Wandering Amidst NG Paradise

by Saurab Basu


Burdwan - Katwa Narrow Gauge Trip Report

This Trip, planned almost a couple of months back, came to light, on the 2nd of October, 2005. Abhijit, was back from the United Kingdom, to spent some time with his parents, in Kolkata and we had chalked out the itinerary much earlier, to schedule this unique tour, to traverse through the urban landscapes of the mystic Bengal. Accordingly, I was early to wake, that day, and started off from home at 07:00 AM. We had plans of taking the 09:32 AM Local - C 251 - Howrah - Bardhhaman JN Chord EMU. Starting from Dum Dum JN, I took the K 134 DN - Kalyani Simanta-Sealdah Local at 07:16 AM to reach Ultadanga (Bidhannagar Road) within 5 minutes. A two minutes walk from the station, took me to Abhijit's place. We had a round of tea and took the 08:00 AM bus from the Ultadanga Govt. Bus Depot, for Howrah. The route number - 15 reaches the destination in the quickest time, from here. Fare per person being Rs. 4.50 /-, we had two window seats and reached Howrah station in just 50 minutes, which might have turned out faster, but for the road-side Hat's (The Weekend Markets, that have people coming from sub-urb's to sell a variety of items). Once at Howrah, we headed for the Booking Office, and got ourselves two Tickets for Bardhhaman (via Chord - Dankuni DKAE) @ Rs.18/- per head. A good 20 minutes to spare, we took a peep into the Monginis Food plaza of Old Complex - Howrah, where I had a glass of chilled Pepsi, which Abhijit denied to part take of. Soon we had the announcement of the C - 251 leaving from Platform No.-7. This time I could do no spotting, because of the short time and so we moved towards the platform, where a jam packed EMU came in. This was the DN local, which was to leave within few minutes serving us. Once the passengers moved out, we boarded the train. It was a count full crowd, and we could manage only a single Window on the opposite direction, of our travel9. But it is the spirit of the game that matters and we started off quickly. The 3015-UP Howrah-Bolpur Shantiniketan Express was shunted in the adjoining Platform No - 8 by a WDS-6 and a Jamalpur WDM2 to serve as the Work horse, was smoking high, towards the front-end.

The Howrah Shed by then was already buzzing, with almost a dozen of loco's. Majority of then being WAP-4's, and a few trip Locos, a couple of WAP-7's and a WAM-4. It was a busy scene all through, with a couple of WAP-4's entering the station, serving Express services. A mixed rake was parked in the yard, with a package that included Janshatabdi, RMS and Rajdhani rakes linked together. The most attractive spotting were the LHB rakes parked near the shed. The shining silver, with the German feeling to it, made me feel proud. They seemed all set. I could count 5 - AC 3-Tier's, a couple of AC 2-Tier's and an AC First, coach. They were looking bright and futuristic.

Movement from here onwards was smooth. We were at Dankuni JN within 35 minutes. A blue and cream liveried WAG - 7 - 27735 NKJ, heading a long trail of Wagons was parked on the CC Link West near Belanagar Station. The DN Sealdah Rajdhani whizzed past, near the Dankuni Outer at round about 10:05 AM, with a WAP-7 on duty. We had stops at all the stations enroute. The next visitor to cross was the Howrah Rajdhani at around 10:15 AM after Gobra Station. I could not make out the loco, though. A long halt at Chandanpur from 10:30 AM to 10:55 AM, to allow the 3015 UP Howrah-Bolpur Shantiniketan Express, head through, made us a bit sloth and behind schedule as well. In the mean time we had some snacks and another round of tea, each.

Just as we steered on, a speedy Goods rake followed by a WAG - 5 rushed in the opposite direction, near the Jhapandanga Station. Ultimately, we reached Bardhhaman JN at 12:10 PM, 15 minutes behind schedule. Immediately, we rushed out and parked ourselves, in front of a tea stall. A bottle of mineral water and a cup of tea was enough to charge us up, for the next and the much awaited ride. Crossing across the long over-bridge, we landed on the Eastern most end of the station, Platform No. - 6. This is the NG platform which is dedicated to the services between Katwa JN and Bardhhaman JN. In South Bengal, the Bardhhaman - Katwa Narrow gauge is the most lavishly served network, with 5 pairs of service running every day. We found that the 4-coach Rail bus was already parked on the platform. There are two lines, one for the rakes to be parked and the other serves as the loco link, branch. The turnout of the Bardhhaman station is towards the south eastern end of the station, near the Loco Shed. We did not have much time to explore, and found that the train was almost full to capacity. One of the coaches was already packed with coal sacks, being illegally moved out of Bardhhaman. Later on we got to know that this coal was illegally broken out of the Wagons that are parked in and around the station, and moves to the black market, to be sold at high price. I do not know the percentage of truth, but could not but oblige the words of the locals.

The rail bus was a typical Central Railway Composition with a ZRB Class Diesel Loco on lead. This one was pretty similar to the one we traveled on the Ahmadpur JN - Katwa JN line. These rail buses have been brought in from Central Railways. Our NG Train had the following composition:

289 - UP BWN-KWAE NG Passenger Composition:

Coach Type Coach Number Details
ZRB Class Loco + II Gen. 10610 CR
2nd Class General (II) 10603 CR - Tare - 5.3 t
2nd Class General (II) 7044 ER - R-10-2006 - Tare-5.3t
2nd Class General (II) 10602 CR - Tare - 5.3 t

Three of the coaches with numbers - 10xxx had typical Central Railway Livery of Sky Blue and White Stripes, while the 7xxx coach was a patent ER livery of Green and cream combination, just like the one we boarded in the Shantipur JN - Nabadwip Ghat line. I took a few shots after taking down the statistics, and then it was time to set off.

I went to the NG Ticket counter to buy ourselves two tickets for Katwa JN. The booking clerk, punched two Board Tickets, and wrote on it KWF, canceling the printed destination - Chandanpur. The distance being 53 Km's in either case, we got to know that the counter does not have any printed tickets for Katwa, and they follow the process of writing on the tickets, with a signature. The fare being Rs.12/- per head, we were now ready to leave. A quick chat with the driver about the line, where he mentioned that this track is the best NG track in South Bengal, which, we were soon to notice by ourselves, as well.

We started dot on schedule at 12:30 PM from Bardhhaman Junction. Just after the start, we diverged towards the North-East direction, with a substantial curve, focusing ourselves into a single track territory, leaving beside on the left, the Main Broad-Gauge tracks towards Khana JN. It was a different feeling altogether. The first bridge on this section came in no time, and with greenery prevailing on both sides, made us feel the pure taste of rural Bengal. Soon we had a glimpse of the Industrial areas on our left, with Chimneys smoking high, on a cloudy afternoon. It was a steady start and I calculated the speed at round about 25 - 30 kmph, quite well when compared to the age of the tracks, similar to the Ahmadpur - Katwa Line.

We reached the first station - Kamnara Halt, at 12:45 PM. By then there was no proper room to fit ourselves. I was already disappointed after not getting a Window seat, but now the isle space was also packed. Abhijit and myself, we could not manage seats, side by side, and so both felt rather uncomfortable. While I was busy noting facts and features, he opted for a 'vintage' siesta. The line condition was pretty good, with maintenance activities being undertaken, at every endangered section. The next to come was Khetia Halt (Station Boards had written on them - Kshetia, while the time table has Khetia, mentioned in it!!), at 12:50 PM. These stations are all contracted halts, and none of them except Balgona have any Railway Employees in them. The first Level Crossing in this section came after Khetia. It was a manned L/C, and we dramatically lost pace after this. It was a 15 kmph run for quite some time before we reached Chamardighi Halt at 01:00 PM, Four minutes behind schedule. The countryside greenery and the village atmosphere took me away from the hassles of crowd gathering everywhere. We both seemed to be enjoying it. While I was sort of day-dreaming, Abhijit was exploring it all in the world of forty winks. Karjana came in no time at 01:07 PM. We had a brief stop, while the Rain Gods were blessing us with the best enthusiasm I have ever seen. Within a minute or two came Karjana Gram Halt, at round about 01:09 PM. Just after this was the second bridge in our route. The bridges are as puny as the train, and it is just exquisite to watch the rail bus traverse on it. I missed the shots, because of the crowd belt all round, blocking the door ways with sacks filled with forest fuel and wood chips.

The speed was at a constant 35 - 40 kmph by now, and we moved steadily, with a constant jerk from left to right. A typical NG jerk and bolt, that took us amidst one of the most versatile landscape, depicting the core of Bengal - Green. The condition of the track is also relatively better after Karjana Gram Halt. We reached Amarun at 01:17 PM. A whole lot of villagers climbed on to the roof the train, with their sacks tied on both sides of the compartments, by the windows. Bhatar Halt was reached at 01:35 PM, a bit late, due to stops in between. The track was undergoing some maintenance at these parts. After Bhatar Halt, we made it at a constant 40 kmph till the L/C near Balgona. Balgona is one of the busiest stations in this network, with a crossing enabled. Due to it being a Sunday, we did not have the Down Train, to meet us, and so it was a short halt, before we started off at 01:49 PM.

The villagers by now had completely blocked any remaining air space near the door ways, with their sacs and rugs. It was a jam packed compartment, with a loaded roof top too. I could just imagine how it feels to sit on top of an NG train, feeling the cool breeze along with some real jerks all round. The puny Rail Bus was now over crowded and the Guard decided to board the Loco instead of sitting in the rear end. The Loco was already packed with 10-12 people. They were enjoying a wondrous footplate, which we could not part take of.

It was raining cats and dogs by now, and with all the windows closed, it felt like suffocating. The windows are sizeable and airy, because of the Shutter system. The CR coaches are very comfortable, if they have normal passenger count on board. After Balgona, we steadied towards Saota Halt to reach there at 01:59 PM. We were merely 5 minutes late, and the villagers were all over the place. This is the only mode of transportation, which is cheap, comfortable and time saving between these remote corners of the state. The crowd was not too hostile, and astonished to find me continuously writing something or the other. One of the guys came ahead to ask me if I was a Press Reporter. He seemed to convince me that his English skills are quite proficient. I just gave him a smile and denied his guess work. He was not found too obliged to my words, and kept on insisting that I was from Press, and told me many of the hardships they face, as a daily passenger on this line. I could only listen to him. The words made me feel, how comfortable we are in life. Hardships and turmoil are the ingredients of these villagers, who desperately need some kind of a relief. To them life is a burden, where they have to toil hard right from the first lights of dawn till the thinning dusk and still they afford to smile. And we have everything, but still thrive for more.. Really in man's life satisfaction knows no bounds.

Time went by and we passed Negun at 02:09 PM. The coach seemed to get a bit vacant by now, and the Roof top party took the place in.

The third bridge in this section came nearly at around 02:12 PM over the tiny stream named Brahmani (Brahmani means the wife of a Brahmin or a sacred person). Work was going on near Kaicher for some sleeper replacement, and we found new metal sleepers piled up on both sides of the track. An NG Trolley laid side of the line, with 7 crew members on duty and inspection. The train halted for 10 minutes, and I got to see, that the old dilapidated wooden sleepers were being replaced by the metal ones. Just as we started off, another L/C (Manned) had some buses waiting for us to cross over. The track in this part of the route was thoroughly shining and well kept up. A Shunting Limit sign board greeted us to the second most important station in this section - Kaichar. We were running late by 14 minutes now, to reach Kaichar at 02:26 PM. A quick stop and some passengers rushed out, after which we trudged on. A group of village children bid us adieu on our way. These unknown faces had a glimpse of eternal happiness in bidding the passing train. The nest station to pass was Bankapasi at around 02:35 PM. By now the train was half empty, and I had myself a Window seat to satisfy some of my visual quests. The last bridge on this section was not too far away, when we crossed her over at around 02:43 PM. This one was more like a bridge with a Via-duct running across a deep flowing river. I would assume that to be the Adjai (Ajai as it is known, but Railways spell it that way). Just after this were the two remaining stations Srikhanda and Sripat Srikhanda within a span of three minutes. We left the later at 02:50 PM and negotiated multiple curves before entering the destination zone of Katwa. Katwa is a major township in the Bardhhaman (Burdwan) district. It is famed for its 108 Shiva Temples, located near Ambikakalna (25 km's away) and many more archaeological sites.

All of a sudden the Rail Bus slowed down, and this was to allow the Coal Smugglers unload their sacs from the third compartment. One by one fell Seven sacs packed with coal, and with them their owners hurrying towards them. After the unloading affair was over, we gained some pace, and soon the line from Ahmadpur JN came on to meet us, as we went past the NG Loco Shed to reach the buzzing hub of KATWA Junction.

In and Around Katwa:

Katwa Junction is one of the busiest Narrow Gauge-cum-Broad Gauge Rail Head in the South Central Part of Bengal. This is the biggest hub of Narrow gauge in South Bengal, serving as the Junction terminus, linking Ahmadpur JN in the north and Bardhhaman JN in the south, with 8 pair of daily services (5 - for Bardhhaman and 3 - for Ahmadpur). The Broad-Gauge services connect both Howrah and Sealdah, with passenger/EMU/Express Services to and from Azimganj and further towards the Northern regions. While towards the south, Bandel JN serves as the rail head towards Howrah (via Main Line) and Sealdah (Via Jubilee Bridge, Naihati JN).

After reaching Katwa JN, we followed our Loco on her way to the Turntable. The Turn Table helps in the reversal of the Loco. The Loco - ZRB 10610 got straight on to the table, where the railway men and many other local people turned out to give her a gentle push, and make way towards the opposite direction. Within five minutes she turned back, and started towards the shed. It was a happening scene, and I captured every single moment with great delight. It seemed to be just a kid's play event, with a puny loco being reversed, by human hands.

Back to the main station, where I shared a puff with the fuming locos, and went towards the NG Loco shed. Although I have had some snaps in and around, the last time, when Samit and myself, we had traversed from Ahmadpur, but still the quest for more took me back to revisit the NG paradise. Twin ZDM 5's were parked in the Loco Shed, which was a real spectacle to watch. Being permitted by the Foreman, I went on straight away to shoot the beauties. The ZDM 5 - 504 was all set to leave with a Down Service to Ahmadpur, while the ZDM 5 - 508 was a more patient customer, offering different angles to shoot her from. And so I did, till satisfaction, after which we came in to the NG Car shed, where the work horses of the by-gone days, still stand to tell their tale. The BK - 11 and BK - 13, Steam Locos have been and will remain to be the prime attraction of Katwa NG shed. Two ZRB locos were being maintained in here, as well.

The atmosphere, with a mystic touch to it, added to the approaching fall, and made me feel that yet another season of Rail fanning is now all set to trigger.

Katwa JN has some of the best NG stock, I have ever seen, starting from Steam Locos, Diesel stuff including ZDM's and ZRB's, Old Passenger coaches and to my surprise, puny Goods rakes as well. They remain parked on the side tracks, as if depicting the time when the Goods services used to run on these tracks. A BG Flatcar could be located on the side line, having a freshly painted NG Passenger coach, with ER markings on it. I got to know, that it had arrived from the Rupsa-Baripada Line, where Conversion work from NG to BG is in progress (or Complete?).

Katwa JN has two different sections with 6 Platforms in all. The first 4 platforms serve towards the BG Network, while the other 2 serve NG. Although, there is only 1 built platform for NG with three tracks in charge of the duties, but getting on and off the ground level is convenient in NG. Two Booking offices serve each side, one for BG and the other in the NG region.

Having explored the Katwa JN NG Paradise for almost every drop, it was time now bid adieu to the spectacular atmosphere. The KS - 2 DN Katwa - Sealdah local EMU was already parked on the platform adjoining to us. We took the tickets @ Rs.25/- per head for our return to Kolkata. It was a typical 9-coach EMU rake. We were both quite tired, and got ourselves good seats to head back towards home.

The return journey was not at all eventful, excepting the salesmen coming up in every two seconds to sell a variety of house-hold and other stuff that made life quite miserable. A journey of more than 4 hours is always tiring, and that also after a day, when we had already traveled 148 km's, including 53 km's of NG. There was no spotting as such, excepting the serene greenery on either side of the tracks, accompanied by a constant drizzle all way that made us feel the true colors of Mother Nature.

Evening 07:15 PM saw us on the Jubilee Bridge, and I drove back to the day when Samit and I had come to explore this architectural maestro. At Naihati JN, a WAG - 7 - 27513 NKJ in a Blue and cream livery, was spotted, amidst the focus of the Station Cabin. The fresh blue paint was kind of a dazzling, with the sparkles of the neon beams. It looked wonderful. From here on, the train turned into a galloping passenger service, with stops only at Barrackpore and Sodepur in its way to Dum Dum JN. We were at DDJ by 08:15 PM, late by 17 minutes, where I parted with Abhijit, who was to detrain at Bidhannagar Road, the next station. Both of us were damn tired, but satisfied after having a fantastic day, traversing through one of the most spectacular Greens and an exquisite ride on the NG network. Last but not the least was the satisfaction, in exploring the corners of a truly NG Paradise.

This was enough to make us feel better after a day long travel covering 272 Km's of Railway track.

Statistical Stuff:

289 - UP BWN-KWAE NG Passenger Schedule:

Station Arrival Departure
Bardhhaman JN 12:30 PM
Kamnara Halt 12:42 PM 12:43 PM
Khetia Halt 12:49 PM 12:50 PM
Chamardighi Halt 12:56 PM 12:57 PM
Karjana 01:00 PM 01:01 PM
Karjangram Halt 01:06 PM 01:07 PM
Amarun 01:15 PM 01:16 PM
Bhatar Halt 01:26 PM 01:27 PM
Balgona 01:42 PM 01:44 PM
Saota Halt 01:54 PM 01:55 PM
Negun 02:01 PM 02:02 PM
Kaichar 02:12 PM 02:13 PM
Bankapasi 02:24 PM 02:25 PM
Srikhanda 02:35 PM 02:36 PM
Sripat Srikhanda 02:40 PM 02:41 PM
Katwa JN 03:00 PM

Fare Details For the Complete Trip:

Originating Station Destination Station Class, Fare, and Km's
Howrah JN Bardhhaman JN II-Rs.18/-via Chord (95 km)
Bardhhaman JN Katwa JN II-NG-Rs.12/- (53 km)
Katwa JN Bidhannagar Road II-EMU-Rs.25/- (124 km)

Sincere Thanks To:

Abhijit Kapuria, my life time buddy and former part of the IRFCA - Kolkata Team. The Katwa JN NG Staff. And IRFCA, for bringing out the hidden Rail Fan in me.:-)

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