As one gets older, the memory fades away and without visual reminders it is hard to bring it back into focus. Sometimes it is hard to place even those visual reminders in time and context. It was thinking on these lines (pun not intended) that I decided to commit, with the help of a diary I kept under orders from my wife, some of my recollections of my first visit to India to paper, or in this case, to the internet.
First, the scene setting and the sociology; I think it would have dawned on most of you that 'rail fanning', a description that seems to be the most acceptable to this group, is like chasing the setting sun. One is forever mourning the passing of some favourite class of locomotive, route or feature of railway life and wishing one had been born a decade earlier in order to witness some imagined better times. I started out in 1961 at age 14 as a 'train-spotter', an acceptable term for a British rail fan in 1950's and 60's but sadly now a term of mockery. As a schoolboy I used my limited funds to see the end of the steam era in 1968 and thought that was the end of my hobby. However, one day while sitting on the upper floor of the Social Science library at Nottingham University, I noticed a column of steam in the distance and eventually located it as coming from a local coalmine. Steam may have ended on the state railway system but continued to serve industrial concerns around the country. Out came the camera again and I left university with a mediocre degree but a large collection of industrial steam locomotive photographs.
Locating steam locomotives in remote places brought me to join the Industrial Railway Society, which published newsletters and books on the subject. However by the 1970's the mines were closing and much traffic had gone over to road transport. The sun was setting again; I had to look somewhere else for my dose of steam! This came in the form of overseas railways. Eastern Europe, then still under the control of the Soviet Union, in the form of countries such as Poland and East Germany still made significant use of steam power. As my economic circumstances improved I began to look further a field and in 1979 I noticed that the aforementioned Industrial Railway Society was advertising a visit to India, visiting a mixture of mainline and industrial steam locations. My brother Chris, younger, single and similarly minded, was keen and so the cheque was soon in the post.
So friends, after this rather lengthy introduction, Thursday December 27th 1979 found us on flight BA033 to Bombay (as it was still called then). It had been easy to locate the other members of the party in Terminal 3 at London Heathrow - a mountain of camera bags and tripods surrounded by a mixed bag of men. Being a social scientist by profession, I have many theories about British railfans but will try to keep them in check for fear of litigation or threats of violence! Having folded my 6' 2'' frame into the aircraft seat for what seemed an eternity we finally crossed the Rann of Kutch, to approach the Indian coast, which is greener than I had imagined, and we follow it down to Bombay. Arrival is 0550.
Friday, 28th December 1979
The first thing that hits me as the door of the plane opened, well the second thing actually, the first was somebody's tripod as it was slung over their shoulder, is the smell. It is warm, humid, musty and spicy - not unpleasant, just totally different. I am used to it now, sixteen visits and twenty-five years later, but I always relish that first smell. We are rushed through customs, momentarily feeling sorry for the visiting overseas Indians whose baggage is ruthlessly being tipped out and examined in minute detail. The next hour or so is blur - beggars, touts, honking horns, chaotic traffic, and cows in the road - things that are now reassuringly familiar and unthreatening but were very alien at that time.
A brief sleep and it is off to our first taste of Indian Railways. Our tour leader has cancelled our booked coach and proposes that we use the suburban trains from Victoria Terminus to get to Wadala Road where we are to visit the Bombay Port Trust. We queue for a ticket as we are still awaiting our Indrail Passes, but it seemed likely that many of the other passengers were travelling ticketless. It is election time and a group of enthusiastic but harmless campaigners board our compartment and the prodding this time is from their banner and not another tripod. On reaching our destination I am confronted with my first Indian Railways steam locomotive - in fact two of them - CWD 2-8-2s coupled tender to tender on a train of tankers. By this stage these are about the only IR steam locomotives left in Bombay and soon there were none, strange to think that they clung on almost to the end of steam.
Bombay Port Trust is a hospitable place and we have tea and iced water before being allowed to roam free around the shed and yard. Six locos are in steam; all of the 2-6-0 tank variety built at Newton le Willows and Manchester close to my hometown of Liverpool. There are also many diesels, which do not hold my interest, and several of these seem destined for the scrap-yard before the steamers. Most of the group go off to collect locomotive numbers at another shed (old habits die hard) but I am tired and return alone to the hotel by taxi from the station.
Saturday, 29th December
At home they will be sleeping off the excesses of the Christmas holiday but we are up at 0500 for a 0600 breakfast and a 0645 departure. The manager announces that breakfast is at 0700, which produces a near riot, and breakfast is now at 0600. Our train is cancelled due to the overhead wires being down at some point south and we take a local train to Neral. We are all beginning to realise how much a part of everyday life the railway is as we observe early morning ablutions in the line-side ditches and canals. Culture shock! At Neral one of the steam locos, No. 738, has been prepared for our special train. We have the opportunity to inspect diesel NDM1 No. 501 and the antique railcar 'Matheran Queen'. The other two steam locos are out of service although one, No. 740, is under repair. Two further diesels are in the shed NDM No. 502 and 504. NDM No. 503 is on the regular service train.
We depart three hours later at 1245 I share a compartment with some holidaymakers who advise me not to eat the station vendors food as there is a cholera epidemic in the area. I sample my first bottle of 'Thumbs Up', which seems a fairly safe bet. Coca Cola and Pepsi have yet to colonise India and provide employment for ex-film actors. The journey to Matheran is spectacular. We stop at Water Pipe, appropriately, for water for the locomotive and more Thumbs Up for us. The loco has been working hard and coughing up large cinders. The highlight is when one sails through the open window and sets fire to the jacket of one of the group. At Matheran the turnaround is quick and we get back to Neral in time to catch our Bombay train and we are back at the hotel by 2215 for a late meal of mutton curry, parathas, naan and fruit salad.
Sunday, 30th December
At 0630 we start after 4 hours sleep and hurry off to the airport for a flight to Bangalore. This city is a contrast to Bombay but, at this time, is only in the early stages of the IT revolution. The election is hotting up and there are slogans painted everywhere. Loudspeaker vans blast the crowds on the street. The Janata Party seems to be popular and there are anti Indira Gandhi/ Congress posters everywhere. Dumping our bags at the International Hotel, which has no hot water, we head for the four local engine sheds. Bangalore City Metre Gauge (MG) shed has clean YP and YG locomotives in the pleasant brownish red, black and green livery of the Southern Railway. Large headboards attached to the front of the locos indicate the train they will pull. YP 2353 is at the station with the Bangalore - Miraj Mail. The locos on shed provide a handy hot water service for local people doing their washing - we could do with one of these at the International Hotel! Bangalore Cantonment was quiet but we had seen some of its big, ugly XD class at the station on pilot duties (No. 22450 and 22405). Parked outside were some of the big WT class 2-8-4 tanks (including No. 14012 built as recently as 1965) but their active days seemed to be over. Yesvantpur is the next stop for more metre gauge and the first sighting of the YD class No. 30229, 30247 and 30251. We move on to Yelahanka for the Narrow Gauge (NG) shed with its Japanese and British built Pacifics of the ES and ZP classes. Everything is slumbering on shed apart from a goat, presumably because it is a Sunday. My dad was based here when he was in the British Royal Air force in 1946. Pity he did not take any photos at the time.
A few comments about railfans - British style. Psychologists often say that many railfans suffer from a personality disorder, or more specifically, from a form of autism called Asperger's Syndrome. This is manifested upon them being somewhat obsessive regarding their hobby, to the exclusion of other interests and normal social manners and graces. We have at least one such person on this trip, or possibly he is just ignorant. To him the days of the Raj never ended and he is unfailingly rude to our hosts and to anyone providing a service. He will not eat anything remotely Indian other than plain rice and oranges and complains endlessly that the food is foreign, as if this comes as a surprise in a different continent. My brother and I are greatly pleased when he complains of an upset digestive system.
Ah well, tomorrow more metre gauge beckons and this should distract us from these little irritations.
Monday, 31st December
It is a 0515 start today an MG train to Birur Junction and then Bhadravati for the steelworks. On arrival at Birur we find that our connecting train has been cancelled for the past two months (years later I forgave our tour organiser having suffered such mistakes in itinerary planning myself) and we have to wait until 1720 for another. The only taxi in Birur is hired to take our leader and his family on to Bhadravati to rearrange our schedule there. The rest of us spend a lazy day photographing YDs No. 302220 and 30248 and YP No. 2057 at the small loco shed. We are also being befriended by the curious locals who are puzzled as to why this group of foreigners find their sleepy station so interesting. We help some children improve their English and are wished 'Happy New Year' in their exercise books.
Eventually we set off for Bhadravati behind an immaculate YP, which is stoked by two additional, rather fair skinned, firemen and I think line speed was somewhat exceeded and the schedule bettered by several minutes! Accommodation is in the Visvasvaraya Iron and Steel Company guesthouse. This proves to be basic but we are so tired that we retire beneath the mosquito nets and sleep through until next year!
Tuesday, January 1st 1980
A new year and the prospect of steam in a steel works beckons. Sadly we can look but not photograph within the works as new security measures are in force. This is a disaster as the company has a large fleet of MG and NG (2ft gauge) locos. Four MG steam locomotives are at work within the complex, one German built 0-8-0 tank and two 0-6-0 tanks built by Andrew Barclay in Scotland in 1951. However, the real gems are two ex Southern Railway FM class 0-6-0 tender loco with outside cylinders dating from about 1885, one of which is in steam. There is also an F class from 1903. On the NG there are five locos in steam all 2-8-2 tender locos of various vintages. Now I am sure some of you had believed all along that Chittaranjan delivered the last steam locomotive built in India in 1972 - and you were wrong! In fact the last loco is Visvasvaraya's No. 16 that was allegedly built from spare parts in 1975.
Things improve in the afternoon as we have a special train organised on the NG line to a quartz quarry. The works was built by the local maharaja in the 1850's and is ideally sited close to iron ore, limestone and quartz. Our loco is No. 2 built by Kitson in 1922 and our train includes the maharaja's saloon, now somewhat decrepit. A large crowd surrounds us, when we meet the train just as it to leave the works gate. The guard has difficulty throwing off all the children hitching a ride on the outside of the carriages. My digital watch (a novelty then) has attracted the attention of a rather dubious looking character who offers me 3,000 Rupees for it. It cost me the equivalent of 170 Rupees in the UK. The problem of spending the next two weeks without a watch persuades me against the deal and subsequent experiences tell me I would probably have come off worst as slick counting or useless notes that would probably have been the result.
We make a seven-mile journey to the foot of the hills with the loco pushing from behind. Everyone jumps out to take photographs until we are warned that there are dangerous snakes in the area and that quells the enthusiasm somewhat. Coffee is served from a large brass urn, the best we have tasted, and then we return to the town and a meal in the guesthouse. It is now that I have my first sample of paan, served as a special treat by our hosts but left untouched by virtually everyone but me much to my companion's horror. Then it is on to the 2207 departure to Bangalore and no reserved berths in First Class again. Being at that time one of the younger members of the group, it is time to sample three tier sleepers.
Wednesday, 2nd January
Stiff and sore we arrive in Bangalore at 0700 and reacquaint ourselves with the Hotel International where we have day rooms to wash and rest. Some go straight back to the station but I need to sleep in a bed and do so until 1300. Later we fly to Coimbatore and have a hair raising taxi ride to the Hotel Guru. I will always associate Coimbatore with mosquitoes and cockroaches - sorry if it is someone's hometown - but all countries have somewhere like Coimbatore. In the UK it is called Birkenhead. The 'wish we had proper food' lobby is getting bigger among the group and getting to be irritating. I realise now that this was good training for future tours I will undertake on my own.
Thursday, 3rd January 1980
Rise at 0500 leaving a well-fed swarm of mosquitoes sleeping off their overnight feast. Down to the station for the WP No. 7070 hauled train to Mettupalaiyam. On arrival we find that the rack railway section to Coonor is closed due to a landslip and we decide to visit the loco-shed at that place. Before that there is the opportunity to take some photos around the BG yard and I form the view that it has one of the prettiest little servicing points of any place I have visited - steam under the palm trees. I photograph AWC 2-8-0 No. 22659 and No. 22631, another new class for me with the added bonus of WP No. 7411 and No. 7070 that had brought in our train.
Even from the bus it is clear that this must be a spectacular journey by train and I vow to return, something I accomplished some twenty years later and guess what - even then the line was closed due to a landslide! Coonor reminds me of pictures I have seen of narrow gauge stations in Ireland but they did not have a shed full of 0-8-2 rack tanks next to them. I look out for the school where my uncle taught in the 1930's, which I know is somewhere near Ooty. I eventually managed to locate it on my subsequent visit and was shown around by a somewhat surprised headmaster.
Another disaster! Back at Coimbatore we find that the sleeper berths on the Nilgiri Express have not been reserved and some of the party will have to stay overnight again. It is back to the Hotel Guru and the mosquitoes are rubbing their tummies in anticipation and the cockroaches march in formation across the floor.
Friday 4th January
Departure for Madras (it had not become Chennai then) is early in the morning. On arrival we visit Basin Bridge Broad Gauge (BG) and Egmore MG loco-sheds. The former has a good selection of XE, XD, WP, WG and HPS on display. Locomotives noted include XE No. 22530; XD NO. 22382, 22385 and 22459; HPS # 24391, 24381, 24380, 24387, 24382, 24378, 24385, 24388 and 24386; WG No. 8999 and 9857 and WP No. 7100, 7427 and 7154. I love the classic lines of the HPS 4-6-0s but their days are numbered, as electrification is nearly complete. I am also impressed by the sheer might of the XE one of which is also commendably clean and probably just overhauled. Egmore is fairly empty but has YG No. 3452 and WD No. 1596 and 1599.
Thus ends the southern leg of the tour. Next we head north by air to Calcutta for coalmines, iron ore mines, steelworks, sugar mills, Darjeeling, electrocution of yours truly and more.
Saturday, 5th January
The Great Eastern Hotel, Calcutta, which I believe has recently been sold, was another unique experience in 1980. It appears not to have changed since the British left and is like watching an old film of Britain in the 1930's. Attendants in military style uniforms salute and open doors for guests - a bit like the Taj group hotels only much cheaper! Service in Maxim's restaurant, a feast of pink, blue and gilt, is appalling and one speculates that orders have to filter down through so many layers of bureaucracy that ordering supper is probably best done at breakfast!
We visit the Calcutta Port Trust. Photographic opportunities are limited but we see 15 of the 33 0-6-2 tank engines in steam. Most are built by Mitsubishi of Japan, famous in the past for planes and now for cars. Other came from Henschel of Germany and Hunslet of the UK, strange to see the protagonists of World War II all contributing to the Port Trust's fleet. They are all quite modern having been supplied from 1950 to 1955.There are also 11 diesels, some built at Chittagong in 1970.
Sunday, 6th January
Today we are scheduled to visit the Shantipur to Nabadwip Ghat NG line travelling out from Sealdah terminus where we see a venerable SGS 0-6-0 on station pilot duties. Bad organization strikes again as we find the planned train does not run on Sundays and we have to reschedule and miss a visit to Ranaghat BG shed. As I recall we travel to Krishnanagar and pick up our train to Nabadwip Ghat there. The little CS class 2-4-0 tanks are a delight and the newest loco, No. 776, works our train while 775 is on the regular service train. We attract large crowds at our destination and that makes photography difficult. Back at Krishnanagar we are lucky to see a number of HPS hauled passenger trains, making smoky departures from the station.
On the return train, in non-corridor stock, I find myself alone when a group of noisy young men enter the compartment. I am a little anxious given the bag of expensive cameras and lenses I carry but all is well as they are just students who want to practice their English. We go through what I have learnt is a routine series of questions - your good name sir, which country are you from, are you from London, my cousin lives there -do you know him, are you married, do you have children (no at the time, much laughter - 'birth control'), how many servants do you have? This last question is always asked, particularly by middle class Indians who are always surprised at the answer 'no' and usually move away as I am obviously a very poor man not fit to converse with!
Monday, 7th January
Another disaster day. Our berths on the Darjeeling Mail this evening are not reserved and our leader goes off to do what he can to rescue the situation while we visit some local locomotive sheds.
Chitpur, as I understand it, served Sealdah and the associated area. Since electrification it has lost much of its importance and resembles a bit of a graveyard with several locos stripped of parts, presumably to keep others in service. It is a 'roundhouse' type shed but has lost part of its roof and many of the bays are empty. Classes present are AWD and CWD 2-8-2s, SGS 0-6-0 tender engines and some of the modern WM 2-6-4 tanks which seemed to be without much work. The depot has a large overhead-coaling gantry, which is probably the most modern I have seen in India.
On to Howrah shed which is busy and seems to provide passenger motive power as it has good selection of WP pacifics. Active members of the class are No. 7249, 7099, 7230, 7220, 7653, 7637, 7588, 7263 and 7234.Ominously other members of the class No. 7201, 7218, and 7268, are without wheels. Also present are some HGS 2-8-0s, No. 26747, 26791 and 26819, and a lone SGS 0-6-0 No. 34175. My notes also indicate that XC pacifics No. 22227 and 22217 and also WT class 2-8-4 tanks No. 14005 and 14022 are present but I have no photographic record of them and so I assume they were in some dark corner of the shed as they were truly rare specimens. An attractive feature of Howrah is its use of steam cranes to coal the locomotives.
Finally we visit Santragachi were we are able to see numerous HS class 2-8-0s which were by then 60 years old or more.
Departure time of the Darjeeling Mail approaches and we find the young and fit relegated to the 2nd Class sleepers with their bare wooden berths while the less agile get the limited number of 1st Class. Life in the raw for a first-timer in Asia but a worthwhile experience! Surprisingly, I sleep soundly but wake up cold as we approach New Jalpaiguri in a fog. We must present our special passes, this being a restricted zone for foreigners.
Tuesday, 8th January
Our intended train to Darjeeling 1D is awaiting but is already full to overflowing and so we await the 0930 departure. This gives us the opportunity to examine the locomotives and carriage stock in more detail. In the yard we discover two additional carriages being prepared for our party, one being a chair car with 8 comfortable armchairs. Eventually we depart behind No. 795, one of the Tindharia built locos of 1919. After Siliguri we start to climb with the snow covered peak of Kanchenjunga in the distance. I note that the loco is working really hard and that the antique look of the B class belies their power. They are also sure footed, no doubt helped by the additional crewmembers who sit astride the front buffers sanding the track. The zig-zags / reversing points are a novelty and it is impressive how quickly the train negotiates these changes of direction. We have frequent water stops that allow photography. Another attractive feature is the way the railway runs through the centre of some of the towns along the route. On the way we pass No. 790 on a passenger train, No. 782 on a freight (the oldest working example on this visit), No. 797 on another downhill train and No. 780 'Queen of the Hills at Kurseong (the second oldest but not in steam). At this latter station our train is taken over by No. 788 for the last leg to Darjeeling. The journey takes a little under nine hours and we arrive two hours late in darkness.
The Windermere Hotel at Darjeeling is another memorable place full of old-fashioned charm but, unlike the Great Eastern, it is efficient. The five-course meal is eclectic - chicken and sweet corn soup, fish, roast sirloin, a meat curry and plum pudding. This should keep the cold out and, if not, we have hot water bottles in our beds.
Wednesday, 9th January
A late breakfast at 0815 and then a taxi to Tiger Hill, Batasia Loop and Kurseong Bazaar, excellent photographic locations. We return, well satisfied, to take in the cool evening air, frost on the ground and the crystal clear star-filled sky. I promise myself to return and do so two years later with my wife.
Thursday, 10th January
Return is sadly by taxi to Bagdogra Airport. I soon learn that it is necessary to hold the taxi door closed when we go round left hand bends, as it will fly open if I do not. There are a lot of left hand bends!
In all during the visit we have seen 25 B class locos of which 13 have been in steam, one under repair (No. 799) and one out of use (No. 808). The status of the remainder is unclear. Working locos were No. 782, 783, 85, 788, 790, 791, 792, 795, 797, 803, 803 and 805.
We fly back to Calcutta and the Great Eastern Hotel. Another surreal moment occurs during the evening meal in Maxim's. Someone asks for the air-conditioning to be switched on. It is obvious that it is never used but pride demands that the request is acknowledged whereupon the room is filled with black dust, necessitating all the tables to be stripped and relayed. We eat into the night with the band playing mournfully but the only occupant of the dance floor is a lone cockroach, on its back, kicking its legs in time to the music. Wonderful, memories are made of this!
After our meal we head for Howrah Terminus and an overnight train to Manoharpur where we are due to arrive at 0515. We have had our fill of Indian Railways for a while and will now indulge in some tasty industrial morsels.
Friday, 11th January
Early morning at Manorharpur, the sleepy party is met by a representative of Indian Iron and Steel and we make our way through the still deserted streets of the village, over a narrow, rickety, plank bridge across a creek and into the company guest house. As the sun rises we see that we are in a lovely forested area with colourful birds in the trees. After breakfast we walk to the locomotive shed.
This is a 2' 6'' gauge railway, 14 miles long, on which the motive power consists entirely of 0-4-2 tank engines, ten in all, built by Andrew Barclay of Kilmarnock, Scotland, between 1917 and 1928. They have a red livery, similar to that of the Northern Railway, although most are very grimy. Some have huge 'balloon' chimneys; no doubt to prevent sparks setting the surrounding forest on fire. Another danger is reported to be elephants pushing freight wagons off the rails. The line serves the iron ore mines at Chiria. The loco shed is a classic industrial depot with locos under repair and bits of wagons spread everywhere. We have a special train hauled by No. 28, the most modern of the fleet, No. 12 is the only other loco in steam. We set off through the beautiful forest alongside a slow running river and eventually arrive at the company village where we see the children on their way to the company school. After a pleasant lunch we return to Manorharpur to await train No. 6 for 2130 departure to Jamshedpur. Waiting on the platform is a pleasant experience with the air scented by the smoky fires of the lady porters and their friends who sing quietly in the darkness.
Saturday, 12th January
A past midnight arrival in Jamshedpur and we are all very weary but spirits are revived when we arrive at the guesthouse of the Tata Iron and Steel Company. This is better than any hotel we have stayed in anywhere in India and we have five blissful hours sleep in a proper bed.
Our hosts score top points for interest and hospitality although we only see a handful of locomotives - mostly diesel. However we are able to see the remaining locos of the steam fleet that are all USA built (Alco and Porter) 0-6-0 'switchers' with sloping tenders to allow maximum visibility when travelling tender first. One of these, No. 35, is in steam but the others look likely to be consumed in the furnaces very shortly. A novelty at the steelworks is a separate 3' gauge line which serves the blast furnaces and which operates mainly on an overhead gantry. There is only one steam loco, another American 0-4-0 saddle tank built by the Vulcan Ironworks in 1944. Its predecessor, an Andrew Barclay 0-4-0 tank from 1911, is preserved on a plinth.
Jamshedpur is a company town and I am reminded of Port Sunlight, near my home in England, which was built by the soap making tycoon Lord Leverhulme who provided his workers with houses, shops and even an art gallery. Can you see the Coca Cola Company doing this today? We visit the truck factory and the test track.
In the afternoon we visit the Tinplate Company of India who have two steam locomotives (Margrit and Mary, 0-6-0 tanks built by Robert Stevenson and Hawthorn in the UK in 1957) and a diesel called Peter built by Andrew Barclay in 1963. After this it is a clean up in the guest house and then off to the station for Train No. 87 to Burnpur here we arrive at 2315 and go straight to bed exhausted.
Sunday, 13th January
Kulti Steelworks makes steel pipes and has a selection of British steam locomotives. It is not difficult, in the surroundings of a large steelworks, and with such locomotives, to be transported back to Corby, Stanton or Holwell ironworks in the Midlands of the UK in the 1960's, where just the same designs worked. Kulti has one of the most famous locos in the world ([although not unique) in that it has a locomotive numbered '0', another Andrew Barclay product from 1904. Today it is under repair. There are also some 2-6-0 tanks built by Naysmith Wilson which are very similar to those seen at the Bombay Port Trust but which pre-date them. In all six steam locomotives are at work out of a fleet of about twenty.
Later we visit the Hirapur works at Burnpur but steam is all finished here and the locos all disused.
We make a journey down the Grand Trunk Road, which is exciting, if a little, terrifying. A bonus for today is that we call in at Indian Railways Asansol loco-shed. This proves to be the steamiest shed yet with examples of the XE and WG 2-8-2 and WP 4-6-2. The latter have colourful circular decorations on their noses. My notes indicate that we saw XE No. 22512, 22521, 22524, 22533, 22535, 22540, WG No. 8229, 8898, 9428, 9579, 9655, 10438 and 10487 and WP No. 7088, 7232, 7266, and 7582. From Asansol we eventually get Train No. 51 to Dehri on Sone. Sadly we seem to have been just too late for the HT tanks which shunted the coalfields.
On arrival we find that this time accommodation arrangements have failed and the Gaya Tourist Lodge has booked us for one night only not two as requested. We will worry about that tomorrow and now al I want is a nice hot shower to rid myself of all the coal dust. Having enjoyed the scalding hot shower I reach to turn of the power via the switch, which the kindly electrician has installed within the shower cubicle. He has clearly neglected to connect the earth wire and, standing in a pool of water, I provide a convenient conductor of the power to earth. I am blown across the room and lay naked and stunned on the floor while by brother falls about in fits of laughter. On subsequent visits I have collected a series of pictures of potentially lethal electrical appliances, the prize going to the immersion heater connected to the ceiling light socket and dangling in a plastic dustbin at the Longuinos Hotel in Goa.
Tuesday, 15th January
Travel, travel, and travel! The east to west journey is slow and trains are late. We are on train # 9 heading for Varanasi. On arrival we visit the North Eastern Railway (MG) and Northern Railway (BG) sheds but have no time for the planned sightseeing tour. "Did you see the ghats?" I am asked on returning home. "No, but I visited the locomotive sheds"! Look of incomprehension from work colleagues. This is not unusual; I visited China and never saw the Terracotta Army or the Great Wall but photographed lots of QJ 2-10-2 locomotives instead!
We are now on the MG bound for Sardanagar, near Gorakhpur by Train 50. Late into the night the TTE visits the coach and enquires as to our destination. Sardanagar, we reply at which he shakes his head sadly and announces that, "this train will not stop at Sardanagar, and you must go on to Gorakhpur." More unhappiness among the group, but as we approach Sardanagar we are encouraged when the train begins to slow and then, a miracle, it stops at the station with the signal on red. Now I don't know if this was by accident, I don't think it was the TTE, who was scratching his head in a puzzled way, and I concluded afterwards that it might have had a lot to do with the influence the owners of the Saraya Sugar Company had in the area!
We fall out of the train and are lead across the tracks to a truly vintage petrol railcar that stands in the sidings. This rumbles across the sugar plantation to the company owner's compound. We are tired, dirty and probably not smelling too fresh, but find we are to be entertained to a lavish banquet by our exotic hosts. In any country this family, the Singhs, would be classed as nobility. The head of the clan is a hale and hearty 85 years old and one of his sons, Oxford educated, is married to an Englishwoman from Wimbledon and a daughter is married to a Hungarian professor. We make polite conversation and I wonder what they make of this odd bunch of men. Eventually we are allowed to retire for the night to various of the family houses in the compound. Chris and I are allocated 'Bunny's house' which is far removed from a rabbit hutch and contains things like stuffed tigers. Sleep comes easy after a long shower to ensure that none of the days soot finds its way onto the spotless sheets.
Wednesday, 16th January
We awake refreshed and I throw open the front door to see what kind of day we have and to my amazement find the door guarded by a uniformed man carrying a spear. He salutes me gravely and I am not sure what to do next!
After breakfast we go in search of the steam locomotives. Not as many as at some locations but what a collection on two gauges - metre and 2' 6''! The star amongst these has to be 'Tweed', a MG 0-4-0 tender locomotive built in 1873, over 100 years old and still working. Also on the MG are two 'O' class 4-4-0 tender locomotives of 1883 and 1884. On the 2' 6'' gauge are a Kitson 0-6-2 tender locomotive, built in 1900, a Kitson 4-6-2 from 1918, both ex North Western Railway, and a Hunslet 0-6-0 tender+tank of 1922. Everyone should be a candidate for a museum but recently I heard they might go for scrap. Shame on you Indian steam fans - someone start a collection to save them!
We fly from Gorakhpur to New Delhi where we will stay for thee nights - a welcome break after all the travel.
Thursday, 17th January
What a day! A visit to the Taj Mahal and a ride on the Taj Express. We are able to board the highly decorated WP No. 7656 hauling the Taj while it is standing in Agra Station. We visit Agra Cantonment and Idgah shed but my notes are lost or I had given up by then, suffering from steam overload.
Friday, 18th January
Now back into sugar territory. We travel by Train 19 to Khatauli for the sugar factory there. Here, on 2' gauge, we find two locomotives in steam - 'Lion' a classic Baldwin 4-6-0 tank built in 1917 for service in World War I and Cheetal, a John Fowler 0-6-0 well tank built in 1923. The third loco is another Baldwin, Tiger, but this is in bits in the shed. Lion was exported to the UK some years later and should be in steam soon. We have a train arranged to take us into the cane-fields and travel in the sugar cane wagons, a rather rough ride requiring us to hang on to the high sides. The weather is rather cloudy which spoils somewhat the smoke effects produced by our locomotives and my photos are rather dull.
From Khatauli we take Train 372 for the 27 Km journey to Daurala for another sugar factory. The use of steam locomotives has finished here but their stock is newly painted, possibly with the hope of resale to Khatauli (whose locomotives look to be worn out). There are three further Baldwins here, # 3 'Arun', # 4 'Dushyanth' and # 5 'Samarat' which are coupled to supplementary tenders. Also present are # 1 'Ashoka', a modern Andrew Barclay 0-6-0 tank of 1958 and # 2 'Vikrama' an Orenstein and Koppel 0-6-0 tank from Germany.
We return to Delhi by Train 2 DSK.
Saturday, 19th January, 1980
Our last day in India - In the morning we visit Delhi Junction shed, which services visiting locomotives from a variety of places and has its own shunters, which at the time were SGS class. We also visit Delhi MG shed.
In the afternoon we visit the Railway Museum where the Patalia monorail is running. I wonder how well the exhibits will survive exposed to the elements (Not well judging from recent photos).
We fly out after midnight and spend the evening in the Rajdoot Hotel. They are advertising a stripper that evening which seems likely to attract a large crowd. Chris and I wander into the bar where the act is scheduled to take place but find the lady concerned might be better advised to keep her clothes on! In England we have the expression 'mutton dressed as lamb' meaning something old trying to look young. We turn to the bar and enjoy a beer but the lady concerned is clearly not happy to be ignored this way and part way through her act leaves the stage to cavort among the audience and slaps me on the back nearly knocking me off my barstool. My fault for not being a gentleman!
And so, in this strange way, I said goodbye to India for the first time, as Churchill might say, "The end of the beginning." Some of the group seemed glad to be leaving - India can be a stressful place if you are without patience and miss the hidden agendas in some interchanges with people. For my part I wanted to come back a soon as possible and did, in 1982 with my wife, when we combined sightseeing with visits to Gwalior, Dholpur, Ranchi and Darjeeling (again). Now I count India as my second home. I have been back many times, in recent years to relax on Goa's beaches and enjoy Rajahstan, but since discovering IRFCA I have found an interest even in steam less Indian Railways and plan an expedition next year. Give me a wave if you see me on the platform or maybe I will make it to Chennai in February 2007.
(Mick's pictures from this trip can be seen here.)