Journey Down Memory Lane - Farukhnagar
August 14, 2004
by Vikas Singh
Exactly 131 years and 6 months after world's first commercial meter gauze track was thrown open for traffic from Delhi to Rewari, I was at Delhi cantonment station waiting for the 1 DF daily passenger from Sarai Rohilla to Farukhnagar.
The first railway train in India made its inaugural run on April 16, 1853 from Boribunder, Bombay to Thana, a distance of 34km. The track was broad gauge (5' 6"), chosen after much deliberations by British government. However by 1868 it was felt that further extensions were possible only with light railways. Sir John Lawrence advocated adoption of narrower gauge. His successor Lord mayo recommended 3'3" gauge. Finally in December 1871, metre gauge was officially accepted. Anderson committee was set up under aegis of BB&CIR (Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway) for development of Rajputana Malwa railway in North India. On January 26, 1866 after British government got approval from princely states of Bharatpur, Alwar, Jhalwar, Pratpgarh, Sirohi and Tonk, work commenced. Finally on 14th February 1873 the main line from Delhi to Rewari (84km) and a branch line from Garhi Harsaru to Farukhnagar (12.3km) was opened. The first meter gauge engines to work on this line were A class 2-4-0 tank engines.
Dot on time at 10.57, 1 DF entered the station hauled by YDM-4 from Sabarmati shed. There were a total of six coaches, four second sitting and two luggage cum guard cum second sitting coaches. I was lucky enough to find a seat next to window in last coach. After a brief stop, the train left. The train speeding through urban concrete jungle, smoke bellowing and milk cans jostling from almost all windows made a very unusual sight. We reached Garhi Harsaru junction at 11.50. En route the train had stopped at Palam, Shahabad Mohammadpur, Bijwasan, Gurgaon and Basai Dhankot. Garhi Harsaru is a quaint little station, which still retains the glory of bygone era. Neatly painted with swank clean platforms, this station is five kilometers from the famous Sultanpur bird sanctuary. The sanctuary is home to more than hundred species of birds including flamingo, duck, geese, avocet, sandpiper, starling, kingfisher, gadwell, pelican, mallard, plover, heron, and spoonbill. Once a favorite haunt of Dr. Salim Ali the sanctuary has good population of blackbuck, nilgai, hog deer, sambar, caracal, wildcat, hedgehog, mongoose, striped hyena, Indian porcupine and four horned antelope.
From Garhi one line goes straight to Rewari and a branch line forks towards Farukhnagar. Most milkmen had gone down enroute and now there were only four of us in the coach. The route from Garhi to Farukhnagar was very scenic with lush green fields on both sides. At places, the train almost pierced through dense overgrowth of four feet tall grass. Some swayed merrily in air with nest of birds tied firmly. After a brief stop at Sultanpur Kaliawas halt, the train finally reached Farukhnagar at 12.35.
Farukhnagar was once famous for its salt wells and was an important salt production center in British India. However the wells have now either dried up or water is no more salty. The saltpans have given way to agricultural fields. Two or three old abandoned railway buildings were promptly clicked. The train made its return journey at 12.50. This time I was treated like royalty with a whole coach, all to myself.
We reached Garhi at 13.25. The train then doubles up as a passenger between Garhi and Farukhnagar before returning to Sarai Rohilla in the morning.
The next train to Delhi was Rewari-Sarai Rohilla passenger scheduled at 16.22. So I decided to make the best use of time. Over countless cups of tea at Om Prakash Gupta's tea stall, I picked up friendly conversation with Ved Ram, an Indian Railways employee since 1968. He found it very amusing that someone had come from Delhi to travel on the Farukhnagar route. However he was a very friendly person and explained to novice like me the intricacies of token exchange. He actually gave me two good pose to click while exchanging token-first with a goods train and later with Chetak express. A passenger train to Rewari passed us with people standing on every possible space including roof and engine. Mentally, I thanked my stars for not having to board that train.
I was soon to receive a big jolt when the passenger to Delhi arrived. It was an eleven-coach rack hauled by YDM-4 from Sabarmati shed. For someone who had just been treated like royalty, this was a big climb down. Pushed by a huge crowd from outside, I miraculously found solid footing inside the coach. It goes to the credit of Indian railways to pull of this marvelous feat with the train carrying passengers three times its normal capacity. To add to misery fans were not working and the train made a number of unscheduled stops. It finally reached Delhi Cantonment station at 18.20, a full forty minutes behind schedule.
It is sad to note that Railways has failed to market this historical route. I am sure that there would be hundreds of rail enthusiasts like me, who given an opportunity would like to relieve the memories of bygone eras on this route. On lines of Fairy Queen, Indian Railways can plan one-day steam trips to Garhi with a visit to Sultanpur bird sanctuary added to the itinerary. Till then, for people like me, 1 DF is the only available option.