Tale of 3 Shatabdis (and a 3A)

2005-10-09

by Shashanka Nanda

Last few days have been really painful (for my butt) and hectic, with me having to travel to Jaipur, Chandigarh & Lucknow for official trips. Ofcourse the sunny side to such trips is the free train rides that I get. All these 3 cities are connected to Delhi with Shatabdis and incidentally, I had never travelled on any of those trains so I was looking forward to them even more:o)

The first trip was to Jaipur and sunrise saw me at Delhi Cantt. station waiting for the Shatabdi to Ajmer. The first movement I saw was the arrival of the Bikaner Mail. The 19 coach train is perhaps the longest MG train in India today. As it started again after a 3 minute halt, the solitary YDM4 heading it was on the verge of strangling its turbocharger trying to muster enough TE to get the train moving!! The Mandore Express from Jodhpur made an appearance 20 minutes behind schedule, and right behind it was an NMG rake hauled by a Katni WDM2 with a dead WDG3 trailing it.

The Mandore held up the Shatabdi at Sarai Rohilla and as a result, it arrived at Delhi Cantt. 25 minutes late!! Taking up my seat in C5, I put myself to the ardorous task of making team while moving at 65kmph inside a rattling bouncing tin can. At Bijwasan, we crossed the Ahmedabad Rajdhani hauled by its customary Vatwa WDM2. The run to Rewari was quick, with us staying on the right side (or the wrong, depending on how you look at it) of 100kmph. We crossed the usual MG passengers to Delhi, and also overtook a few freights (mostly containers or oil tankers).

At Rewari, the BG tracks curve sharply to the left to head to Alwar, while the MG takes it leave and heads towards Ringus, Phulera etc. A new BG platform is coming up at Rewari on the South side, while a motley collection of diesels from Abu Road, Katni and Gonda waited in the sidings with their respective rakes. After Rewari, I stayed rooted to the door as the Ashram Express was due to cross us. At Bharawas we were let into the loop line, while on the other loop the Porbandar - Delhi Express waited. I could not make out the name of the shed, but the WDM2 had a psychedelic blue livery!!. As we were about to halt, the starter for the loop suddenly turned amber and we were back on the mainline again, only to be let into the loop on the next station Bawal. A WDG3A hauled freight waited on the other loop. I got off, camera ready. Moments later, the starter and the advanced starter on the mainline turned green. By then, I was armed and ready to shoot.... at first the burbling noise of twin Alco V16s with their turbos on full chat reached my ears, and round the bend came two beautiful blue - white WDM2s heading the revered Ashram Express. The twins and the 24 coaches trailing them roared past me raising an enormous amount of dust. Those 15 odd seconds left me spell bound, and even as I slumped into my seat, the smell of burnt diesel tingled some remote corner of my brain.

Breakfast followed shortly and consisted of the standard RK fare.. bread, cutlets, 3 boiled french fries, 5 peas and more watery chai!! Having skipped dinner the previous night, my stomach was craving for food, hence the insipid fare was gobbled up without protest. However, request for more bread was gruffly turned by the surly waiter!! Anyways, the run to Alwar was without drama. At Bandikui Jn, I spotted WDG3A #13179 belonging to Samastipur shed. I didn't know that SPJ homed WDG3s too, plus seeing their loco this far was a bigger surprise. For some reason, 80% of the freight traffic on the Delhi - Jaipur route is handled by Katni locos, with Ludhiana, BGKT and others chipping in with the rest.

At Arniya, we halted again on the loop. The wait this time was a longish one. I chatted with a smart looking assistant who told me that the Shatabdi has a booked speed of 105kmph on this run with an MPS of 110. The crew link is thus - Their set will take the train from NDLS to Jaipur, from where NWR drivers take it to Ajmer. A fresh crew brings it back to Jaipur, where the previous day's crew takes the train home to Delhi. The oncoming train turned out to be New Bhuj - Bareilly - Ala Hazrat Express, which is perhaps the only VB train on this sector. The run from thereon was fast and furious, and we arrived at Jaipur just 15 minutes late.

I was back at the station after finishing my meetings and made a thorough round of the yard. The Delhi end of the yard is very narrow and the tracks twist quite a bit, jostling for space. One corner is taken up by a shed housing the Jaipur division's accident relief crew. It houses staff coaches, tool and generator vans, a 2 coach ARV based on a HHPDMU set and a massive 140 ton crane built by Jamalpur workshops. The other end of the yard is pretty wide with plenty of lines to house rakes and marshall freight. The right side of the yard looking towards Ajmer is occupied by the MG yard. The MG side has 2 passenger platforms and about a dozen sidings to home freight and passenger stock. Plenty of traffic was seen at that hour with locos from Tughalakabad, Abu Road, Bhagat Ki Kothi, Ratlam and even Jhansi making an appearance. The sole shed representing MG was Phulera with locos spotted in all hues.

The Shatabdi returned with its TKD WDM3A #18919R running LHF. Since the top speed is only 110kmph, no one bothers with turning the loco as they do for the Bangalore Rajdhani. I entered my coach to find that my seat was occupied by obscene amounts of date seeds!! On the aisle seat was an aged lady who was snoring away to glory. On the other side, another lady much younger was also asleep while a third was sleeping on the floor in the space between 2 rows of seats!! I think that's the last sight one would expect to see in a Shatabdi. What made it more incredible was the fact that was this lady was the size of Musashimaru!! The other two, closer in size to Yokozunas Akebono and Konishki were still asleep while Musashimaru got up when we left Jaipur. I explained my predicament to her, but she feigned helplessness!! The trio were Arabic in origin and spoke no English nor Hindi. Exasperated, I went to the next coach to find the TTE!! This coach (C6) was nearly empty and I plonked my rucksack there and waited for the TTE to arrive.

Juice (actually some mango drink) was served as the TTE arrived and I explained my situation to him. He asked me to stay put in C6 as it was mostly vacant and hardly any crowd was expected at Alwar or Rewari. I took up seat near the front of the coach and but was soon forced to abandon it. I was sitting right above the bogies and the jerks that I felt threatened to throw my laptop off the table any moment. Towards the middle of the coach, things were much better and I proceeded to annihilate the opposition on my 750cc Kamikaze. This day was important in my life since I finally made it to Level 3 in Road Rash, some 5 years after I first played the game!! Soup was served after Alwar, and dinner thereafter. I ordered veg food, which had been loaded from Jaipur. The fare consisted of Roomali Roti, some tasty Shahi Paneer, Black & Yellow Dal, Jeera Rice, Sweet Curd and pickle. Earlier, I was thinking of trying the non-veg meal instead, but the expressions on the face on my co-passengers told me that I had made the better choice:o) Tired after a long day, I dozed off and woke to find ourselves scampering through Gurgaon. Delhi Cantt arrived 20 mins later and in another 30, I was snoring away to glory in the comforts of my bed.

5 days later, I was waking up again at an unearthly hour to get ready for my journey to Chandigarh. The Kalka Shatabdi though leaves at a more merciful hour (0740) but I had to finish some presentations and pack hence the early start. This time, I drove down the station and decided to leave my car in the parking rather than fight with autowallahs at 11 in the night. The Shatabdi was in place on platform 1, with a Rajdhani generator car bringing up the rear of the 11 coach train. Up ahead, was the big white #30210. Now that shook away all sleep from my eyes and I really looked forward to my first journey on a WAP7 hauled train. From whatever I have heard from other members, I was expecting the WAP7 to make mincemeat of the tiny rake and it was exactly so.

We had to crawl all the way to Azadpur on yellows and entered Naya Azadpur at about 65-70 with the home at double yellow. However, the starter and advanced starters were green and by the time we exited the platform we were already past 100 and were doing 120kmph within seconds!! It was simply amazing. What was more, was that you simply do not feel even one bit of it. However, the sheer brutality of its power was evident later in the journey, but before that, it was breakfast time. Veg it was again and I was in for a surprise, instead of the boring for-class-5-kids mixed fruit jam, we had some really nice orange marmalade and the cutlets had given way to some nice Upma - Wada. However, judging by the amount of water in the sambar and chutney I guess that RK's base kitchen is situated in an aquarium or something.

Once again, I had to make do with bad breakfast which usually spoils my day. So I headed to the door for a smoke where I food ourselves clearing a 15kmph caution zone enforced by some ongoing trackwork. No sooner that we cleared it, the chief hit Max TE and the Shatabdi just took off!! I don't know if there is a railway version of a motorcycle wheelie, but this one was perhaps the closest. It felt as if we were increasing speeds by 10kmph with every passing 100m stone!! If I had to take a conservative estimate, we went from 15-120 kmph in about 100-120 seconds!! The power was simply brutal!! If there are any doubting thomases on IRFCA, I suggest that they should take a ride on a P7 train!!

After Panipat, Kurukshetra was also dispatched in a 2 minute halt and we were cruising along at triple digit speeds before coming to a grinding halt at Shahbad Markanda on the mainline. Some track work was going on on the platform loop but no apparent cause was visible to necessitate our halt. We stayed there for some 15 minutes before I saw a WAP5 appearing on the horizon. To my utter surprise, it was the Kerala Sampark Kranti from Chandigarh!! Usually, it gets a BRC WAP4 but the WAP5 was a real shocker!! a few minutes later, we got the starter and another brutal burst of acceleration followed and I was simply loving it. Arrival at Ambala was 20 minutes late, and as we exited towards Chandigarh, the Amritsar Delhi Intercity waited at the outer with WAP5 #30006 at its helm.

The Ambala - Chandigarh - Kalka section is single track electrified with 4 crossing stations between UMB and CDG. At Dhulkot we crossed a WAP1 hauled VB passenger while the Chandigarh - Delhi Jan Shatabdi waited at Dappar with a GZB WAP4 hauling it. The section just before Chandigarh is full of tight curves which keeps speeds down. We reached CDG 20 mins behind time. Waiting in the yard was a light CNB WAG7, a LDH WAM4 and a Ghaziabad WAP1. I got off and took the exit towards Panchkula and was back at the station at 1730 after finishing my work. The WAP1 and the WAM4 were still around. The WAP1 was busy shunting in coaching sidings far to the south end, while the WAM4 waited at the head of a passenger train to Ludhiana. The Shatabdi came in 3 minutes before time and left 3 minutes early as well!! Meanwhile, a fight had broken out inside the coach with issue being the luggage space in the overhead rack. Choicest Punjabi cuss words were flying in all directions along with threats of slapping and punches, while the demure lady on the seat next to me looked on in horror!! It was her first time in North India (she being a Kannadiga), so she was kinda taken aback on the Punjabi way of life:o)

But as is with all such fights, it soon fizzled out as the first of the endless servings of drinks and eatables commenced. The evening fruit drink was replaced by a choice of flat Mirinda or superflat Pepsi. Just beyond Ambala, we were served with perhaps the worst tomato soup in my life followed by an equally bad meal. The paneer was rubbery and sour, while the dal was rock hard, the chapatis were all leathery and dessert consisting of strawberry ice cream was the only decent item served!!

Shatabdi journeys at night are really boring. There is usually an hour or two to kill between dinner and destination and in case you don't have much to do then you are in for hell. Same was the case with me, it was dark outside so no chance of trainspotting. The lady was fast asleep and looking at her cute babyish face I had no intention of waking her up so a trip to the door was also ruled out. I had nothing to read and the cellphone and laptop batteries were also low, so games were also out:o(Hence, I busied myself by counting the number lugagge pieces assembled on the overhead rack and tying to figure the personality of each owner. When that too turned boring, I turned my attention to the constant stream of giggles emanating from the seats behind me which were occupied by two city type middle aged ladies. Judging by their conversation, which went on in a mix of Hindi, Punjabi & English, I gathered that they were college mates meeting after 15 years!! So the two were busy catching up with the latest in their lives and stories of college time crushes and post marriage blues!! Not the nicest things to do, but then I had nothing better and the next 90 minutes went by in a breeze. We halted at Subzi Mandi for 10 mins for want of an empty platform at NDLS and finally arrived 15 minutes late.

The next evening was spent in the company of the 'Writer' Mohan Bhuyan, the 'NG rider' Vikas, 'Lord of the P-Way' Rajeev Shrivastava and the visiting ' King of Maps' Samit. Matters of Railway were discussed alongside Matters of Antiquity late into the night and the next morning a very groggy Samit and yours truly were on NDLS platform 12 trying to hunt for the EC Chair Car of the Swarna Shatabdi to Lucknow. Samit was booked on EC and I also decided to do the same, so upgraded. It was our first time aboard the LHB Shatabdi and we clambered aboard like excited school kids. Our seats were trackside which was all the more fun and at dot 0615 we headed out.

First stop was Ghaziabad, which was announced on the PA system in the train by a recorded voice. The message is preceded by a long irritating toot which sounds very much like the one on All India Radio during ad breaks. All 3 Shatabdis that I travelled featured such recorded messages. Also, music used to play intermittently on the PA system. The choice of music left much to desire though... mostly it was instrumental versions of popular Bollywood numbers of 80-90s vintage, the sort you hear in cheap hotel elevators.

Tea was served soon after we left, and it was the usual do-it-yourself chai with the exception that we got real crockery instead of the plastic cups found in cattle class (Samit was more charitable, he called the regular chair car as jersey cow class!!). Just after tea, I was taken aback with the sudden arrival of a chap in a well cut black suit and gel slick hair. He greeted me with an elaborate namaskar and welcomed me aboard the shatabdi with a rose!! Had it not been for his typical UP accent, I would have mistaken him for one of Don Corleone's henchmen who had taken to more legitimate means of living. Anyways, I found the whole rose and namaskar scene to be a bit embarrassing but then I am not used to it... no one has ever gifted me flowers!! The uniform of the stewards in the EC was no less. The black kurta pyjama with kamarbund (belt) and pagri (turban) would have looked more at home on board the Palace on Wheels rather than the Shatabdi!! But since we were travelling to the city of Nawabs and all things royal, such extravagances were rather expected.

The LHB rake also meant that we were subject to the famous LHB jerks, which were much more pronounced as we were at the fag end of the train. It made the exercise of making tea all the more painful. Some jerks were violent enough to convince me that someone somewhere in the train would have surely split his / her cup!! Samit himself had two narrow escapes when the jhatka hit right when the tea cup was close to his lips. Jhatkas apart, the ride was very smooth, but we barely managed to sustain long periods of high speed running. There were numerous freights and expresses ahead of us which invariably made us ride the yellows and on a few occasions even held us to a complete halt for a few minutes.

On the other track though the action was fast and furious, right from the outskirts of Delhi there was a train crossing us virtually every five minutes. Most of these were passenger trains interspersed with the odd freight. The first of the 3 Rajdhanis (Howrah) headed for NDLS crossed us at around 0900 with the other 2 (Sealdah and one NR Rajdhani rake) following hot on its heels. For all the freights that we crossed we did not manage to see a single WAG9 hauled train until we neared Kanpur where 2 WAG9 hauled BOXN rakes crossed in quick succession.

As expected, the food on board the EC was much better. Between the morning tea and breakfast we were also served cornflakes (Kellog's) which was quite a novelty for me:o) For breakfast we ordered one chicken cutlet and one cheese omelet. For bread we had the choice of toast or croissants. The cheese omelet turned out to be pinkish orange in color and tasted yuck!! The steward mistakenly served us veg cutlet instead of chicken ones, so we got us an extra chicken cutlet serving as well. Curiously, the veg cutlets had no marking, while the chicken one was marked both veg and non veg!! The veg cutlets were damn nice, but the chicken ones left a lot to be desired. There was also some fresh paneer (cottage cheese) cubes spiced with chat masala to go with the omlet:o) A choice of chilled orange or guava juices was served post breakfast as well.

Food apart, the EC was one heck of a coach. The legroom on offer was enormous... so much so that short people would have trouble reaching the footrests affixed to set in front. The legroom also meant that the foldable tables were slightly far from normal which meant that one had to bend over slightly to eat, which wasn't all that comfortable. That apart, the 2X2 seating and enormous windows gave a very airy and pleasant feel to the cabin which was accentuated by the tasteful blue and pink interior. Each window had pull down blinds which were useful as the windows are not tinted. However, the spring was wound too tight on the blinds which meant that they snapped back with a whiplash action when released and made a very embarrassing noise!!

The Kanpur yard was quite large and we crawled at a steady 20 kmph all the way through from Govindpuri where we had to halt for a minute or so. From the yard, the MG station of Kanpur Anwargunj was also visible where a YDM4 # 6422 from Izzatnagar shed waited with a passenger rake. The loco was painted in a bright blue and yellow livery which is a departure from the standard maroon of the shed. We halted at platform #1 at Kanpur where I said goodbye to Samit da. We started a few minutes later and cut across the yard to take the exit towards Lucknow. Here, WAP4 #22587 from Mughalsarai waited, having been re-painted to the old Rajdhani style colors instead of its factory red-black!! The loco sported the newer clean front, large window, top headlamp look which looked decidedly yucky in the Raj colors!!

Crossed the Ganga a few minutes later. The bridge at Kanpur is a piddly little one. For some weird reason, the one up north at Garhmukteshwar (on the Delhi - Moradabad line) looks much longer than this one. Any idea why? Lucknow arrived a short sprint later and the Shatabdi pulled into platform 1. After spending the day in meetings and some shopping for the ladies back home, I made my way to the station at about 1930 hrs. I was due to take the Varanasi - New Delhi Kashi Vishwanath Express, whose ETA was 2040 hours. That gave me ample time to explore the station which was bustling at that hour with lots of traffic expected. Kanpur WAP4s were the overwhelming majority in the electrical department, with a GZB WAP1 and SRC WAP4 offering token presence. The diesel department was a bit varied with locos from Katni, Lucknow, TKD and Jhansi being spotted. The station building has a nice facade with imposing domes and all. I saw 7 platforms in total, but for some weird reason the Allahabad - Lucknow Intercity was being announced as "Platform #9". Can someone tell me where are PFs 8 & 9 located?

The KV came in 20 minutes late hauled by a TKD WDP3A. This was again a first for me as I had never been on a WDP3A hauled ride. We got the starter after 20 minutes and with typical Alco gurgle, the loco was off. Somehow, it is very hard to associate the Alco exhaust note with carbody look of the DP3, so this beast always remains a novelty to me. This particular loco (#15520) had a particularly metallic sound emanating from the turbo, which died down at higher revs. The pickup was clean and smooth and after standing at the door for a while, I headed off to my berth. Sleep however was very difficult as I had a side upper berth. Shopping bags and noisy co passengers compounded my problem, but fatigue ruled the roost and soon I was in dreamland eating Gelauti Kebabs on board a WAP7 with bikini clad females gifting me roses!!

I was woken up by the attendant at Ghaziabad, and I headed straight to the loo only to find pages from a 4th class English notebook (the one with 2 red lines and 2 blue lines) taped to the toilet doors with "Pani Nahi Hai" (No Water) scrawled on them!! Which meant a trek and a wait to the 2A which was well utilized by taking shots of the rising sun. After the Yamuna crossing it was a race to NDLS with the WAP7 hauled Shan-e-Punjab and no prizes for guessing who won. Arrival at NDLS was 30 mins late and as I headed towards Pf1 to collect my car, I was greeted by a Shtabdi Express which carried New - Delhi Jammu boards!!

But then, I was too tired to explore the matter further and was more content in firing up my dusty Swift's engine and head home. Thus ended the adventure of the 3 Shatabdis and ahead lies a Rajdhani!!

Material provided by Shashanka Nanda, Copyright © 2005.
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