Tunnel to Tunnel Trek
by Ashish Kuvelkar
The Pune gang has been visiting the abandoned 22.5 KM long MG alignment in the Phursungi-Rajewadi section since 2005. All these treks have been done, keeping in mind, the timings of the 1609A Pune- Satara Passenger and 1610 Miraj-Pune Passenger and proximity of the MG segments to BG stations. This pair of trains provided a trekking window of about 4-5 hours. Alas, this is no longer possible and the trekking window has reduced drastically. The starting time of 1609A has been now changed to 9:15 AM from 6:40 AM, while the timing of 1610 continues to remain the same, leaving Rajewadi at 12:20 PM.
The initial treks were done at a time when Google Earth did not show this section in high resolution. During those days, our route planning used to be based on visual noting while traveling on BG line, some calculated guesses and information gathered from Station Masters and staff working at the stations in this section. And not to forget our GPS unit, that helped us immensely in getting back to the stations after reaching the end of trekking segments.
All this changed, when Google Earth put this region in high resolution. We could trace the alignment, spot the tunnels and even ventilation shafts on top of the tunnels. These spotting provided the impetus to undertake treks to unexplored segments and we were even joined by outstation members like Bharath Moro and Praveen Kumar.
When the call for papers for BNC-2009 was announced we thought, we should share information that we had collected so far about this MG section, at the convention. As I was gathering vital statistics about this section, I realized that the erstwhile Alandi station was present in the one last segment of this section, which we had not covered. This segment remained unexplored, simply because it was too far away from the BG alignment. I bounced this idea of visiting the erstwhile Alandi station, off Apurva and needless to say he immediately agreed. But we could not find time to visit it, before the convention.
The reduced trekking window between the timings of the pair of passenger trains and the remoteness of the MG line from the BG line left us with no choice but to travel to this location using a road transport. Google Earth definitely helped us in exploring this segment, but still we decided to do a recce of the region by visiting one end of the segment that we intended to cover. To be precise, this segment stretches between the second and the third tunnel and passes through the erstwhile Alandi station.
So, Hrishikesh and I decided to visit Alandi on last Saturday, i.e. 14th February 2009. I was able to buy a UTS ticket from Khadki to Alandi a day in advance and that came as a pleasant surprise to me. I have forgotten how many times I've tried to book an advanced UTS ticket at Pune station and I have never been successful.
We reached Pune station at 09:00 AM. The rake of 1609A passenger stood on the PF #5, but the power was missing. The LP and ALP too were waiting for the power to be brought from the shed. Finally the power came at 09:20 AM, and it was Pune's WDM2 #17936. Before that, the power to 1625 Pune-Daund Passenger, a PUNE WDM2 #18579R was attached. This is one of the few WDM2s, which has not been upgraded to a WDM3x after it has undergone a rebuilt.
We started at 09:30 from Pune and had a long halt at Ghorpuri. The reason, a dead body was found in second coach. It was of a beggar who seems to have died in sleep and was lying on a lower berth. A fellow passenger, who noticed it, informed the LP, who in turn told the guard. The guard came to the coach, verified and then informed the SM of Ghorpuri. The SM sent the RPF chaps. The RPF chaps decided that, it's not their job, so they called the GRP. One GRP fellow came in plain clothes and a stretcher was awaited. After a long delay, a pointsman came empty handed and both of them lifted the body and put it on the platform. We left Ghorpuri at 10:15 AM and reached Alandi after half an hour.
We had decided to go towards the second tunnel, which is towards the south-west of Alandi station. Our aim was to find the approach road that is close by to this tunnel. We crossed a few fields and kept asking folks working in the fields for directions, to ensure that we were on the right track. At one point, we climbed a hill and expected to see the MG alignment beyond it. To our surprise, we saw the MG alignment right below the hill and in fact we were standing right on top of the tunnel. Hrishikesh climbed down on the other side of the hill and took some photographs of the tunnel. There was a motor able road right till that point, good enough to drive a Sumo on it.
We then tried to locate the other side of the tunnel, but simply could not. We tried contacting Apurva to get the co-ordinates of other face of the tunnel, but poor mobile connectivity hampered our efforts. After we came back and looked at the Google Earth's images, we realized that we were looking in a wrong direction. We did not realize that while approaching the tunnel, the alignment is bit curved while we were trying to locate the portal of the tunnel in straight direction. We were running short of time, since the return train was at 1:00 PM. So we decided to abandon the efforts and return. A fuel pipeline runs near that spot and a lady confused us, by saying that the portal of the tunnel was closed while laying the pipeline.
We had a long walk back to Alandi station. The GPS unit helped us in taking short cuts through the fields. We wanted to get back before 1:00 PM, the scheduled departure, though Apurva had informed us that train was delayed by 20 minutes, after looking at the train enquiry site. After reaching Alandi station, we had some snacks and bought tickets to Pune. Only after looking at the fare table, I realized that minimum fare by a passenger train is just 2.00 Rupees! This fare was from Alandi to adjacent stations Shindavane and Phursungi.
After coming back, we spent some time, co-relating what we saw during our visit to the images of Google Earth. Our aim was to start the trek on next Saturday, from one of the tunnels and end it at the other. Since we could clearly trace the road to the second tunnel, we decided that we would start our trek from the third tunnel and walk towards the second tunnel.
We booked a Sumo and started early in the morning at 6:30 AM on Saturday i.e. 21st February 2009. I picked up Apurva, Lalaam, Hrishikesh and Sachin, on the way to Pune-Solapur highway. We turned right off the highway at Kunjirwadi village after having a cup of chai and first fresh lot of potato wadas at a roadside joint. We crossed two canals and the BG line and reached Alandi Village.
We decided to show to the driver, the road leading to the second tunnel, till the outskirts of the village. Looking at the landmarks noted in the Google Earth images, we managed to reach the desired location. After making sure that the driver understood the direction to the second tunnel, we came back to the village and asked for directions to reach the third tunnel. The village folks became suspicious of our intentions. They mistook us for Government officials who have come to their village for a survey. Probably the Google Earth printouts that we were carrying misled them.
After reaching close to the third tunnel, we got off and asked the driver to take the vehicle near the second tunnel. Folks in the nearby habitat were quite amused that some crazy characters actually want to reach the abandoned tunnels. They warned us, not to enter the tunnel, which may be infested with snakes.
We started climbing the hill at 08:30 AM. Just as were moving in the direction of the tunnel, we notice a really tall stone arch bridge hiding behind a thick cluster of trees, nicely embedded in an embankment. The opening on the other side of the bridge was closed. This closure was done probably after the line was decommissioned.
(Note: In all the wikimapia urls, the location being referred to, is pointed by a '+' right in the center of the screen)
After exploring the underside of the bridge we climbed the embankment and stated moving towards the third tunnel, which was about 500 meters away.
The approach to the tunnel was covered with thick vegetation and Hrishikesh dared to go through it, only to be stalled in his tracks after noticing a snake disappear in the shrubs. There was no point in taking efforts to enter the tunnel, and we decided to climb up the hill and have a look at the ventilation shaft of the tunnel
At 10:15 AM we began our trek, with an aim to reach the second tunnel by 1:00 PM. Luckily the weather was good, not much of heat and wind blowing occasionally. At that point we were about 40 meters above the ground at the foothills. The alignment while skirting the Sinhagad-Boleshwar range of mountains winds it way through a series of cuttings in the rocks and over embankments that bridge the valleys between hills, losing height steadily along the way. Till, just short of old Alandi station, it moves towards East and then to North until it reaches the second tunnel. At many places, the faces of the cutting have given away resulting in landslides. Some of the cuttings have thick vegetation making walking across them, little bit difficult. At 10:30 AM, we saw the 1609A passenger at a distance, proceeding towards Shidawane.
Most of the embankments follow a typical pattern. Huge amount of rocks and soil have been deposited to form these embankments. They are only about 4 meters wide at the top, but must be several tens of meters wide at the bottom. Along the length, somewhere in the middle of the embankment there is a stone bridge, to let water coming down the mountains pass to the other side. Most of these bridges have three arches, with the central arch having passage and outer arches having a stone wall.
We wondered where from they must have brought so much of soil and how they must have done the earthwork when there was hardly any mechanized earthmoving equipment 150 years ago! One source could have been the rocks that were excavated from the cuttings. At some places these embankments have been cut across by the villagers to make way for trucks to go to the other side. While most of the path was smooth, at some places we had to wade our way through some manmade and some natural hurdles. At places where the alignment was straight, the falling gradient was clearly evident. The ruling gradient in this section used to be 1 in 100.
One such bridge was close to one end of the embankment and provided us an opportunity to go down in the valley to click its photographs.
It was 11:30AM and we decided to take a snacks break. Nearby field was having running water being drawn by means of pump from a well, so we could get freshened up. We sat down at the base of the bridge in its shadow and opened our lunch boxes. After spending half an hour in munching methi parathas, cakes, cheese sandwich etc, we resumed our trek.
After walking some distance, we realized that the alignment had climbed down enough to have reached ground level. At this point, the Mumbai-Loni fuel pipeline , cuts across the alignment.
We also spotted our Sumo standing there. The driver had come to a wrong location. This had happened because the driver did not follow our instructions, in toto. Instead he chose to seek advice from villagers. Using printouts of Google Earth images we explained to the driver, where the second tunnel was, and asked him to proceed there.
We kept asking villagers whom we met on the way, about the location of old Alandi station. They would point towards a location that had a tall overhead water tank. We found that all these folks are very helpful. They are also alert. Most of them asked us, who we were and what we were doing there, in a very polite manner. One of them, even appreciated our efforts, when we told him, where we had started the trek from. Some of them even knew that we had come in a Sumo. All of them were already so very well informed about us, it made us joke that all these villagers seem to have subscribed to Vodafone's 10paise SMS pack!
Soon we reached the location of old Alandi station.
Unlike the old Gurholi and old Rajewadi station, here there are hardly any relics of the old station, expect for a stone building that was probably staff quarter and one old rail that formed part of the fencing of a field. We were bit disappointed. I also realized that the location of Alandi station that I had calculated based on the distance traced from Phursungi station, was incorrect. I need to correct this in the presentation that was made at BNC-2009.
Close to old Alandi station, we saw Anjir and Chikoo farms which had trees laden with ripe fruits. In one farm, we noticed that Anjirs had just been plucked and we bought 2 Kg of them after tasting and finding that they were too sweet to resist.
We continued our journey and reached a point , where it was not possible to go along the alignment.
From that point onwards, the cutting started getting deeper as the alignment was entering a hill and the place was full of dense trees. We had no choice but to climb by the side of the cutting. We reached a point, which we knew was on top of the portal of the tunnel, but it was simply not possible to see the opening of the tunnel, as it was buried deep down in the cutting in the midst of the tall trees that had grown there.
Hrishikesh and I realized how foolish we were in not finding this end of the tunnel on our previous visit, despite of being so close to that location. We then went to the other end of the tunnel and climbed down the hill. We spent some time near the face of the tunnel , which was filled with water.
The driver had reached on the top of tunnel, correctly this time. After a group photo, we got into the Sumo and began our journey back to Pune. The total distance that we trekked was 9 Km. On the way, we stopped to sip a glass of cool and refreshing Nira drink. We reached home at 4:00 PM.
This trek was unique in the sense that for the first time we did not travel by train. During our innumerable trips to Adarki, to Jarandeshwar, to Wathar while traveling by the BG, we have been seeing parts of this section, the bridges, the cuttings and they had always been inviting us. They had been saying, come and explore us. Today, we had a sense of fulfillment, for we were able to complete the missing segment out of 22.5 KM MG section between Phursungi and Rajewadi. Most of these structures have withstood test of the time. Parts of some of them have undergone natural deterioration. We are glad that we have been partly able to document them now, before they disappear into sand dunes of time, if not in their days of glory.
Thanks for reading through this narration.
- Tunnel to Tunnel Trek Team (Apurva, Sachin, Lalam, Hrishikesh and Ashish)