A Bangalore Odyssey

2003-05-13

by Ravi Subramanian

My first ever attempt at writing something. So here's my (not-so)little trip report. Hope it doesn't turn out to be too monotonous.

Well, it was by sheer chance that I got to make this trip from Alwaye to Bangalore by train. My trip was earlier scheduled for May 1, and I would have returned by bus, had I gone ahead with the journey. The fact that I had to postpone my journey came as a virtual boon. My parents had decided to return to Bangalore with me and we had therefore opted to travel during the day — catch the Bokaro Steel City Express from Alwaye to Coimbatore Junction, and then shift to the Inter-City Express to Bangalore.

As it happened, this was the first time I was traveling by Electric power in Kerala. We reached the station well in advance at around 7:00 a.m. The train was scheduled to arrive at 8:00. As we were entering the station, I noticed the ERS-CLT Inter-city express pulling into PF3, behind a WDM from Erode. The rake seemed to consist of only around 7-8 coaches. An announcement was on saying the Shoranur Cochin Passenger was scheduled to arrive shortly on PF1. My mother was telling me about the time she used to commute in that train, when SRR-ERS was single line and how commuters had to fight with station masters to let the train depart from each station.

I went ahead with my father to collect our tickets. The guy at the counter seemed to be in some sort of hurry. My father told him to get us 3 Sleeper Class tickets to Bangalore, one for a senior citizen. The guy at the counter seemed to have heard only the "3" and the "Bangalore" part of the conversation since that's all the ticket contained. We reiterated what was our requirement. The guy gave us a glare and printed two more tickets — without the "sleeper" part, and advised us to pay the extra charge for the sleeper to the ticket examiner. As we crossed over to platform 3, I heard the horn of the Cochin Passenger. Soon, it arrived behind ED WDM2 17674. It was a freshly painted six-coach air-braked rake. I noticed that the middle one was actually a DMU coach. Half the train was empty by the time it left Alwaye.

As we were waiting for our train I heard the announcement that the Chennai Alleppey express was expected at 8:15. I pointed out to my father the fact that, whenever I took the train from Chennai, it never reached on time — maybe it had a dislike for me. My father reminded me of the announcement: They said "expected". There is a distinct difference between "is expected to arrive" and "will arrive" in English language.

Soon the Alleppey-Bokaro Steel City Express arrived, behind an AJJ WAM4 — failed to notice the number — and here you have one more addition to the list of not-so-privileged trains. The coaches were pathetic to look at. The maroon colour on some of the coaches looked more like rust than the original livery. Out of their experience of traveling to Bangalore by this train, my father told me that we should get into S8, as it is least crowded. So, we skillfully positioned ourselves so that S8 would come to stop right in front of us. Unfortunately, when the train came, what stopped before us was not S8, but S5. As a result we had to run back. All the season ticket carriers to Trichur were running helter-skelter to find a place. To compound our problems further, there were two AC coaches and the pantry car attached between S6 and S7. In the end we managed to find S8 and that too to my surprise, almost empty.

As we pulled out of the station, I found myself a convenient window seat, that too facing the engine. Even though it was only 8:00 in the morning, I was already feeling sleepy, after spending the whole of the previous night watching Mr. McGrath and Co. battle the West Indians. But I was determined to stay awake. Only then did I realize that I didn't have anything to write on. After rummaging through my bag for 5 minutes, I found a small scrap of paper. I had to do with this for the rest of the day. Soon we were crossing Angamaly, and lo, pulling into the station was ‘the forgotten train’ — Chennai Alleppey Express, behind an AJJ WAM4. The coaches were still of maroon color.

We made an unscheduled stop before Chalakudy right on top of the river bridge. As we crawled along, I saw that the sleepers were being changed and hence the train was crawling along. As we rounded the bend before the Irinjalakuda station, I spotted a train being hauled by ED WDM2C 18755. At first it thought this might be the SBC-Kanyakumari Express, but then I could make out that the train wasn't long enough and was a passenger. I couldn't read the destination since we disappeared behind a BCNA rake. I assumed it to be one of the numerous Guruvayoor passengers. The BCNA rake had ERS WDM2B at its head. The Kanyakumari Express appeared at Pudukkad, as we sped past. As expected, it was behind an ED WDM-3A 14140. One of the coaches had a blue and red livery — Blue with one red line above and below the window. After Pudukkad, the tracks run at different altitudes.

On the higher track, sped the Kerala Express to TVC — behind a beautiful ED WAP4, the 22380. I wonder whether this would've overtaken SBC-CAPE at Pudukkad. The time seemed to be too early, as in my college days, it used to reach Alwaye at around 11:00. But then that was around 7 years back. Anyway it was thrilling for me -this was the first time I was seeing a WAP4 beauty in Kerala.

Just outside Trichur, we stopped again. As we pulled into Trichur at 9:00, I spotted KJM WDM2C 17664 with the SBC-Quilon Holiday Special. And lo, this also had one blue-red coach attached! There was some BCNA rake on some outer loop. But I hardly thought it would be behind some engine, since a stationary BCNA rake is almost a mandatory presence here — without engines. To my surprise, when the train left, I spotted 27130 AJNI WAG7 with the rake. A couple of minutes later, we crossed the tiny station of Punkunnam, and I was nostalgically reminded of my days as a toddler, when every evening I used to come here to wait for my parents to arrive either by the Shoranur Passenger or the Cochin-Madras Express. The stationmaster used to be my classmate's father, and therefore I could freely run around the station. That is the earliest train spotting reference I find in my life.

As we were chugging along to Shoranur, trouble came in the form of a checking squad. Since the ticket examiner was yet to appear, we had not had a chance to pay the additional amount for traveling in the Sleeper Class. The guy initially insisted that we should pay up rupees 290 as fine, but then relented and asked us to change to general class at Shoranur. A minute would not have passed after he went by, that the ticket examiner came about. We paid an additional 180 rupees and got the permission to remain where we were.

Just before we reached the bridge across the river Bharatapuzha, the Cannanore-Allepey express crossed us behind two ERS WDM2Bs. Soon we crossed the Bridge and the train ground to a halt again, outside the Shoranur station on the triangle. As we entered Shoranur on PF4, there was the Nizamuddin-Ernakulam Express standing behind an ERS WDM2B. It was waiting for us to cross the triangle — which has a single line on one side — and soon left. I was hoping to see our WAM4 reverse and get attached to the back of our train. But then came breakfast, and my father compelled me to have dosas for breakfast rather than WAM4 reversals. The train left Shoranur at 10:20, and as I just chanced to glance behind, I saw that a shatabdi liveried coach had been attached to the rear of our train.

The journey ahead was really pleasant due to the fact that the sun had disappeared behind the clouds — maybe it was due to the cyclone hovering on the Tamil Nadu coast. Anyway, the weather was really pleasant. As the train sped past the different stations, I noticed that most of the station superintendents were ladies in this area. Just after Shoranur, a passenger or some intercity express crossed us behind an ED WDM. At Ottappalam I noticed that there was a new bridge coming up across the river. Soon a lone ED WDM2 sped past. Until Palghat Junction, there were absolutely no stoppages.

Near Palghat, there was further work going on, and the train slowed down once again. There were a few workers sitting on the parallel track, when I heard someone yell ‘Vandi, Vandi’ (Train is coming). Soon I saw ED WDG2 14642 sneaking around the curve with yet another BCNA rake. And soon enough, our train stopped just near the road overbridge. I could see the dual Broad Gauge-Metre Gauge track leading to Palghat Town (and then further into Tamil Nadu). I was wondering whether someone had missed the train and had then put a curse on it that it would always stop prematurely before a scheduled stop. The train had stopped before Trichur, Shoranur and now Palghat.

As we pulled into Palghat, I could hear the announcement — ‘Welcome to Palghat Junction’. There was a stationary WAM4 from AJJ 21258 standing nearby. There was a further announcement of the Cannanore-Coimbatore Fast Passenger that was following us. Platform 2 was empty as we pulled into the adjacent PF3. Soon enough, one of the beauties (ED WAP4 22395) arrived with the Rapti Sagar Express from Gorakhpur. As we pulled out I stopped the stationary Chennai-Palghat rake. One of the coaches was marked as Chennai-Sathya Sai Prashanti Nilayam. The area between Palakkad and Coimbatore is known as the Palghat Gap — there is a break in the Western Ghats mountain range. The region is characterized by strong winds, as was now blowing.

At Kanjikode, I spotted one of those Red/Blue Inspection Cars — the type that was videographed by Jay in Bangalore. Then we stepped into the Walayar Ghat. The Walayar Ghat is not like the ghats that you come across in Maharashtra. The train passes through the foothills of the Western Ghats, with the high cliffs on one side of the track, and dense forest on the other. There are no steep climbs or descents of the track. The up line and the down line separate a Kanjikode, just before the Ghat begins and comes together briefly at the Walayar station, to separate again and rejoin in Tamil Nadu. At Walayar, notorious for the border check post on the NH47 (notorious due to the traffic snarls that occur here — once you are trapped in one, you're stuck for 2-3 hours), there was another BCNA rake behind WDG2 14674 from ED.

Soon we passed the small bridge which forms the border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. As we crossed the bridge, strangely, the sun came out. But still the weather was not hot. Soon we crossed the station of Ettimadai. This was a half-abandoned station around 10 years back, but has now been revived after the Amrita Engineering Institute Complex came up behind it. As we crossed the National Highway 47, the train slowed down to a stop again. There was some work going on and I noticed that there were rectangular shaped rubber pieces strewn all over the other track. In the distance I could spot one of those ultra-modern-and-really-cool yellow and green tollgates of the new Coimbatore bypass. As we passed Madukkarai, I spotted another BCNA rake, behind a couple of WDM2As from ERS.

As we proceeded towards Podanur Junction, we met up with the soon-to-be extinct Trichy-Mangalore Express behind ED-WDM2-18209. Contrary to the reports, the train was nearly full. Rolling into Podanur, I spied a BZA WAG5A 23852 standing idle. As we crawled through the station, it noticed a green inspection van standing close by. Then we were heading towards our first destination — Coimbatore Junction — on the single track that runs between Podanur and Irugur. As we approached the old Coimbatore bypass, the train slowed to a stop again — prompting me to think there might be some substance in my thoughts about the curse.

The old bypass, which forms the beginning of the Trichy Road, was unusually deserted. From my school days, when my father was working in Coimbatore, and I used to make frequent holiday trips to this place, I remembered the presence of a well-like structure next to the railway gate, with a track leading to it. The structure is still there, though broken down, and the one-time presence of the track is noticeable as you pull into the station. There was even a catenary pole.

We pulled into PF1 at Coimbatore Junction — the track here has platforms on both sides — and I saw the rake of the Nilagiri Express parked nearby. As soon as we alighted, I saw GOC WDM2 16858 prowling around on PF2. This would later leave with the Thanjavur Jan Shatabdi from PF3 at 14:15. The station was abuzz with various announcements — there's always one every two minutes at CBE. My thoughts of taking a tour of the station were quelled by my parents' insistence that I remain with them and not go wandering around.

There was an ED WDM2c Baldie (14048) wandering on PF1 (With all the commotion with my parents, I failed to notice the Bokaro Express leaving and forgot about the Shatabdi colored coach I had noticed at SRR!!). We had some really good curd rice for lunch from the refreshment room.

By the time we came out of the room, the Platform was fully crowded by Chennai-bound passengers. Announcements were going on for the Intercity Express from Bangalore, the incoming Bokaro Alleppey Express, the Jan Shatabdi and last, but not the least, the lady was announcing in Tamil, that the Cannanore - Coimbatore ‘Thuritha Vandi’ (Fast Passenger in Tamil) will arrive on Platform 1. Translated into Malayalam, this means ‘Disaster Train’ — and half the crowd that day were Malayalees. :)

Soon enough the Intercity came in behind Erode WDM (didn't notice whether it was 2 or 2C or something else) 17258. This would now leave CBE as the Kovai Express to MAS. Behind this came the Bokaro Alleppey Express, onto PF4. This runs almost as a connection for the Intercity Express. Soon the Cannanore - Coimbatore passenger pulled into PF1. All this time an announcement was going on for the HWC TVC Express. As I glanced out of our platform, I could see the Bokaro-Alleppey Express snaking out of PF4, behind a Rajdhani liveried WAM4 (any idea which shed this could be?). Soon Kovai also pulled out from PF2, and there were fresh announcements on the incoming Kovai Express. The train came in only after 14:00, behind an ED WAP4 beauty. This would now return as the Bangalore intercity.

I got myself a right side window seat so that I could do some train spotting. No longer had we taken our seat that confusion started as to whether the coach was reserved or not. Someone had noticed that there was a faint marking of "S3" on the coach. I decided to find out and started asking my fellow passengers. Then I spotted a ticket examiner hovering outside the compartment. I approached him and asked him the same question. He replied that the compartment was indeed reserved. Then I asked whether there were any unreserved seats left over. He asked me to consult the chart, which would be put up shortly, and rushed off. We decided not to vacate our seats and wait to see if at all some chart would be put up, and indeed, no chart was put up. Incidentally, no one came to check our tickets at all.

Soon the Cannanore passenger also pulled away. Our train pulled out of the station almost 20 minutes late. As we crossed under the fly-over, I could see work was afoot for laying a second track. The train slowed down for a stop at Coimbatore North. The vast platform was deserted. There was not a soul in sight. Soon we were speeding out of Coimbatore city. Rounding a curve, I saw that one of the AC coaches had the Saptagiri yellow-green livery. As we approached Irugur, I could see the bypass line from Podanur coming in from the right. We slowed down, going into the station. Ahead, I spotted a large arched bridge. I couldn't recollect seeing this on my previous daytime trips (which incidentally had happened 7 years back!!!). Then I realized that this was my dear friend — the Coimbatore bypass — again.

To my delight, I also spotted a BCNA rake pulled by a couple of freshly painted blue AJJ WG7s (27657 and 27578) sneaking in from behind the bridge. Even though we had started late, we managed to catch up with the schedule as we pulled into Tirupur. After TUP, I spotted another BCNA rake behind an ED WAG7 with that usual red/white/blue livery. And then the effects of late night cricket viewing caught up with me, and I slowly slipped into sleep.

I was awakened by something whizzing past, and looking back, saw that it was some WDM, maybe from ERS. Then I saw that we were approaching Erode, and I was soon bolt upright, hoping to catch a glimpse of the beauties (read as WAP4s). As we pulled into the station, I spotted the Yercaud Express rake on the right. On the left I could make out another WAG7 behind a BCNA rake. I also spotted a WAG5HA from AJJ.

On the adjacent platform, the Trichy Palghat Town Passenger was behind an ED WDM2C. There were a couple of GOC WDMs also roaming around — 18324 and 17711. BUT ABSOLUTE NO SIGN OF ANY WAP4S!!! As we were leaving the station, I spotted a WDS6 shunting a WDM on the Karur line. Then we passed by the Electric Loco Shed, and lo, there were the beauties I was looking for!!! Safely tucked away inside the shed. There were also a couple of AJJ WAM4s and even a BZA WAG.

As we proceeded slowly, I spotted the line coming in from Karur-Trichy and joining the MAS main line. Soon we were on the bridge across the Cauvery. As we passed through the Cauvery station, I spotted yet another BCNA rake behind BRC WAG. Soon we were speeding again, and our companion — the down line from MAS — parted company and went off looking for better places to run through. This is how it runs for some distance. Yet another BCNA rake crossed on this line, behind a red/white/blue WAG. Incidentally, this would turn out to be the last one I would see on this journey.

The down line soon came in to about 200-300m from our track, as we passed through Anangur. Anangur is a quaint little station, interestingly built. The two tracks, as I mentioned are at some distance, with one really wide station platform coming between them. The little station building is situated halfway between the two platforms. The tracks then part company again and come together at the next station, Sankaridurg. We had an unscheduled stop here. I saw a stationary LPG tanker rake from the Visakhapatnam Port. The station was deserted — not a soul in sight — like something lifted out of a scary Hollywood movie. On the right side of the track stood a massive rocky hill. As we passed out of the station, I could see the small quiet village — like the ones you normal see in our movies.

And then, the storm hit us.

It came out of nowhere. At 5:00 p.m. the skies darkened to a pitch black in just minutes. Looking at the sky, I saw twirling black clouds, and realized this could probably be the effect of the Bay of Bengal cyclone. The wind hit us from the right side of the train. Soon rain was pounding down in torrents. Some of us had pulled down the glass, while some others opted for extra protection by pulling down the shutters before the glass — something I was never willing to do.

Some adventurous individual thought he was very brave, and kept standing at an open door. Thanks to him, soon there were small rivulets running inside the compartment. Fortunately I had kept all our bags on the top racks. Those who had kept them under the seats had them drenched as a result. My decision not to close the shutter came to nothing as visibility now reduced to virtually nothing. All I could see in the strong wind and rain was the adjacent track — nothing beyond that. The train soon slowed to a crawl. An occasional flash of lightning brought into view one of the scary faced rakshasas on a wayside ‘Ayyanar kovil’.

Somewhere in between I could just make out some Express that passed us behind a WAP4. The rain did not last long though. It reduced to a drizzle as we pulled to a stop just before Salem Junction — near the incoming track from the Cuddalore side. I could make out the huge bridge on the NH47 parallel to us. I could also see the effects of the rain and wind — small trees had been uprooted here and there. Fortunately none of them were on the track.

As we pulled into the platform I could see that various trees had their branches broken and these were lying around on the platform. Looking towards the left side of the train there was standing a huge container rake. The station seemed to be poorly lit. Then I realized that there was no power.

As we passed Omalur, I saw that it had not rained heavily in these parts. It was only drizzling. Soon we passed under the Salem Bangalore highway, and started the lovely ascent of the Deccan plateau, with the mountains on one side and the green fields down below. Incidentally this was the first time I was passing by this route. As we proceeded, the rain seemed to be playing hide and seek. I slipped into yet another slumber, and by the time I awoke, we were pulling into Hosur.

Some of our fellow passengers, mostly software engineers got down here itself, to catch a bus to Bangalore, hoping to reach faster. As the train crossed the impressively lit Narayana Murthy's Infosys Highway, the rain started coming down again. As if not to be outdone by the iterations of the rain god, my sleep waves flowed once again, and by the time I woke up, we were running parallel to the Bangalore outer ring road.

As we slowed down to pass over the ‘Manhattan of Bangalore’ (read as Krishnarajapuram), my father declared that we would get down at BNC itself and not go to SBC — so much for my hopes of spotting some action there. As we passed Bangalore East, the SBC-CAPE express whizzed past us — perhaps the first time I'm seeing a train twice, at different locations, on the same day. After all the adventures of one day, the train pulled into BNC only 15 minutes late.

And as we pulled into the station, there, to welcome us, was the Mysore Chennai Kaveri Express — behind a lovely ED WAP4. What a way to end the day…

Material provided by Ravi Subramanian, Copyright © 2003.
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