Coconut Trees and Kozhikkode Halwa: Malabar Trip Report

by Manish


Early this month, my family had to visit Kannur district in the Malabar region of Kerala for some social engagements. Accordingly, we were to leave Bangalore on 1st October by the 6527 YPR-CAN Express. We set off from home at around 18.00, but reached YPR only past 19.30 due to the horrendous traffic. As we crossed the FOB to PF-2, an unknown GTL WDG-3A shunted the rake of our train onto the platform.

Other trains spotted were: 2864 YPR-HWH Express on PF-6 and 2736 YPR-SC GR on PF-4. To my surprise, the rake of my train had been SMB-ed! There was a great deal of confusion as passengers rushed into the coaches even before the lights had been switched on or the charts put up, and found their seat numbers changed! Wisely, we waited for another five minutes till the charts had been out upon the coaches. SWR had handled the matter quite professionally, and two charts were put up, one indicating the old as well as the changed seat numbers, and the other indicating the new numbers alone! We easily located our seats and helped our neighbours locate theirs as well. The rake of the YPR-MAQ express was shunted onto the adjacent line on PF-1 at 20.00. However, our train showed no signs of leaving!

At around 20.20, I found out that the 2864 had left late at 20.15, and consequently our train would be delayed as well. At 20.30, the NZM-bound Rajdhani arrived on PF-3, in the Airtel livery, and ground to an unscheduled halt. Five minutes passed, and then we were given the Proceed signal. As we pulled out of the station yard, the culprit behind the Raj's detention came into view on the adjacent line: an extremely late-running Sampark Kranti pulling into the station. Obviously, SWR had given precedence to their own train, ahead of the Rajdhani! We had a slow and tortuous ride till Banaswadi, taking 40 minutes to cover the 14 km stretch! On the way, I spotted the rake of the YPR-QLN Onam special, stationed at Hebbal. This was an ECR rake, and was in fact the rake of the Muzaffarpur Express which had been lying idle for the past few weeks owing to its cancellation due to floods in Orissa. After BAND, we branched off onto the BYPL bypass line, and instantly picked up speed. Our LP seemed determined to make amends for the long delay, and rapidly notched up to full throttle. We did 90-95 kph almost continuously, even on curves, cuttings and embankments, slowing down to 20 kph just once to cross a weak bridge over NH-7 after Heelalige.

The lush vegetation on either side of the tracks and the cold breeze that was blowing, made it a scintillating experience to be sitting at the window (no chance of doorplating with my mother around). After Anekal Road, a light rain began to fall, and it was a treat to be zipping along at 90 kph with the spray falling in through the window. After a hair-raising ride, we pulled into Hosur at 21.58, 30 minutes late, having taken just 43 minutes to cover a 53 km stretch, at an average of 74 kph, pretty good for a single non-electrified line with an MPS of 100 kph! The TTE arrived only at 22.30, but was well-equipped with the old as well as new charts to handle passengers' queries about the SMB's. To our delight, none of the passengers booked on the other berths in the bay or on the side had turned up, and we got two lower berths and one side lower berth as a result! I occupied the SLB, and fell asleep soon after.

I woke up the next morning at 06.25. The train was stationary. I peeped out of the window, expecting to see Tirur station. To my astonishment, we were already at Kallayi! (For those unfamiliar with the area, Kallayi is just 1 km before Kozhikkode). My mother informed me that we had been waiting here for the past ten minutes. Evidently, we were being held up due to lack of platform availability at CLT. After an agonising wait of nearly forty minutes, during which the 6308 CAN-ERS Express crossed us, we were finally given clearance and pulled into PF-1 of CLT at 07.05, ten minutes late! The 2618 Mangala Lakshadweep Express was on PF-3. Breakfast was sold at CLT and a number of vendors were vying for our attention with a variety of items â€" the infamous 'concrete' idlies, vadas, porotta-curry, appam-curry etc. Since it was Gandhi Jayanti, non-vegetarian food was not being sold and hence I missed having egg curry with the appams! However, the vegetarian alternative was quite good. Just as we finished breakfast, the train pulled out of CLT at 07.15 after a prolonged halt, now 15 minutes late. That only spurred on the LP, and we had a sizzling run after CLT, maintaining 90 kph over several stretches.

The monsoon was just coming to a close and the beauty of the Kerala coast was in full view. Lush green vegetation on either side of the tracks, supplemented by the omnipresent coconut trees, dominated the scenery as we raced towards CAN. We crossed several rivers and streams, and the inviting blue waters, occasionally garnished with a couple of small boats, made the view all the more spectacular. The morning sun was just caressing the train, and the picturesque stations that we rapidly flew past put me in a poetic mood and I recalled these lines from Christina Rossetti's poem:

Faster than fairies, faster than witches/ bridges and houses, hedges and ditches All along like troops in a battle/ rush past the meadows the horses and cattle Ever again in the wink of an eye/ painted stations whistle by.

This dream run was rudely cut short by a sudden deceleration and screeching of brakes, as we ground to an unscheduled halt in Quilandi at 07.35. We were cleared after five minutes, and the train rapidly picked up speed. Hardly had we crossed a couple of stations when we were brought to a halt again at Tikkoti at 07.50. It was now evident that we were trailing a slow-moving train (as I later found out, it was the CLT-CAN passenger). We were crossed by the 6349 Parasuram Express here. Resigned to his fate, the LP did not speed up much and we had a sedate run till Vadakara. On the way, we crossed Payyoli, the hometown of P.T. Usha, and I imagined the great lady in her youth many years ago, training by trying to outrun the trains here!

We reached Vadakara at 08.05, six minutes late, and left at 08.15, delayed by 15 minutes. The LP's attempts to make up time were thwarted by the section controllers, resulting in another unscheduled halt at Mahe, before we finally pulled into Thalasseri at 08.40, now 21 minutes late! Shortly before Thalasseri, I had my first vista of the magnificent Arabian sea, where the tracks, NH-17 and the beach run parallel for about 300 m. The sea was shimmering in the morning sun, and the coconut trees on the other side of the track completed the postcard-perfect picture! We had yet another prolonged halt at Thalasseri till 08.50, and the moment we were given the clear, the enraged LP vented out all his frustration on the throttle, and we thundered across the bridge-filled TLY-CAN section at 90-100 kph! After a blistering run, unhindered by the section controllers who gave us one green signal after another, we pulled into PF-3 of CAN at 09.05, 15 minutes early! We had covered the last 22 km in just 15 minutes, at an amazing 88 kph! The passenger, which had delayed us en route, was on PF-1. Thus came to an end my magnificent trip on the 6527.

Social obligations fulfilled, it was now time to return to Bangalore. We wanted to reach Bangalore on Sunday itself, in order too enable folks to get back to work without hassles on Monday, and in the absence of a direct train from CAN on Saturday, we booked a through ticket from CAN-KJM via the 2602 MAQ-MAS mail (CAN-PGT) and 6525 CAPE- SBC express (PGT-KJM). Although this gave us only 50 minutes at PGT, I was quite happy to be able to get another daytime vista of the Malabar coast. Accordingly, we arrived in CAN at 14.30 itself, only to be informed that our train was running late by 15 minutes. Just as we arrived, 6306 CAN-ERS Intercity was being hauled out of PF-3 by an unknown ERS WDM2. Shortly afterwards, the CAN-SRR Passenger was hauled out by an ERS WDM2 #16874. At 15.10, an announcement was made that the 2602 was now running 10 minutes late, and an apology for the delay was also tendered! At 15.40, the 387 CBE-MAQ fast passenger pulled in. This train had 16 coaches, including one parcel van, and all the remaining 15 coaches were jam-packed! A couple of hundred passengers alighted from the train, and almost twice that number got in! When it finally left at 15.45, it was filled with passengers sitting, standing, squatting, hanging; on the seats, luggage racks, in the aisles, between seats, and at of the doorways � in all, everywhere but the roof � but I guess Kerala commuters are too 'civilised' to try out such things, unlike their counterparts elsewhere in the country.

Just as the 387 cleared the home signal, our train arrived at great speed behind a horn-blaring ED WDM3D #11201. The braking of the loco was terrific, and even though the loco and the first few coaches hurtled past us rapidly, the train rapidly slowed down and our coach S9 glided to a halt just where we were standing. All SL coaches on this train had also been SMB-ed! In contrast to SWR, SR had done a very shoddy job of handling the whole affair. There was just one chart pasted outside, that too showing the old numbers (1-72), and even the TTE did not have the new charts and was struggling to allot the correct seats based on the new numbering scheme. In the end, he had to make do in a rather clumsy manner � by counting the bay number (as it would have been with the old configuration) and allotting people the same berths given on their tickets. Naturally, there was even more confusion while allotting berths to RAC ticket holders, but we escaped that as we had confirmed tickets. It took him a whole fifteen minutes to clear the confusion in our coach, and by then the train had left Kannur and was cantering on to its next halt, Thalasseri. I settled down at the window and began my second round of Malabar sightseeing. We pulled into Thalasseri at 16.12, ten minutes late. The tracks adjacent to the opposite platform were being determinedly swept clean by a small army of SR staff, and their effort to keep their small station clean impressed me very much. Other, bigger, stations ought to learn a lesson or two in cleanliness from this tiny station on the Malabar coast! We left Thalasseri at 16.15, and shortly afterwards I was able to view the Arabian sea from the train, shimmering in the afternoon heat. We veered away from the sea and passed through a series of steep cuttings that continued up to Vadakara, where we pulled in at 16.47, now 13 minutes late! In between, we had a brief halt at Mahe, which was very poorly patronised � only a handful of passengers. Surely an important superfast train deserves not to halt at every sundry station? We left Vadakara at 16.49, now 14 minutes late! It was a hot afternoon and the sultry breeze carried with it the heavy smell of vegetation. The scenery around was lush green, dotted with patches of red, where tiled houses stood, and occasionally a blur of movement when NH-17 passed by the side of the tracks. Quilandi was crossed at 17.10 after a quick halt, and shortly afterwards the highway ran parallel to us for quite a distance. Our LP was heading the train at top notch (about 90 kph), and it was great fun to watch the tiny cars, and even the monstrous lorries and buses being outrun by our mighty train! At other points, rows and rows of coconut trees lining the sides of the track kept us company all the way.

The CLT-CAN section is fully doubled, and this certainly enabled us to maintain a good pace, with no requirement of crossings. En route, we crossed two freighters, as well as a slightly late- running Mangala Lakshadweep Express. Through replacement of track fittings had not yet been completed on the older UP line, and hence it consisted mostly of steel sleepers, with a few patches of concrete sleepers in between (at station yards or around LC's). The newer DN line, on which we were travelling had concrete sleepers for the entire length. The entire section has MACL signalling. An excellent run after Quilandi enabled us to make up some lost time and we pulled into PF-3 of Kozhikkode at 17.30, now only 5 minutes late. I could see the newly-constructed, but yet to be inaugurated, PF's 4/5 on my right. This is where I had a tryst with the famous halwa � courtesy the numerous vendors who were selling it on the platform. According to me, it was pretty decent, but my mother, who is a connoisseur of halwa, made a face and declared it to be a let-down, concluding that the 'really tasty' halwa could only be procured from the city's specialised stores! Anyhow, Kozhikkode continued to disappoint, with surprisingly watery tea, not at all like the tea served in Kerala's 'thattu kadas'. We tried salvaging some hope by purchasing pazham porri (banana fritters), hoping that at least these would be good, but alas! We ought to have known better. They were oily and insipid. Just as we managed to finish them off, a vendor passed by selling vadas! We looked at one another and said in unison: NO WAY! Just then, the train started to pull out. I looked at my watch and was surprised to see that it was 17.45! We had been detained here for ten minutes longer than scheduled, and our delay had slipped to 15 minutes! The delay, however, enabled us to witness a spectacular sunset over the Kadalundi river, ironically the same place that had consigned our counterpart, the UP mail to a watery grave several years earlier. This time, I was glad that it was the sun that was sinking and not us! The sunset was ethereal � the waters shimmering red with the dying rays of the sun, the barely discernible dark green of the many coconut trees dotting the shoreline, silhouettes of a few small boats returning home, and our train speeding past it all at 75 kph over the twin bridges and the island in between. Darkness rapidly set in after this, and the five stoppages that we had en route ensured that we maintained the 15 minute delay till Shoranur, where we pulled into PF-5 at 19.50. En route crossings included the CBE-CAN passenger (overcrowded as usual), the SRR-CLT passenger (less crowded), one freighter, the MAQ- bound Parasuram Express, and another express train which I presume was the LTT-bound Netravati.

I got down at SRR to watch the loco change. Just as I did so, the 6307 ERS-CAN Express pulled out of PF-4, behind an unknown loco. The CBE-TCR passenger was on PF-3, with an ED WAP4 #22219. I moved to the front of the train. It was 19.55, and the WDM3D had decoupled itself and moved onto an adjacent track. I waited till 20.00, but there was still no sign of the electric loco! I ran back to my coach and informed my anxious folks about this. Tension started to build up. What if we missed the train at PGT? While we were cursing ourselves for having booked such a risky connection, I was hopeful that the electric loco � particularly if it was a WAP4 � would make up the time. We finally pulled out of SRR at 20.10, after an agonising 20 minute halt � double the allotted time. I am still unable to figure out why the SRR staff took so long to change the loco.

The new LP seemed to be acutely aware of the delay, which had now ballooned to 25 minutes, and he did his best by touching MPS at a couple of stretches on the SRR-Ottappalam section. However, he was hindered by speed restrictions and a spate of caution signals (I later realised that we were trailing the Nilambur Road-Palakkad Passenger) and we eventually pulled into Ottappalam at 20.22 and left a minute later, now 23 minutes late. After Ottapalam, we received a series of greens, overtaking the passenger at Mankara, and our LP drove like a man possessed, hurtling through stations at MPS! After an exhilarating run, we pulled into PF-3 of PGT at 20.45, the delay now reduced to just 10 minutes. We heaved a sigh of relief while I said a silent tribute to the loco and the LP! The last 32 km had been covered in just 22 minutes, at an amazing 87 kph!

We procured our dinner from Palakkad. While we were waiting for our train, the passenger arrived on PF-1 at 20.55. Shortly afterwards, 6042 ALLP-MAS express pulled in at 21.15 behind an AJJ WAP4 #22617. Although this train is an MAS division train, almost all of its coaches were based at TVC! The train was quite crowded. At 21.35, our train arrived behind ED WAP4 #22659, 10 minutes late! Astonishingly, this train has not been SMB-ed and all its coaches still have either 72 (SL) or 64 (3A) berths! Just as we boarded the train, consecutive announcements were made indicating the arrival of the West Coast express and Millennium Superfast express at 21.50. We pulled out at 21.40, still running 10 minutes late. I had dinner and retired to my berth (MB). The weather was getting increasingly hot and sultry and it took a while for me to fall asleep.

I was woken up the next morning around 05.30, shortly after we left Malur. After the blistering heat of the previous night, the cool Bangalore morning breeze was refreshing. We pulled into WFD at 05.42, and left at 05.45. I spotted the rakes of the Golden Chariot, an unknown passenger as well as the GR rake that had earlier been spotted by VSP and Binai(refer messages #196872 and #196875). After WFD, the scenery gradually shifted from fields to clusters of houses that made up the urban sprawl of Bangalore. We maintained a good clip till KJM, where we arrived at 05.56, 8 minutes late! We alighted at KJM and just as we crossed the FOB, the train departed at 05.58. As it receded into the distance, I felt the memories of a wonderful trip also gradually departing, but the visage of those wonderful coconut trees and the taste of the not-so-wonderful Kozhikkode halwa, lingered on long after I had reached home!

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