IR Explorer Trip Dec 2003: Quilon

2003-10-21

by P V S Praveen and Poochi Venkat

Part I

Narrated by PVS Praveen and the "Companion" Text edited by PoochiVenkat

Hyderabad-Chennai-Tirunelveli-Tiruchendur-Tirunelveli-Quilon- Tirunelveli-Tiruchirapalli-Chennai-Secunderabad.

Introduction - PVS Praveen

Roopesh Kohad from Delhi, myself from Hyderabad, PoochiVenkat, Satyanarayanan and Bharat Moro from Chennai were to participate in this famed Southern route. Bharat Moro, busy with exams, was to join us directly at Tirunelveli (TEN) on the day of the Quilon trip. All of us were meeting at Chennai on 21st Dec morning. Roopesh was arriving by 2622 TN express and accordingly I booked by 7054 Express that left HYB on 20th evening 1550....

Day 1 - 20th Dec 2003 - PVS Praveen

7054 departed from HYB at 1550 with 23 coaches + 1 SR A/V AC Saloon attached to the rear. WDP4 SHF (couldn't get the number) was doing the honours. Speeds were usual 90-95 kph on the SC-Bibinagar sector. At Nagireddypalli, we pulled over to allow Tenali-SC Nagarjuna Express to cross. The weather was a bit cold and occasional coffee and tea kept me warm. Dinner was at Nadikudi Junction and it was great. At Rs.22, I helped myself to a proper hot, South Indian thali. Approaching Nallapadu Junction around 2130, I could hear the WDP4-headed Amaravathi Express speeding on the other line to Narasaraopet.

2140: We pulled into GNT. The GTL WDM2A-headed YPR Passenger moved out from pf 5 almost at once. Had a hot cup of milk and went to check the loco that was to take us to MAS. Poochi had asked me to look out for WAP4 22313 (the blue LGD loco with big windscreen and fluorescent-lit cab). And...sure enough...22313 came in. Immediately, the "chief" was informed. Sitting in my berth (LB 60 in S3), I heard the announcement that 7015 Visakha Express was 10 minutes late and SCR "deeply regrets the inconvenience caused". Wow, man, all this for just 10 minutes late?

2200: We pulled out and the blue brute was cruising comfortably 80 kph plus. It was a dark night and we passed through lush paddy fields of Guntur district. Tenali came in much sooner than expected. On pf 2, the WDP1-headed Repalle passenger was stabled. Departed from Tenali after 5 minutes.

Day 2 - 21st Dec 2003 - The "Companion"

PVS woke up around 0440 just as the train was pulling out from SPE. 22313 had done a good job and it was clear signals all the way to BBQ. Poochi was updated regularly by SMS about the position and he too was surprised that 7053 was coming in so rapidly.

At BBQ, Andaman express crossed 7053. Pulled into Pf 6 at MAS. PVS waited near the loco. After a short while Poochi and the tall Sathya came in. A mini photo session ensued with Poochi discreetly snapping the blue brute with his SLR! The Display Board indicated that 2622 was arriving only at 1030. So no point in waiting for Roopesh. All of us bundled into Sathya's Zen and headed off towards Kalakshetra Colony, Poochi's Home-Shed.

After the daily POH of toilet, bath & breakfast, we chatted for some time. Then Roopesh called up from the station. The TN did arrive around 1115. So along with Sathya, we headed back to MAS. As we returned, Bharat informed us that 22313 had left with the outgoing 2842.

Toward evening, as we all headed towards Spencers Plaza, Sathya called up to say he was dropping out. One down already! Bharat was intending to come along but his exams played spoilsport. Meanwhile Gautam & KrishnaKumar called up and we all agreed to meet for dinner at Hotel Vasantha Bhavan in Egmore. After a quick dinner in the 'AC Chair Car' on the first floor, we headed to Egmore to board 2631 Nellai Express. Towards the far end, a solitary MG EMU was standing. Felt a bit sad the days of MG EMU were coming to an end. Anyway, good to note that BG EMUs are fast catching up.

WDP2 GOC 15533 was on duty for Nellai. Until recently, twin WDM2s hauled this train and this change has been pretty recent. Actually we had booked ourselves on the Nellai just to savour twin-beast action? At 2100, we got the starter. Our coach was S9 and pretty far from the loco. Nellai had 21 coaches that day: 1 FC, 1 Composite 1A-2A, 1 2A, 1 3A, 11 SL, 2 SLR, 4 Second Sitting. The WDP2 had to work pretty hard to accelerate with it's 21-coach load but managed to put up an impressive show. This was the first time PVS was behind a WDP2 and really loved the way it notched up to #8!

At Tambaram, Bharat (travelling in 2S) came to say goodbye. As we departed TBM, the YAM1- hauled vacuum-braked Thanjavur passenger was also pulling out. Overtook it and picked up speed. The GST road to Trichy (NH 45) was right by our side. We sped past buses and lorries on the highway. Ford factory at Maraimalai Nagar passed by and a whole lot of Ford Ikons in the parking bay was an impressive sight indeed. On the way, after Chengalpattu, we crossed Sethu Exp on the MG with it's twin AC Coaches, headed by a YAM1, doing 30 kph due to a caution order.

After having cold but tasty veg biriyani at Rs 20/-, PVS climbed to the upper berth and curled up to sleep, while Roopesh took the opposite UB and Poochi was on the Side-Upper. Then the AC-coach attendant came with a few bedrolls that could be hired for the night at Rs.20/-. It was a pleasant surprise to PVS, as he hadn't expected bedrolls being available to Sleeper-Class passengers! This was one of those "culture shocks" that PVS was to experience in the next couple of days on the trip.

Part II

Narrated by PVS Praveen & the "Companion" Text edited by PoochiVenkat

Day 3: 22nd Dec 2003 - The "Companion"

Nellai was just pulling out of Madurai when we awoke. 2636 Vaigai rake was being shunted to the platform. The early morning chill combined with lush green fields all around, TNSTC buses running on the highway (NH7) next to us, our WDP2 in full 8th notch and a cup of piping hot coffee in our hand... great feeling indeed! Speeding along, we observed many desolate abandoned MG Stations on the way.

As we pulled out of Virudhunagar after a brief halt, the newly converted BG track to Rajapalayam took a sharp right and disappeared into the horizon. We sped through Satur and halted at Kovilpatti for a couple of minutes. All the way, PVS's BSNL cellphone picked up signals, and though he had cursed CellOne many times for it's poor service, on this occasion he was more than satisfied?. We arrived at Vanchi Maniyacchi Junction around 0800. It is from here the line to Tuticorin takes a left turn and disappears into the distance. All this while, (from Madurai to Virudhunagar or so), we had MAUQ, and at Vanchi Maniyacchi, we had MALQ. Finally at 0830, we pulled into Tirunelveli (or Nellai, in Tamil).

15534 GOC WDP2 hauling 6128 Kudal Express to Chennai greeted us as we pulled into pf 4. It was a surprise even to Poochi as he was accustomed to seeing Kudal usually hauled by WDM2 locos. Kudal pulled out as soon as we moved in. Roopesh had forgotten his SR Time table back in S9 (we discovered that after we checked into our hotel).

The MG 0920 passenger with GOC YDM4 was stabled in pf1 and the MG express to Quilon was stabled on pf 3. Tirunelveli Jn. has 3 MG and 2 BG platforms. We went into the town and checked into a decent hotel Vasantham, just off the station road. Double bedroom was Rs.250/- per 24 hours and an extra person had to pay Rs.40/-. We decided to go ahead, as Bharat had not yet confirmed his itinerary. As if by intuition, Bharat called up Poochi informing he was backing out due to domestic contingency. Finally, we guys were the ones left. After freshening up with warm water bath, Chandrika Soap and good south Indian breakfast at the restaurant next-door, we headed back to the railway station.

Big Brother WDP2 GOC and small brother YDM4 GOC were standing next to each other and we hurried to shoot them both. Poochi then went to the Station Manager's cabin, explained the purpose of our visit and handed over the CPRO's letter. The SMR was very courteous and gave us the go-ahead with a smile. Triumphantly we headed back to the yard to capture action.

A MG passenger rake was stabled on the platform and close examination of one of the second seating coaches revealed it to be the power car of an erstwhile MG DMU, what with the windscreens, twin destination-boards and headlight cavity welded off. Poochi took a snap of this. Interesting. Was there any MG DMU running in SR before? Or could it have been an electric EMU? Needs to be clarified.

Our next halt was the Signal Cabin (south) near the yard, from where you have a clean view of the tracks on both sides. There is a BG-MG combi line running for some distance southward from where the MG to Tiruchendur curves left while the BG to NCJ goes right. The MG line to Tenkasi has a diamond crossing over to the combi line and heads off to the right immediately after TEN. The combi line has one track common for both MG-BG unlike the "gauntlet" alignment where MG lines are completely within the BG lines.

The Signal Cabin, built in early 1900s was a picture of the glorious past, complete with sloping roof, Mangalore tiles, brass bell, wooden floor, umpteen hand-pulled levers (with two spare ones) and of course the Neale's ball token machine. The only trace of modernity was the wireless set.

As we interacted with the pointsman, news came that a MG Trolley was coming from the Tiruchendur side after handing over the month's pay to staff on the section. After clanking the levers and necessary communication, the trolley finally appeared with the booty, pushed by two gangmen (apparently it's diesel engine had malfunctioned), the PWI "dozing" away to glory, guarded by RPF jawans with prominent bellies. A pleasant sight indeed:-)

There was nothing more to be done, so Roopesh and PVS decided to go to Tiruchendur to check out the Murugan Temple and beach, while Poochi planned to stay back and capture more "action". After a refreshing drink at Nellai Restaurant within the station premises, PVS and Roopesh headed to the city bus stand caught a local bus to the new bus stand some distance away. All along, Palayamkottai presented a picture of prosperity, what with Maruti and Hyundai Showrooms plus Vasanth's Consumer Durable showroom and many more shops. Palayamkottai and Nellai are twin cities. The two railfans took a Point-To-Point Bus to Tiruchendur (Tickets Rs.17.50 each).

Behaving like a local bus in Palayamkottai, the "Point-To-Point" finally started racing on it's 62-kilometre journey. The driver, an experienced hand, literally played around with the bus as he zipped it down the road. The bus was taking them through the rice bowl of TamilNadu as was evident from numerous lush green paddy fields all around, with the odd lake inbetween. A pleasing sight. The duo reached Tiruchendur around 1440, the bus dropping them right outside Murugan Temple.

This temple, situated on the seashore with the blue Bay of Bengal forming a perfect backdrop, is one of the nine Shiva Temples in TN. Since PVS and Roopesh were in a bit of a hurry, a local Purohit volunteered to be the guide. As is customary in South Indian Temples, the two had to remove their shirts and banians before entering. Roopesh found it awkward! After a whirlwind darshan of the Lord they came out pretty fast. Two tickets @ Rs.20/- per head and a tip made Rs.50/-. The duo headed to the beach. As Roopesh strolled on the sands, PVS lay back, enjoying delicious 'sundal masala' picked up from roadside vendors. A couple of snaps later, it was 1525 and that signaled our heroes to leave as the return passenger to TEN departs at 1550. Boarding a bus back to the bus stand they had an apology-for-a-lunch (consisting of omelette, "barotta" and sambar). Only few options left as that was a non-veg hotel and these two were hard-pressed for time. Headed back to the station where the rake to TEN was stabled, ready to depart. Ticket cost Rs.14/- each to TEN. Surprising to note that Tiruchendur has a PRS.

Pulled out at 1550. The line is dead straight for a couple of stations. Could catch a glimpse of the sea as the train pulled out of Tiruchendur. Max speed was around 45-50 kph with regular speed restrictions in between. Gauge conversion work had just commenced with the earthwork in progress.

As the Passenger crossed Palaymkottai and approached TEN, the BG line from NCJ appeared and soon both lines merged. There was a rare sight in front: two home signals adjacent to each other, one for BG the other for MG. Meanwhile, the line from Sengottai also joined in and crossed over. As they pulled into TEN, Roopesh and PVS spotted a familiar figure wearing WWF cap, camera in hand, shooting away. It was the "chief", taking in all the action.

No sooner did this train arrive than the passenger from Quilon made it's appearance. Poochi was apprised of those unique signals and we all walked down the tracks to shoot them. As we returned in about half an hour, the evening passenger to Tiruchendur (headed by GOC YDM4 6229) pulled out from pf1 with Sengottai Passenger (headed by GOC YDM4 6336) pulling out from pf 3 simultaneously! It was a fine sight, watching both mini-beasts notching up and both brake vans disappear around the curve. How we wished we had a video camera....

Unknown to us, the local RPF SI had been observing our antics. He was initially suspicious of us roaming around with cameras and became quite friendly when we told him of our purpose. Poochi later visited the RPF office and enjoyed some hot tea. The SI even volunteered to make the two trains start together for a nice photo session.

Great! Thank you sir, but that would be our next visit.

We were quite tired and retired to the comfort of our room for that much needed bath. As soon as the chief came back, we had a nice Zingaro session with songs from latest Tamil flicks blaring from the so-called TV. Sauntered out, had some food and headed for bed.

Part III

Narrated by PVS Praveen & the "Companion" Text edited by PoochiVenkat

Day 4: 23rd Dec 2003 - The "Companion"

Tirunelveli - Quilon

Finally, the big day arrived. Our cellphones woke us around 0450 and by 0600 we trooped out of the hotel. Bought tickets to Quilon (in a passenger train, Rs.29/- each) and set out to check early morning action. On pf 3 an ED loco with twin headlights (WDM2 17375) was sleeping, coupled to the NCJ passenger. The Tiruchendur passenger, headed by GOC YDM4 6144, was looking for travelers, waiting to be fired up. Our passenger train to Quilon headed by GOC YDM4 6328 was also sleeping. Presently driver and assistant came along and within no time the mini-beast was brought to life. Poochi befriended two technicians, from Erode Diesel Shed and from GOC Shed. This 6-coach rake comprised of one guard van, one guard-cum-luggage van, a second chair car and the rest, second sitting.

We made ourselves comfortable in the middle coach and had some idlis PVS had purchased from the platform. We departed on time. The loco was doing LHF. The sunrise and chill weather were a memorable experience. Crowd was sparse to start with and swelled with each passing station. We had people from all age groups across all sections of society, from young chaps bound for their polytechnic to farmers carrying their produce to railway gangmen, young girls, beggars.....The guard, with whom we had interacted at TEN would talk in a loud stentorian voice to farmers wanting to dump gunny bags full of recent produce into the SLR. In almost all stations this train halted for nearly five minutes to allow loading of farm products in the rear SLR. So, for these villagers, this train was nothing less than a Rajdhani!

The MPS on these lines is 75kph and our Driver was doing fine. We stopped at Ambasamudram (Ambai), also to wait for incoming Sengottai-TEN passenger. Ambai doubled up as breakfast halt and we helped ourselves to piping hot idlis, vadas and appams being dished out from stainless steel containers on the platform by an enterprising family. A chat with our curious Drivers over breakfast resulted in us being invited for a cab ride to savour the ghat section in full blast! Many ladies and a few gents bound for TEN to attend college and office, gathered in front of our loco, right near the buffer. Some draped themselves on the buffer beam, some relaxed in the shadow of the mini-beast while others were on the tracks. A query revealed that the ladies compartment for the incoming train halts at that specific spot! A while later this train arrived with GOC YDM4 6283 in charge. We took a few snaps of the crossing, students hurrying across the tracks to board the ladies compartment, breakfast being served...

Somewhere along the journey, a burly TTE in crisp uniform materialized with his humongous paunch. With authority (and physical difficulty) he demanded our tickets and the photography permission letter as well. Poochi was all smiles as he pulled the letter out with a flourish..... another "bureaucratic" bastion crumbled...the TTE also chipped in with his locations list and wished us well on our odyssey. In these trains the TTE seemed as important as a SP or District Collector, considering the way people looked up at him when he went by. A symbol of "authority"? As we sped along, the great mountains of the Western Ghats - visible as a blur from TEN - became clear. Through sinuous twists and turns we had an excellent view of the giant hills.

The best was yet to come.

As we pulled in to Tenkasi Junction, the embankment of the erstwhile MG track from Rajapalayam joined us. It appears that the track had been recently removed going by the appearance of ballast and signals. A YDM4-hauled ballast wagon rake was standing next to us. Our friend, the technician from GOC, asked us to get ready as the next halt was Bhagavathipuram from where the much-talked-about ghat section would begin. Poochi decided to stay put in the rear to snap away while Roopesh and PVS planned to camp up front.

Finally Bhagavathipuram. We spotted a board near the cabin - "Ghat Section Begins". Roopesh, PVS and our friend ran ahead. Roopesh got into the first coach behind the loco, while our friend and PVS hopped on to the loco (doing LHF). The speeds in the ghats were 30kph daytime and 20 kph nighttime.

The YDM4 pulled out slowly, going by the rather poor condition of the Permanent Way in a majority of sections till Punalur. The huge mountains looming right up, the fine valley to the right and the lake with it's placid waters glistening in the distance-nature at it's best... PVS stood outside on the footplate, as the cab was too small for him! He had to do some quick sit-ups as the bushes and the shrubs darted by. Quite a sight from the rear...with PVS towering over the diminutive YDM4! (Poochi later said that it was a funny sight indeed, with PVS dwarfing the loco) This added to the "effect"... take a look at some of the snaps(Coming soon!). The horn and smoke were not very kind to him either, being right next-door...

Then..the big tunnel (built in 1901) with stone letters proclaiming "WELCOME" came into view and PVS took a couple of pictures as we approached. Poochi, aided by the ever-helpful bellowing Guard, snapped away. For about a minute or so, total darkness. The throb of the loco coupled with the horn, the headlight piercing the dark tunnel, the rush of wind and the diesel fumes all teamed up to give PVS an out-of-the-world experience. Poochi, in the meanwhile was being "interrogated" by suspicious passengers who were not sure at all of our group's intentions...

Emerging into the stinging sunshine we slowly pulled into Aryankavu where the Quilon-Sengottai passenger was waiting for us. Suddenly "hello, sir!" resounded in Poochi's ears and it was the Guard of this waiting train! We chaps had interviewed him at TEN the previous noon, on his experiences. Poochi exchanged pleasantries with him. Those suspicious passengers were now totally convinced that our group wasn't the "theevaravaadhi" outfit they thought we were and became quite friendly! PVS and our technician-friend then joined Roopesh in the Chair car and stood at the steps. As we pulled out, we spotted the lone cellphone tower nearby, blending unobtrusively with the foliage...pleasing to know it was BSNL...unmatched coverage all along these great hills...From Aryankavu onward, it became obvious that the line was winding through many plantations - coffee, cardamom, pepper and others. At times we could see curious as well as bored natives staring at us as we throbbed past.

Constructed way back in 1901 by the British, this line is an engineering marvel considering the Western Ghats are among the oldest mountains on Earth. The huge tunnel, alignment of track and stone masonry bridges spoke volumes of their engineering skills, so much that after nearly a century, our engineers seem to be at a loss on how to convert this alignment to BG! There are two passes through the southern Western Ghats. This is the second, known as Shencottah Gap, the first one being the Palakkad Gap (a major discontinuity in the mountain chain). The average altitude of the hills around Shencottah Gap is less than 500 metres ASL.

Right after Kalthuruthi was the famous Stone Masonry Bridge on the curve, with the road below and a lake to the side. It has been featured in books, movies (notably the Tamil "Jayam" and Telugu "Okkariki Okkaru"), tourist guides and railway exhibitions. The bridge came up unsuspectingly and only thanks to our enterprising Guard did Poochi manage to get some interesting shots. PVS snapped our YDM4 passing over the bridge. An interesting sight at Kalthuruthi: the LC cuts right across the platform, and the loco (towards Bhagavathipuram) or the brake van (towards Quilon) stands in the middle of the road. So...unless the train moves, the LC cannot be opened!

We threaded our way through more tunnels and lots of hills stretching as far as the eye could see. Way down below shining in the hot Sun were fields of rice, thatched huts, occasional streams, many coconut trees, scattered cellphone towers and on top of the ridge, a power station. As the train moved out of Ottakal (meaning 'single-leg'), at one point we could clearly spot the rail line across the valley, passing over another masonry bridge. The scenery is mind-blowing... It would be right to camp here for a fortnight to capture all action! We were also hopping coaches with impunity. All of us were on our feet for the entire section of the journey right up to Punalur where, as another board proclaims, the "Ghat Section Ends". Entering Punalur, we crossed a river over which was a fine suspension bridge. Our technician-friend told us this is the first such bridge in India. It's not as strong now and is preserved as a Heritage Structure by the ASI.

Tired and exhausted, PVS pulled back into the coach for a brief nap, with Roopesh giving company. Typical Kerala, with coconut trees, houses with sloping Mangalore Tiles and odd streams sped past. Finally at Kilikollur, just before Quilon, our friend got off. We thanked him for giving us a terrific chance to experience the ghats! Further up, the double BG line from ERS appeared to our right and continued all the way till Quilon Junction where we finally arrived around 1330. The return train was to depart at 1420 so we had just 50 minutes for a repast. After thanking the Guard and Drivers we went into the main station, purchased return tickets and headed for the nearest "filling station" to top up our fuel tanks. Amongst the many restaurants along the road outside the station we found one serving traditional Kerala food complete with white boiled rice. First-time experience for Roopesh - no complaints till now! Bill for three came to Rs.46.50 with an extra banana, consumed by PVS.

Quilon - Tirunelveli

We returned to the platform. The same rake was headed back to TEN. We sat in the padded chair car for a change. This time, the loco in charge was freshly painted GOC YDM4 6200, which was idling on the adjacent track when we had arrived. It had a distinctive YP-style horn, but rarely used. To do the same journey all over again did put us into a reflective mood-the stretch from Punalur to QLN was, truthfully, boring and for a moment we thought of returning by bus. Quickly dismissing the idea, we waited in the train to move out. Meanwhile, ED WDM2A 17570 arrived with SBC-CAPE express at the BG platform. The announcement system cordially extended a warm welcome to the passengers! Amusing and irritating that no mention whatsoever was made of the (insignificant?) MG passenger, which was all set to depart through one of the most picturesque sections of India....step-motherly treatment...

With a brief toot, we pulled out. On the BG lines ED WDM2A 17543 was shunting a track maintenance rake in the yard. A near-empty SBC-Quilon express came in slowly headed by ED WDM2 17803 on the down line. PVS snatched some shut-eye. Ditto Roopesh and Poochi. The evening Sun, getting more pleasant now, beckoned us once again to the door. Lighting was just right, giving a golden glow to everything-the fine point is that the Sun is behind you in the morning as you approach the Hills from TamilNadu, lighting up everything clearly.

On the way back to TamilNadu in the evening the Sun is again behind you, lighting everything clearly! This was one of the major points considered when we planned this entire trip. The return journey up to Bhagavathipuram was completed at the doorstep, with regular breaks in between. We had a long halt at picturesque green Tenmalai for an incoming passenger. The lovely buildings, seemingly ancient, were radiating strength. Poochi took many shots of the approaching train. As the famous bridge approached once again, all of us had our cameras whirring! A family in it's new "Magic" WagonR kept pace with us on the road below...easy...since we could do just 30kph while the roadies could zoom to their heart's content:-(

As we moved downhill, we spotted a number of small boards displaying the code-number of the gangmen group that was maintaining that section - also mention of awards presented by the DEN to certain gangmen-groups for best-maintained sections. A close observation along the tracks revealed unique gradient markers. These were prevalent from British times. On a rectangular board cut into two, the up-gradient slope was marked on the board angled upward, while the down-gradient slope was marked with the board angled downward. Thus the Driver bound for Quilon would observe the board pointing up (or level) while the Driver bound for Sengottai would observe a board pointing down. A straight board marked level gradient. At places, the gradient was as much as 1:60.

As we crossed Bhagavathipuram, it was dusk. All of us reverently turned to have a last look at those great mountains fading away in the distance, their outlines melting into the deepening twilight. They seemed to say, "Goodbye, come again"! All this while, the YDM4 that was holding back at 20 kph, notched up rapidly and we were hitting 75 kph on the plains. Reminded us of the good old Vaigai days.... Finally around 2055 we pulled into TEN.

At the station, Poochi stayed back to make some calls, while the other two were outside watching life go by. TEN station is well maintained and has clear boards indicating the arrival and departures of trains along with facilities available at the station. We had our food at the same restaurant and retired for the night. It is strange to observe that meals (thali) are not served anywhere in TamilNadu except for Chennai, in the night. Poochi had an interesting theory about this.

Part IV

Narrated by PVS Praveen & the "Companion" Text edited by PoochiVenkat

Day 5: Dec 24th 2003 - The "Companion"

The day of separation finally dawned. At 0500 we trooped to the station to send off Roopesh proceeding to CAPE by the incoming MS-CAPE Express. In a short while we spied twin beams and WDP2 GOC 15518 (Raj livery) roared in. General compartments were choc-a-bloc with masses and Roopesh had no chance of getting a seat. So we finally settled him in a Sleeper coach with pretty girls ;-) Roopesh planned to visit CAPE, a couple of Kerala beaches, reach HYB on 31st (Dec 03) by SABARI and then return to NDLS by 2723 AP Express, 4th Jan 2004. Having seen Roopesh off, we waited for a while to send off the Quilon Passenger. As always, simultaneously, the Tiruchendur passenger departed from pf 1.

Poochi and PVS returned to the hotel, completed preliminaries, settled bills and were back at the station by 0820. The TVC-bound Ananthapuri express, having come in from MS a few minutes ago departed from pf 4 headed WDP2 GOC 15534. Nellai arrived on pf 4 with GOC WDP2 15516. We waited for some time before 15533 GOC WDP2 pulled in smartly with Kudal express into pf 3. Interestingly, this was the same loco that had bought us to TEN by Nellai. Here is the composition of Kudal:

3A?1, SL?3, PC?1, Chair Car?4, SLR?2, 2S?4.

We finally bade goodbye to TEN at 0915, 45 min late. Our coach was sparsely occupied but crowds came in as we went up north. Pantry car was helpful and a regular stream of coffee, cutlets, pakkodas, poli and other stuff ensured we never went hungry. The TTEs were 'as usual' very courteous and this further compounded PVS's "culture shock"! The TTE obligingly gave the Refund receipt to Poochi, for Sathya's ticket.... At Vanchi Maniyacchi we found the Tirunelveli-bound Tuticorin-TEN Passenger. We had to wait for a crossing and soon enough ED WDG2 14464 gracefully pulled in with an enormous BOX-N rake from the Virudhunagar side.

Our beast was doing it's best to recover lost time and the TVC-divn. crew was permanently on notch-8! As a result, we were treated to superb audio effects from the loco that was recorded by PVS sticking his Walkman out of the window. Braking was a smooth as silk. Halted at Satur, Kovilpatti and Virudhunagar where a 16-coach MG festival special was pulling out towards Manamadurai, the YDM4 resplendent with garlands and banana trees... Twin ERS Diesels (18337 & 18374) hauling a BOX-N rake were stabled in the loop line, waiting for us to go.

MDU appeared and along came hordes of travelers bound for MS. The holiday season had begun and the train had good occupancy this day. As we left MDU, Poochi recollected his nostalgic days nearly 30 years ago at the Kudal Nagar LC when, as a kid, he used to visit his cousins in MDU during holidays. The MG line to Dindigul and CBE/PGT was running parallel to us and at one place, we gradually climbed up an embankment and rose above the MG and even crossed it. The CBE-Rameswaram passenger went roaring past to the right at good speed. We had a panoramic view of the Western Ghats to the left as we approached Kodaikanal Road.

At 1440 we reached Trichy (TPJ). Our beast had managed to make up half-an-hour! Great work by the crew. Put our luggage in the cloakroom. As we proceeded into town, we saw a YP plinthed on an elevated platform near the station entrance. Workmen were welding the odd joints. The loco was stripped down and being reassembled (we found out from the TPJ PRO that Nitish Kumar would unveil the loco during his visit that fortnight).

We had a sumptuous lunch at hotel Saraswati. The huge pappad and the amazing speed with which waiters served us left PVS gasping for breath! A short walk back and in to the DRM's office, the stately building still sporting S.I.R. plaques and markings. After a short wait, we met Mr. SivaKumar, TPJ-Divn PRO. Poochi explained the purpose of our visit. The helpful PRO called the ASM and asked him to assist us. After meeting the ASM and getting his "proceed", we went to the yard and began filming. The BG DEMU to Lalgudi on pf 2 had typical Raj livery. The front power car had a large windscreen with two huge rearview mirrors on both sides. Reminded us of private buses. It was actually the "Southern Beauty" which had won a competition.

All this while Poochi clicked away and PVS accompanied him around the yard. YDM2 2033 GOC was shunting coaches on the lines. Also shunting actively on the BG lines was ERS WDM2A 18320newly painted with reflective numbers. Departures at that time were:

  • MG Passenger to Chengalpattu via Karaikkudi.
  • DEMU to Lalgudi
  • Tanjavur shuttle to Tanjavur (this comes back as the TJ-MYS Express)

As we relaxed on pf 3, an interesting sight unfolded before us: Beast-trio of GOC WDM2A 16865, GOC Jumbo 17835 (with twin headlights) and GOC WDP2 15501, all coupled and all running. The WDM2s were MUed. PVS was tired by that time. After some coffee he decided to move out. Poochi was to stay back and send off one of his driver-friends to Karaikkudi. People were waiting for the Vaigai from MS that was to arrive shortly. 18597 GOC WDM2 brought in Vaigai. This loco was a "bulgie" too. Poochi took some snaps of the arrival and departure while fending off an initially-tough-but-later-friendly RPF jawan. PVS went around town, surfed the net. By the time he met Poochi and another of his driver-friends at hotel Saraswati for dinner, it was 2030. Dinner was piping hot Masala Dosa, with an enthusiastic server bent on seeing that PVS's stock of chutney/sambar was always replenished...

We headed back to the station and helped ourselves to hot coffee from the dispensing machine. The TJ-MYS express departed from pf 1. After bidding goodbye to Poochi's friend, we went to pf 4 to receive the "Mini Rockfort" from TJ as another of Poochi's driver-friends was bringing in this train.

The incoming Pallavan from MS had just rolled in and we had a tough time making our way through the subway. As we waited on pf 2, we observed Pallavan had with two AC Chair Cars. After a while, the MDU-LTT Express (1044) came into pf 5 with a KZJ WDM2A (?) After the customary chain pull and a couple of short-short-long hoots, the 1044 pulled out. Mini Rockfort was waiting for 1044 to get out and finally came in with 15519 GOC WDP2. PVS was introduced to Poochi's friend and they headed to the cloakroom to get the luggage. Rockfort Express was now stabled on pf 1.

Within minutes, Poochi appeared with his friend who was kind enough to get sweets for both of us.

Finally at 2200, we departed from TPJ. Saw Golden Rock Loco shed to the left and Workshops to the right. RockFort exp stopped at many places, Srirangam, Ponmalai to name a few. We retained the LB and MB, while giving up the UB. Poochi was staying awake as one of his driver-friends was bringing in PearlCity Exp. (which would cross Rockfort near Ariyalur around 2300). We planned to signal to him and Poochi decided to use "signaling equipment" in the form of a mini torch and camera flashgun.

Normally Rockfort gets priority and PearlCity would be stopped for us. This time however we were put into the loop line at Sillakudi itself. Apparently PearlCity was doing good time (the driving prowess of this driver-friend was legendary). Within a few minutes, headlights of the great beast appeared in the distance. The train was thundering down the adjacent track itself so Poochi crossed over to the other side and started his signaling. With a brief blast of the twin-tones the loco (GOC WDM2 16861) zoomed by.... our "efforts" were amply rewarded when the chief waved the green light at us! Aah! Thoroughly euphoriated, we went back to our berths and retired for the night.

Day 6: 25th Dec 2003 - PVS Praveen

We pulled into MS at 0455 itself (Chennai is quite active this early!) and took an auto to Poochi's house. Rest of the day was spent looking at Poochi's photos and talking about his profession. At 1430 we caught a bus to MAS. There we met Gautam, Bharat and Vivek Hari. A brand-new NFR rake, freshly manufactured at ICF, was stabled on platform 2A. GT was departing only at 1800 that day as the incoming rake arrived late. Empty rake of 7053 was brought in only at 1550. As a result we started at 1625. We saw the Ajmer Special pull out. General coaches of that train were stark empty save a few folk. As the 7053 slowly pulled out, I bade goodbye to the Chennai gang.

I then had a rather strange sighting. Somewhere near Tondiarpet yard, I saw a strange "BCCNR" rake which looked almost like those used to carry POWs to German Concentration Camps! Never saw that rake before. Thanks to a cyclone depression, the weather was unusually cold and 7053 achieved high speeds before Gudur. At 1940, Nellore came in. Somewhere before Nellore, we crossed the MS bound JanShatabdi which was running nearly 3 hours late. After some time we crossed the MAS bound Rajdhani, which was also running nearly 4 hours behind schedule. All this courtesy a goods train derailment in the notorious Tettu-Ulavapadu-Singarayakonda section.

Had my dinner at NLR and heard the PA system announcing the arrival of GT around 2100. After seeing Bitragunta, I pulled down the shutters, curled up and went to sleep.

Day 7: 26th Dec 2003 - PVS Praveen

We were running late as was evident that, at 0600, we were just pulling out of Miryalguda when we should've actually been somewhere near Maula Ali! Travel further slowed down with a crossing at NagiReddiPalli for the SC-TEL Nagarjuna Express. There were many speed restrictions and we were literally crawling between Ghatkesar and Cherlapally. Finally at 1030 we pulled into pf1. There was major signaling work in the yard as a result of which several trains were to get delayed that day.

So, that's the whole story. Thanks for reading. Comments and suggestions always welcome.

Material provided by P V S Praveen and Poochi Venkat, Copyright © 2004.
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