Over The Hills And Far Away

by Bharath Moro


I am posting this report on behalf of all the guys who made the trip possible. Thanks so much for the memories.

On Steel To Steel – Sridhar Joshi's Run To Vizag.

It was a terse message on my mobile from Ranga of the Duvvada South Cabin fame Tkts booked for 1VK on 5th February. Coming as it did in the thick of the IRFCA Convention arrangements during the last week of Dec, I think, I did not give much thought to it. I could only postpone asking Ranga as it were, we met on a Sunday at Ranga's place over Uppuma the same meeting described in the http://mas2007.wordpress.com blog. There were a few others and everyone else seemed to know what it meant for a railfan to be booked on that train.

A big thanks to all those who made this trip possible VSP, Ranga, Bharath. Also to all those who made this trip with me Swaminathan a loco expert, Seshadri fondly known as Chechu a doorplater nonpareil at 67 years of age and Karthik Nagarajan, our accountant for the trip portion dealt with here.

On the 3rd Feb 2007, our rendezvous was at the RRI cabin at MAS. Karthik who was dying to see this firsthand for the last one year or so finally had his date and was there already when I was ready to leave home. We quickly met up at MAS, and the Karthik's face lit up on entering the room his face said it all. Chechu joined us at about 22.15, and the doctor (Swaminathan) would be meeting us at the coach.

It was a day that was very hectic for the SMs in the cabin particularly since BBQ Trip Shed had no spare locos on hand. Why we would never know, but the instructions were to use the Brindavan Loco for 2657 MAS SBC Mail, and the first available P4 of either Shatabdi or the Kovai for our train. In fact, an earlier P4 was given to the Yercaud, and Cheran probably had a P1. All this meant more shunting work and the SMs were busy and harried shouting orders over the mike and the walkie talkie to the shunters / pointsmen etc. We had a good cup of coffee ourselves at a tea stall outside, brought a few flask of coffee and some biscuits for the staff at the RRI and left after the 2657 mail left us.

Up in the coach, Swaminthan had conjured a small magic. He had a printout of all stations on the routes we were doing MAS/VSKP VSKP/JYP KRPU/RGDA RGDA/VSKP and VSKP/MAS. Very impressive what with the chart showing the gradients and the altitudes of the stations on the KK line. We left sharp at 23.35 as we received an SMS from Simon Signal cleared.

Winding our way out, we saw the lines at KOK that come in from VPY (Vysarpadi) and WST (Washermanpet) converge into the mainline, and we picked up speed. We were chatting for some time and it was time to sleep. Sleep we did, but fitfully. The coach 01269 was oscillating like wild some problem with the coach or the suspension it seemed. For, it seemed to bear some threshold and started the wild lateral movements once the speed was crossed. It made for some uncomfortable sleep. The moment the train hit the brakes into GDR we were up Karthik and I. We were 10 mts early at GDR 0143 against the arrival of 0153, and left on time at 0155. A cup of platform coffee and a small chat with the TTE, who casually advised to smoke in the loo if we were smokers. This was the hint that we required that someone who really cared was around when we broke the law. A couple of smoking WDM2s were later spotted by trainwatchers on the two loos on the coach very often.

I did not sleep till Nellore, where too we arrived and left on time. We passed a station at high speed at around 0335, and from the limited Telugu I could decipher I concluded that it was Ongole. Hit off an SMS to Bharath, who was just arriving into BZA that we had passed OGL. This was a clear faux pas as I could later realize we stopped at OGL for two minutes a scheduled halt though we were 10 mts late, leaving only at 0400. Said a sorry to Bharath and also asked him to pick up a pack of Cigarettes at BZA as he waited for us. I got a prompt reply, and then went to sleep or whatever sleep I could catch. Luckily, I could catch some sleep and was just hazy as we stopped and started at Chirala, Bapatla and Tenali. At Tenali, I decided not to be hazy anymore, and went out to brush and complete the morning schedule. We were leaving Tenali by 0525, late by 15 mts., but we had an hour to the schedule to reach BZA. The Krishna River was wonderful with water hitting off the moonlight on our coaches. A great sight indeed! We hit BZA at 0610 to the sounds of Kaapi….Kappi…..Chaaaaaya……Kaapi.

A Newspaper Incident Bharath's Run to BZA

"You want to go where?", a disbelieving boss asked when I applied for leave. Koraput isn't on too many tourist maps, but for us railfans it is prime unexplored territory. There had been some confusion regarding my participation but some timely decisions immediately after the Chennai convention cleared the path. Tickets booked and parents convinced, I was off.

At Secunderabad station, Lakshman T, who promptly informed that he hadn't visited the station in - gasp - three weeks, met me! For the next twenty minutes or so, both of us spent time watching the shunting action and catching up. 21:10 and my train, the Simhapuri Express to Gudur was shunted into pf 1. The train shares its rakes with the Mumbai bound Devgiri express and this caused some confusion among a bunch of people traveling in the GS coaches. While Lakshman was explaining that the train would indeed go to Vijaywada, WAM-4 21267 from BZA quietly attached itself. A burly man, who I took to be the chief soon appeared and starting going over every inch of the loco. Kakinada bound Gautami express which was on pf 10 soon sounded its twin-tones and led by LGD WAP-4 22595 snaked out.

It was 21:25 and I headed back to my coach, which was right at the end of the formation. I found my SL berth, plonked the rucksack down and waved goodbye to Laksh as we started rolling out. I found the TTE at the other end of coach, told him that I had to get down at BZA and got my ticket checked. Slept fitfully till Kazipet where I spied a WAG-9 on one of the far lines. The lack of sleep was a direct result of some loud (and I mean really loud) snoring from a guy on the opposite UB. As we pulled out of Warangal, I tried covering my ears with rolls of newspaper but to no avail. Even the clattering of the rails couldn't subdue the noise. By this time, I had had enough and trooped off to the loo. Inside, I rolled up the newspaper into a nice round ball and ran some water over it. Back at the SL with the wet ball, I looked around to see if anyone else was awake. No one was. That was the cue, and I flung the wet ball as hard as I could. It made a nice crunching 'thwaat' sound on the guy, but before he could react, I was back on the SL all curled up and feigning sleep. I didn't dare turn around and see what happened!

Anyway, that seemed shut the guy up and I slept peacefully till Khammam where we surprisingly overtook the Gautami express. After this, I decided to stay awake till BZA and stared out into the inky darkness until the bright lights of the enormous yard signaled that we would soon be pulling into the station.

After a 5 minute halt at the home signal, we were admitted onto pf7 bang on time. Got down, had a nice cup of steaming coffee and went looking for a bench to rest on. Found one on pf5, unloaded the rucksack and was about to fish the camera out when Sridhar's SMS flashed. As instructed, I went out looking for a pack of cigs. Crossing the lines, I exited the south entrance past the parcel loading area and found a tea shack. Another caffeine and nicotine intake later, I was back on the familiar bench watching the amazing movement of trains and locomotives until 06:10 when the 2604 Howrah mail pulled into pf 6.

Steel On Steel Sridhar Continues.

Bharath sent word thru his mobile that he was near the loco ah the wonderful ED P4 22219 that would take us thru to VSKP. A coffee downed, we then settled in our coaches as the train left at 0635, right on schedule. Passing through some unusually dense fog, we alternated between high speed and some moderate speeds and slow downs for cautions etc., and we reached Eluru on time. Hard Idlies, cold Vadas followed for what was a fairly expensive breakfast considering the quality and the quantity that was on offer. Downed with a cup of coffee, however, that was a good energizer for the rest of the day. Intermittently we went into the loo to have a smoke and emerged out cautiously hoping that we would not be caught out. We were again 10 mts late leaving Tadepalligudem at 0810, leaving Nidadavolu at 0828. We crossed a slightly late running Coromandel after this. A few minutes later we passed Kovvur the station which was on a curve with the main line signal dangling from the OHE mast's crosslink. Unique it was and we had seen pics now it was time to see the real one. Here's the link to that picture taken some time ago:

A good shot by PVS Praveen, who would join us later at VSKP. This was the signal that sent us shooting thru Kovvur towards RJY. We left RJY at 0916 arriving there at 0902, some time before we were scheduled to. A great run and followed for the next hour or so, and we left Samalkot about 1002, late by six minutes inspite of the run. At Annavaram we had another cup of coffee as we still maintained the delay of six minutes. The delay had increased to 16 minutes by the time we left Tuni at 1055 and had come down to 10 minutes again at Anakapalle, which we left at 1046. Passing gingerly through three stations, we came to the door three of us as Chechu had proprietory control over one of the doors right through to wave at Ranga, at his favourite RF spot. As luck would have it for us not for Ranga, we came to a dead halt at Duvvada at 1208. Not so good for Ranga he had to run all the way for about 100 mts and reached us only when he was out of breath. Neatly turned out in a wonderful Naamam the Iyengar's trademark, it happened to be his birthday as we later learned. We left DVD at 1219, and made it through Gopalpatnam cabin at 1235 and arrived VSKP 1250, 10 mts ahead of schedule.

This is where VSP asked us in true style of an advertisement: Are you ready for the magic? Yes, the Retiring room was allotted to us, later we also had three dorm beds, freshened up, had a great lunch at Talasila Hotel and were ready to leave for Duvvada to wish Ranga personally. However, VSP's magic deserted him- the 1705 Passenger left only at 1805. We got off into DVD, crossed over into the town in the WDM2 that belongs to Ranga's father a million thanks are due to him for ensuring that we were not stuck up anywhere even in by our standards remote Jeypore or Koraput.

Wonderful snacks that actually ended up as dinner and a darshan at a temple nearby and we were ready to head back to VSKP for some much needed rest. Ranga dropped us off at a bus stop and after seemed like a fairly long wait we boarded a bus that VSP assured will be take us half the way. We got down at a place called Gazuwaka. We switched immediately to a waiting bus (no. 400S). This got VSP all excited as it would pass through all the major industrial parts and the naval area of the area. And for the next 40 minutes or so, we got a very nice guided tour of that part of the city. Reached the station and promptly hit the sack. PVS Praveen landed at the unearthly hour of around 0330, rested for a while, and it was time for us to get up and leave for JYP.

Rolling the Curves to Rauli Ranga Takes It Forward

When the passenger reached the plains at Singapur Road, Mr. Seshadri or 'Chechu' as we fondly call him, exclaimed "Complete entertainment for twenty rupees! Fare from Koraput to Rayagada is hardly 20 rupees or even less. For this meagre sum, we don't think one will get so much rejoice and get rejuvenated in this planet earth, other than this rail trip. We bet, no other field could offer this type of bewitching entertainment for a mere 20 bucks." Like all of us, Chechu had left his heart at Rauli.

Chechu in a way summed up the essence of the trip that eight of us made on 5th and 6th of February 2007. We had traveled up the KK Line from Vizag till Jeypore and then returned to Vizag from Koraput via the KR line, all the while confining ourselves to just one railway division: Waltair.

Right after the famous Nagpur Chindwara NG run in December 2006 a few of us decided we needed another trip to whet our wanderlust appetite and promptly selected the KK Line. The dates were fixed in advance. This time, the party consisted of Sridhar Joshi, Seshadri, Karthik Nagarajan, G. Swaminathan and I from Chennai and Bharath Moro, VSP and PVS Praveen from Hyderabad. VSP and I arrived earlier while Bharat and the rest of the Chennai gang arrived a day later. PVS arrived on the early hours of February 5.

We did not have much deliberation over the choice of trains. The KK Line had just one passenger service, the VK1 passenger. On February 5, we assembled early in the morning at VSKP's food plaza Ambica Flavours. A hearty breakfast of idlis later, we packed some more (vadas, upma and puris) for the road for we were about to travel one of the least populated areas around. Our luggage included a carton of water bottles too. We headed to Platform 5 that was being expanded to accommodate 26 coach rakes. As a precaution, we had booked ourselves in the First Class coach. VK1 had 11 coaches including two Sleeper coaches and an FC. The FC was right ahead just behind the SLR.

The TTE was already around and an amiable person he was, allotted us adjoining cabins despite being distributed all over. A stupid error on my part surfaced as the TTE sat about verifying our tickets and allotting our cabins. Bharat had earlier dropped out and PVS Praveen decided to use his ticket. Later when Bharat decided to rejoin, I went ahead and booked another ticket in his name. The charts now showed two Bharat Moros. I sat by the TTE to suggest which Bharath Moro should be allotted which cabin. I had already worked a ruse to explain the faux. We indeed had two Bharat Moros. One was Bharat and the other was Bharath and coincidentally, both had a surname of Moro. I had entered the ages differently while booking both the tickets and that provided a small way out. Our TTE either failed to notice it or ignored it as he quickly finished his job amidst bonhomies and positive vibes. He even informed us that the occupant of one of the FC cabins was a judicial magistrate!

VK1 started on time at 6:50 AM. It was the first and the last time during the trip that the train stuck to time table. The concept of time simply ceases to exist for the only passenger service on the KK line thanks to the numerous freight crossings, ghat inclines and other hurdles. Most of the occupants including the Sleeper and FC were tourists who were in no hurry, railway crew and officials who had 'slack time' and tribal and rural folk whose sense for time unfortunately is never acknowledged. Ironically the only purposeless travelers on the train were the only ones comparing the trip with time tables. When VSP is around, IRFCAns are time table savvy.

We quickly passed VSKP outer, both the Simhachalam stations and Pendurthi. I tried desperately to clear the confusion over the array of freight lines. Chechu resumed his door watch just as he did the day before from BZA all the way to VSKP on the HWH Mail. At 67, Chechu puts the rest of IRFCA to shame with his energetic and tireless indulgence in rail travel. He is a true and original 'hobo' of IRFCA. We had already resigned one entire door to him even before we boarded the train and assumed our positions at the other 3 doors and an emergency window on the corridor of the FC.

A couple of coal freights passed us headed by twin diesels from various sheds. Vizag, despite being electrified sees some good diesel action with locos from Raipur, Bondamunda, Kharagpur and VSKP and even ones as far as Katni. Years ago, trains from Vijaywada used to arrive into VSKP station behind diesels from the sheds of Kazipet, Guntakal and even Gooty. They were taken over towards Howrah by VSKP diesels. To complement, we also had an array of electrics from VSKP, BZA, Santragachi, Howrah, Lallaguda, Arakkonam and Erode to ogle at.

Sridhar Joshi and VSP began their PR with the loco pilot. His inputs on oncoming freight crossings were valuable to us during the trip. For a good measure, they also chatted up the judicial magistrate to insure the gang of its boisterous nature en route.

Kothavalasa was surprisingly sparse despite dedicated lines to the KK freights. Out of Kothavalasa, a few km later, we finally broke off the Chennai Howrah mainline and headed towards the hills. At Mallividu, we were pronounced as late by VSP who after a while flung away the time table in disgust. It was also our first crossing. We had to wait for a considerable time before a triple WAG5 headed freighter rolled along crossing us. We exhaled in sheer ecstasy at the sight. Pretty soon, we would be groaning with boredom as we encounter freight after freight like a bad case of deja vu. By the time we reached Jeypore, we had sighted at least 50 locos of the same type (WAG5) and same shed (VSKP) in just 6 hours! I never had such an overdose even with all those WAP4s in Chennai.

Boddavara announced the ghats as the train started to bank left and right to negotiate the graceful curves. There was a sudden flurry of activity. We had earlier resigned to our cabins for a second round of breakfast, except for Chechu who made a briefest of visits to the cabin for his quick bite before resuming door patrol. The sudden burst of greenery and the curves along a gradually ascending gradient made us scurry to the doors for the best available vantage. There was some nip in the air for I felt we were about to break out into something exciting. Predictably, the train took a large gradient curve to the left and suddenly broke out into a huge horse-shoe shaped valley. We were on the ghat of one of the sides of the horseshoe and could see a hazy white bridge on the far side. We could also make out a tunnel as both its mouths were visible. The magic had begun. We banked boisterously to the right, hit the first of the 52 tunnels, cleared it, rolled over a curved bridge spanning a gorge and entered another tunnel. These hide and seek with tunnels and curved bridges kept us glued to the doors and windows. Most of the tunnels were lined with sodium vapour lamps and held the tunnels in a warm and friendly glow. This was a treat considering the prospect of 52 dank and dark caverns to contend with.

The loco pilot seemed to have no working time table. The loco itself showed no strain with the rapidly ascending gradient. But the speeds were kept low and unhurried. We noticed several spots where labourers toiled to repair track side embankments washed away with torrential rains causing landslides some months ago. Surprisingly, many able bodies men simply jumped off the running train at all such spots, presumably to join the gang of workers. This was probably the reason why the pilot let the train coast along at low speeds.

Another thing observed was that the automated signals flickered repeatedly between amber and red before settling with red once the train passed them.

But this line seems to have a working time table for all freight trains. Since the iron ore supply to the port (and thence to Japan and China) and the Vizag Steel Plant was continuous, the Waltair division seemed to have time-tabled the movement of all iron ore freighters. We had one waiting almost at every station en route, as if timed to arrive before we do. All stations were built for an 8 coach train and so, ours always stopped with the loco, the SLRs on either ends and FC outside the range of the platforms.

At Tyada we had another crossing. In the mean time, some people unloaded a dismantled manual trolley from the SLR and set about reconstituting it. There was an officer overseeing the operation. Sridhar, VSP and I chanced upon the opportunity and occupied the empty SLR and rode it till Chimidipalle. The ride provided us a better experience than the FC coach thanks to the wide big door. The road to Araku passes over a tunnel here at Tyada. For some reason, Tyada Railway Station figures in the itinerary of AP Tourism's organized trip to Araku. There is nothing spectacular about the station and probably the vicinity to the road is a reason why AP Tourism chose this station to showcase the KK Line. Tyada also has a wonderful and value-for-money wildlife resort a little distance away from the station named Jungle Bells. Tyada's starter was out of visibility range for the loco pilot and hence a repeater signal was installed. For some strange reason, according to the loco pilot who had now become a friend of Sridhar, if the starter was at Caution, the repeater would be showing Proceed. This was a unique problem with the programming of the signals here. Tyada had a nice tea shop in close vicinity while Chimidipalle went one step ahead with its little Hanuman temple just by the tracks.

Tyada in Telugu means 'difference'. The place was named so to mark the sudden drop of temperature as one ascends the ghats. The gradient of KK line in these parts is at 1: 60. Boddavara is at 148 meters. The next station 12 KM away is Shivalingapuram at 325 meters height. That is a 177 meter climb in just 12 km. However the loco must have worked the hardest between Tyada and Chimidipalle where the train climbed 188 meters in 12 KM. overall, the steepest gradient is in the first 90 Km of the route from Kothavalasa. The train reaches 997 meters height at Shimiliguda within that distance. From there is a gradual descent.

The line is rich in wonderful bridges and curves but access is limited to these parts for the lack of a nearby road. The only two points between Boddavara and Araku where the road touches the line are at Tyada and Borra Guhalu. At Borra, the road, a branch off from the Kothavalasa Araku road actually crosses the line at the only level crossing till Araku. This is my all time favorite level crossing. The road descends down in a series of hair pins and reaches the lowest point, the level crossing and then ascends up again. The level crossing is a beautiful, neat and compact affair with bougainvillea and other flowering plants and also potted plants maintained by the gate keepers. It is an ideal spot for rail fanning as from this point, the track turn into yet another horse shoe curve towards Karakavalasa and renders the line visible on the far side from the level crossing.

Borra Guhalu is an important tourist stop and most of the occupants of the train got off here, presumably to check out the million year old caves full of stalactites and stalagmites that are known to assume familiar shapes when stared at continuously. Another important observation we made was that the KK line passed exactly over these caves for there was a nice flagstone by the tracks here that proclaimed that the caves were perpendicularly below the tracks at that point.

Karakvalasa was another swift ascent to a height of 164 meters from Borra. The vegetation was thinning by the kilometer. The KK Line did have thick vegetation on the track side but the valleys were strangely bereft of the vegetation that one usually expected in these parts. The entire range of Eastern Ghats in Vizag district was declared as 'agency areas' to preserve the habitat of the various tribes and prevent their exploitation. This meant little or no commercial activity and absolutely no private land ownership. Unfortunately, the tribes were not encouraged or supported in utilizing the opportunities. They were forced to live off the land and so instead of the city slickers; it was these proliferating tribes that were forced to exploit the land and its vegetation (read wood) to survive. Economic mix up it seems but it is not doing any good to the eco system here.

Shimiliguda was a disappointment. I had conjured up an image of a misty, atmospheric station surrounded by thick woods. Many movies were shot here and always depicted the place in a similar manner. But it seemed all the movies were shot early in the morning in the peak of winter or autumn. The station lay on what seemed to be a barren plateau with dried up meadows undulating up and down till the horizon, with a few trees. Bharat did not like it, but after some consternation, I did find some uncanny beauty after all from this kind of a terrain. The board that once proclaimed it to be he highest broad gauge station was still at Shimiliguda. Only now, it bashfully announced the record having been intact until 2004. Araku was the station where most of the train got emptied. Evidently, Araku holds some attraction to Bengalis who seemed to monopolize the platform here.

After Araku, the gradual and unhurried descent began with hardly any challenge from terrain or altitude. Chechu had been at the door all this long and started to fidget like a disgruntled consumer. He was least happy with the relative flatness and barrenness. To add, there were lesser curves and despite all this, the VK1 refused to notch up to a higher speed despite being on friendly gradient. Chechu either wanted curves or speed. We took the break in spectacle to finish off what remained of the breakfast and also a great deal of other snacks. Station after station followed. The only consolation was the long and serene stretches of Machkund Reservoir that somehow materialized beside the line and continued to curve along it.

Just before Koraput, we spied a second line that was in evident state of disuse. This was un-electrified and continued along the KK line before disappearing into the hills nearby. We had no idea what it was. Either it was an old alignment or a disused line to Damanjodi. A little later, Chechu's sagging patience was rewarded with the Kolab River and the wonderful steel girder bridge spanning it. Once across, we were at Koraput. The sight of a VSKP and a Bondamunda WDM2 refreshed our minds tired of the unrelenting march past of triple WAG5s. Koraput was the only station so far with 3 platforms. It was also the only station on the KK line with express train connectivity. The 8447/8448 Bhubaneswar-Koraput Hirakhand Express and 8005/8006 Howrah-Rayagada-Koraput Samaleswari Express were the two express trains that terminated at Koraput via Rayagada. Apart from these, there was the 242/241 Koraput-Rayagada-Koraput passenger train that converted to 237/238 Rayagada-VSKP passenger at Rayagada.

The opposite number of our train 2VK was standing on platform 3 as we arrived. The last coach was an additional Sleeper. It was detached. This one was a slip coach between Kirandul and Koraput and would be attached to the Hirakhand Express. Similarly, our train also had a slip coach attached towards Kirandul and this merited a 15 minute stop at Koraput. The stop was also meant for a crew change. VSP lamented the lack of any patronage for the slip coach. Instead, he felt, more trains could be run on this route. We bid a goodbye to the loco pilot and returned. The TTE of 2VK was chatting up his counterpart on 1VK when suddenly, 2VK started to move. Caught unawares, the 2VK TTE ran across the platforms and desperately tried to get the attention of the guard. Half way down the platform, the guard noticed the frantic TTE and ordered the train to slow down. This was a singularly funny incident that defied standard operating procedures. A very similar thing happened the next day too but that is a different story.

After Koraput, the ghats reappeared with their curves, tunnels, bridges and horse shoes. One of the best horse shoe curves was the one in the approach to Jarati. Being on a descent, the beginning of the curve enabled us to look down at Jarati station where a triple WAG5 freight was waiting for the crossing. It was a very interesting site. For a moment, both trains were aligned in the same direction although they were in fact opposites. As we negotiated the curve, the rake changed position and was perpendicular to us at a point before the curve ended. After Jarati, came one of the most exciting bridges of the KK line. The one which was always a subject of publicity and official photography. We crossed the Maligura Nalla over a long and curved bridge that spanned a very deep gorge before disappearing into a tunnel. A few more curves and tunnels later, we were back on a flatter ground when Jeypore appeared. It was the end of the journey for the day. Jeypore was a neat station with one platform and even a tea stall. I had organized for some transportation to take us back to Koraput by road. The Mahindra Bolero was already there. We all boarded it and went along to Koraput. But not before VSP guided us through the town, including the Jeypore fort. VSP is a remarkable man. He has a relative everywhere. He had them at Koraput and Jeypore as well. He even located the house and more; the Bolero's driver seemed to know them as well. He had given us a similar shock the previous evening when he met my father and immediately found common friends with him without even knowing my dad's name! There is a game called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Its Indian version might as well be called Six Degrees of VSP.

The hotel was arranged by VSP's relatives at Koraput. It was called Athithi Bhaban, a surprisingly neat and clean lodging managed by the nearby Jagannath Temple trust. After a quick wash, PVS and Bharath headed off to find a watering hole while VSP went away to his relatives' house. City slickers and that too the ones over 6 feet tall make for interesting sights to the locals and so we endured constant glares on the way to bus station! Behind some boldly colored buses we found a place that sold "Jungle King 12000 Super Strong Beer". Hoping that it was some kind of a bar, PVS marched off inside only to scamper back out. It was nothing but a regular ttheka. So the beer plan was dropped and one for Chaat soon made. Filling ourselves with some delicious samosas, vadas and potato fries, we headed back to the hotel. We relaxed at the pleasant little flower garden and spent the rest of the evening cracking bawdy and ribald jokes. A little later, the hotel provided us a simple and well-cooked dinner of phulkas, rice, dal and unseasoned vegetables. We hit the bed early for VSP's contact would arrive with another Bolero to take us to Koraput station at 4 AM. We wanted to catch the 5:15 passenger to Rayagada/VSKP.

Koraput was at 874 meters above sea level. The early morning air had a nip in it that forced us to don sweaters. The nip was probably what kept people away, for the station was all quiet and deserted by the time we arrived. We had expected quite a crowd for the first train to VSKP. Instead the only break in minimum decibel level was from the gurgling VSKP WDM2A 18802 that headed the 241 passenger to Rayagada on platform 3. We had to wake up the staff to get our tickets issued. Since we did not have our morning coffee yet, we made a mad and stupid scramble from the LV to the next GS and back wondering which coach was better. The LV was part SLR and part GS with 3 bays. For some reason, the words "Mahilayen" was written all over in ink inside the coach. We coffee deprived souls could not make out anything firm out of it and hence the scramble. Finally we consulted the guard (for the second time) and monopolized the LV.

It was still dark as the WDM2 smoked and notched up the gradient out of Koraput. The darkness did not dampen the sight of its smoking splendour as we hit the trail. It was to our major relief and pleasure that we had a diesel ahead of us for a change. KK line can be a killjoy to even a hard core electric fan. The Koraput Rayagada (K-R) line was a diesel territory though the route was electrified till Damanjodi. Chechu resumed his door watch despite the chill. VSP wrapped himself up in a blanket right up to his head and resembled a Russian Matryoshka doll. The tiny coach was totally at our disposal. There were very few passengers in the rest of the train.

At Damanjodi, a rather cranky youth tried to barge into the SLR-D next to our coach. There was a problem with the door as it was locked. The occupants inside, railway staff, had boarded the coach from the other side at Koraput. This guy kept banging the door and demanding it to be opened despite pleas from inside that the door was jammed. He was not disabled and yet refused to board any other coach. The guard came rushing down and tried to talk him out. In the mean time, the train started to pull out. For some reason, these parts have a unique practice where the guard's whistle and signal are not considered before departure. It had happened at Koraput too the previous day. The poor guard had to rush back to his cab before he got stranded. The banging idiot too ran ahead and for reasons best known to him, did not think of boarding our coach that was immediately behind.

Damanjodi allowed us a sight of the rare, white BTAP tankers that were specifically made for the PSU NALCO (National Aluminium Company- Asia's largest and world's seventh largest producer of aluminium) to transport alumina. The letters NALCO were stenciled on them. Damanjodi is a small town in the mineral rich district of Koraput with sparse population consisting of employees of NALCO. The aluminium plant loomed large as soon as we passed out of Damanjodi. In the darkness, the plant that was so close to the railway line resembled a space city from a Lucas movie with all its sodium and neon lights.

Out of Damanjodi we entered the longest block section on the route for almost 28 km. We had no respite till Kakrigumma. The break of light showed us that we were all the time passing through many a hill and dale comprising the Eastern Ghats. Soon the tunnels started. Unlike the KK line, the KR line tunnels were not lit, were cruder internally and much longer. As the sun started to rise, it spread a multi-colored hue across the landscape and the skies. The vegetation was not any thicker but better than what we fared the previous day. The lack of catenaries was a relief as we devoured the scenic beauty of the hills that started to appear all around. We could get a clear sight of the tracks ahead and behind thanks to the lack of electrification. A slight winter haze hung over the atmosphere robbing us of some clear photography. The curves were as round as they could get and the sight of the bright red and cream liveried loco chugging ahead was a sight to behold. This was a token territory. We traded the sights of token exchange to this wonderful scenario by opting for the LV. The provision of only two doors ensured a steady and continuing fight for vantage among young and old alike. The line also displayed some antiquated working systems being a block system with manual levers for changing points.

At Lakshmipur, VSP harangued a tea vendor to come down all the way to the LV and supply tea to all of us even as the train started to pull out. VSP's presence in any trip is a reassuring thing for the traveler. He handled all the finances to the last paisa, demanding instant payments and balancing the accounts promptly. Plus he was the traveling enquiry counter that told us where would be the next crossing and how late or early we were. Surprisingly, the diesel loco outdid the electric of the previous day as we pulled in on time or ahead at each and every station. The rather lesser gradient on this stretch could have contributed to it.

As the sun ascended, so did the altitude of the hills and the frequency and length of tunnels. Curve after curve, we discovered many a beautiful spots that could have delighted a rail photographer.

Things started to get exciting after Tikiri. We felt we were about to discover something any moment. Chechu insisted on announcing each and every tunnel upon approach, the curves was getting wilder and more frequent. Each curve made the entire LV gasp loudly as rail fans scrambled to the doors and windows to take snaps. The vegetation too grew thicker as we climbed the gradient. As we cleared one long tunnel and broke into a brief clearing over a bridge before disappearing into another tunnel, we spied a horsehoe curve perpendicular to us and a station far away on the ghat side that seemed to be all alone. Excited with the discovery, we crowded at one of the only two doors for more. The train kept banking to the right taking a sharp curve as we hit a third tunnel and rolled into a narrow clearing overlooking a horse shoe valley. We rolled into Rauli, the most beautiful place to stop a train!

The entire 10 minutes seemed like descending down a horseshoe into Wellington station on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway from Ooty to Coonoor. But Rauli beat Wellington hollow. Nestled on the hillside, Rauli was a one platform station. It overlooked a valley that had absolutely no human settlement. Ahead of the station was another tunnel. From the platform we could have a hazy view of the steel girder bridge that we crossed minutes before on the far side. There was something about Raouli. It was all silent and uncanny. A bare and ethereal beauty in the middle of nowhere covered in haze. There was a sizeable crowd, though; most of them were from our own train. The nearest village was Raouli itself, a considerable distance away down the valley. VSP befriended the Telugu guard of our train who gave us the reason for Rauli station's existence. The guard had no idea of IRFCA and we were not about to begin the epic. In his own many words, he tried his best to explain an imaginary six year old that Rauli's sole purpose was to have a block section between Tikiri and Lelligumma, and to enable crossings and reversals. As he said so, we heard a distant horn echoing out of the tunnel ahead. We had long known, thanks to VSP, that Rauli was a crossing point for our train and the Hirakhand Express. It was an obvious choice to have a crossing here. The hills on either side were treacherous and prone to landslides during monsoons. These hills warranted a block limit and a reversal to terminate trains in case of landslides or derailments. No wonder Rauli materialized. Apart from the tracks, signals, station house, a tiny platform and a couple of houses, Rauli was as nature made it. The power supply came from generators and solar panels and water was piped from a natural spring high up the hills. Presently, the Hirakhand appeared with a Bondamunda WDM2A that had its headlight on even as day broke out fully. It made a brief halt and proceeded. Luck was on our side. Our train was not started for quite sometime that allowed us the spectacular site of watching the Hirakhand that disappeared behind the curves to materialize on the bridge on the far side of the curve. We watched in bated breath as the train came out of the tunnel, went over the bridge and disappeared again into another tunnel. Soon, the guard blew the whistle and with a heavy heart we bid goodbye to Rauli each making a mental note to return back some day.

Lelligumma was a station in a deep gorge. A horde of tribal folk scampered along with forest produce to board the train. The presence of VSP sitting at the door probably put them off from taking the LV. Minus the wrap, VSP must have looked like an official. These parts were totally cut off from civilization barring the railway and any trouser and shirt clad man would always be mistaken for an official. Just ahead of the station was a tunnel 1.6 Km long. The guard had earlier informed us that something was wrong with the construction of the tunnel. There was a waterfall somewhere above the tunnel and water seeped through and rained over the tracks right in the middle. It did not help our constitution when he said that the tunnel could collapse any time!

We were still negotiating curves and tunnels. The vegetation was thick and absolutely a forest. After Bhalumaska, we finally started to descend to the plains. The scene was on the right side all the while and now shifted to the left as we could see the plains and a river snaking across it. The gasps still continued at every curve as we negotiated bridges and tunnels until we were at Keutuguda where we espied a second track and automated signallng with relay switches. Post Keutuguda, we quickly descended to the plain and halted just before the line joined the Raipur Vizianagaram line outside Singapur Road to let the VSKP- Raipur passenger pass. Soon we entered Singapur welcomed by semaphore signals for the first time since we started. VSP took the opportunity to have a photo taken of him with the station in the backdrop for posterity. He had relatives here as well. To add, he even handled token exchanges as a kid here.

We entered Rayagada a full 20 minutes ahead of time. It was a time to grab something to eat. A few of us scrambled out of the station and arranged for a brunch. Rayagada station was all painted in cheap sky blue distemper much like the buildings at VSKP. The guard also joined us for break fast after a crew change and informed us that it was the Railway Minister who had ordered that all stations have a paint scheme matching the passenger coaches!

We started on time at Rayagada. The train including our coach was full this time. The train had changed its number and was now the 237 passenger. This was originally a DMU service and hence had to be operated as two services. Out of Bobbili, we spied the cute Salur rail bus returning hurriedly to Bobbili after yet another sortie to Salur, 18 km away. More BTAP tanker rakes and also some coal rakes which carried coal to the NALCO plant's power plant in Damanjodi. We were 20 minutes before time at Vizianagaram. All trains were late. The Howrah Vasco Express arrived and departed ahead of us. The Chennai Mail was late too and was expected to arrive. Vizianagaram was VSP's home town and so he disappeared here promising to rejoin us at VSKP soon. We started 10 minutes late to allow the Vasco Express some headway. The run from VZM to VSKP was fantastic. All speed limits were off and the passenger touched 110 kmph for quite some stretch. VSKP's age old problem was not gone despite the new RRI. We were held up for 10 minutes at the home signal before being allowed into platform six. Still we were on time at 1500 hours when the train came to a stop. We exhaled a deep breath and set out once again into the familiar big bad world, but with our hearts firmly ensconced at Rauli.

On Steel From Steel Sridhar's Journey Back To MAS

The return by Coromandel was a disaster, considering some facts. The coach was a rundown 908280 the cushion had sagged so much into the berths, that the wooden frame was actually pinching our bottoms. Coro arrived 0400 20 mts ahead, and left 0446, six mts late. We hit RJY 0746and left 0750, passing Bharath at Annavaram in the East Coast Express.

The worst comment is for the Pantry Car. I had thought that the Pantry was good given the inputs I had about Gitanjali's PC. I now regret the thought. The cutlets were half cooked, the omelettes were worse, the bread dry and crusty. The waiters were nasty to say the least they would just plonk themselves on any available seat for 10 mts or so and then head back to the PC. At least on three trips during the day I saw a waiter sitting in our S4, and not going on inspite of having stock. Orders for lunch were taken before RJY a terse shout "Lunch order". Any enquiry was met with no answer or with a stare. I could not decide for the others and asked the waiter for minute. "Nahi hoga agar order nahi diya lunch nahi milega", so he said and walked off. I have never seen a man like this in my life. The joke was that all veg meals packets were sold as "Extra Veg Lunch". Wonder why they behaved so badly if you could have at least a hundred meals to sell for those who haven't booked them L

The real tragedy of the trip was the BZA stop. We were on line for at least a 30 minute entry into BZA. But late clearances on the last four stations meant that we were stopping at Gannavaram, Mustabada and Gundala for at least three to four minutes before being started. This meant that some slowcoach was ahead of us, and the controller did not clear us for passage. I later learnt from the guard that the Kakinada Manmad Exp was the culprit. The start at Gundala came to a halt at the Vijayawada North Cabin where the line to Gudivada joins us. We halted there for 20 mts to allow the Kakinada somewhere Pass to enter into BZA ahead of us. Then at the home signal of BZA, we had a halt of another 10mts. All this meant that we hit BZA only at around 1100, instead of the scheduled 1020. I am well aware of the RRI cabin pressure, the cross movements that hold up trains, the controllers' capers sometimes but this one took the cake 1 hr 17mts for the last 24 kms no wonder even this slack seems to be tiny. Bharath also seemed to reach us 5 mts later than us on his East Coast Express.

The lunch we packed at BZA from the private caterer was very good only they had no spoons. We were given ice cream spoons for biryanis and full mealsJ. The evening snack of Samosa with some kind of a cross between a sauce, chutney and imli water deserved its rightful place the refuse bin. The earlier they hand this over to a contractor of the stature of at least the 2163/64 the better. We'd be better off packing our meals either from home or from reputed restaurants before we leave. Leaving BZA at 1120, we eventually arrived at MAS at 1800 hrs having not lost further time. We saw a few people hauled up by the RPF for smoking and we decided to tuck in our tails and remain silent. In any case, we had no stock of sticks. On the way we espied a variety of locos a couple of G9s and many Barbie dolls.

Out at MAS, we walked out of the rear end the Wall Tax Road Parcel Office end- just to avoid the long walk to the front of the rake. This is why we did not note the loco number that hauled us from VSKP. It did a great job, and would have been lucky to get us in time the BZA guys screwed us so hard, that the loco was destined to its fate. We were off to a tea shop for a good tea, and a well deserved cigarette. I took an auto home and headed off to wash the grime and dust off myself. Doctor dropped off Karthik and Chechu at convenient spots and headed home.

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