Travel notes

by Bill Aitken

This article was originally published by the Indian Steam Railway Society (ISRS) in its newsletter, and is reproduced here by permission, which is gratefully acknowledged. Copyright for the material here rests with the ISRS and the author(s) of the article. The ISRS is the premier organization in India engaged in preservation and efforts to promote awareness of the country's railway heritage.

This article originally appeared in the FNRM Newsletter No. 1, Spring 1998.

4th Feb 1997 found me alighting from the Ranikhet Express at Kathgodam where I took a taxi to Almora. At Bhim Tal, I did a double-take to see standing by the roadside a narrow gauge steam locomotive apparently sold to a hotelier. It was a number from the Katwa stable.

19th March 1997 proved that you can do the Neral - Matheran narrow gauge mountain line from Mumbai-and-back in one day. I caught the morning Deccan Express from C.S.T., managed to land the last seat available on the Matheran Train, was able to spend two hours enjoying the views at Matheran then took a horse for 4 km to the taxi stand. From the taxi, I photographcd the descending train. Back at Neral I made sure to catch a non-stop suburban EMU that got me hack to CST in time to witness the Deccan Queen pulling out on her return to Pune.

18th October 1997 was a dream come true with an invitation to ride the 'Fairy Queen' on her return to steam. The Alwar package has the potential for success. The jungle in October was magnificent but the tigers had the grace to keep out of sight and not detract from Fairy Queen's moment of glory -- and silencing of her critics. I had the thrill of photographing her on the run from the footplate during the return journey. 'Yad Ram', the driver may have been a reincarnation of the famous "Sit-Up Sammy" who was renowned for making up lost time between York and Harrogate (UK) by resorting to a mantra shared with the fireman - "Now watch the Old Lady sit up!" We had reached Alwar half an hour late from the tiger sanctuary but in spite of several halts for water we arrived at Delhi Cantonment on time. Yad Ram, after climbing the Aravalli range out of Alwar, gave the old lady her head on the descent. There was a local storm brewing to add to the glory of the historic occasion. This gave way to a brilliant golden sunset. It was freezing for the footplate crew but their duties ended at Rewari. Riding the footplate was like being part of that great Turner painting "Rain, Steam and Speed" (which also involved a broad gauge 'Single.') It made one realise that India now possesses the rare distinction of being the only country in the world that can recreate authentically the mood of the early days of steam and capture the elation that the Stephensons felt on opening up the Rocket. Congratulations to Indian Railways for demonstrating in the year steam was phased out of her fleet, its determination to preserve India's unique place in world railway history.