Jaynagar-Janakpur NG trip
by Vikas Singh
Jaynagar is around 180 kms from Patna. Since the roads in North Bihar are in pathetic shape, I had decided to do the journey in two phases. Since low visibility delayed the Delhi-Patna flight by three hours, I reached Patna at 1130 hrs. Immediately took a taxi to Darbhanga. The journey of 120 kms was completed in 4 hrs. This being marriage "season" it was with considerable difficulty that I could find a decent hotel. The later part of day was spent in visiting what remains of the once famed Darbhanga fort and temples. Darbhanga is also famous for ponds and therefore fish and makhana.
Next morning we left for Madhubani, which is famous for madhubani paintings. The route to Jaynagar via madhubani is slightly longer (60 kms) than the national highway route (45 kms). After spending some time with the artisans at a village near madhubani we left for Jaynagar. The road is supposedly NH 105 but the condition is worse than a kaccha road in any village. It took us more than three hours to do the 36 kms stretch. The road exists in phases with large parts having been washed out in rains. It made me wonder that if this were the condition before monsoons, what would happen during the monsoon. We reached Jaynagar in evening dead tired form the journey and checked into a lodge. Late in evening we went to Jaynagar station. Though the station manager was friendly, he had no idea about the Jaynagar route. The reason being Jaynagar railway is owned and operated by Nepal Railway Company Ltd. Jaynagar is the only station on Indian side and land for station has been leased by Indian govt. to Nepal govt. We had heard that route had been closed down due to Maoist disturbances. To our joy we found that route was very much operational. Also we found that there is no good road connection between Jaynagar and Janakpur. The plans for travel by road were immediately abandoned.
It rained very heavily at night. Even when we got up at morning it was raining heavily. But when we were about to leave the lodge for the station at 0600 hrs, miraculously rains stopped. Perhaps rain god Indra wished me a happy journey. The first train to Janakpur leaves at 0720 hrs. Though we had reached station much before it was with great difficulty that we could secure a seat. After requesting a co passenger to keep the seat secure we went to buy tickets for which there was a long queue. It took me 45 minutes to buy a ticket... quite a record for me.
The coaches are in very bad shape. There are no functional lights or toilet. The emergency brakes have long disappeared. The fans do not work and roof was leaking. For a coach with seating capacity of 42 passengers there were more than a 100 people inside and about 20-25 on the roof. Same was the case with rest of the six coaches. Bicycles were hanging from almost all windows. I had to sincerely request a guy to remove his cycle from my window, as I wanted to take snaps enroute.
At 0730 hrs the journey commenced. For the first six seven kms the train traveled at a snail's pace of 4-5 kmph. The first station was Sahid Kameshwar Kusheswar Inarwa halt. After this was Khajuri station where crossing with the 0700 hrs passenger from Jaynagar happened. Khajuri has the shed where six steam engines are currently stabled. Since I was not sure of the stoppage, I decided to inspect the shed in return trip. There are six stations on this 29 km route. After Khajuri the train stopped at Mahinathpur, Sahid Saroj Nagar halt, Baidehee and Parbaha stations before reaching Janakpur at 1015 hrs. 29 kms long journey took two hrs and forty-five minutes.
All stations enroute are small stations with a shed and a booking window. Maoist insurgents have attacked and caused damage at all stations. Since this railway is the only means of communication, people face severe hardships whenever this line is closed. There is no ballast on the entire route, the bridges are old and so are the coaches. This slows down the speed of the train.
The train was to make the return journey at 1130 hrs but a huge crowd was already at station. Not wanting to ride back on rooftop we requested a passenger to keep a seat secure for us. Since we didn't have much time we took a rickshaw and rushed to see the Janakpur temple. Sita is supposed to have been born in Janakpur. Next to the temple is Ram mandap where lord Rama is supposed to have married Sita. Krishna Sagar Lake is also nearby where a part of the bow broken by lord Rama is supposed to have fallen.
By the time we returned at 1115 hrs all the coaches were jam-packed with people. There was no possibility of finding space to sit on rooftop. Even the cowcatcher of engine had not been spared. Thanks to our kind co passenger our seats were secured and we had to climb on top of several heads and hands to reach the seat. Sharp at 1130 hrs we could hear the whistle but despite three four attempts the train failed to move. Somebody said that train was so overcrowded that engine had failed. Anyway the engine was decoupled and sent to diesel shed nearby.
There are only two ZDMs on duty in this route and they work non-stop. There are three up and three down trains from Jaynagar. Coming out of the coach was again an experience. The shed is around 300 mts from the station. It is as antique as this railway. The sole mechanic there was lamenting that the engines had far outlived their life and no new spare was available. But as it happens in most parts of India, the mechanic was real jugadoo. He blocked one of the filters and said that engine could now pull the train. He also told me that Janakpur-Bijaplura route has been closed for more than a year as one of the bridges on the route had collapsed.
The engine was again coupled and this time the train moved. At Mahinathpur there was crossing with up train. I introduced myself to the guard who found it very amusing that somebody that so much interest in such an antique route. On my request he agreed to stop that train at Khajuri for ten minutes so that I could see the old steam engines.
There is no telephonic communication between stations and there are no signals on the route. Every day at same time a train leaves from Jaynagar to Janakpur and one train leaves from Janakpur to Jaynagar. The crossing stations are fixed and if one of them is late the other train simply waits. God knows what happens if there is any breakdown enroute.
Most passengers had got down by the time we reached Khajuri. The moment train slowed down, I jumped down and literally ran towards the shed only to be brutally ordered that no engines could be photographed. This was as per Govt. orders. However a quick introduction saved me and the hostility turned to friendliness. There are a total of six engines stabled there with one engine completely rusted and wasted away. Since I was short on time I was quickly taking photos. I could not take many details but the builder plate details of some locos are:
- 6736 Beyer Garatt locomotive, 1932 manufacture
- "Seeta" manufactured by Oren stein and Koppel A.G
- "Krishna" manufactured by Docroo and Brauns, Amsterdam
- 1537 "Pahupati" manufactured by Hunslet Engine Co Ltd, 1926
- Also spotted was diesel rail car manufactured by Jung in 1960
Thanking the people at shed profusely I rushed back to station, to find guard waiting for me. We reached Jaynagar at 0300 hrs.
We had initially planned to stay back at Jaynagar but people at lodge advised us to return to Darbhanga. They said that in case it rained heavily the route could be blocked. So we immediately left for Darbhanga where we spent the night at a nice hotel inside the fort.
Next day we left for Patna. Enroute we went to Sonepur DRM's office to click photographs of 4-6-2 WP 7581 plinthed there. This was the last steam loco on Sonepur division. We reached Patna at 1230 hrs, just in time for our flight back to Delhi.