Kanniyakumari - Trivandrum - Ernakulam
Trip report to Cape-TVC-QLN: Slightly longish and also some non-rly related info-sorry for the same. Also have posted this in two parts as desired by a few of our irfca-ites to facilitate easier reading.
Had been to TVC-ERS area last week on a business tour. This was the first time I was ever setting foot on Kerala soil and exploring the Far south and hence was looking forward to some rail action if possible. Since going by train from Bombay was an impossibility looking at the amount of time taken, I flew to TVC first. The overall plan was to visit three units with the southernmost in KanyaKumari (KK) dist. approx. 25 kms. from KK city and the northernmost approx. 300 kms away at Alwaye ( 20 kms from Ernakulam). The client had offered to drive us all over this route but I had decided to throw in some rail action if possible depending on the geography.
The day I landed at TVC was a Sunday and since it was only around 14/30 I decided to drive down to KK then itself even before checking into the Guest house. By the time we reached KK the ferry service to the Vivekananda memorial had ceased to function (at 16.00 hrs) and hence just went around a bit, saw the Gandhi Smarak, didn't feel like waiting for the sunset as it is no novelty for someone living on the West Coast and took in some history from my saarthi-cum-guide-cum-driver ( a youngish person called Benzier) in his English which was an amalgam of just about every language and accent of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. I was indeed worried about this as he was to be with me the next few days and communication was going to be a disaster. We then proceeded to the first site of my work where I was to work rather hard (!) for the next two and a half days. Incidentally seeing Benzier and his Schummacher-ish stunts I had already decided I would take the train to the maximum extent possible.
On Wed afternoon finally I found time to venture out again and visited Kanniyakumari. This time thankfully there was a driver called Mutthu who having served in the army earlier spoke fairly good Hindi and hence regaled me with his war-time as well as peace-time stories on the way to KK. This time in KK managed to visit the Vivekanand memorial as also the Thiruvalluvar statue situated adjacent to it on another rock. I also managed to visit the Railway station to see the southernmost rail track in India. The station has two platforms which were entirely deserted when I reached at around 17.00 hrs. The time table there shows a lot of trains starting/terminating there now with two daily expresses - Island ( to SBC) and the Bombay Cape JJ - the rest right upto HWH and of course JAT (Himsagar) are non-daily trains.
Since the only train expected was the incoming Island after about 45 mins., I decided to exit the place and instead visit NCJ where I hoped there would be more action. Reached NCJ around 18/15 or so. There was a TVC-MAS train on P/F 1 which departed towards TVC/Tirunelveli - couldn't see which route it eventually took as it departed even as I entered the P/F . From the P/F I could see a track separating out just some 200 mts to the north of NCJ - so is the actual junction so close to the station?
A Passenger train from Kanyakumari came in and another was waiting to head out to TVC. The rake of the 1081/2 Bombay Cape JJ was standing on the far side beyond the platforms. I first thought the rake was used as shuttle between Cap-NCJ-TVC to use the layover time which is quite a bit but I discovered it was not standing on any platform but on the yard loop line. I had to make some enquiries about the next day's Island which I planned to take to Kollam (earlier Quilon QLN) where the next plant on the agenda was located. That way I would not only avoid the 2.5/3 hours horrendous road journey along NH 47 but also do my railfanning alongside. Mutthu helped me with the translating and understanding of the timings etc. as the idea was to take the Island at Eraniel (approx. 20 kms. north of NCJ) also located in TN itself which was closer to my Guest house. That ended the day but not before Mutthu told me about how when he was drafted into the army around 30/32 years ago, there were no rail lines in the area - as a result he had to take the bus to Tirunelvelli first, then the MG train to MAS, then the GT to NDLS (he didn't say GT but I was reasonably sure that was the only train then) and then the further connection to Pathankot and other border / front areas. This entailed a five day journey one way and as a result out of his annual 2 month vacation, he would be spending 10 days both ways in the train - of course things are now better but most of the direct trains remain appalling crawlers. By the end of the day I suspect Mutthu was convinced that the Saheb from Bombay had some problem in the upper storey beacuse of his obssession about something as mundane as railway stations and trains.
Next morning anyway Mutthu was ready with the Tata Sumo at 06/30 for the 20 km journey to Eraniel. We reached Eraniel at approx. 06/55 itself and the station was entirely deserted - the ticket counter was luckily open but unluckily womanned by someone who had no idea about what I was talking. Again Man Friday Mutthu helped and got me a 3A ticket straight to QLN - a paper ticket was issued at the station itself which was a surprise as I thought normally one needs to buy an ordinary ticket and then get it converted onboard. Since not even the tea stall was open we went out to the local village and had a refreshing cup (I had two actually) of tea. Returned to find the station was now abuzz with activity and a group of school girls with their head (a matronly nun) leading them -their Mutthu was helping out with the Concession tickets (some confusion there caused the station manager to be called to the ticket window) and as a result Eraniel had quite some early morning activity.
Eraniel is quite an idyllic station with four pairs of Express and Shuttles stopping there daily. The two platforms are located below the station building and there is no loop line - the Island being a longer train was to be tackled at the farther P/F as the main P/F cannot be extended due to a water body at the northern end of the P/F. The crowd mostly seemed to be office goers to TVC and quite a few ladies too seemed to be doing the daily commute incl. what looked like a group of teachers. There was a loudspeaker blaring some songs that early and that only made me want the train to arrive that much earlier. Mutthu had by now taken leave and I was left to my devices to find out where the A/C coaches would arrive . Predictably the three or four (I thought they would be regular office-goers) people I asked had complete unanimity about the location as one said `near the engine', the second opted for `near the guard', the third was a fence sitter and said possibly in the middle and the fourth said more politically correctly `depends'. None the wiser the rly. staff said near the engine and hence I positioned myself near the northern end of the P/F to avoid any last minute confusion. The train arrived approx. 10 mins late and the 3A was almost entirely empty. Made myself comfortable in one of the coaches and set out to enjoy the scenic beauty of the backwaters and palms (lots and lots and lots of them) swaying in the TN/Kerala border areas. The train never reached anything remotely above 40 kmph and picked up passengers from half a dozen stns. between Eraniel and TVC where we pulled into at around 09/20 A.M. There was so far no goods train activity and except for a crossing with a local shuttle, there was no other sighting.
The train is a daily shuttle used by the locals for the daily commute and as a result I think it cannot also be speeded up (as the timings would be changed then) and hence takes an appalling 20 odd hours to SBC from TVC. Since we were running late and there was no reason to have a power change I didn't venture out of my P/F to see some of the other p/f and activity if any. In the western pit lines I could see the 2431/2 TVC Raj rake partially hidden by another train -however I could see the last coach near the SLR was an AS3 - that meant the train still had 3X3a,2X2A,1X1A and 2XSLR with one PC making it 11 coaches. The Kerala was also standing on the westernmost line - however the Nethravathi was nowhere to be seen though it was slated for departure towards Bombay only 40 mins later at 10.00 A.M.
After TVC the train picked up good speed due to the double line and also fewer halts to reach QLN at around 10/40 A.M. Along the way we passed the 1081 Bombay Cape (recognised from the 18/19 coaches with the two AC coaches) as well as the I/C and the Vanchhinad (recognised from the all GS with one CC) . QLN is a nice little town and after some work there in the company's office in the town itself, drove down to the second factory located approx. 20kms away - this time the Guest house was such that our room's balcony virtually hanged out into the Arabian Sea. Anyway it would be again work only for three more days before we headed out to ERS again by train.
Saturday afternoon after successful completion of our mission, we headed out to Alwaye (our last halt) - we had earlier decided to take either the I/C or Vanchinad from QLN for ERS at 17/55 and 18/15 respectively. However when we reached the P/F we found we could take the TVC-MAS S/F mail itself and hence got ordinary S/F tickets and positioned ourselves on the appropriate P/F. QLN stn. has three P/Fs on the easternmost side for the MG line to Shengottai and as result the BG P/F are numbered 4 onwards. There is no loop line and hence an oil tanker rake (the first goods rake I had seen on the entire trip) headed to TVC had to use our Mail's p/f as the one for TVC was occupied by a QLN-TVC shuttle.
The Mail arrived around 15 mins. and we discovered it would arrive at ERN -Ernakulam Town or North and not at ERS (South). Informed the person in charge to send the driver accordingly - surprisingly this task wasn't as easy as we thought it would be as the mobile signals in most of these areas is very weak or non-existent though it runs along the 672 kms long KK-Salem National Highway 47 and hence frequent disconnections kept hampering conversation. This Mail as the Island earlier has a similar rake composition but surprisingly both trains do not have a PC. Upto Kayankulam the run was good due to the double line. We crossed what must have been the Island, Nethravathi and the Venad - by the time the J/S crossed (if at all it was) it was very dark. Does the J/S run via Allepey or Kottayam? We took the Kottayam route and there was sizeable number of Sabarimalai devotees as the season had just started a few days earlier. I found most trains take the Kottayam route rather than the Allepey route - is it because Kottayam is a bigger city as the route via Allepey is actually shorter by approx. 14 kms or so.
The Malabar was crossed and was the only overcrowded train on the entire section I saw - though by Gujarat Express standards it was empty as I could see the floor between the crowd's feet - the train has a dirty rake as is expected of a daily commuter train and had 10 GS, 2 CC, 1 PC and 2 SLRs. Just south of Ernakulam the track towards ERS separated out and we carried to ERN to arrive at around 19/20. ERN doesn't seem to have more than 3/4 P/F though I could be wrong as I did not get a clear view - I could have lingered around for some time longer to get some details of the station but I had some other companions and they did not remotely share my enthusiasm about these things - hence meekly made my way to the Qualis, took in some sights and sounds of Kerala's largest twin cities of Ernakulam-Cochin and headed out towards Alwaye from where we would head out to the new swanky Nedumbassery airport the next morning for Bombay.
One thing I noted at almost all the towns have had their names changed - but the pronunciation even today remains in some places the old one, in some places the new and some places a mixture - TVC remains Trivendrum for all practical purposes. QLN is Kollam (the easiest pronunciation) but still many (mostly outsiders) prefer calling it Quee-loan whereas a lot of the locals pronounce it as Kwai-lawn. Cochin is of course Kochi which is fine but Alwaye is also Aluva (pronounced by many locals as Alwa). For an outsider the similarities in the names of the places can cause some problems as the first I heard Kollam I saw visions of fascinating Kovalam beach as the pronunciations of both sound similar to the uninitiated. The mobile kept displaying locations also which seemed to be getting repeated such as a Kayankulam near Qln beach and also the Kayankulam we passed between Qln and ERS.
The other great thing was the complete lack of slums along the approach tracks outside the major cities - TVC,QLN,KTYM,ERS - none had these which is the bane of most other Indian cities - is this presumably due to the very low proportion of migrants in all these cities which in turn is due to the lack of industrialisation which is the magnet for these folk in all cases. Finally not to criticise or start an argument but the language in God's own country is something which seriously needs to be worked on - especially with tourism now booming there the locals would need to gear themselves up better. A similar story has already unfolded in neighbouring TN where in a bigger and more cosmopolitan city like Coimbatore the local Rickshaw driver will not speak a word of Hindi but just 80 kms away and a few thousand feet higher in a more remote and unarguably less advanced Ooty, everyone speaks Hindi as good as it gets.