Our Tryst With Steam
by Sarosh Mehta
Photos of this trip can be seen here: /~apub/bw/
It was quite some time since we, Viraf and I, had last undertaken a trip to satiate our thirst for steam in action anywhere in India. In fact, our last but one trip that had taken us to New Delhi and Saharanpur was a complete no-no as far as steam was concerned. The last of the steam power plant was scrapped on September 01, 1994, a bare fortnight before our arrival in New Delhi. The sight of the scrapped WPs and WGs at Saharanpur Loco Shed was a truly tragic sight for steam lovers like us.
We were determined to overcome our dejection of that particular trip and hence January 13, 1995 saw us off to Ahmedabad. We had reliably come to know that steam was still in action on the metre gauge there which information was given to us by the Western Railway (W.R.) authorities at Churchgate.
We reached Ahmedabad on a cold January 14 morning at 0545 hrs. desperately straining our ears and eyes for the sound and sight of steam! However, as we were very hungry, we decided to have a quick bite at the station cafeteria. Immediately afterwards, we dashed to the metre gauge section of the station. As we were dashing across the bridge our nostrils were assailed by the tell-tale 'aroma' of a steam loco. Our senses heightened, we increased our speed and at that very instant we heard the sound of escaping steam! "There she blows!" Viraf exclaimed. I had been there earlier in June 1994 so I was a sort of a guide for Viraf in the initial stages of the visit.
We rushed down to the platform and drank in the beautiful sight of a YG breathing smoke and steam with its headlight on! No sight is more regal than that of a steam loco shrouded in smoke and steam on a cold winter morning. Unfortunately, amateur photographers that we are, we could not record the scene on celluloid. We bided our time, however, and as the day wore on we saw and photographed quite a few YPs and YGs based at the Sabarmati/Yari Road Loco Shed.
As we were very much interested in footplating we approached the Station Master (S.M.) and introduced ourselves. We also showed our necessary permission papers issued by the Chief Public Relations Officer (CPRO), (W.R.), Churchgate. The gentleman was very helpful and also very pleased indeed to know that the Railway is not only a means of transport but also a hobby for a select band of people in this part of the globe. After a short but illuminating conversation, he put us on board YG 3703.
We were thrilled to be on board a steam loco, huffing and puffing our way to Yari Road. It was heavenly being surrounded by steam, coal and grease! The crew of three was very helpful and explained the working of a steam loco in detail also allowing us to have a look through the cab driver's window and a couple of hoots to boot!
At Yari Road we visited the loco shed where we met the foreman, whom alongwith his deputy gave us some useful details on the number of locos stationed there and also the working of the shed. We were taken around the shed where we saw quite a few locos being coaled and watered. The photos that we took over there are very interesting and one of them was retained by the WR for their archives. A rare honour indeed! This trip to Ahmedabad shall always be etched in our memory.
After this trip we were uneasy for a long time and itched to take up a journey on steam anywhere in India. At the fag end of 1995 we planned a trip, to Udaipur! We had reliably come to know from the CPRO, WR, Churchgate, who incidentally is from Ajmer, that steam was very much active at Udaipur. Hence, after meticulous planning and gleaning some useful information from the Continental Railway Journal of the UK., we chalked out our itinerary for Udaipur. We were fascinated by a photograph of a steam loco hauling a passenger through, the gate of Debari Fort that is situated approx. 10 kms from Udaipur City. It was this photograph (courtesy CRJ issue of Summer 1995) which inspired the Udaipur trip.
As Mr. Lee Falk (of the Ghost who Walks fame) would put it, 'For those who came in late' Udaipur still lies on the metre gauge railway network as the broad gauge conversion started from New Delhi has been extended only up to Chittorgarh.
On February 17, 1996, we left Bombay for Udaipur via Ahmedabad. Our Ahmedabad - Udaipur train (86 Passenger) chugged out of the station at 0730 hrs hauled by YP 2813. Our coach was the one next to the loco that was very beneficial to us as we could stand in the doorway (coal, smoke, come whatever may!) and exhilarate at the sight of the graceful loco in motion. At Lusadiya station we clicked our first photographs of our loco. After two hours of steaming through beautiful and green countryside we reached the first major station that of Himmatnagar. We alighted and went toward the loco to have a chat with its crew.
The day wore on and the heat also increased though it was quite bearable as we were continually inching up the foot-hills of the Aravalli Range. In order to overcome gradients the loco was reasonably thrashed on the downhill inclines to gain the maximum speed possible. The countryside also kept varying as is the wont of a semi-arid land, green at times giving way to dry and arid craggy landscape. Our fellow passengers also kept changing as they were mostly short haul commuters. Some of them kept up a running commentary on the virtues of Rajasthan explaining that the state has a beauty and attraction of its own, for example the desert and its people. The only lack, as some said, was the paucity of Industries because of which Rajasthan is ignored by the Indian tourists as it is considered to be a poor state.
It was at exactly 1145 hrs that we steamed into the state of Rajasthan, the first station being Jagabor. As we were travelling by a passenger train, the halts were many and this provided us with a fine aspect of the Rajasthani way of life. Tribals engaged in selling firewood boarded the train (free-of-cost) for very short hauls sometimes detraining at the very next station or in between stations too! One of our co-passengers, an old man of indeterminable age, lamented the hardships that these tribals had to face in all their ways of life being discriminated against by nature and fellow humans. We were aghast at the facts that the old man recounted. Such is life!
Coming back to our subject, it was indeed a pleasant surprise for us that Rajasthan is not all desert as it is pointed out to be. There were large areas of greenery mixed with an equal number of larger areas of dry land. It being a hilly terrain (Aravalli Range), we could see at quite some distance either the ruins of a fort or a palace belonging to some erstwhile princely families. In that respect, when we were in the vicinity of Dungarpur, our fellow passenger pointed out to us the Dungarpur palace and the fort that were almost on the horizon. The palace, we came to know, is still being frequented by the Dungarpurs (remember Raj Singh Dungarpur our famous cricketing personality?) and it is in quite a good shape.
Who says steam buffs have only coal and water in their brains? We have gleaned such a lot of other information that has nothing to do with the railways. We had befriended our loco crew by then and we were promised footplating from Zawar onwards as the main Ghat section begins from there. Fate, however, had other ideas for us because no sooner had we left the station of Padla (one stop before Zawar) our train came to a gradual halt on a curve. We thought maybe the signal (approach) was not given, but as time elapsed we grew anxious and so leaned out of the doorway to see fellow passengers popping out of the train and walking towards the loco where quite a few people had gathered. First Viraf and then I jumped out to find out what was brewing. Contrarily, the brew was getting cold, our loco had busted some steam pipes just above the fire box and we were losing pressure. For all practical purposes we were landed with a dead loco. What a shame!
The guard of our train immediately set-up his radio apparatus by linking it with the telephone wires running alongside the tracks. He explained the situation at length to the authorities at Udaipur and requested for any motive power from near by stations. Well, that was that. Now, what do we do? We decided to do a little scouting on our own. Going alongwith the tracks ahead of our now stalled train we saw a small culvert to the left of which were fields through which ran a stream. The ambience was perfect for some exploration but our mood was bordering on the negative side as prospects of footplating were now becoming slimmer and slimmer.
Resting on the buttresses of the railway bridge over the culvert we were debating on the chances of reaching Udaipur City before nightfall when suddenly a voice from a distance gained our attention. We saw an old farmer with his wife tending the fields gesticulating at us and telling us, "hamari bhi tasvir khinch lo, saab" (Please take our photograph, too, sir). We entered into a conversation with the old man and as is the case with countryside gentry he invited us to have a cool drink. We realised that with the gradual eroding of time our water supply was also very minimal and hence we took up the invitation gladly. As we were going down the bank towards the stream the old man asked to cross the stream where two to three children were washing clothes.
Yuck! Drink from these waters? No, sir, I said and started turning back, Viraf doing the same but the old man convinced us that there was a spot of clear drinking water a bit farther ahead. We decided to go ahead and crossed the stream to where the spot was pointed out to us. Here the stream bed was strewn with washed stones, smooth pebbles of all sizes and from some point below crystal clear water was seeping to form a pool of roughly five to six feet across. Ah, this is real country style drinking water, as we bent down carefully not to disturb the water and drank deeply to quench our thirst. Water never tasted so sweet before! We thanked the old man and Viraf also obliged by taking his photograph (and subsequently posted the same to him) thus squaring honours on both sides. We then slowly trudged up to the train only to find that the relief loco had not yet arrived.
Viraf, impish as he always is when he is on such trips, climbed up a coach and onto its roof to take a photograph of the loco. Our crew was also right there and they requested me to take a p'graph of theirs and I readily obliged which pleased them a lot. This interlude gave us time to observe the peculiarities of this branch line. At all the stations there were only home signals and no starter signals, this was attributed to the fact that all along the route the speed limit was 40 k.p.h.. The station layout was also very simple - one main platform with two loops. The only exception being Himmatnagar station as it is a junction. There were more than two loops resulting in multiple sidings that could also hold long freight trains. We also saw a circular indenture in the earth as we were entering the main platform indicating that at one time a turntable was in use here. At all places we noticed that ballasting of the tracks was of the highest calibre. Kudos to the Indian Railways for maintaining the track so well in such difficult terrain! Suddenly in the midst of our musing we were jolted back to the present by the sound of a dynamite blast.
'The relief loco's here!', we exclaimed simultaneously. Sorry for failing to mention earlier but we would like to take you back to the moment when the guard had asked for a relief loco. Our crew had placed detonator caps on the rails behind our train where there was a sharp curve thus hiding our train from view to whoever could be coming from the rear. Snap! Please come back to the present. So the sound that we heard was the result of the relief loco passing over a dynamite cap. We immediately set off for the rear with our cameras on the ready. Quite a few of our fellow passengers that also included foreign tourists were already gathered over there and we had to find a suitable spot for photographing the event. About 50 metres or so behind our train there were two rock out-croppings saddling the track and I wanted to shoot the loco while it was entering and leaving the out-cropping. The loco, it was a diesel, finally came into view and we prepared ourselves for the shoot.
Fortunately for us, it had reduced its speed to a crawl and hence we could get a couple of good shots as we had desired. Finally the loco was connected to the rear of the train and we all rumbled to get into our respective coaches. I happened to glance at my watch, the time was 1750 hrs IST. We had spent two full hours at the spot. Well, we were rolling again but with a difference. There was no music now, the dead steam loco only made a clanking noise with no steam and smoke in accompaniment. The empty powerless motion of the connecting rods made our hearts heavy. In contrast, when we looked at the diesel at the rear of the train it seemed as if it was doing this task of pushing the train quite effortlessly! The external movement was that of the wheels only and the apt phase 'box on wheels' came to mind.
Thus we arrived at Zawar and it was nearly dusk. We got down for tea and refreshments and then we saw that the steam loco was about to be detached and put into a siding. Here also we noticed that there were multiple sidings for handling freight traffic. Again, there were no starter signals and only home signals were there. We met the driver, Mr.Zariwala, who told us that he would now be driving the diesel through to Udaipur City but before that a report on the failure of the steam loco had to be made. He, also, expressed his regret for not being able to take us on board the YP. We spent a half an hour at Zawar where in failing daylight we managed to shoot the de-linking of YP 2813. At around 1900 hrs we left Zawar pulled by a YDM4 No.6478 to cover the final leg of the journey that had started nearly twelve hours previously. The night was fast descending on us and the stars and the moon was already showing their presence. We were now onto the main ghat section where the gradient was 1 in 50 but the diesel performed this task effortlessly, a reminder of modern technology that has accepted the challenge of overcoming all hurdles in its path.
Time went on, the darkness was complete and the full glory of the open night sky was unfolded above us. The mercury had come down to cooler levels and the wind was fresh in our faces as we leaned out of the carriage doorway to look up at the canopy of stars, bright and dim, twinkling in the clear, unpolluted night sky with a quarter moon to boot! It was pure magic and I was reminded of my native place, Bhavnagar, where I used to spend many a night lying on the terrace just star-gazing! Ah, those were the days (a la Colonel Hathi in The Jungle Book) and that was what Viraf remarked as he reminisced on his early days in Borivali, a suburb of Bombay, in the early seventies when his family shifted from Dhobi Talao, an area in Bombay proper. He, too, was fascinated by the Universe and whatever it had to offer. We started talking on astronomy as we sped onwards on our way to Udaipur. The picture would have been complete but for the lack of the steam loco! Well, that was how it was supposed to be and we couldn't rule otherwise.
At 1940 hrs we became aware of a glow on the distant horizon indicating that we were approaching our destination. Our first view of Udaipur City was of lights, lights and lights. There were single and double-storied buildings sprawling over a large area signifying that there is no dearth of space. We detrained at 2015 hrs, a full three hours behind the scheduled time. Our first glimpse of the station evoked an exclamation because the main platform and the other platforms are at a lower level as compared to the main building itself. A flight of 12-15 steps running to a length of 25-30 feet connects the platform with the main building. Iron pipe railings provide protection against accidents. The station plan is very neat and all the offices are marked with the proper indications. The tidiness is maintained on a high level and there is no sign of lack of upkeep of the property. These were our initial observations on arrival.
We proceeded to make contact with the Area Officer, Mr. Mishra, who had been contacted earlier by our good friend, Mr. Siddheshwar Telugu, P.R.O., W.R., for making arrangements for our visit. However, it being a late hour, we were helped out by Mr. Rathod, TC, who rang up Mr. Mishra's residence. The gentleman greeted us very warmly and made us feel welcome. He arranged for our stay at the Railway Retiring Room and agreed to meet us the next day in the morning. We were led to our room that is on the first floor of the main building and overlooks the whole railway yard. This fact we came to know only the next day. Mr. Rathod was gracious enough to have the cafeteria extend its working hours for providing us dinner.
After a sumptuous, typically Rajasthani meal we decided to take a stroll along the main road next to the station. The traffic was very thin as it was past 2130 hrs. There are many hotels over a stretch of a couple of hundred metres. While turning back we noticed a stretch of fortification dating back a few centuries. Our room was very spacious with attached toilet and bath with 24 hours running hot and cold water. Earlier, we had bathed and changed before going in for dinner. There were 2 single beds, 2 arm-chairs, 2 dressing tables with mirrors, 2 ceiling fans and 3 large windows. We were provided with very clean linen and the room itself was very clean, neat and tidy. We immediately fell into deep sleep as we were very tired after a whole day of travelling.
We woke up at about seven and our ears were assailed by typical railway station sounds, the sweetest one being that of a steam loco doing shunt duties. After completing our morning rituals we stepped out of our room to be greeted by sunshine and clean air. A lovely sight awaited us in the form of a hill range topped by a fortress wall in the near distance and on the lower slopes of the hill were houses of all shapes and sizes. The station courtyard is full of trees and the whole ambience is very pleasant to behold indeed! We went to the terrace on the same floor and found that a staircase led to the main platform, a utility of profound convenience. After completing a filling breakfast of fried eggs and tea-in-tray we went to meet Mr.Mishra. However, we were informed that he was busy with work elsewhere and would come in a bit late. This gave us time to study the station layout in detail.
There are three platforms in all and each can accommodate 2 rakes. There is a crossover at the midpoint to facilitate the arrival/departure of a second train. The main platform is the longest platform as it was used for double-headed long mail trains to and from Delhi. The signals are all semaphore. In fact, the colour lights' signals were only in Ahemadabad. Udaipur boasts about its impressive freight yard. The freight traffic is quite heavy considering the fact that it is on the metre gauge branch line.
It was already past 1000 hrs and we were regretting the lost opportunity of going to Debari Fort that was the prime objective of our visit. However, we also had an appointment to keep and so we proceeded to meet Mr.Mishra who had just arrived at his office. We introduced ourselves and recalled our previous night's tele talk. He made us feel comfortable and showed a keen interest in the hobby that we were engaged in, i.e. Railways. We apprised him of our activity and explained at length the purpose of our visit. He immediately set about making the necessary arrangements for our visit to the Railway Training College and the Rana Pratapnagar Loco Shed. His kindness and concern for our well-being were obvious when he enquired about the adequacy of lodging and boarding provided to us by the Railways. We assured and acknowledged that everything was as per our needs. He then proceeded to escort us to the office from where the bus started on its way to the College. He also informed us that he would be attending work at Rana Pratapnagar and that he could be contacted at the Station Superintendent's office later in the day. We thanked him for his co-operation and shortly were on our way to the College.
The Railway Training College is situated in the city proper and it took us about 10-15 minutes to arrive there. The first sight of this magnificent edifice is awe-inspiring. As we entered the main gate we were treated to a lovely sight of a large fountain that is very colourful, abundant trees, vast lawns and sprawling fields. The main college building is a two-storied structure displaying a vast length and has three main wings. The location is well off the main road hence the ambience is very peaceful. Peace and quiet are, after all, the two main factors that contribute a lot towards learning. There were some other single-storied buildings that we surmised to be hostels, canteen, etc. We ventured forth to make contact with the competent authority.
We were led to the Vice Principal's office where we again made our introductions. The Vice Principal showed a keen interest in our hobby and we conversed in depth about railways as a hobby. In turn, we then enquired about the concept of the Railway Training College, its inception, working and the objectives. The information flow was enriching for all of us.
We were anxious to see the Model Room that has been acknowledged as one of the best in Asia. Prior to that, we were introduced to the Chief Instructor. We were then led to the Model Room. On our way, we passed by a few lecture rooms wherein training was in progress. Each lecture room has a capacity of 30-40 students. As our entourage proceeded along the corridor we felt as if we were some sort of visiting dignitaries because of the warm welcome accorded to us. The Model Room is a huge hall nearly the size of (or a bit larger than) a basket ball court. All the furnishings, table platforms, etc. are of polished teak wood and on these were the O Gauge three-rail tracks depicting the route from Churchgate and Bombay Central terminii to Baroda Junction (all on the Western Railway) with different types of stations, single branch-line workings alongwith, junctions, humpyards and loco sheds(with turn-table). The Chief Instructor informed us that total track layout in the Model Room is around 125 x 75 feet.
The students undergo simulated sessions here (in the Model Room) which are as per the actual procedures followed on the main and branch lines. The training sessions are very exhaustive as they cover each and every contingency that may arise during the actual working on line. As we were being explained on the working of the Model Room, a group of students was led into the room by their instructor who then started demonstrating the topic that they had learned about earlier in their theory class.
Viraf who is definitely more knowledgeable on the working aspect of Model Railways started explaining the equipment that I was seeing over there, like catenary, points, etc., so for that duration I was the student and he, my instructor!
After having a cuppa at the Vice Principal's office we took our leave as we had to cover the loco shed at Rana Pratapnagar as well as Debari Fort. On reaching the City railway station we were informed that Mr. Mishra was awaiting us at Station Supdt.'s office, Rana Pratapnagar. It was almost 1230 hrs so we decided to partake our lunch at the station. We stuffed ourselves with egg curry, rice and salad. We set out for Rana Pratapnagar in a rikshaw.
Rana Pratapnagar station reminds one of the Raj days. The architecture is typical of that era. The roofing and the layout of the offices, the fencing (picket style) reminded me, especially, of the stations on the metre and narrow gauges at Bhavnagar (formerly Bhavnagar State Railway now merged with Western Railway). The feeling was nostalgic. We entered the platform and found ourselves transported to some bygone era. The ambience was so peaceful, there was no hustle and bustle, the silence was like a roar in our ears and there were few persons in view. The only sounds that were heard were the hiss of escaping steam from the locos in the shed that was exactly opposite but hidden from view because of a high wall serving as the boundary for the shed. The station has only one platform but has three tracks two of which serve as sidings. A freight rake was positioned on the third track when we arrived at the station.
A security guard who was nearest to us helped show us the way to the shed. The station and the loco shed are positioned at an acute angle to each other and the switch lies just before entering Rana Pratapnagar station on the line coming from Udaipur City station. A little farther away is a manned crossing for the road that traverses the tracks. We crossed the tracks and on rounding the wall found ourselves at the gate of the shed. Rana Pratapnagar Loco Shed is a typical one as far as the structural design is concerned because the construction is as those of the Raj era. The one-storied building made of stone reminds us of the pictures we used to see in the tales of the Victorian era. The main shed is also very dark and gloomy and I wondered how the technicians could work in such insufficient light. We saw six locos being serviced at that time. A couple of locos was out of steam because their boilers were being attended to. On the whole, the loco shed was fairly busy.
There was a group of workmen nearby, officer staff, we assumed and hence we approached them for assistance. On enquiring, we came to know that Mr. Mishra had just left which was a bit disappointing as we did not know anyone at the shed. However, one of the officials who introduced himself as the foreman obliged us by letting us have a free arm to fulfill our purpose of the visit. We thanked him and after having a discussion on the present day working and status of the shed we started scouting and shooting the locos as well as the activities that were being carried out by the personnel. At the far end of the shed we met an engineer with whom we exchanged views on the working of the shed.
The shed is not equipped with a turn-table but only a triangle. While shooting the locos as well as the shed, we had a few titbits with the staff. We asked them how they still managed to maintain the locos in working condition as steam is already on its way out. The parts that became worn-out, they replied, had to be either repaired or replaced from other cannibalised steam locos attached to the loco shed. Spares are hard to come-by because mass productions of the same have been discontinued. Hence, failures on steam locos are common occurences. Here, we must acknowledge the tremendous performance put in by our Indian Railways to keep the machinery working against all odds. Kudos to our railwaymen for their superlative efforts and lending credibility to the good name of the organization, worldwide.
At the time of our visit, Rana Pratapnagar Loco Shed housed four YGs and five YPs, all for hauling passenger trains and also for shunt duties. We were informed that steam will be phased out by December 1996. This piece of information dulled our hearts. Modernisation, we realised, did not heed to human sentiments. By that time, we were quite well known to the personnel at the shed and we had developed a good rapport with an official who turned out to be a steam enthusiast. He showed us a glossy blow-up of Mewar Queen (a YP) hauling a passenger train and the location was Debari Fort. He told us that he had taken that photograph a couple of years ago. We rued our missed chance for a shoot at the Fort in the morning. As time was running out we went to meet the Station Superintendent, Rana Pratapnagar.
Mr. Surgyan Singh Meena possesses a charm that makes you feel at home. He bade us welcome to his office and conversed with us quite freely. We warmed up to him and after the proper initial talks we expressed our hope of visiting Debari that evening. He told us that there was no steam activity for the day but a freight rake hauled by a diesel was scheduled to pass thru shortly. He talked with Udaipur City freight control to confirm the departure time of the freight train. It was scheduled to arrive at Rana Pratapnagar station in fifteen minutes. A glimmer of hope surfaced on the horizon for us. However, we were faced with another dilemma and that was transport. We had no means, except an auto-rikshaw, of reaching Debari Fort well within the stipulated time. Mr. Meena came to our rescue; he asked if either of us knew how to drive a scooter. I told him that I did (know how to drive one) and luckily, as is my habit, I carried my driving licence with me.
The scooter was fetched from his residence and in the mean time the freight train arrived at the station. Mr. Meena assured us that we would reach our destination as well as have the necessary time to position ourselves for the shoot. After taking the location details from him we were on our way. Turning onto the highway, we sped at a fair clip with our hopes high. The dream was turning in to reality. Viraf is a good pillion rider, cool and comfortable with no instructions to the driver. We passed a naked sadhu (godman) and Viraf tried to click him with no luck. It was then that we were attacked by a swarm of tiny insects. They were everywhere and I was suddenly reminded of the times in Bhavnagar where there were similar occurences. I closed my mouth shut and Viraf followed suit. Luckily, we were wearing caps so our hairs were free of these insects but they clung everywhere else and even entered my shirt pocket! It was terrible as I had to wipe my spectacles often for a clear view.
The scene was changing as we progressed and the road was now tortuous and developed a gradient. We were amid the hills and I asked Viraf to keep a sharp lookout for the Fort. Presently, he pointed out the tracks to me and we followed them on a parallel. A hill loomed large on our left and the track was now seen clearly hugging the side of this hill. The road was also becoming steeper and there were a couple of sharp left curves. We abruptly burst upon our destination with an exclamation on our lips! The gates, there are two of them, of Debari Fort lay at our left. The topographical analysis is like this - the road level is midway to those of the gates. In order to reach the lower gate, we had to scamper down the escarpment, a good 15-20 feet or more. Inside the gate we found a Police Chowki (station) and a couple of policemen who directed us as to how to reach the upper gate through which the track passed.
The Fort wall loomed high above us and we started our way up. Stone steps laid centuries ago by unknown Rajput masons under the surveillance of their warlords were now used by us to fulfill our dream. We climbed close to fifty feet or maybe even more to reach the upper gate. Here, we had to climb a railing and then pass through the gate. The lower gate still boasts of heavy wooden gates with intricate woodwork supported by massive stone pillars and bear the wear and tear suffered through the centuries. The upper gate is a massive stone arch built close to the side of the hill with Fort walls stretching away to the left and the right. The railway track takes the shape of an 'S" bend and the gate is on the stretch between the two curves. The site is magnificent because it is at a height overlooking rolling plains with a few hills in the mid distance.
We immediately set upon the task of taking up our positions for the shoot but not before clearing most of the insects from our body. It was very very difficult to select a good spot for the shoot as the hour was not conducive for good photography. The time was nearly 1630 hrs and the sun was in front of us, thus we had to take the shelter of the shadow formed by the hill on the track. We prayed for success and barely had we taken up our spots we heard the mournful hoot of the diesel in the distance. The driver, on instructions from Mr. Meena, kept on giving us the signalling hoots and came in at a sedate speed. We tensed and as the loco came into view we started shooting as fast as we could. As the loco came nearer and nearer I tensed myself to hug the hillside but not before I had my quota of shots. The driver gave me a warning hoot and then they were past us waving cheerily.
I leaned against the hillside for a long time as the rake was very long. Finally, the train disappeared from our view round the bend and we were again all alone save for the wind and the mute walls of the Fort. With a sigh, we started to go back but curiosity led us to explore the rampart. The stone slabs have been worn smooth over the centuries and weeds grow here and there through the wide cracks between the slabs. We were carried in to the past momentarily as we gazed over the walls at the countryside reliving the times of the bygone era. A glance at the watch galvanized us in to motion and we beat a hasty retreat to our scooter.We dreaded the thought of being attacked by those insects but it could not be helped.
We arrived at the station in good time and had a cuppa with Mr. Meena. He enquired about our trip and we expressed our heartfelt thanks for making our trip a successful one.
The time was past 1730 hrs and our train for Ahmedabad was departing from Udaipur at 1900 hrs that meant that we had less than two hours to do some last minute shopping, take a bath and pack our belongings. We thanked Mr.Meena for all his help and took his leave. As we were leaving the station we encountered a group of railway workmen who were looking at us and talking among themselves. Obviously, they were talking about us! As we were walking by, one of them smiled at us and said, "Hello". Inwardly we were in splits because we were surely mistaken for foreigners! Viraf, the imp in him coming to the fore, turned around and said in perfect Hindi, "Namaskar, kaise hain aap!" (Hello, how do you do?) The look of consternation on their faces had to be seen to be believed! By that time we were both guffawing loudly and waved a friendly wave to them. And they waved back! Happiness was in the air!
We immediately took a rikshaw and on the way stopped at a roadside shop to buy a few handicraft items made from terracota. We reached our retiring room at 1800 hrs and set about finishing off with toiletries, packing, etc. We had our dinner packed from the cafeteria and proceeded to meet Mr. Mishra. We conveyed our deepest gratitude for helping us out and making our trip a successful and enjoyable one. We boarded the train and located our berths. Viraf wanted to shoot the loco and off he went. After a few minutes he came back with a dour face because his camera had locked itself! "So what", I said with a straight face, "You must be having a key to open it!" He gave me a dirty look. Our train departed at 1930 hrs, i.e. thirty minutes behind schedule.
Then just before Zawar, we had an unscheduled halt for not less than twenty minutes. These delays did not augur well for our reaching Ahmedabad on time and as luck would have it we did fail to make our rendezvous with Gujarat Express. We reached Ahmedabad two hours and forty-one minutes late. Eventually, through the good offices of the various officials at Ahmedabad, we were accommodated on board the Shatabdi Express that leaves Ahmedabad at 1430 hrs.
Now we are again planning for our next rendezvous with steam. Don't ask us where because we have not yet decided 'where'.
At the outset, we are honoured to thank various Railway personnel who have become our friends in the course of time that we have been researching on steam that is being phased out at a rapid rate on the Indian Railways. We are honoured to make acquaintance with Shri Venkateswaran, Additional General Manager, W.R., who has been kind enough to spare some time for us inspite of his busy schedule. The co-operation extended to us by The Chief Public Relations Officer and his department has been invaluable. We are deeply grateful to Shri Mukul Jain, former CPRO, W.R., who is now Regional Manager, Container Corporation of India, Shri B.P. Tayal, CPRO, W.R., Shri Siddheshwar Telugu, PRO, W.R., Shri Bhagwat S. Dahisarkar, PRO, W.R. and Shri Kantilal Morawala, PRO, W.R. We are also grateful to the various Railway personnel at Ahmedabad, Sabarmati (Yari Road Loco Shed), Saharanpur and Udaipur City Station as well as Rana Pratapnagar Station and Rana Pratapnagar Loco Shed.
Last but not the least, we are also grateful to the crews of the locos at Ahmedabad and Udaipur who patiently explained to us the intricate workings of a steam locomotive. Above all, they exuded an air of deep affection for their machines and expressed their respect for steam lovers. We salute these men who have done the Indian Railways proud for their untiring stint throughout the golden era of STEAM!
I wish to express my sincere thanks to my friend and critic, Mr.Viraf P. Mulla, for his invaluable help in the creation of this article.