berth became a permanent fixture at the door. From Dharmavaram onwards, traces of the old MG alignment are visible almost constantly, particularly the stone culverts and bridges. I wondered if parts of this alignment could be used if they ever get around to doubling this stretch.
At Penukonda, now proudly proclaiming itself as a junction, the Bangalore Vizag Prashanti Express took the Puttaparthi line just as we entered. Next we passed Hindupur at 5.35 p.m. - we were making good time. Our linen attendant had told us that the KSK always makes it to Yelahanka ahead of schedule but is then made to wait for the Delhi bound Rajdhani & Karnataka Expresses as well as the Hindupur Passenger. There was no Rajdhani scheduled on that day and I hoped to reach Yelahanka before 6.30 so that we could avoid having to wait for the Karnataka Express & the Hindupur passenger. Only an uninterrupted run here onwards would ensure that.
In recent months my wife has been making noises about investing in a house and I always reply (rather too flippantly for her liking) that if I ever did build a house, it would have to be on a hill or next to a beach, and overlooking a railway line. On this journey I found the perfect location for such a dream house - a place called Thondebhavi.
Thondebhavi is a bowl shaped valley, with a lake fed by streams from the surrounding hills. Even in the height of summer the predominant colour was a vibrant green with little white cottages amongst orchards to complete the picture. Best of all, the railway line runs high above the valley on the hills to the north and Thondebhavi's view of the trains must be stunning. A railfan's paradise if ever there was one.
I sat at the door to drink in the wonderful scenery that continued from Thondebhavi to the next station Makalidurg - an almost continuous incline that made our WDM2 roar with the effort. As we approached Makalidurg, I could see that the home signal was at Caution and the lady ASM nodded when I cried "Crossing" as I passed her. Within a few minutes of stopping, an Express with a long hood forward (ouch!) blue & orange WDP4 went by, probably the Bangalore Kacheguda Express.
We resumed our journey slowly and I could see that we weren't going to make it to Yelahanka in time to avoid the Karnataka Express but the scenery more than made up for that dreadful eventuality. We were well into our ascent of the Mysore Plateau and the remnants of the old MG line were more visible and poignant, particularly a few stone arch bridges that looked in quite good shape - a testament to the engineering skills of an earlier era. It must have been a fantastic line under steam, does anyone remember?
At Dodaballapur the source of all those Rajarshi Cement BCCW rakes was revealed - the huge Birla Cement Works. Dusk was approaching but we pressed on and finally reached Yelahanka at 7 p.m., still well in time to make it to Yeshwantpur on schedule. After 5 minutes of waiting I knew that a crossing was inevitable so I got down and climbed onto one of the wagons of a stationary hopper rake to see the passing trains. First came the NDLS bound Karnataka Express, that rushed through behind it's twin Itarsi diesels. And then the Hindupur Passenger came in very slowly to make it's scheduled stop at Yelahanka.
Within a couple of minutes of the arrival of the Hindupur Pass, we were off and turned west off the mainline for our final destination Yeshwantpur - Bangalore's second rate version of Hazrat Nizamuddin. After an uneventful 20 minute trundle through the city's increasingly untidy suburbs, we reached Yeshwantpur and it's marauding taxi drivers at 7.40 p.m., a schedule beating conclusion to a rather enjoyable 37 hour odyssey.