Trip to Wankaner

by Apurva Bahadur


The journey started for me at Pune at 0745 hrs on the Pragati Express to Mumbai. The Pragati was hauled by a WCAM3 no. 21888 from the Kalyan shed having a 'traditional livery' - the livery that graced the DC locos for the past many years - blue and cream, rather than the yellow and orange of the majority of the WCAM3s. The WCAM3 is required to drop the pantograph every time the driving cab is changed. So after shunting and 'coming on load' the two bar DC panto dropped and would not lift again. The single bar panto was lifted for sometime to allow the compressor to be started, so that the train brakes could be charged. The single bar panto was dropped when the loco examiner staff came to the rescue with a long insulating pole. The pole was used to push the sticking panto into its extended position; just a nudge was enough.

Though we departed at the correct time, we never went really fast due to the numerous caution orders. Pune Mumbai track is like that. The maximum speed the train could achieve must have been not more than 80 - 90 Kmph, and that too for only a few minutes at a stretch. During the run to Mumbai, I was sitting on the left, and I made the following observations:

  • There are two shells of the NDM1 locos without the engine bonnets on the BG side of Neral Jn. These powers are either being scrapped or being sent to Parel workshop for some heavy repairs.
  • There was a WR WCAM1 hauled CRT rake coming from Vasai Rd. and heading towards Dombivali on the BSR link just outside Dombivali.
  • The Diva - Vasai Push Pull rake is 3 coaches on either side of a Kalyan WDM2. The driving ends of the train seem to have been inspired by the Midland Pullman sort of train, only very crudely executed. An even uglier train exists in Mumbai, the Bandra - Dahanu Push Pull shuttle, but more on that later.
  • There is a single track with a triangle entry towards east just after Parsik Tunnel and before Thane station. This track heads towards New Mumbai area. Although this route is complete, including electrification, the tracks appear quite rusted and obviously not much traffic goes over them.
  • The small creek bridge just before Thane station is being widened to take additional two tracks. (This bridge is not to be confused with the Mumbra creek bridge which is at the Diva Jn. end of the Parsik tunnel) Maybe the route towards New Mumbai mentioned earlier would be commissioned after this bridge is widened.
  • I saw a lot of ISO container-carrying trains in the Mumbai area. Notable was a WCAM1 hauled container rake in the Mulund yard.
  • There is a new permanent way being constructed after Vikhroli.
  • I saw the Up Netravati Express from Konkan Railway waiting to be admitted into the Kurla terminus complex at the Vidya Vihar turnout. The loco was a cream Erode WDM2 with slate and pink stripes.

I got off at Dadar to take an EMU on the WR towards Borivali where Viraf, Sarosh, Shrinivas and I boarded the train for Wankaner.

A term I have heard for the first time is 'double fast' local. A 'double fast' local is apparently an EMU that runs slow for some section (like Churchgate - Dadar) then fast (like Dadar-Bandra-Andheri-Borivali) and then it runs slow once again till Virar. Thus, this is a local which changes its speed more than once.

The late Pragati express was in a hurry to take off to its destination, the Mumbai CSTM. The train started from Dadar while women and children were still getting off. I could do nothing, but stand and watch while a woman desperate to get off fell off on to the platform. All this while the assistant was looking back from the loco; he could have asked the driver to go easy on the throttle, but didn't. Reminded me of how heartless the big city is.

After joining our friends at Viraf's place at Borivali, we proceeded to board our 9017 Dn. Bandra Jn - Jamnagar, Saurashtra Janata Express at Borivali platform 5. The 9017 was a long train with 21 coaches. It is as the name suggests a 'janata' train - one that is lacking in any frills and has no upper class accommodation or pantry car. It was hauled into Borivali at absolutely the right time by a Valsad shed WCAM1.

Our coach was the 17th from the engine and we were surprised to find a family already sitting on our berths. The man insisted that he had the correct berths, until Viraf pointed out that his tickets were for Saurashtra Express (which had left Mumbai in the morning) while this was the Saurashtra Janata. The really confused man left the train after a brief argument just as the train began to move. Just after the Borivali, the train picked up speed.

The old Naigaon Bhayander bridge is now under heavy repairs and all the trains use the new bridge just east of the older structure. Some of the cast iron cylindrical pillars of the older bridge are distinctly loose from the riverbed and are now at an angle in the water. The newer bridge was built just in time. We saw many sick and scrapped wagons on the line towards the old bridge, confirming that the old lines are not used anymore.

Approaching Vasai Road station, we saw the Dombivali - Vasai link track whose doubling work is underway. There were lots of waiting CR locos at Vasai like WCM2s, WCAM3s and WCG2s. There were a number of WR locos WCAM1s and lots of BCN rakes along with container trains standing in the Vasai yard. There is a lot more activity (mainly freight) on the Dombivali - Vasai line than the public is aware.

After Virar we tried to see the change in the traction from 1.5 KVDC to 25 KVAC. There is a neutral section through which the dual voltage WCAM1/2 loco drops one panto and raises the other one. As the neutral section is on a curve, we could see the loco dropping the panto. Then the train entered a straight section we could not see other panto being raised.

The WCAM1 handles such long and heavy rake competently. We were continuously travelling at a speed in excess of 95 Kmph with short bursts of over 100 Kmph. The train was before time in most sections and I could only think of the poor performance of the CR. But then the WR is a better maintained section with a flat terrain to help the train's rapid progress.

Most of the rakes homing at Mumbai Central have a 'North' and 'South' end. This a stenciled note near the buffer, although I am at a loss to explain the significance of this notation. Maybe the rake is required to be reversed periodically to equalise wear and tear. Though I am not convinced of that explanation.

The Saurashtra Janata stopped at Palghar for a good 20 minutes for the 2951 MCT - NDLS Rajdhani to overtake us. The Dahanu - Bandra DMU left Palghar as soon as the Saurashtra Janata arrived. The DMU is a push pull rake with 5 coaches on either side of a Ratlam WDM2. The coaches are normal day coaches, only the multiple unit cables and air hoses run through the rake. The control cabin at either end is ugly; just two rectangular slots cut in the end of a coach. A picture of this monstrosity can be seen on Bharat Vohra's webpage. The Dahanu shuttle was packed with humanity. The absence of dual voltage EMUs limit the Suburban Mumbai at Virar while the pressure of population forces people to reside at a greater distance from the Mumbai centre. That is why the Dahanu shuttle is so popular. The shuttle was standing on platform two, while we arrived on platform three. The shuttle crossed the Down line just after the end of our train and snaked gracefully to the Up main line. It was a great sight to see.

After about twenty minutes of halt at Palghar, there was an air of expectancy. The starter signal on the road 1 went green, as did the advanced starter. It was the time for the 2951 Dn to overtake us. We strained our eyes to sight the loco of the Rajdhani catching up on us. There seemed to be something on the tracks, but we could not be sure. At last we could see the blood red and yellow WCAM2 hauling in the rake amongst a cloud of dust. The station repeatedly announced that Rajdhani Express was coming on line 1 and the public should be vigilant. I have seen many trains in my life, but none so fast. You expect the train to be here in the next blink of an eye, but it is much ahead than that. That's how fast this train is. It crossed us in about 10 seconds in a blast of pure speed. The rake's generator cars were of a different colour (Blue = Shatabdi?) while the rest of the trains was red and cream. The two generator cars make a loud, constant sound, independent of the wheel speed. Now I know why the Rajdhanis are the number one runs in India. The Palghar sighting of Rajdhani is recommended for everyone who has an evening to spare in Mumbai. I was surprised to see that the Rajdhani loco had only its marker lamps on, while the headlamp was not lit even in this approaching darkness.

Once the Rajdhani crossing drama was over, our train soon got an orange starter (we were on a loop line, remember? - the Rajdhani was on the main line) and we went on our way. Darkness fell and it began to get quite chilly.

After a brief dinner of Methi Paratha and Lime pickle which Shrinivas's wife had thoughtfully packed for us we just sat and enjoyed ourselves. I felt great that we were travelling on a train and was in the company of friends who were railnuts as well. The only talk we had was railways and related yak. There was no other motive but railfanning.

At Dahanu Road the thermal power station comes up on the left of the track with its extremely tall chimney. It reminded me of the unbelievably large cooling towers that we see between Wadi and Raichur on the way to Guntakal.

At many smaller stations our 17th coach (there were four more behind us!) stood way outside the platform and Janata had to cart their luggage and get in with some difficulty. There was a group of boarding school children returning home for the Sankarnti holidays.

The 2953 Dn. August Kranti Rajdhani overtook us at Valsad. The loco again was a WCAM2 whose headlight was visible from far, gleaming the rails in front of its progress. Valsad has been recently been made a stop for the AK Rajdhani. While the loco crawled onto the platform silently, the generators cars running full throttle disturbing the tranquil night. I observed the flashing tail lamp in detail. It consists of three flat mounted bulbs, with the middle bulb's round section tucked in the space between the outer two bulbs' straight necks. The middle lamp is steady on all the time, while the outer two flash at a slow rate.

The Railway Suraksha Bal (Railway Protection Force - RPF) travel on all night trains to provide a semblance of security in the event of a robbery (fairly common in these and many parts of India). The group's platoon number and insignia is marked on a plate hung outside the window where these guys are located. One cop does the rounds inside the rake to look for any 'suspicious' faces. I am glad he did not have a good look at me.

We turned in for the night, having the middle and upper berths in the first cubicle. It was cold outside, but with the vestibule door closed for the night (for security reasons), the atmosphere turned quite stagnant and still. The air began to fill with the toilet smell, when Shrinivas opened the windows in the door and the fresh air began filling the coach.

As none of us smoke, we find it difficult to deal with second hand smoke. We had to repeatedly tell the Lalaji in the bottom berth to stop smoking under us.

During the night we did our railfanning homage to the Surat, Bharuch, Vadodara platforms. Each stop included customary tea or coffee. Viraf asks the coffee guy - 'Chai milta hai?' (Do you have tea?) - Naturally the man pointed to some impossibly distant end of the station - 'Wahan milta hai!' (Over there!) So, coffee it was.

We woke up at around 0200 hrs when the train stopped at Ahmedabad Jn. This was the end of the line for electrification and the WCAM1 loco. Viraf, Shri and I decided to have a look at the changing of the loco. Sedate Sarosh slept through it all on the top bunk. The train resting on the platform opposite to ours was the newly introduced MEMU (main line EMU).

The new loco was a Vatwa shed WDM2. Once the WDM2 was attached, we sprinted from the loco to our coach at the end of our long train. Ahmedabad sports a very clean platform (so it seemed at that hour) and we were surprised to see a fully functional snack bar open for business, with computerised ordering, pizza with selected toppings and ice cream. I should not neglect to mention the outrageous price tag of Rs. 28 for a cup of coffee, we declined the offer inspite of the explanation that this was a special large espresso coffee and hence expensive. We had Rs. 4 machine made coffee in a stall next to this bar. ADI is the home of great milk in India and that coffee was exquisite. I could have not expected any better and that too from a machine at 2 AM! Still I have some regret that we did not eat anything from the station snack bar whose large and interesting menu outdid many Pune joints. Maybe the fasting month of Ramzan had something to do with food available at that hour. Even Mumbai CSTM does not have such a variety at any time of the day, let alone the middle of the night.

We directed a frantic Frenchman (fgom hees akscennt) with a large backpack on where to take a train to Udaipur. I wonder who had put him on the wrong track that the train to Udaipur was at this time of the day (night!) and that too on the BG. He was told where the MG station was, and that his train would be in the morning.

Once off from the ADI, the WDM2 gently accelerated the train around the number of lines until the dual-gauged Sabarmati bridge and the massive marshalling yard. Viraf knew the area well and showed the MG line that went overhead towards Dhola - Bhavnagar. This is how the MG station to the east of the BG lines at ADI connects to the net of MG line throughout Gujarat towards further west. At the same time the MG lines shoot north towards Rajasthan from the ADI Jn.

At the exit of the ADI yard, we moved parallel to a crawling BOXN rake hauled by a WAG7 with red and white stripes on its face. The unusual bit about the loco was that the loco had twin sealed headlamps rather than the single large item found regularly. The loco's rugged looks were enhanced many times by this small cosmetic change. The headlights were very white and focused and must have made night working a pleasure for the drivers.

Travelling on the single line dieselised section has its charms. We had two crossings while we halted at some low-platformed station. The sound of a WDM2 coming approaching at high speed, crossing with loud hiss and pounding, our dark carriage gets suddenly lit by the headlamp of the crossing loco and the gradual fading away of the sounds is a memory that I cherish. After sometime your own loco sounds a mournful horn and you can feel the gentle nudge to confirm that you are rolling once more. The gradually increasing swish from the wheels of your coach and the gentle side to side rocking indicate the increase in the speed of your train.

At Surendranagar (0515 hrs) the families of the children who were travelling with us from the hostels had come to receive them. A very touching scene. Surendranagar has a very neat and tidy MG terminus from Palitana/Bhavnagar via Botad Jn. In the very early morning, it seemed to me that the MG permanent way, the dead end and the platforms were totally paved, whitewashed and generally very spic-and-span. It was a very pleasant place and I would like to go there sometime.

The Lalaji below our berth was once again stopped from smoking, announced that Wankaner was the next stop. So we all got up and began to get ready in earnest. But WKR was still an hour away.

In this area we found many men with long flowing beards and a woolen cap. I was surprised on how similar all of them looked. The nearness to the holy city of Dwarka may have something to do with this look. One image of this type of people is in Heinrich Hubbert's Dhola pictures. I wish to look like that when I become (really) old.

Wankaner Jn at 0635 Hrs. It was still very dark and quite cold. We got down and walked past the RPF post, having a good look at a place that might give us some trouble on our mission. The MG platform is to the right of the BG lines while facing Rajkot. We went to a TT with our permits and he directed us to a badly shivering (it was cold, even for him) Sikh gentleman who was the traffic inspector. He was waiting for the 'intercity express' to go to the next station, but he did the courtesy of taking us to the station master on duty and ensuring that we had no trouble in photography or shed visit or whatever. He gave us a cup of very delicious tea in a small glass. This hospitality comes from the heart of Indian Railways and the people who run them. The gentleman took us to the loco shed and introduced us around, in short saw that we would have no trouble at all.

However, the YP that was due to handle the morning passenger had some trouble. All the Wankaner locos seemed to be in a less than fit form. The loco came on load much later and did some shunting before starting the train quite late.

The WKR shed had two locos in steam waiting outdoors. There were four locos dead and under repairs inside the covered shed. The turntable is under disuse and full of water. There are large heaps of ash which make convenient mounds to climb and take pictures from. WKR shed has many locos in line for scrapping. I avoid looking and photographing these once-proud beasts, it is a sad sight to see. But then, there are dates on each loco which show that they have lived past their safe working life. Here is a list of the locos we saw: YP 2805, YP 2211, YG 3447, YG 3430, YG 4542, YG 4369. Amongst the locos to be scrapped is a YP 2813 which is meant to be exported to UK. Any idea who is buying this loco?

Early in the morning, I saw a special type of creature. There was by the side of the MG tracks, what seemed like a large hairy pelt. Shrinivas asked around what that was and informed that these were the Kathiawadi pigs. The fur pelt was actually five pigs cuddling together for warmth. This is a medium sized creature with small beady eyes and very coarse hair, not very pretty to look at. These pigs are everywhere, they step aside as the rake bears down on them and then get back between the lines. They sleep anywhere, eat anything and are present in large numbers all over Saurashtra. They actually eat the most disgusting thing (they put their snouts UP the chute, the MG rakes' chutes are low enough!), anyone who has not got the idea yet, please mail me and I could spell it out to you. Yet, I can only envy the benign sense of peace and their happy careless existence.

Another pig found in Saurashtra is a mechanised beast. This is an unholy union of a diesel bullet motorbike and a flat trailer. This is a three wheeled vehicle, locally fabricated, with optional registration number plates which we saw in large numbers hauling anything from gas cylinders to goats to upto 10 (some sitting, some standing!). Some of these vehicles sport a metallized plate under the headlamp that catches the sunrays right into your eyes. You cannot miss these unique vehicles.

The favourite snack of the region is 'farsan' and other deep fried besan stuff eaten in large quantities at all times of the day, including the first thing in the morning. So it was fried papad and similar stuff for our breakfast at Wankaner station before boarding the train.

The morning train was quite full. This was the 416 Down Fast passenger hauled by YP 2805. It left 45 minutes late and halted at all the stops, including many unofficial ones, like at the Nazarbagh end of the Machhu river bridge. But this is still listed as a fast passenger. We were in the first coach trying to stand near the door. All the Wankaner locos we saw work tender first towards Morbi. The speed achieved by these locos is 25 Kmph tender foremost and 40 Kmph forward. We tried to record the loco sounds.

Much to the driver's displeasure, we did a stint standing on the loco's buffer beams. It is great experience, there is a sense of euphoria and one of disorientation as the clouds of steam envelope you and the sweet smelling coal fire bathes your senses. It is dangerous and not recommended at all. If one were to fall onto the rails, it means certain death, if not from the fall, then from the wheels of the first coach. But then this is perhaps not as dangerous as standing on the buffer beams when the loco is worked forward. Yes we did that too! More on that later.

Smell of the steam loco. Need I write anything about it? That is one quality that we can never capture and take home with us. Should a perfumery ever consider making a cologne on these lines, they would surely have much business.

From standstill the first stroke of the loco's cylinder is the really drawn out and the whole rake barely moves. The result is a long sheeefuuuuuuf and a loud blast through the chimney. The whole train accelerates at a really slow pace. We were at Wankaner just to savour this experience, and we surrendered our senses to the magic of travelling with the YP.

The loco is old and tired and does not have the crisp beat that I have running in my head most of the time. Still the loco moves the three coach rake with a reasonable competence. The loco leaks water and steam from many joints. A memory from this ride is the coarse smell of hot water on warm sand when my (first) carriage passes over a spot that the loco was standing on a few seconds before.

At every stop, the fireman and the assistant driver had to shovel eight to ten shovels of coal. The YP had a closed waist door (my term) to the tender and the smaller particles of coal were shovelled from the bottom of the waist door. At every stop the injector was used to fill the boiler with water. This means opening the valve on the left of the cab and adjusting the injector in such a way that the water which was previously being dumped on the tracks is now being carried into the boiler at a much higher pressure. The crew watches the twin level gauges to monitor the boiler water level.

There are a number of unmarked levers in a steam engine for various critical functions such as lubrication, vacuum creation, cleaning the grate, loco and train brake, injector operation etc. All these activities are done by the three man crew without any prompting or delay. It is just a pleasure to see the interdependent team working such a complex machine as a group activity, the fireman fills his shovel with coal and the assistant driver opens the firebox door for just the right time (while holding the searing firebox handle with a rag!). The fireman actually 'places' the shovels of coal in just the right place on the grate ensuring an even distribution. The fireman closes the firebox door in between the shovel feeds, even if the feeds are a few seconds apart, just to conserve the heat and maintain the draught.

The driver opens the throttle, just right to move the rake, but not to cause a wheel spin. Wheel spin is quite easily achieved though. The throttle is held in its open position by a length of chain that is hooked against the bar as required. Remember that the train is working tender foremost and the vision is not very good. The metal floor of the footplate has a very harsh ride and the bone jarring vibration combined with the searing heat from the firebox makes the driving of the steam engine quite a demanding job. The reverser is put in the full reverse position and is not touched throughout the journey. Even while working forward, the reverser is not used at all, to economise the stroke. After all the peak speed in this section is only 25/40 Kmph. The road traffic in the road from Morbi to Dahinsara zip past the train, even the three-wheeler mechanised pigs do.

The flat hot surface on top of the firebox is always sizzling from the continuous drip of water from the level gauges. Its top is coated with the salt deposits left behind by the continuous dripping and evaporation.

Paying attention to the sounds from the YP, it is clear when the beast is in steam, and when the steam is cut off and the loco rolls on with a deep rumbling sound. My favourite part is when the steam is opened up once again while the loco rolls and the sharp beat from the cylinder synchronises the driver's desire for progress with the wheel speed.

There is some evidence of the bridges being strengthened between Wankaner and Morbi. Some people told us that this is to convert this section to BG, but another version (which seems more authentic) explained that this was really being done to allow heavier MG Diesel locos to use this section. Yet another set of people we talked to were confident that the MG diesels could use the lightly laid tracks even today.

The 413 Up fast passenger towards WKR crossed us at Makansar, the first station out of WKR. We saw the token being exchanged. However we arrived and departed first, leaving the other train standing on the platform line. All the stations including Wankaner and Morbi have only single platforms, hence if there is any other train in that place, it waits on the open tracks itself. The signalling is lower quadrant semaphore with oil lamps and the Niele's ball token system is in force here.

The main business around Morbi area is ceramics and we saw hundreds of small and large kilns from the train. This area also produces cotton and we saw many fields under cultivation with white tops. In one report in the world steam pages, I read that Rafaleshwar (on the way to Morbi) has an air force station, hence the photography could be a problem. I think the writer has confused Rafalseshwar with Jamnagar and Bhuj air force bases, which are quite distant. In our three days, I did not see even one airplane although we spotted what looked like a vapour trail of a jet over the clear Wankaner sky. Rafaleshwar seemed like a harmless flag station which has a large temple just outside the station.

At the entrance to the Morbi town is the Macchu river bridge. It is a combined rail and road bridge. The sounds and smells of the road vehicles that are almost within touching distance of the train, dilute the pleasure of a YP drawing the train, albeit slowly over a long bridge. We arrived at Morbi almost one hour late. Morbi station has divine architecture! The Morbi Jn. has a hauntingly peaceful ambience very rarely found in any railway station. The whole area is dotted with heavy trees like peepal and banyan. The station is kept very clean and remains so due to the lack of traffic on this line. There is a police presence here, but they were only happy to acknowledge our greetings to them and gave us no trouble at all, as we clicked the pictures. Although a NG spur to Ghantila has been closed for a very long time, the place is still referred to Morbi Jn. The permanent way of the NG route is evident just after the Machhu bridge, although I have no idea how the NG track crossed the river, maybe in the middle of the MG track. There is no place on the bridge for both the gauges to run side by side, maybe the NG ran on the side of the road bridge. Future expedition of railfans to Morbi should do some digging up on these queries.

Shrinivas had arranged our stay at the guest house of a spinning mill in Morbi. His uncle is the works manager there. So we searched out a rickshaw who took all four of us (three at the back, one next to the driver) to the mill. The rates for rickshaw should be negotiated before starting the journey. But I always found the rates of the rickshaw quite reasonable. Most of the petrol operated vehicles seem to use adulterated fuel containing kerosene, hence the exhaust smell is unpleasantly distinctive.

Morbi seemed like the mosquito capital of the world, I gave up trying to swat as many as I could, there were always many more. The guess house beds had heavy duty mosquito nets and that made all the difference between a good night's rest and no rest at all.

We unloaded our luggage in the guest house and started back to Morbi town. We wanted to click the 410 Dn. Fast passenger which was due at Morbi at 1235 hrs. The idea was to photograph the train on the Machhu river bridge. The train arrived some 15 minutes late. Its arrival was heralded by the dropping of the lower quadrant home semaphore at the entrance of the Morbi yard, just after the bridge. We could get some pics, although the dense road traffic on the bridge marred the quality of compositions. There is a suspension bridge to the south of the Machhu bridge and some really fantastic buildings in Morbi. It is then that I realise how poor Pune really is, at least architecturally. But the aim of our visit was not to see the town at all, so we did not stray to see any other monument. No temples, no palaces, no other structures, but the railway station. I love being in such a committed crowd.

We were yet to eat our lunch. Thakkar Lodge was recommended by all as a great place to eat in Morbi. We were told that this was just round the corner. Never depend on these directions: 'just round the corner' was close to 2 Kms from the station. We trekked to Thakkar Lodge and were presented by a feast of Saurashtrian food. The thalis are atleast 1.5 feet in diameter and contain many katories (8, maybe 9) of vegetarian food, ensuring that there are at least a few items which everyone would like. Needless to say, we stuffed ourselves.

Back to the station in a hurry, just in time to catch the 415 Up to Wankaner. The loco was the YP 2805 which was hauling the rake in the forward direction (boiler foremost?). The driver, S. Devshibhai, showed us the loco and its controls. He tolerated our somewhat irritating presence with a controlled patience.

As we left Morbi we chased a donkey towards the bridge; the donkey must have been grazing on the tracks and was terrified to find himself in the path of a charging YP. Had the donkey got onto the bridge before the loco, it would have been curtains for him, if not from the loco running over him, then from the fall into the bottle green Macchu river through the open spaces between the rails. Luckily he took off from the rails just before the bridge began and we were spared the gore of a run-over animal. All this happened in seconds and largely attributed to the poor visibility of the engine and the fireman being on the platform side to exchange the flag with the guard.

One station out of Morbi, we wanted to ride on the buffer beam once again, but now in front of the loco. The driver agreed only reluctantly, pointing out the danger. The ride was great gang, the wind is really sharp and the loco sounds great from such a close distance. Viraf and I rode the loco until we were shooed off from there by the station master really concerned to keep this line accident-free. I tried recording the sounds from that distance with some good results, although the wind noise masks a lot of the good beat.

Rest of the journey was done in the first carriage in the company of Wankaner shed mechanics who had accompanied the train, just in case the loco was to give some trouble. They told us that Jetalsar has still four steam locos, although they could not confirm that these locos were still used to haul trains. The WR officials at Churchgate, Mumbai told us that the steam was finished from Jetalsar.

We arrived at Wankaner to spend a lazy afternoon just strolling the MG and BG station, going to the shed and generally chatting up people. The long walk to Thakkar's lodge and the heavy meal that we had in our stomach somewhat slowed down our enthusiasm. We observed a couple of BG trains through the station towards Surendranagar. Enjoying the station ambience is one of the clearly defined activities of railfanning. We had lots of time to do just that this afternoon. We strolled through the MG to BG trans-shipment lines and ramps for salt traffic. The permanent way in these section is white due to the salt washed up on the ground. There was a WDS 4 shunter from Vatwa to move the BG wagons while a YG did the MG shunting. More notes on salt traffic later.

The shed in the afternoon was very relaxed. There was only one passenger in the evening and no other freight movements. For the evening departure, the same YP 2805 was being readied with manual coaling, watering and other trip maintenance. We witnessed the scales and dirt being blown out of boiler at high pressure. This is a noisy and spectacular affair. We also had a good look at the MG accident relief rake with the 35 tonne steam crane.

All the locos which are on the line to be scrapped are cannibalised to keep the others running. Please note that when the loco is scrapped, the wheels of the loco are not sold, only the boiler and the frame. Hence WKR sported long lines of wheel sets.

Shed staff was friendly and showed us around. There is an air of resignation, for most of these shed staff have no training on diesel but can see the end of steam coming in the next 6 - 8 months. For diesel training they would have to go to Ajmer.

We met the driver of the 414 Dn. Fast Passenger (what else - all the Morbi departures are fast passengers), Govind Gadhavi. He wore a stylish hat (a bit like what Robin Hood used to wear?) and was most warm and hospitable. The barrier of the language is easy to break when such amazingly hospitable people exist. He with his Kathiawari Gujarati and me with my Bambaiya Hindi discussed many fine points about railways and life in general. He showed me the pics of his father (who was also a driver) and his buffalo back in Jamnagar. The openness of these folks puts me in deep shame. We, supposed to be sophisticated city breds always calculate about what a person means, and how I should reply so I can get maximum advantage without committing myself - you know the usual urban greedy routine. These people are extremely open, friendly and hospitable. This is what the heart of India is all about.

The 1815 departure was on time. The WKR MG station has the levers for the starter signals right on the platform on a raised pedestal. For such a backwater railway, all the lamps in all the carriages were brightly working. It began to get cold and I joined driver Govind in the cab of the tender foremost YP. It felt great to be in the moist heat of the footplate, which was a clear contrast to the chill outside. The YP had a headlight on the tender, but that was not very well focused. The generator made a sweet but tired whine that brought back many old memories. This train was going till Dahinsara and then returning in the morning to Wankaner with the same crew, loco and rake. During the stop at Rafaleshswar, the assistant driver went up to a hut to collect some milk for the tea next morning. The crew told me that nobody bought tickets as such on these lines, however if you felt honest, then the guard has a bunch of tickets for you. Wankaner - Morbi is Rs. 8/- while Morbi - Maliya Miyana is Rs. 10/- per ticket.

During the night, the YP has to be kept in steam. So while the driver would go to sleep in the running room at Dahinsara, the assistant driver and the fireman would sleep in the loco. They would tend the fire a couple of times in the night and ensure that the loco is in a fit state to haul the passenger in the morning. Once the steam in gone, this way of life would disappear forever.

We got off at Morbi almost on time. There some obstruction on the tracks from Morbi to Dahinsara. We learnt that a truck had overturned at a level crossing and was stuck on the permanent way. Thus driver Govind had lots of time to spend with us but we were very tired and took leave of Morbi Jn. for the day. We bought food and water supplies for our 'no water on the way' run to Maliya Miyana the next morning.

Back to the guest house, we were treated to an excellent hot meal. We took to bed early, in preparation for the long haul of the next day.

Early in the morning, we got ready and fixed our own breakfast. Then we took leave of the guest house and took a rickshaw to the station. The 412 Dn (not a fast passenger) was already on road 2. The moment was magical, early morning's golden sunlight bathed the YG 4252. The loco had only one smoke deflector and was running tender foremost.

In a hurry to see the loco on the station, I forgot my precious bag in the back of the rickshaw. I realised only after 1/2 hour that my bag was missing. The bag contained exposed films and audio tape whose loss would have meant that I would have no record of the visit at all. I was about to resign to my fate with a heavy heart, when there came the same rickshaw driver to return my bag. I cannot thank the man enough for his honesty and presence of mind to come to the station and try to locate me.

The booking clerk told me that this train may not go as the loco was giving some problems. "Why don't you go by bus to Maliya", he helpfully suggested. The problem with the YG was that one of the sight gauges was cracked and there was heavy steam leakage from that spot. The driver Mansukh N. was drenched in hot water (he subsequently dried in the searing footplate heat) from the broken gauge. The leakage was contained with a wrapped piece of sacking. The assistant later told me that had it been for any other driver, but Mansukh, the loco would have been declared as failed and the train cancelled.

The train consists of three water tankers (one large diameter and two smaller diameter, the smaller diameter is unique only to MG) and two passenger coaches. There were no other passengers with us at Morbi and through the journey there must have been not more than 10 people, most of whom hopped from one stop to the next.

This train does the vital function of providing drinking water to the dry villages on the way. After seeing the severe lack of potable water, I am thankful next time I open a tap and I get water in my house. This water was yellow tinged with lots of floating muck but then it was water and there is apparently no other source nearby.

The Morbi - Maliya Miyana run should be treated like a separate chapter. Anyone going to Wankaner - Morbi MUST keep one day aside for this extraordinary run. The 412 passenger leaves Wankaner at 0545 hrs to reach Morbi at 0730 hrs. As in all probability you would be staying at Morbi (which is a much bigger town than Wankaner), you should take this train which departs for Dahinsara at 0750 hrs. (or 0835 hrs. in our case!). It reaches Dahinsara Jn at 0853 hrs. and after a half hour break continues towards Maliya Miyana which arrives at 1125 hrs. The return timing for 411 Up passenger are Maliya dep: 1630 hrs, Morbi arr. 1940 hrs. Be warned - there is NO water or food on the way or at Maliya Miyana Jn. Although the 1/2 hour break at Dahinsara would provide reasonable tea/coffee/local snacks (fried besan stuff - what else?) outside the station, although standard items like biscuits are available.

Be also warned that the Wankaner - Morbi - Maliya Miyana should be done with a valid photographic permit. The railwaymen on the line (specially the non-running staff like Station masters) are getting used to the attention focused on their section by the number of Indian and foreign railway enthusiasts coming to their parts. They have also become aware of the existence of a permit. In the past I have taken pictures freely and never been asked if I had a permit, while we were asked many times during this trip. The running staff and the shed gang are quite friendly and open, like most of the railwaymen throughout the IR. We have a name for these dedicated people - "the sweetest community in the world".

Back to YG 4252 at Morbi Jn. The train was really waiting for the crossing of the 413 Up Dahinsara - Wankaner passenger that was worked by our friend Govind and his crew. We could spot the YP 2805 belching black smoke from quite a distance before coming on to the Morbi platform road. We met a British enthusiast Robert (last name unknown) at the Morbi platform. He was also here to see the last steam runs in India. He was suffering from an upset stomach and wanted to return to his hotel so he could relieve himself and then take the 1345 hrs departure, the 415 Up to Wankaner. Instead, I suggested if he could use the toilet in the coach, which he agreed and so he could take this train itself to Wankaner. I introduced him to the driver Govind and requested him to show Robert the shed at Wankaner. Robert does not have an email yet, but once he gets a connection, I hope he would be in touch.

Once the 413 Up came and departed from Morbi Jn. the token was delivered to the 412 Dn. drinking water special and we made a spectacular start. The YG 4252 was a very effervescent machine as compared to the YP 2805 of last evening. There were great clouds of steam everywhere and the loco's hiss even at standstill was quite loud. The cracked level gauge now wrapped in a gunny bag was bathed in vast quantities of vapour. The heat of the steam had actually baked the gunny bag in place coating the surface with white salts that are added to keep the water soft. Or these may be found in the natural water of the place.

The road from Morbi to Dahinsara runs right next to the tracks. At many wayside stops, the rash traffic on the road poses a bigger danger to the railfan who must be on the ground for the rare low angle picture. As I mentioned earlier, the YG 4252 was a lively machine. The driver really opened the throttle on this run and the little loco thrashed the road with all its might. A loose crankpin or bearing helped to mark each stroke of the mechanism with a loud clank. Unfortunately there were only a few buildings or cuttings where the dull but loud 'clank-clank' of the motion could be reflected and captured in the tape recorder.

This run is not to be missed, a YG working as hard as it could, throwing up large quantities of very black smoke and enveloped in very humid and delicately scented steam. The loco had a better whistle than the YP we were with the last day, and the whistle was used liberally just to emphasize the loco's ebullient spirit. The accident struck truck from last night was removed from the permanent way and was lying belly up by the side of the road. But that necessitated a 'stop dead and proceed' procedure for the train. This gave ample time for the loco to demonstrate the hard work needed to start the heavy rake (for a ageing YG, three full water tankers and two empty coaches is heavy) from standstill.

I did a stint in the tender of the YG, standing with my ankles deep in the loose coal, but with my torso and head in the crystal clear air of the morning. Exhilaration, excitement, good feeling just rolled over me. What gets you is fine coal dust thrown up by the buffeting air in the swaying tender, the coal dust eventually finds its way into your eyes.

The loud aggressive beat of this loco pushed the drinking water special towards Dahinsara Jn. where the train had a half hour stop. The loco and train was shunted to a position, just below the water spout and the tender was replenished. Running maintenance like lubrication of sliding parts and tapping joints with a hammer were carried out. After a cup of tea and some breakfast outside the station, we were back on the run soon. Since the last leg of the travel was ahead of us, driver Mansukh put a covered vessel of mutton, spices, onions and other delicacies on top of the firebox door, to cook slowly till Maliya Miyana. I suppose Rotis could be cooked later by scooping a quantity of incandescent coal on the shovel and baking the bread on them.

There is a spur of tracks just after Dahinsara which leads to the salt flats of Navlakhi. But due to the last years cyclone ('Vavajodu' in Kathaiwadi Gujarati) the line is totally damaged and there is no traffic anymore on that line. Although the permanent way and the ballast looked quite well maintained for a line which has had no traffic for the past many months.

We wanted to ride the buffer beam once again. Once again the drivers were not happy about this at all. This loco as I mentioned earlier had only the right side smoke deflector and all the metal near the smoke box was hot to touch! The smoke door leaked the draught as smoke curled from the edges of the door. The beat from the cylinder and the chimney was very loud, enough to cause a sore ear. The long guides (with half round ends) from the front of the cylinders have a small hole in them, and these holes ejected jets of very hot steam at our shoes. In all a much more uncivilised experience from the YP we rode the buffer beams of the earlier day, but I loved it!

After Dahinsara, we left the symbols of civilisation behind. The landscape is very barren and arid, the human population was missing from our view. A large white hill loomed ahead on the right of the train indicating that the next stop was Vavaniya. This was a mountain of salt that is brought by road to this place. It is packed in white gunny bags and then transported by the MG line to Wankaner. At Wankaner, this is transhipped to BG wagons and sent to the rest of the country. We saw a BG rake meant for Raipur MP earlier at Wankaner yard. For loading, a loop of MG tracks goes near the salt mountain and then rejoins the main line near the Vavaniya platform.

Vavaniya is the first place that depends on water from the train. A 2" thick flexible hose is connected to the second water tanker after the loco and it is allowed to fill a cement water tank somewhere at a lower level. This process takes about 10-15 minutes. Other local janata (mainly women and girls) collect water in pots and buckets from smaller outlets from the other tankers.

The train suffered a brake pipe vacuum loss during the run, bringing the rake to a screeching halt. The assistant driver tried desperately to locate the leak, but could not do so. Mysteriously, the vacuum built up on its own and the train could move once more.

As the Navlakhi - Dahinsara line was bent out of shape due to the recent 'Vavajodu', the railways is now building a new BG line from Maliya Miyana to Dahinsara and I suppose to Navlakhi. Evidence of this is everywhere, bridges being expanded, new permanent ways being levelled. Expect this work to be completed in one year or so; after all the salt movement is an important business for the IR.

A few more stops for water we hopped into Maliya town. We could see the BG station's signals and the overhead bridge between platforms. After all we had a 15 minute break at the edge of Maliya to fill another water tank.

The police outpost at Maliya Miyana Jn were very glad to see us, so it seemed, for they were smiling broadly at us. But no, they were smiling at their pet puppies who were safely sitting in the gap between the rail and the platform when the train rolled in. Very irresponsible pet owners, I must say, only one train uses Maliya Miyana Jn. per day on the MG route. So we cannot complain of heavy traffic caused this near tragedy. Maybe it is this lack of traffic which prompted the puppies to sleep on the rails.

We went to enquire in the station master's office about the 111 Dn. Viramgam to Gandhidham passenger's arrival. This train would have arrived at Maliya Miyana Jn. at 1430 to move us to Gandhidham Jn. at 1730. That would leave us with ample time to catch the 9032 Kutch Express at 2040 Hrs to return to Mumbai.

But first the station master decided to interrogate us. He demanded to see our permit. After seeing the permit he caught the mistake that said that we were due to visit this section in Jan 1998. A lot of letters written in the last year carry such mistakes until we get used to the new year. All this when we had not even shot a single picture or for that matter even had a camera on the outside. But then for what other purpose does an obvious outsider come to Maliya Miyana Jn? This is why I mentioned the need for the photographer's permit earlier.

The (bad) news was that the 111 Dn. was due only at 1600 Hrs. This train like the MG train is a water special and halts at all the stations distributing the precious liquid. This meant that we might not get to Gandhidham on time. There was not even a freight train or a light engine coming this way, which could take us to Gandhidham. We were suggested to walk 1 Km or so to a minor road, then to catch a rickshaw to take us to the highway (eight kms away) and then flag down a bus or a truck which would eventually take us to Gandhidham, some 96 Kms away.

Maliya is a bleak station with no shades, no traffic, no trees, no nothing. This is the edge of the Little Raan of Kutch. The sand is loose and the shrubs are the spiny stuff you are likely to find in a desert. This *IS* desert, dear friends and all of us were stuck in the middle of it, suddenly our luggage began to feel very heavy and the afternoon heat began to get us. But we are made of sterner stuff (read as - we had no other choice!), so we began our walk out of Maliya Jn. Fortunately a rickshaw was located near the railway colony and agreed to take us till the highway. So four grown men and their luggage squeezed into the tiny vehicle, not forgetting the driver. I was half reclining with Viraf and Sriniwas half sitting on either side of me. Sarosh sat next to the driver. The overloaded vehicle had hardly moved a few hundred meters when it lost power and just stopped in its tracks. The driver got off and announced that the rear axle was broken and we all had to get off. Now I know I am a little errr.. plump, but my extra weight had nothing to do with the axle failure.

Our rickshaw wallah nursed his vehicle away (driving while standing up to take weight off the seat!) and promised to send another rick soon. So we trekked in the blinding afternoon sun towards what was the Maliya town. We crossed the MG tracks towards Dahinsara (this is a railway tour report - I have to keep the interest alive!). The ballast stones were still wet with the enormous quantity water that the loco was dumping on the tracks.

Soon another rickshaw arrived and transported us slowly to the highway. A Gujarat state transport bus picked us up and moved us to Gandhidham. The bus was hot and smelly, reeking of diesel fumes and passenger's beedies. We were disappointed to know that we could not do the Maliya - Gandhidham by the BG train. This train would take a long bridge over the Little Raan of Kutch, which is a marsh caused by trapped water. The high salinity of the water and intense heat makes these places ideal salt pans. The road to Gadhidham was like the road from Mankhurd to Vashi - both sides are marshes (no vegetation though) and a railway line on your right. We saw some freight trains and a passenger rake with AC sleepers coaches stabled (it had no loco at either end!) at an unlikely small station. A few freight trains that crossed us were petrol special all hauled by double headed Ratlam WDM2s, although there could have been WDG2s as well. The smell of petrol was so strong that I could smell it inside the bus. Viraf, Sarosh and Shrinivas fell into uneasy slumber in the bus. It was easy for them, they had a seat in front to lean on to, I was sitting on the gearbox right after the driver with only a wiremesh separating us. At one point my bag jammed his gear lever and I got a dirty look from the driver!

Soon we had a single MG track joining the BG line. We saw a YDM4 hauling a freight train away from Gandhidham. As this area really produces only salt, there were a number of salt reprocessing, iodising and packing units on the way. The BG and MG track criss-crosses the road many times. Gandhidham is really the civil front face for the natural deep-water mega port of Kandla. There were number of container hauling trucks. I also saw a large number of factories which did packing work and make crates, and there was a small forest of tree trunks in their yards.

Gandhidham seems to be like Vashi. A four lane highway and trucks, trucks and more trucks. There are trucking company offices, mechanics, garages and shops selling motor parts. We got off at the bus stand and we were really famished. So we trekked some 3/4th Km while trucks whizzed past us in the soft sand by the road to reach a reasonable Kutchhi eatery. We again dug into the sort of food had earlier at Thakkar lodge. The manager stood next to us glaring at us, yet moving his men to see that our plates were always full. And we did fill ourselves to the brim with good food. We then crossed the road and entered the Gandhidham Jn. complex. The station has four MG lines (the Road 1 - nearest to the station master's office) is a MG track. Platform 2 is also a MG track with road 2 & 3 in the middle. These must be the Up and Down Goods tracks. The platform 3 is the BG platform, as is platform 4. There is a new platform 5 which is being constructed now (the water cooler is in place, although the shed is yet to be erected!)

We tried finding ourselves a great bench on which all of us could sit and enjoy the ambience, but this was not possible. The 175 Down MG passenger from Anjar to Kandla port (12 Kms to the south of Gandhidham) was waiting on road 1 as we got into the station. Had we arrived five minutes early, I would have certainly gone to Kandla and come back with this train in time to catch the Kutch Express. But the rest of the gang was very tired (maybe due middle age?) and were looking for the waiting/retiring rooms. We were guided into the waiting room, where all of us slept on the generous furniture for a while. There was a large-sized, out-of-scale flattened map of the Kandla area on the wall of the waiting room. It showed the location of the various large sites in that area like oil refinery, marshalling yards, Kandla port etc. Don't miss this beauty of creative cartography when you are at Gandhidham.

There was hardly any rail traffic through this station, I had to content with a WDS4 shunting a BG coach into its repair depot. The Gandhidham (code GIM - I just love the sound of this one - GIM like 'gimme') diesel shed was some distance further out of the station. The only action was a few YDM4s working light came to the station. I did a tour of the station perimeter. There were two MG inspection coaches stabled in the VIP siding. Usually the VIP siding is a very nice area of the station, it's very clean, well painted and located in a corner of the station. There is usually a path by which a motor car can be brought very near the VIP siding to receive and see off the saheb. The cook in the inspection coach was cooking some great-smelling chicken curry. Lucky guys these railway officials.

GIM Jn. is under Ajmer division, while Wankaner, Morbi, Maliya are all Rajkot division. Although there was no action through the GIM Jn. I could hear lots of diesels in the distance, which I attributed to the diesel shed. The shed homes both BG and MG locos.

I went into the station master's office, for he has a proportionate map of the various sidings and facilities of the station. Here too I met one very courteous, enthusiastic and friendly chap, while the other person just tried to tear me apart. I am quite used to it by now - App kaun hai? Apko andar aane ki kisne ijazat dee? Apko kya chahiye? Hum apko kuch nahi bata sakte hain. (Who are you (rudely), who gave you the permission to enter this room? What do you want? I cannot tell you anything (ooh, I am soooo busy - get lost). The nicer guy told me that although I could see only 7 lines, there were close to 30 lines on the other side of the green marshy bushes. He even suggested that I should go and have a look. Indian Railway is full of such extremes, the nice guys make up for the nasties. Maybe it is unfair to call him nasty, the frustration of being in a dead end job in a place quite remote from his family and friends with unsympathetic superiors will drive anyone to nastiness.

By now it was getting to almost evening, and we still had to kill 5 hours to our train. The MG passenger from Kandla had returned, now renamed as 178 Up passenger from Kandla to New Bhuj. The YDM4 in charge had a fabricated sheet metal guard over the dynamic grid blower outlet. This is a non-standard fitment and I have not seen a extra sheet metal to divert the hot dynamic blast elsewhere. Even the friendly Marathi speaking driver agreed that this was a 'one-off' modification. The driver invited us to come to Bhuj and return with him by 1940 hrs., the departure of our train.

One YDM4 drinking water special homing at Naliya (164 Kms west of GIM) entered the Up goods road with five tankers and a brake van. Naliya is shown as the west most station on the IR, virtually a creek away from Pakistan. The rake was braked rather hard and water sloshed out of the open fillers of the tankers. The rake was homed at Naliya. Later this rake was shunted out of site, without the starter signal at danger, maybe the driver had a 'paper ticket' to pass this signal.

We also saw a vintage diesel loco the North British YDM1, diesel hydraulic working light by a friendly Sikh driver, who would have gladly chatted and showed us the loco, but for the starter signal which beckoned him towards the shed line. Like all other hydraulics I know (WDS4 and the NG locos like NDM1 and ZDM4/5) the control was a large desk with large wheel in the vertical plane which served like a combined throttle and a direction control. The lookout glasses were at an angle rather than the perpendicular items found on a YDM4.

Still the undercurrent of boredom was hitting us, having nothing to do is something we are not used to. Viraf suggested that we climb the overbridge between platform 1 & 2. We did that and what a view that was! Nearest to us were the 30-odd shunting lines of the GIM marshalling yard and the loco shed. There were MG and BG lines busy with movements. There were oil storage tanks after the marshalling yards. Where the lines ended, the sea began. A sparkling deep and wide sea with ships bobbing in the distance. The winking lights of the distant Kandla added to the magic while a soothing sea breeze accompanied a large oval sun over the horizon. This was a great way to pass the time. From this bridge there seemed to be long jetty heading into the sea. Do not miss the sight from the overbridge when you are in GIM. We saw a WDM6 (with only 1200 HP!) hauling an impressive total of 78 BOXN wagons all by itself from this yard towards Kandla. We saw the entire sequence where this WDS6 worked back and forth to assemble the really long train and finally taking off on the long curve towards the mainline and Kandla port.

Now spending time was not a problem. The 9032 Up Kutch Express rake was backed on the platform 3 by a tired WDS4. It was again a 21 coach rake and we decided to check out of the waiting room. We had an early (what is brunch called in the evening?) meal of snacks - take a guess - deep fried besan coated bread sandwich and batata wada! Then all of us went over the BG platform to board our train. Viraf was travelling only till Navsari (between Surat and Vapi) while Sarosh, Shrinivas and myself were booked till MCT. Viraf and Sarosh went to the booking area to try and procure a reservation for Viraf from Navsari to Borivali for the next day.

Our berths were quite apart. Two side berths, one middle main and one upper main berth. This train is very popular and was jam packed with Janata travelling towards Mumbai. I do not think, even a single berth was free in the train, however there was no rowdy jostling and aggression that you see in a full train in Pune or elsewhere. The peace loving Gujju crowd is more a family person so there are hardly any raised voices or arguments in a tense crowd, only talk of 'adjustment' which is a way of life in the business-minded community.

Viraf, Sarosh and I helped an old lady to her proper berth in S18 coach, while she was sitting in our S1 by mistake. Our coach was the sixth from the end, while hers was the third from the loco. It would have been very difficult for her to get to her seat once the train had moved. In any case the vestibules were through till about the 9th coach and then there was a non vestibule coach. Thereafter the vestibules were through to the first coach. The locos was a smart red and cream Ratlam WDM2 no. 16581A working long hood leading. The headlight was quite bright.

The 111 Down Viramgam - Gandhidham BG passenger arrived about now. Had we waited for this train at Maliya Miyana Jn., we would have bitten our nails to the bone with the suspense of whether this train would reach in time for the 9032 departure. And the intense hunger would not have been satiated by the chewed nails! The bus was the correct decision.

I find that 'taking an intermediate train to get somewhere else to catch another train' type of planning does not work anymore. In fact in the past three consecutive journeys, I have had to face cancellations, delays and the risk of missing the connection due to derailments, failures and just late running of trains.

We departed right on time and made good speed. We slept deeply for a while. The side berths are smaller than the main berths, so Viraf and I slept with out feet sticking out. Again serene Sarosh got into the top berth and crashed, only to wake up next morning. The track is quite smooth with hardly any rolling. We were crossing waiting diesel hauled trains at a number of stations, although we were always moving while the other train was detained. At Ahmedabad Shrinivas went for a walk while all of us still slept on.

Viraf was up by Bharuch (he had to get up at some unearthly time like 0330 on all weekdays as his shift begins at 0700 hrs at a great distance from his home at Borivali. He showed me the great Lattice Bridge right at the end of Bharuch station. Around Surat, a whole load of people woke up. Notable amongst them was a family who insisted on having a bath before getting off at Surat. All the (male) members came out with a towel at their waist shivering (their teeth chattered too!) from the bathrooms to dress near their berths.

We saw the track from Udhna towards Nadurbar and Jalgaon. Viraf was off at Navsari to see his family living there. A lot of commuter crowd got in at Surat to get to Mumbai and the ticket checkers were trying desperately to identify the long distance passengers from the short distance travellers who are not supposed to be on the sleeper class. For some reason, the same TC checked my ticket twice, I guess I must be guiltier looking of the lot.

The MCT - ADI Shatabdi crossed us at Vapi. The mixed colour rake had a few red chair cars, while the majority of the coaches were blue. The loco was a WCAM2. We overtook the Bikaner - Bandra Ranakpur express at Vangaon, the loco in this case was a WCAM1. From the real consistent clip of our train we guessed that our loco would have been a WCAM2 (the electric loco was attached at Ahmedabad while we were asleep), but we were surprised to know that this was actually a WCAM1. I saw at least two WCAM2s with a stencilled note that said "air brakes only", but had both types of hoses. I cannot explain this observation. At least in our section at Pune we have all the electric and diesel locos with either only vacuum or with both brakes. I suppose the 'air brakes only' WCAM2s are booked for Rajdhani, the AK Rajdhani and the Shatabdi which are daily runs. Our train had an alarm chain pulling just before Palghar which delayed our run for about 10 minutes.

Just after Vaitarna and before Virar is the dead zone and we again tried to spot the change over taking place. This time the distant loco was camouflaged by the brown hills and we could not see the panto being lowered and then the other panto raising. The TC was firm in telling us that the dead zone has passed quite a time back. That's how much he knew about the system he works on a daily basis.

A large percentage of passengers got off at Borivali and the passenger for Dadar began queuing up at the doors. I left my luggage with the Sarosh and Shrinivas and began going forward towards the loco via the vestibules. My mission was to record the number and type of the AC/DC loco which brought such a long and heavy train competently. I could step over the piled luggage of the Dadar passengers and went up to the coach with the last vestibule. Almost eight coaches were still ahead for the loco, but there was a non vestibuled end of the coach ahead. At Dadar, I jumped over a pile of pressure cookers in their cartons (also being downloaded onto the platform by a relay of three people) to check the loco. This was a Valsad WCAM1P, no. 21826 with a hefty driver with a handlebar moustache, who was quite amused that I wanted to note down the loco number. The mail/ express platform on Dadar is hidden in the middle of the local platforms and is totally free of the packed crowds unlike the local platforms.

At Dadar Sarosh, Shrinivas and I parted our ways. I took a EMU to CSTM to try and catch the 7031 Dn. Hyderabad Express/ 6011 Dn. Mumbai Chennai Express or 1009 Dn. Sinhagad Express, whichever I would get in time. I saw a green and cream Jumbo WDM2 at the exit of the CSTM electric shed. I presume that this must have been the power of the Mumbai - Madgaon KR0111/0112 Express. The loco's immaculate finish pointed to the loving care of the Golden Rock (GOC) loco shed, although there were no shed allocation marks.

I entered the main concourse of the CSTM and was approached by a elder Tamilian lady. She began by telling me that she and her two children stay in Ahmedabad and that she had lost her luggage. She also mentioned that she could not speak Hindi or Marathi and had great difficulty in getting across. I began by telling her how to get to MCT from CSTM and offered to look up the timetable and tell her the correct time of the next ADI-bound train. But no, what she wanted was the fare for three people to ADI. I offered to escort her to the police station and translate her tale in Hindi or Marathi, but that is not what she wanted. This is a special con that is run at many railway stations and I have seen it before. I have even succumbed to it on a lesser scale when I was much younger. Invariably these con artists talk to you in English and the subject line in the end always wants the fare to their home, wherever that might be. I am trying to believe that my conscience is clear, but the doubt still remains; after all this could have been my own mother who had lost her luggage and wanted to get to Pune.

The next train to Pune was 7031 Dn. Mumbai Hyderabad Express on platform 8. Although this was well past its departure time, the train was standing on the platform. I wanted to talk to a TT and get myself a berth till Pune, but there were none in sight. So I gave in to the coolie who offered me a seat for 20 bucks. So I entered the general compartment and sat with five (total = six!) others on a seat meant for three. The passengers around me were all going to Hyderabad, and to spend overnight is such desperation was not a deterrent. There was petty bullying on all the time, there were quite a few warmongers amongst us who were looking for a reason to start a scrap. Since I was the biggest amongst the five others with me, they just decided to leave me alone. The unwashed look, the four days of unshaven beard and the general scowl helps, the constant wind at the window of a long distance train had blown by hair back to form two spikes just at the place that a devil would have his horns. In short I was left out of the jeering and near fisticuffs that was all around me. I was stuck in this place for the next five hours. I could not move, not even to the toilet, for there were people sitting in the there too! The train departed 45 minutes after its scheduled time for some unknown reason.

I have never done so much of passive smoking in my life. Everyone around me (and above me) smoked. The young, the old, the women, everyone just lit up. Why I am mentioning this is to discuss a special type of 'neighbour-friendly' smoking practised by the person in front of me. He clutched a cigarette between his third finger and little finger, while closing his fist. Then he sucked at the opening formed between the joint of the thumb (remember filmstar Rajkumar in Lal Patthar?) and then he sucked some more. In this way he consumed the entire cigarette, what was remarkable was that the most of the smoke remained in his lungs without troubling anyone else.

The only remarkable railway event was the passage of a WCG2 hauled freight train on the Up ghat third track (Up = descending!) between Palasdhari and Jhambrung. As this train was crawling downgradient, three bankers coupled together overtook this freighter on the middle track. A great site to see for any railnut.

The '31 down stopped at every conceivable opportunity and slowed to a crawl more times than I can remember. It stopped in the middle of nowhere (I know for sure that there is no signal at that location) for 15-20 minutes. In short a very dull and boring journey.

Once we crawled into Pune Jn., the unreserved crowd surged into the coach and made my exit very difficult. I had to roughly elbow and push my way out. After getting out and checking that my luggage and wallet was still in place, I got into a rickshaw and came home to a long hot bath and some much needed sleep. This ended my trip to Wankaner.

The whole trip cost me about Rs. 2000 including all the train tickets, food and local transportation. Please note that it is your legal right to go to these places but remember the photographic permit from the PRO of the railways or the Divisional Railway manager. The steam locos are working at WKR only till August 1999.

← Back to trip report index