7 weeks of enjoyment on Indian Railways

by Shirish Paranjape


It was time to experience the joys of Indian Railways again - in all its moods. This `reward' comes as part of our family's once-in-two- years holiday in India.

Preparations, of course, began months in advance. Bookings were made using IRCTC. Booking about a dozen individual journeys through IRCTC was a breeze â€" all transactions went through ok. The first `touch- point' of IR was positive. Good.

Apart from train travel, one highlight of this visit was being able to connect with several other IRFCA members. I use `connect' because I could meet some, but only talk to some others.

Well, our rendezvous with IR started well before we touched the shores of India. As a family who has a natural preference for rail travel, we also experienced 2 Malaysian Railways' trains â€" from Singapore to Malaysia & back. Both of these were powered by our own (ex-IR) YDM4 locos. It was wonderful to hear, see and feel the throbbing of an ALCO power. Added to that is the gentle rock and sway of Meter Gauge. All in all, it was a very positive experience as a traveler as well as a rail-fan. More about these travels later.

2 Dec 2008

Our first contact with IR was not on a 2xxx train, but on the 2nd class carriage of an afternoon Central Railway Harbour line local from Andheri to CST â€" after taking two trusted Mumbai "autos" from Mumbai International Airport to Andheri train station. Against common wisdom that one should take an AC bus from Mumbai airport to Pune, we had chosen something that was closer to us at heart â€" a journey by 2nd class sitting carriage of Deccan Queen.

The journey by Deccan Queen was just as one would expect â€" simple and efficient. WCAM3 21944 kept a steady pace through the suburbs of Mumbai and promptly deposited us at Shivajinagar at 5 minutes past 8. The highlight of the journey â€" in particular to a Kiwi friend traveling with us â€" was the variety of food of offer. Take your pick from Vegetable cutlets, Omelette, Fried Fish (Fish n Chips), Cheese Toast, Kanda-bhajji (Onion bhaji), batata-wada (Potato-wada), sabudana-wada, wada-pav, chikki ……all fresh and economical.

Unable to make up my mind whether DQ's cutlets are better or Omelette, I had one of each. That didn't help clear the confusion â€" both were equally good!

8 Dec 2008

The return to Mumbai was equally business-like, again by Deccan Queen (although some members of the family had to travel by bus). Lead by WCAM3 21891, it was again a punctual performance.

During our stay at Pune, I could meet Apurva, Ashish and Hrushikesh (all together), and Sandeep Athavale (at a common relative's place).

18 Dec 2008

This was our big day out. We had decided to save (relatively) elsewhere, so that we can splurge on this sector. Yes, we were to take 2951 Rajdhani and travel by AC First Class! This was also my/our very first experience of LHB coaches. Having travelled AC1 by 2951 way back in 1996, there was also this feeling of comparison â€" wonder if this would turn out to be as good an experience as the one before.

In summary:

  • Food and the service was as good as before
  • LHB coaches were a disappointment â€" jerks and other aspects discussed several times on IRFCA
  • Punctuality was good up to Ratlam, but we reached New Delhi late by 45 m.

The amount of food that IRCTC offers to AC1 passengers is simply awesome (too much to say it another way).

No sooner that the train left BCT, mineral water bottles and newspapers ("Mid-day" and "Afternoon") were offered. Then orange juice came in cute little glasses. [The train had not even reached Mahalaxmi yet]. Before Andheri, tea/coffee choice was ascertained, and hand-towels and soaps distributed. Before Borivali, the snack trays arrived. It consisted of a vegetarian cheese sandwich, peas samosa, dry gulabjamun, roasted & salted cashew nuts, chocolate and tea/coffee. There was a wet face-tissue as well (as offered by airlines). The food was delicious and well presented.

The conductor who came thereafter had a hand-held device in addition to the conventional charts. He said it was a new device being tried on IR.

At 19:15 (~2 hours after the snack service), the tables were set up once again along with soup plateâ€"bowlâ€"spoon. The vegetarian soup option was hot and delicious corn & peas soup, served together with soup sticks and an excellent warm bun and Amul butter.

Other items that were laid out include Mahananda "Mast Dahi" (Indian- style Yogurt), tomato ketchup and Noga pickles.

The next course comprised hot and tasty vegetarian cutlets, pasta, salad and papad. We were already almost full by now, but the main course was yet to come.

The main course was in the form of dry potato vegetable, capsicum- paneer dry vegetable, dal, rotis, salad (different from the one served as entrée) and pulao (pilaf) â€" all being brought in repeatedly by the friendly and efficient staff. This was an `eat-as-much-as-one- wants' service â€" a culinary tear on wheels.

The dessert was an equally superb Anjeer (Fig) Ice cream, followed by sweet ginger-cubes as mouth-freshener.

What a fantastic meal service it had been! All items were prepared, presented and served well. The main IRCTC staff in-charge was Prakash Jadhav, who said he has been on Mumbai Rajdhani for 30 years!

The dinner service was complete by 20:30, the tables were cleared and the cabin cleaned. Then the beds were prepared as the train approached Vadodara for an on-time arrival.

The breakfast service was equally filling and consisted of corn- flakes, banana, toasts, butter & jam, vegetarian cutlets and omelette.

Here are a few points of comparison with respect to our journey in 1996.

The shiny brass vase with a solitary rose to welcome to the cabin was missing now. The rectangular hand-rests with attractive bright covers (4 of) that were present in 1996 were missing too. The substitutes were `normal' IR pillows in white pillow-covers. The absence of corridor-side window meant that the door had to kept open if you wished to enjoy the views on that side. In 1996, the dust-bin (rubbish-bin) was a cute stainless steel one; now it was a big plastic one â€" almost looking out of place. The absence of washbasin in LHB AC1 coaches has already been discussed on this forum.

The additions were individual reading lights and cell-phone charging sockets. And of course the jerks that come "free" with LHB rides, irrespective of the class you travel in.

Overall, my vote would be for ICF coaches. In particular some of the more recent ones are simply superb.

At Mumbai Central, I noticed a conventional corridor-type First Class coach in the incoming ADI-BCT Gujarat Express.

Our power was WCAM2P 21874 up to BRC and then WAP5 30007 GZB, marked fit for 160 KPH.

Other things noted include: - a massive 61-coach freight train at Dahanu Road, north-bound - literally dozens of northbound freight trains between Palwal and TKD on the left most (West-most) line, simply one behind another. I think sometimes there was no signal between two successive trains. It was as if, a train of trains - laid one after another for miles together.

19 & 20 Dec 2008

Thanks to sound advice from Shanx, our booking was at Ginger Hotel (erstwhile Rail Yatri Nivas), New Delhi Railway Station. At Rs. 1000 (including taxes) for a family room, which sleeps 4 adults, this is indeed excellent value for money. The rooms are clean and AC was working well â€" not that it was needed. The USP is obviously close proximity to NDLS (that saves the trouble of haggling with Delhi autos). Thoroughly recommended for anyone visiting Delhi.

On his further advice when I spoke to him at Delhi, we undertook an exploratory return journey on Delhi Metro, from the just-next-door New Delhi Metro underground station to Kashmiri Gate, and then on another train to trans-Yamuna suburb of Dishad Garden. The next day, we travelled from New Delhi to Rajiv Chowk (Connaught Place) and back.

We found the overall experience very positive. It is a matter of pride and satisfaction that Delhi Metro is as good as anyone else in the operations part of it. It is great to see that DMRC is spreading its wings even further. The negative experience was that people tried to get in before those on the train (we included) alighted.

21 Dec 2008

Travel on the fastest train on Indian Railways.

Well, this was our planned schedule for the day. We were to travel by Bhopal Shatabdi Express up to Agra Cantt, spend the day doing sightseeing at Agra, and then take our favourite Grand Trunk Express from Agra to Itarsi.

Checkout at Ginger was swift, and no time we were at New Delhi station, platform 1. What greeted us was not the shiny rake of Shatabdi but heaps after heaps of used white bed-sheets (from bed- roll sets) lying on the platform in a highly un-organized way. [Upon reading Karan's report, I am guessing these bed-sheets were from the incoming JAT-NDLS Rajdhani] Some were getting wet; some were getting pulled away from the heap by the passing trolleys. I wondered if there was not a better way to manage this.

It was foggy, but the LP confirmed that the MPS remains 150 kph. However, the run to Agra was totally disappointing. The train often speeded up, only to start braking again. This cyclic pattern meant that it ran at MPS was no more than 2 minutes continuously.

The result was that we reached Agra Cantt at 08:58 instead of 08:12, which is 46 minutes' delay in a run of 2 hours. Faridabad was passed at 06:57, Mathura Jn a08:21, d08:24. We crossed both 2925 Paschim Express (standing on PF) and 2951 Mumbai Rajdhani at MTJ, and both were behind GZB WAP5s. Immediately thereafter, we crossed 2627 behind a BSL WAP4.

Later that night, we found ourselves again at Agra Cantt station, waiting for 2626 Grand Trunk Express. Looking at last whole week's performance of the train [on www.trainenquiry.com], I had expected the train to be about 45 minutes late. It did not disappoint!

Grand Trunk arrived at 22:30 (STA 21:47) - 43 minutes late - behind a shiny ED WAP4. On entering our 3AC coach we found that it had been SMB-ed, and that most passengers in the 2 bays we had got split into were in wrong berths. It took about 20 minutes to sort out everything and climb into my very own SMB.

I have one comment about allocation in SMB coaches.

On 2616, when we made the bookings, the ERS showed berth numbers and positions according to the non-SMB configuration. These berth numbers were retained, which meant that I got SMB with no. 54.

However, when my sister-in-law traveled by 2136 ex NGP to Pune on 3 Jan 09, we found that all the berth numbers had been reallocated, so that passengers retained there berth positions. This means the SMBs were allocated last. To me, this was a more beneficial for passengers who had booked ahead.

I must admit that once I was in my sleeping position, SMB appeared no different than a conventional SUB. During the night I felt as if the train was running on a bed of silk â€" no sound from the rails, no jerks, no sudden braking, no sound of horn. It was an ideal journey. The coach was very new â€" Oct 2009, numbered WGACCN1 SR 08118C. I only got up when we were leaving Bhopal at 06:30 (STA 05:25).

I stood at the door after Obaidullaganj to admire the Barkhera-Budni ghat section. What a thrill it was. I also found several changes that were new to me - which include different ways of securing the rocks adjacent to the tracks. Another new (for me) thing was that the train did not stop at Midghat; just slowed down and picked up speed immediately thereafter. [There is a 30 kph sign there].

We bid farewell to Grand Trunk at Itarsi at 07:48 (28 m late).

I will report observations at Itarsi, Nagpur station and loco sightings etc. in a separate post.

24 Dec 2008

On 24th, we took 2622 Tamilnadu Express from Itarsi to Nagpur. Apurva Bahadur and Lalam were on the same train, in the same coach, and in fact, in the adjacent bay. They were returning to Pune via Nagpur, after accompanying Dr. Mani Vijay and others on the Khandwa-Indore MG trip.

Thanks to Apurva being on the train, I kept getting regular updates about its location, till it finally pulled in to Itarsi at 11:38 behind ED WAP4 22390. The departure was at 11:45. Our coach S6, SR 06250 had a CBC coupler, but the jerks were far less pronounced than in LHB. At Dharakhoh (a 12:59), 2 x WAG5 bankers were very quickly attached. We crossed Amla Jn at good speed (13:45) before finally reaching Nagpur at 15:55. The run between ET and NGP was excellent (4h 10m) except a few caution orders. The veg lunch of sambar, mixed vegetable curry, hot parathas, rice and curd was very tasty as well, although it was served very late at 14:30.

At Nagpur station, I briefly met Satish Nair, and said good-bye to Apu and Lalam.

On 27th Dec, VSP and Bharath Moro were passing through NGP, arriving by 2130 Azad Hind and departing on 28th by 2724 AP Exp. I met them on their arrival and we spent some quality time together in their retiring room. One of the results of this meeting - and thanks to VSP always carrying around his pack of train timetables â€" was the inspiration of my next trip. On their recommendation, later seconded by Alok, I decide to make a quick trip on a NG train.

I cannot thank VSP, Bharath and Alok Patel enough for their guidance. My trip from Nagpur to Chhindwara and back proved to be one of the most memorable experiences for me. Although traveling on IR for over 40 years, I had never done an overnight NG trip.

3 & 4 Jan 09

I booked my Sleeper class berths one day before the journey via IRCTC (there is a quota of 10 berths). My onward journey was by 7 NRC departing NGP at 22:30. It was an 11-coach rake, with a very clean Sleeper coach. The arrangement of seats is 2 × 2, with berths on top - along the length of the carriage. The coach had 1 toilet at each end â€" which were clean too. Seats and berths were both padded. The berth was nice and comfortable. Occupancy was 100% - although most booked berths or seats on the spot through TTE, not in advance like me. The good thing was that there were no extra passengers. ZDM 237 powered our train towards its destination. I recall at least 2 crossings during the night. The nice rocking motion, moderate speed of 25 kph max and the throbbing sound of the loco â€" all combined to become a true delight for a rail-fan like me.

The arrival at Chhindwara was on time at 04:45. My return booking was by 2 NRC, which meant I did not have to change anything â€" same rake, same coach, and same berth. Early morning tea at Chhindwara was refreshing. I noted BG platform on one side, and a long continuous platform with 2 x individual platforms for NG. Our train was occupying one of these. The other NG platform had a connecting service to Nainpur. A lot of passengers from our train 7 NRC ran to catch seats on this connecting train. The station (at least the NG part which I saw) was extremely well maintained and impressive.

Another ZDM (222) took off with our train 2 NRC at the scheduled time of 05:25. The running throughout was smooth, and we were on or before time at all stations en-route. The thing that struck me was the friendliness of the staff including stationmasters â€" on the route. They would happily allow and participate in my photography, and provide information about the area. One of them said I must come again with family, and that he would be happy to arrange accommodation at Forest departments Rest House near some famous local falls and forests.

The good run was spoilt by the outer signal at Itwari where we waited from 11:05 to 11:12 (7 minutes). We eventually arrived at Nagpur exactly 7 minutes late, at 11:27.

But what a wonderful round trip it had been. What a way to begin the New Year!

2951 at one end of the scale, and 7 NRC at the other â€" both with their own distinct charms. I felt a twinge in my heart at the realization that the days of these beautiful NG services are numbered. Rail-fans, do go out and enjoy these little cuties while we still can.

5 Jan 2009

Today, we were to take our trusted train 2106 Vidarbha Express, to return to Mumbai.

As we waited at Nagpur station for the on-time arrival of 2106, a late running 2724 Andhra Pradesh Express was cleared to go at 16:45. Within exactly 5 minutes of departure of this train, 2102 Jnaneshwari Express, running right time was cleared to go too. It left at 16:54 behind Santagrachi (SRC) WAP4 22576. At 16:40, 1039 Maharashtra Express arrived behind BSL WAP4 22680 "Khandesh".

Our train arrived behind BSL WAP4 22514 exactly on time at 17:00 and departed at 17:15.All AC3 coaches were with SMB. Our coach B3 was an excellent clean and new coach â€" WGACCN, CR 08104, April 08.

At Badnera, Zubin & his lovely little daughter had come all the way to meet me. We spent a few minutes knowing about each other before 2106 made another on-time departure.

This was another terrific journey â€" smooth, noiseless, jerk-free, no extra stops â€" just efficient. We slept well through the night as the train continued its westward journey, and finally deposited us right time at Dadar station. This journey was perhaps even better than the one on 2616 on 21 Dec. Thank you, IR, for such wonderful experiences.

The only little downside was that the tea at Badnera station was not as good as it used to be. We as a family have had the tradition of savouring the Badnera tea for many years now.

Another observation relates to the angle of reading lights. When the light of the SU was switched on (the little girl there was `playing' with it), it directly hit my eyes â€" I was on inside upper berth. And man, these lights ARE bright, I say!

Our last two journeys on IR consisted of a return trip from Mumbai to Pune.

12 Jan 2009

This journey meant another new travel experience for me â€" a ride behind a WDP4 loco. We took 6529 Udyan Express. The WDP4 did full justice and kept the train on schedule, until we hit a 10-minute hold- up at Akurdi. [Next morning's newspapers carried reports of 3 young men's unfortunate death having been run over by Mumbai-bound Deccan Queen]. We arrived late by 8 minutes at Pune.

14 Jan 2009

This was to be the last IR main-line journey during this holiday. The first as well as journeys were both on Deccan Queen. The run up to Lonavala behind WCAM3 21891 was superb â€" we reached LNL 8 minutes before time. Karjat was passed at 08:55, Kalyan at 09:38 and Dadar reached exactly at 10:15. I noticed work progressing inside Parsik Tunnel â€" there was a TSR in place..

The last `local' journey too offered a different reward. The WR Churchgate-Malad fast local, which we took between Dadar and Andheri â€" was a MVRC rake (107A05). The feeling of space and airiness due to its open-plan design impressed me. The ventilation was excellent. The overall looks were very clean and good. The `open' partition between I and II class is a good idea, I think, from passenger security perspective. The acceleration seemed to better than with conventional DC-only rakes. The display and announcement system was working, although there was an unpleasant crackle when the motorman spoke over the PA system. It was perfect when `automated' announcements were on.

It was coincidental that my first and last M/E journeys were on Deccan Queen, an eternal favourite since my childhood. It was a further co-incidence that my first and last train journeys were both on Mumbai locals â€" beginning with a conventional DC-only CR Harbour service, and ending with a brand new WR MVRC service.

Connecting with IRFCA members

While in India, I could speak to Dr. Mani Vijay, Giridhar Patnaik and Poochi Venkat; and to Dr. Saifullah while at Singapore in transit.

In a way, it was strange that Dr. Mani (from USA) and I (from New Zealand) came within 300 km of each other, probably more than once, during our respective travels. On the other hand, I was lucky to be in the same coach as Apurva (and Lalam) on 2622, each one of us totally oblivious of this when the bookings were made!

In summary:

All in all, this was yet another thoroughly enjoyable holiday in terms of what IR has to offer to the passengers in general, and to us rail-fans in particular.

We had enjoyed AC1 on 2951, the famed food & efficiency of Deccan Queen, the thrill of an overnight Narrow Gauge trip, the rides on Grand Trunk, Tamilnadu and Vidarbha Expresses (all amongst my favorite trains), a ride behind a WDP4, rides on LHB coaches and Delhi Metro, and meeting/speaking to several IRFCA members. What else can one ask for!

Thanks for your patient reading. I am posting the observations about locos and trains (for those who love numbers) separately.

Post Script:

While I was compiling this Trip report at Christchurch, I got this mail from my daughter Neha, who was still in India. It relates to my daughters' (Neha & Shreya) travel on Deccan Queen from Pune to Mumbai on 28 Jan 2009.


Well, we are both back from Pune. Got home at 11.25 after an absolutely amazing and emotional train ride!

DQ was just totally awesome - no words to describe it. Left Pune bang on time at 7.15 am. After we left from Pune, the train sped up straight away. Before we knew it, we were at Lonavala - 10 minutes before time!!! Also crossed Indrayani there, so I'm guessing that was running before time too! Shreya and I couldn't believe how fast the train went between Lonavala and Karjat! As soon as DQ got into Mumbai. it just went for it - so incredibly fast - it was getting hard to even just stand! Arrived into Dadar at 10.15 sharp. We then took a Borivali slow from Dadar and reached home at 11.25 - so it was a very fun journey back. I ate two cutlets, 2 cups of coffee and 1 cup of masala chai. Shreya had chai and cutlets! Great fun.

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