Udaipur Trip Report

2004-09-21

by Samit Roychoudhury

Sealdah - New Delhi by 2313 Rajdhani Express, 21 September 2004.

For photographs, visit http://www.samit.org/trips/2004-1.htm

The inaugural journey of my 13-day railtrip across the western parts of the country started off on a comfortable note. The Sealdah Rajdhani, specifically chosen as I had never traveled this train before, and because the food and service is far better than that of the Howrah Rajdhani (which was of course based on very persistent hearsay).

Got to Sealdah station well in time for the 1635 hrs departure. Did the usual scouting around for timetables but only managed to get the eastern zone ones, and then made my way to the platform waiting for my travel companion, IRFCA member Buddhadev Saha.

The train was already at the platform. After finding our coach, we scouted around, checking the rake. The composition was as follows:

Ghaziabad WAP-7 # 30218, EOG, C1, AS1 - AS7, PC, A1 - A3, H1, EOG. A total of 15 coaches. There was a mix some were 2004 stock while some dated as far back as 2000. The loco was reasonable clean, marred by a large swab of grime on the side. The rake was clean, well maintained and inviting.

We left Sealdah on time. The journey as a whole was unexceptional. The train maintained it's schedule. The ride wasn't spectacular as such. To my mind the speeds really didn't exceed 110, though it's rather difficult to say from an AC coach. I never really noticed the very quick acceleration, which is natural considering it was headed by a WAP-7 which would make short work of the 15 coaches behind it. I naturally focused on the food, which I will detail shortly.

Co passengers were a Bengali family, and (now common) Bangladeshi nationals traveling to Delhi for business or on medical grounds. A short argument developed, where a co-passenger insisted the train didn't have scheduled halts at Durgapur and Asansol, which it now does.

I slept like a rock all night, lulled by the comfortable ride. I had asked for a side lower berth, and it was comfortable enough. The sheets and pillow were clean and crisp, the service very compelling. Not a complaint I had, except for the dinner served, which was a disappointment.

I did take a walk up to the pantry car. Took a look at the other 3A coaches. Our coach was a 2000 build. These look better the backrest does not form the middle berth. There is another fold up berth while one pulls down for the middle berth. This gives a kind of a 'padded' feel to the compartment. The newer 3A coaches do not have that. They, like regular sleeper class coaches, have the backrest of the seat lift up to form the middle berth. I admit this does not look that good, but it does economise. Also, the newer coaches have flaps built into the berths where one can tuck in the sheets, which, in my mind is a very nice bit of thoughtful detailing. The newer coaches also sport mirrors, and a table towards the window.

Saw quite a few WAG-9 hauled freights on the way. These green with yellow stripe liveried locos look striking. We maintained time right until Ghaziabad, where we halted for a long time. A DMU came in from the Delhi side, and I heard from passengers there was some blockage of tracks near Tilak Bridge and all trains were being delayed. We never found out what happened, but upon leaving Ghaziabad, the run was decent enough till New Delhi, and we arrived only about an hour late.

Now a quick take on gastronomic services offered by the courteous staff. RK caterers privately manage the train's pantry car.

Upon boarding, we were given a cool scented towel (a very nice and refreshing touch). This was followed by evening tea, comprising of Tea / coffee, lemon flavoured bhujia, chocolate flavoured sohan-papdi, coleslaw sandwich, a couple of clairs, a mango flavoured drink and a bottle of drinking water. I noticed that they never offered coffee, one had to actually ask the staff for coffee sachets. Tea always comprised of two teabags, a flask of hot water (just barely enough for 2 cups), two sugar and creamer sachets. The sohan-papdi was amusing (chocolate flavour!!!) and the lemon bhujia surprisingly good. And oh yes not a sign of kulhars. We got paper cups right through.

Not much later it was dinnertime. I had asked for a continental meal, hoping to get a roast chicken. It all started tamely, a small packet with 3 breaksticks (I got a dirty one), a cube of Amul butter and tomato soup. So far so good. I thought a nice tasty meal that could be enjoyed at leisure would follow. I was to be disappointed. The dinner tray consisted of two slices of bread and a cube of butter, a very nicely done pasta in a mildly cheese flavoured gravy. What spoilt it was the accompanying chowmein. It was tasteless. The fried chicken that accompanied it was a real disappointment. Far from being prepared in a continental style, it tasted like the 'tele-bhaja' (fried in oil) stuff we get in Calcutta's streets, which is called bhajia in other parts of the country. This prompted me to walk up to the pantry car the next morning and have a word with their Catering Manager. There was also some salad, and finally a cup of Mother Dairy vanilla ice cream.

Morning tea was as expected tea as before (or coffee for the insistent), Marie biscuits and more clairs. I remember clairs were always in vogue on the Rajdhani. They would serve a couple of them upon boarding or before arrival even 20 years ago.

Breakfast was so-so. We decided to order one vegetarian and one non-vegetarian to experiment. The veg breakfast consisted of 2 cutlets (tasty enough), boiled peas and 3 french fries!!!. Accompanying it was 2 slices of bread with butter and jam, and another serving of tea / coffee. The non-veg breakfast had an omlette instead of the cutlet, and boiled carrot in lieu of the French fries (I wonder why).

Service on the whole was decent, efficient and quick. The way the food was served was neat and appetizing. One tends to get the feelings it's good value for money when one travels on this train.

Delhi Sarai Rohilla - Udaipur City by 9615 Chetak Express, 2004-09-24

For photographs, visit http://samit.org/trips/2004-2.htm

I was looking forward to my first AC First trip in many years. Add to that it would be my first such trip on the metre gauge, on a route that will soon be closed for gauge conversion. My companion for the trip, Mohan Bhuyan (IRFCA) and I made our way from his house to Delhi's Sarai Rohilla station, well in time for the 1410 hrs scheduled departure.

The train was already at the platform. At the head was maroon liveried YDM4 #6629 homed at NWR's Phulera shed. This was followed by an SL, 3x GS coaches, one FC, one 2A, one 1A 2A composite, seven SL, another GS and finally an SLR.

We had initially tried to get reservation on the FC, but were unable to, since the FC was not entered into the computerized reservation system. We found out later the reason for it; the train's route had recently been changed. It now runs directly from Rewari to Phulera via Ringus Jn (while it earlier used to run via Jaipur), and they had not made the necessary changes on the computerized reservation system. As a result, reservations for the FC coach were made by the TTE at the station itself.

The 1A 2A composite coach comprised of two coupes of 2 berths each for 1A, and 4 cabins of 4 berths each and a coupe of 2 berths for the 2A section. The corridor had a separating door, which was at times kept locked. There was a solitary bathroom in the 1A section, which had a western style toilet. There was a hand shower too. The coach was particularly not well maintained. The paint job was off in places, and the bathroom not very clean. The coach attendant informed us the 1A was rarely booked, and mostly was used by the TTEs as their accommodation. The 1A cabin had a small washbasin with a hinged top that would make it into a small corner table. There were the mandatory fans and fluorescent lights, along with regular incandescent lights too. There was a bell to call the attendant, and a 2-pin power point that I charged my cell phone with. A small closet (with coat hangers) also housed the ladder that was to be used to climb up to the upper berth. The berths/seats were very comfortable, and of brown leatherite upholstery.

The train started out well in time. It made it's leisurely way towards Rewari and beyond, losing precious time due to crossings. The broad gauge line was right by us till Rewari. Mohan had arranged some delicious tandoori chicken and sheek kababs and we had that for lunch with parathas. We relaxed and chatted, checking out the stations on the way. We were definitely not doing more than 70 on most stretches. The train was pretty crowded and there were people atop the roof on our coach too (first time I saw that on an AC coach).

Soon it was dark. We had by then made friends with the TTE and the coach attendant. The TTE was a burly and aging man.. Rather loud and he had, upon seeing our enthusiasm, instructed the attendant that we be allowed to open the coach door and enjoy ourselves whenever we wished. By then a small drama was playing out. A TTE from one of the sleeper coaches had told his friend to park himself in the AC coach without taking our TTE's permission and that really got him going. Our TTE spent many hours hurling the choicest Hindi abuses on the sleeper class TTE, and in spite of the other TTE's pathetic apologies, we saw him call the RPF at Ajmer when we reached there and the train staff changed. The coach attendant told us the other TTE deserved this since he had once threatened the attendant with dire consequences for not providing him with a bedroll!!!. Mohan opened his bottle of Johnny Walker, and we enjoyed a couple of drinks each, with the dinner. And our TTE was a merry man. He had very obviously consumed a few pegs (which acted like a catalyst to his abuse), and one accidental mention 'Johnny Walker' almost had him join us, till Mohan managed to convince him we were joking.

We made good time till Ajmer. Just before reaching, we had a long drawn race with the broad gauge Ashram express, which lasted about 22 kilometres. Our driver was keen in spirit and it showed. Unfortunately a red signal at Madar (the station immediately before Ajmer) allowed the Ashram to surge on ahead and reach Ajmer well before us.

We went to sleep after Ajmer, having instructed the attendant to wake us up when we reached Chittorgarh early in the morning, which he did. The train reverses here, ensuring it's a long stop. It was cool on the platform outside, but dirty and fly infested. The broad gauge line from Kota ends here. Work is on to convert the Chittaurgarh - Udaipur stretch into broad gauge, and in all probability the line will close in November. All along the way from Chittaurgarh to Udaipur, we saw the alignment of the new BG track, which at times veered off from our route to maintain BG standards. The route was mostly flat at first and then we started climbing. We reached Mavli Jn, from where one line goes to Marwar Jn and a branch line goes to Bari Sadri. The terrain started getting hilly, and we crossed the town of Debari, with it's ancient arch gate over the tracks, where John Lacey had taken a wonderful photograph of a MG steam loco some years back. Now unfortunately there is only diesel. Passed through embankments and cuttings with the mountains around us, and soon we were at Ranapratapnagar, which used to be the old station for Udaipur, till Udaipur City station was constructed. As a result, many of the railway offices are still situated at Ranapratapnagar.

The arrival time at Udaipur has been rescheduled now to 0905, from the earlier 1000 hrs, because the train now takes the shorter route bypassing Jaipur, but on that day, it seemed the train was kind of steeped in nostalgia, and managed to make it to Udaipur only at 10. perhaps knowing it's days on this route would soon be history.

Udaipur City - Ajmer by 484 Udaipur - Marwar Passenger and then by 9105 Ahmedabad - Delhi Mail, 2004-09-26

For photographs, visit http://samit.org/trips/2004-3.htm

One of the reasons for this trip was to travel the ghat section between Khamblighat and Phulad, a less traveled line, but rather fascinating. We had tried to arrange for permission to footplate on the 484 Passenger, but somehow, there was a lack of communication, and the permission did not really come through. I was waiting for my phone to ring on the 25th evening, and that never happened. So the next morning, after a early wake up, Mohan and I headed to Udaipur City station. We had scouted around the station the previous day to try locate the person we were supposed to meet for the permission, only to find out that most of the railway offices are at Ranapratapnagar, the erstwhile terminus.

It was still dark when we reached the station, and I stood in the queue to get the tickets. The clerk took his own sweet time. The person ahead of me in the queue was getting a ticket issued against a military warrant, and the one before him bought nine full and five half tickets. Anyway, soon, tickets in hand, we made our way to the loco lobby, and told the person inside about our woes. He was sympathetic and agreed to talk to the drivers on our behalf. So there were we talking to the drivers, who almost agreed to take us in, only stumbling block being the fact that there was a minor derailment on the ghat section some days previously, which meant that inspectors were often manning some of the stations. At that point the gentleman who was supposed to have contacted us appeared out of nowhere. He said he had been making announcements on the station's PA system for us and we never did hear it, as we were in the loco lobby. He did talk to the driver, but was not able to give official permission, as he was not in a position to do so.

It was 6.10 am, and time for the train to leave. The train consisted of 10 coaches, eight SL/II and 2 SLRs. At the head were two locos, with only the lead loco, a YDM 4 # 6629 of Phulera shed (yes the same loco that had hauled in the Chetak the morning before) under power. The driver suggested we approach him later so we settled into the first coach, which was quite empty. Strangely enough it was a sleeper class coach; we were expecting second-class seating. We chugged along, enjoying the cool morning air. There was a crossing at a station along the way; a rather long stop and we finally trundled into Mavli Jn, where the line towards Marwar branches off. This is where we got surprise. The coach we were in was detached, along with the one behind. The lead loco (6629) took charge of these coaches, which formed the Mavli Jn - Bari Sadri passenger. The rear loco stayed with the train and a new loco was attached ahead of it, a blue liveried YDM4 #6338 homed at Sabarmati shed. While all this shunting was happening we looked at the train in dismay. It had totally filled up, with almost as many people on the roof. We later learnt that it was the last day of a mela (fair) and in spite of the fact that there were two extra trains that day and 4 coaches added to it's normal formulation of 6 coaches, it was still way too crowded. We would have never managed in that crowd, let alone do any rail-fanning. At that point the driver came to our rescue. He smiled and beckoned for us to join him in the cab. We clambered aboard in relief. The train then took off on it's journey. Luckily enough, the loco was running short hood forward.

The entire route from Mavli to Marwar has steel ties, except for the ghat stretch, which has mostly wooden ones. Speeds are quite low; with the section from Marwar to Khamblighat allowing 40 km/h. It's a gentle climb up all the way, amid rolling landscape. We maintained time, watching the driver and the assistant go about their jobs. The assistant's calls of the signals etc were very crisp and impressive.

A couple of times we even got to feel (and hear) the dynamic brakes in action when the train had to be hurriedly slowed down. He was also from this area and waved out to almost everyone he came across by way of linesmen, gatekeepers and station staff. Soon we were at Khamblighat, from where the steep descent begins. The line climbs down about 500 metres in a distance of about 22 kms, necessitating a speed limit of 19 km/h on this stretch. At this station the loco behind us was powered on. It seems that was required because there was more than the normal complement of coaches on that day. The usual train does not require any extra brake power on it's descent, though banking is always provided in the upward journey.

The caution orders issued included a couple of level crossings, which did not have gatemen. At these, the driver was required to bring the train to a standstill, before blowing the horn and proceeding slowly over the crossing, Also, along the way, there was an aqueduct that crossed the railway line which had a low clearance, and the driver slowed down and checked back to ensure all the passengers on the roof were not in the way before proceeding very cautiously beneath.

There were a few halt stations on the way, which did not have any train staff, and in these, it was the duty of the train guard to sell tickets. Once he was done, he would inform the driver and we would proceed. At one instance, he brought the walkie-talkie to good use by blowing the whistle into his radio, which the driver heard loud and clear. Pretty ingenious indeed. The driver had informed us that on these lines, there are no ticketless passengers. Even the poorest people are too proud ethical to travel without paying.

The scenery by now was decidedly alluring. Mountains all around, as we snaked our way through the gaps, the rails squealing in protest as the loco used it's brakes amid the curving lines. The driver maintained a peak of19 km/h, totally concentrating on his job. We reached the midway station of Goramghat, which had the usual hill supplement of monkeys!!! From then to the next station of Phulad, was a similar journey, but at one point we could look out at the plains of Marwar down below. What a sight it was. One felt literally at the top of the world, even though the line does not reach any great heights.

The ghat section has a couple of tunnels, neither very long. For reasons of safety, four catch sidings are provided. We were intrigued at the way these were operated. Before departing from Khamblighat, the driver was handed a large silver coloured key, which he would use on the catch siding locks. The turnouts are always set towards the catch sidings. A few metres before each of these, there is a signal, which is always set at danger. The train has to stop at that point, and the assistant detrains, uses the key provided at the interlock box. This in turn notifies the signalman who is positioned at the catch siding turnout, who sets the track towards the main line, and sets the signal to clear, giving the train authority to proceed, this ensures that if there is a runaway train, it would always find it's way up the catch siding.

Soon we reached Phulad, the ghat section having taken well over an hour. Here there was a longer stop. The second loco was detached, and the main loco moved to the other end of the train as reversing is required. We got ourselves some tea and pakoras, but unfortunately the pakoras were undercooked, probably because of the unusual rush in the train. We were in the plains now, and it was decidedly warmer. We set out from Phulad, the loco now running long hood forward. This meant the exhaust from the chimney often entered the cab, which is a great inconvenience. The driver remarked that it was a cause of concern, and something needed to be done about that. The last stretch was only about 16 kms, and the speed allowed was 50 km/h. We reached Marwar at about 3 pm, well over an hour late. We thanked the drivers for the superb experience and made our way to the broad gauge platforms.

We found we had missed the Aravali Express to Ajmer, which we had planned to catch. The only option now was to wait for the 9105 Ahmedabad-Delhi Mail, which was expected to come in at 1655 hours. We hung about in the dirty station, which was fly infested. Not really venturing outside as the sun was glaring. The station announcement reported our train was running 15 minutes late. We bade our time, chatting up a coolie who very helpfully offered to secure seats for us. At about 1715, the train came in. It was double headed, at front a WDM2, followed by a WDM3D, both of Abu Road shed. The second loco had an attractive livery, cobalt blue with thick white stripe, which immediately grabbed my attention. The coolie very conveniently dumped us into the compartment, which was marked 'Disabled'. Only thing was there were no disabled people inside. It seems railway staff usurp this compartment for themselves, and do not allow the general public access. Luckily, no one stopped us and we had a very comfortable ride up to Ajmer.

There were a few employees of Abu Road diesel shed on board and from them I learnt that 10 WDM2s had been transferred to their shed from Katni, as well as the new WDM3Ds that it had received.

The compartment was well spaced out, possibly to allow for wheelchairs. Even the bathroom was large and the door was diagonal to the coach. It gave a very airy feeling and looked much larger than regular compartments.

The train ran very well, often crossing 105 km/h, and in spite a couple of stops for crossings, we made it to Ajmer a few minutes before time. That wasn't really surprising, considering the WDM3D was alone enough juice for this train. I was told that it was a 21-coach rake that day, but never got down to counting it. It was well past dusk when we wearily trudged into our hotel room at Ajmer, after the customary round of bargaining with autorickshaw drivers, and freshened up to treat ourselves to a beer and a tasty meal of chicken curry and chapatis.

Ajmer Workshops & Ajmer - Ahmedabad by 2916 Ashram Express, 2004-09-27

For photographs, visit http://www.samit.org/trips/2004-4.htm

We had planned to see the Ajmer railway workshops. We got in touch with Mr Udai Veer Singh, the Senior Divisional Engineer at the Ajmer DRM office, who called up a colleague at the workshop and arranged for us to have a look. We also had a look at the DRM office, an old stone building, which houses the divisional offices. It was quite pleasant and spacious, with a metre gauge loco plinthed outside. Unfortunately we couldn't get a photograph of it. It was already afternoon, we headed out for a quick lunch, and then went over to the carriage workshop. We were met by the Deputy Mechanical Engineer, who courteously arranged for one of his officers to show us around. We were taken on a tour, shown the wheel and axle assembly units, the painting workshop, the bearing workshop, the brake units etc. It was a pretty long and winding tour, but what struck us most was the very clean appearance of the workshop. Everything was spic and span. The workshop staff took pride in their maintenance. There were small gardens everywhere and everything was in place. No junk, no rubbish.

Till recently a metre gauge area, Ajmer now had broad gauge, thereby necessitating facilities for broad gauge coaches at the workshop. Therefore all the rails laid along the floor are dual gauge so both gauges can be catered to. There were BG as well as MG coaches under various states of repair. We even saw a few coaches of the MG 'Chhote Mian' that raced with the BG 'Bade Mian' near Delhi some time ago. Also to be seen were original coaches of the Palace on Wheels.

After a hectic round of the shops, we made our way out, a little disappointed that we couldn't get to see the Loco workshop, which would have been a great experience. We made our way to Mayo College. From there it was back to the hotel, and we took our bags and headed back to the station. Mohan of course had some brain curry at a restaurant opposite the station. I joined him with something a little of a tamer variety chicken curry it was. It was then time for Mohan to catch his Ahmedabad-Delhi express back to Delhi, which left at 2130. I had to wait a couple of hours till the Ashram Express came in, about 15 minutes before time, double headed of course (didn't check details), and left at 2330 on it's way to Ahmedabad.

What would have been a comfortable ride was marred by the fact that there were way too many people inside the sleeper coach. Someone told me that it was the last of the auspicious days so people starting out on new ventures had to take the opportunity, therefore the rush. There were people everywhere. And once I settled down in my side lower berth, I found 3 heads alongside me, and two people sleeping in the space between the berths opposite. It all made for an uncomfortable night, and people sitting by my feet off and on early in the morning didn't help me with my sleep. Thankfully it was a short ride, and we made it to Ahmedabad just a couple of minutes later than it's scheduled 8.00 am arrival. Ahmedabad was hot and humid, like I had never experienced there before in the six years I had spent there. I could feel the heaviness in the air as I stepped out of the train, into the morning sun.

Ahmedabad - Nagpur by 2905 Porbandar-Howrah Express, 2004-09-28

For photographs, visit http://www.samit.org/trips/2004-5.htm

Reached Ahmedabad station well in time for the 1545 departure. The train had already come in from Porbandar. I never got to count the coaches or even check out the loco, which I assume was a WAP4. We started off on time, and I settled down into my side lower berth. I had seat 23, which had the emergency window and I kept it open, getting an unobstructed view. That somehow felt a little insecure, a big gaping hole with nothing in between to prevent things from falling out or someone reaching inside to snatch belongings. The coach was particularly unclean, and of old stock. The entire train looked rather scruffy. We made good time though. The ride was smooth all the way to Surat, where I got onto the platform to look for an omlette to satisfy my hunger unfortunately none were t be found, so I settled for potato vadas. At the next station Udhna, we branched off to the single line recently electrified section. We made decent time here too, except for a couple of crossings where we reached first and were made to wait. Unfortunately that section still worked on the token system and we had to wait for the other train to pass and then we got our authority to proceed, resulting in quite a delay. I believe work is on to convert the entire stretch into token-less working.

On the way, I caught a glimpse of the narrow gauge rake parked at Kosamba station. The rake, of the usual brown livery looked very clean and fresh, and though I couldn't make out in the passing, it seemed to have very large windows in the DHR style. Either that, or there was a yellow lining on the coach of that size. Made it look very nice indeed.

I drifted off to sleep, only to be woken up early the next morning, at about 6, to prepare for arrival at Badnera. The earlier plan was that Zubin would meet me at Badnera station and we would wait for the next train and make our way to Nagpur. That changed at the last moment and it was decided we would take this same train, hence the need for me to head towards the front of the train. Badnera arrival was scheduled for 0655 hours and we were at the outer 165 minutes early, and made to wait ten minutes, till we got the line clear to saunter in gracefully. I gout out of the S1 coach and saw Zubin waiting at the loco. After quick introductions, we entered the cab.

My first WAP-4 footplate. The loco was a Santragachi based one, in the old Rajdhani livery. Not a very clean looking one either. The next three hours or so to Nagpur was fast running, often at a steady 105 km/h. there were slight gradients and many gentle curves. It was a cool morning, and a few trains crossed us, notably the Gitanjali with a red liveried P-4. Now of course a loco is never as comfortable and well sprung as a passenger coach, and the jerks and shakes are more pronounced as one stands in the cab. I was busy with my camera and watched the driver keep up a good pace, pretty impressed by his expertise. We maintained time throughout and made it to Nagpur on time at 0950, in spite of a couple of caution orders that caused us to slow down. Now the good thing about riding an electric loco is one gets a far better view of the line ahead than in a diesel, thanks to the large and full frontal windows. This particular loco, being an older one as stated, did not have the newer more comfortable driving seats and a better instrument cluster as the newer ones, yet it was spacious and open, a change from the metre gauge diesel we had just experienced a few days previously. The vertical bars on the windscreen, though, do mar the forward vision to a good extent.

A curious thing I noticed was that while most of even the old diesel locos on the narrow gauge have digital speedometers, the older broad gauge electrics still have the analog ones. Of course they are fitted with speed recorders. The maximum is set at 130 km/h, market with a red dash, and there is an over-speed indicator that would go off if this was exceeded.

I was met by Alok at Nagpur station and he found me a decent hotel to stay at, and then he played a perfect host.

Around Nagpur, Nagpur-Saoner-Nagpur and Nagpur - Howrah by 2859 Gitanjali Express, 02.10.2004-10-01/02

For photographs, visit http://samit.org/trips/2004-6.htm

After freshening up at the hotel, Alok and I went back to Nagpur railway station. We roamed around some and then caught a narrow gauge train to Motibagh station, the station immediately after Nagpur. We went to the narrow gauge platforms, which is adjacent to Platform 1. There are three lines on the narrow gauge, two that have platforms. The narrow gauge rakes were much cleaner than the ones seen around the eastern zone. The coaches were clean and well lit. There were toilets too and a small two seat unit right next to the toilet and blocked by the door.

We got off the train at Motibagh, a charming station. And walked across the yards, past the narrow gauge loco shed and around to the main road. to the Narrow Gauge museum. The ticket counter outside now has one counter for computerized reservations too. The museum ticket counter was closed, and we had to go into the museum and buy it from the office itself. The museum itself has some manicured lawns, with one steam loco outside. The main museum is housed in an old steam shed, renovated and very airy. Down the middle are tracks on which there is another loco and a saloon, flanked by rooms on two sides and panels with various exhibits. Unfortunately photography was prohibited and we couldn't get any photographs. So we walked around, a little dismayed by the quality of exhibits, and a lack of representation from beyond the area. There was an entire gallery dedicated to blown up images of postage stamps featuring trains from around the world. The Railways needs to take this museum seriously and do it up, and make an effort to ensure it represents the narrow gauge heritage of our railways in a very comprehensive manner. We spent a lot of time talking to the manager of the museum, and then proceeded for lunch.

Post lunch saw us back at Nagpur station. We roamed around watching the trains. Saw a brand new WAP-4 # 22598 on the way to being delivered to Lallaguda shed. The quality of paintwork and finish was disappointing. The paint job was scruffy and unfinished. The body finish was nothing to write home about either. After walking around, we headed for the Food Plaza and relaxed for a while. Unfortunately the air conditioners had been turned off and it was hot. This Food Plaza also does not serve non-vegetarian food. After that, we caught another narrow gauge train and got down at Itwari, the station immediately after Motibagh. We had somehow convinced Zubin to meet us there and take a 'slow' narrow gauge ride back, but the train was late and eventually we had to take an autorickshaw back as Zubin had to catch the Jnaneshwari express back to Badnera to get home.

The next morning, I checked out of the hotel and met Alok at the station. Our plan was to take the narrow gauge train to Saoner, 44 kilometers from Nagpur. We asked the driver of the ZDM3 whether he would allow us to footplate and he refused, which meant we had to occupy the regular coach. We got ourselves seats and settled down. The train got very crowded and we dawdled along. The section has a maximum permissible speed of 50 km/h beyond Itwari, once the slums alongside the tracks are crossed. The train was speeding along rather well. We halted at all stations en route, and found that after Itwari, and after crossing the broad gauge main line going towards Calcutta, there was a single broad gauge electrified track on either side of our narrow gauge track. These are to serve the two power plants / coal mines in the region. Clipping along at a decent pace, we reached Pawarkheda, which has a large thermal power unit. Beyond this station, there was only one broad gauge line and it was unelectrified. A little later it crossed over to the other side. After a couple of hours run, we had reached Saoner.

Walking around the town we found a dhaba where we had a vegetarian lunch. Suprisingly Thumsup is usually not available around Nagpur; most stores selling Pepsi, which to me, is rather annoying. This dhaba did have Thumsup, but it was not chilled. Post lunch, we headed back to the station and got talking to the deputy station superintendent. A very warm and generous person and that meeting turned out to be a great experience. Saoner station is a small two platform one. It has one main line and two loops. The total station staff wouldn't probably exceed 5 people. The Dy SS was also in charge of selling tickets. We looked around, seeing the token block instruments and the telephones and then we were invited by him to sell tickets. We took that up with gusto, but sad to say, we crumpled each cardboard ticket we inserted into the date punch machine. He insisted we handle the cash too, which showed how trusting and good-natured people in the area are. He showed us the working of the token instrument, and then insisted we make the station announcement. Alok refused but I took up the challenge, and in my broken Hindi, I read out what he had written for me, announcing the very train that was to take us back to Nagpur. I did it twice, to ensure Alok captured it on my digital camera!

The train came in on time. It was sad to leave the station, as we were thoroughly enjoying ourselves. But leave we must for I had to catch the Gitanjali Express from Nagpur at 1915 hours, and I was totally dependent on this train to get me there. If this train was delayed, I would miss my connection.

The 2NHJ Jabalpur Howbagh Nagpur Passenger rolled in on time. The ZDM4A #207 hauled 8-coach rake even sported first class accommodation. We went up to the driver and asked him about foot-plating and he immediately agreed. We climbed aboard in glee and the train started off. The driver assured me we would reach Nagpur on time and I wouldn't miss the Gitanjali.

The driver was a calm character while his assistant was more temperamental. They made a good pair! We rode along well, the driver pushing the train and kept at the speed limit throughout. The ZDM has a control wheel unlike the levers on the other locos and I found the driving positions rather uncomfortable. But they definitely looked more spacious and offered better views ahead than the ZDM5 I had foot-plated earlier.

We stopped for a long time at Pawarkheda for a crossing, and then carried on our way. This loco had a digital speedometer, sporting bright red LEDs to show how fast we were going. The fact the tracks here are well maintained contributed t the fact that quite zippy schedules are possible on these routes. We were again halted at Itwari for some time before gliding into Nagpur station well in time for us to say bye to the friendly crew, and then for me to retrieve my bag from the cloakroom and switch over to platform where the Gitanjali was expected.

An exhilarating day indeed, made so special by the warmth of the Dy SS at Saoner, who so welcomed us and made us feel a part of the railways, and to the terrific crew of the train who made us their guests.

All the trips we IRFCAns make, especially where we are given access and insights into railway facilities and practices, are indeed a great tribute to the these people, who make our railways more than just a mode of transportation.

I ended off the by getting into my SL coach of the Gitanjali Express. Once again the train was not particularly clean. I had a middle berth this time, the only lap where I wasn't able to secure a side lower berth, something I was dreading traveling. Luckily the journey wasn't too long. The train left on time at 1915 and we were scheduled to reach Howrah the next afternoon at 1335. I was pretty tired by then and after a tasteless dinner of partially cooked omlettes at Gondia, I headed off to a not too pleasant sleep. Woke up early the next morning and looked about. There was not much train spotting to do. The day rolled on and I was willing the time to pass quickly so I could be home. The train didn't disappoint. The reasonably new red liveried Santragachhi shed WAP4 and it's crew kept to schedule.

Somewhere on the way I spotted a WAG-9, but before I could get my camera ready to snap it up, it was already quite distant. Saw nothing else particularly exciting, and the weather wasn't very accommodating. It was cool enough but it rained almost through the morning, necessitating closing of the windows off and on. The stations passed in quick succession, Rourkela, Chakradharpur, Tatanagar and finally we were at Kharagpur and it felt like I was nearing home. The familiar sight of the EMUs always evoke a sense of homecoming. We maintained a steady steady clip, without wasting too much time and approached Howrah. Fortunately, we were not delayed at the approach to the station and we entered the platform on the new station well on time. I headed out, stopped at the Comesum Food Plaza for a quick meal and took a taxi home.

Thus ended a exhilarating, exciting, strenuous and experience-filled journey.

Material provided by Samit Roychoudhury, Copyright © 2003.
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