Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Destination-Shillong

           The Destination-Shillong!!!
                                      By Deepesh Soni.
          This trip hitherto remains my longest train journey, albeit I was not able to complete my trip due to a minacious circumstance. My plan to travel to Shillong was set up very well in advance and Shillong holds a special place in my heart And being a railway enthusiast, undoubtedly, I excogitated to reach Shillong by taking longest train route possible, eventually coming up with a plan to, first, travel to Bangalore from Mumbai, then take a train to Guwahati, and then a bus/cab ride to Shillong city, a total distance of ~4500KM and travel time of ~80 hours.
         The return journey, however, was not gratifying at all and I was in hurry to reach home, missed my evening flight to Mumbai but did manage to board the next day morning flight from Kolkata (Calcutta).

          Mumbai to Shillong via Bangalore….!!
 I was very happy that I finally managed to schedule a trip to Shillong but being a railfan, I have always preferred to take longer route and this trip was no different!! After contemplating different routes to reach Shillong including taking a train ride via New Delhi, I opted to travel, first, to Bangalore by 11013DN Mumbai-Coimbatore express which is evidently quicker than its counterpart the 16529DN Udyan express and would be perfect for me as I wouldn't have to spend more time in Bangalore city before I board 12509DN Bangalore-Guwahati express. I was getting very excited as the day of travel (December 6th, 2011) was closing in and just a couple of days ahead of my trip, I was all set up with my backpack but what really surprised me was that even my mom helped me pack my bag which she never did before!!!!  
     The schedule departure of my train (Mumbai-Coimbatore express) from Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (LTT, Mumbai) was 10:35PM and this terminus very close to my house, I was no hurry. I left my house after 9:30PM and I was sure I'll get a cab rather easily but I gotten blown out of water when nobody agreed to ferry!!! How am going to reach?? I thought!!! It was already 10PM. The other option was to board suburban train but this wasn't too easy as I'd have to change the train twice, besides not to mention the rush hour crowd in Mumbai suburban trains, but I finally did opt to board suburban (local) train and fortunately it wasn't too crowded. I reached LTT mere 20 minutes before the departure of my train. The Mumbai-Coimbatore express was already berthed on platform#2 and while entering the platform, I was about to get frisked by the security but they allow me to go without frisking maybe because I spoke with them in English and they kind of find it weird. Well...this is not unusual with me!!! This train being a 22-coach train and my coach being 5th from the engine (loco), I had to walk a lot of distance. 
Anyway, whatever said and done, the rail-fan in me ignited upon seeing the loco link of my train, a WDP-4 20046 from KJM depot/shed, was facing long hood forward.  Right at 10:35PM, the loco engineer (pilot) started to accelerate out of LTT and gradually gaining more speed as it rolled on the newly laid 5th line. The speed was just about okay until it reached Thane, the first schedule stop. The maximum speed it touched was 75KMPH however after Thane, the train took no time to reach 100KMPH, and once in a while it did 105KMPH.
        The second schedule stop was Kalyan Junction and for some reason we reached 10 minutes late, maybe due to numerous caution orders…… however after we left Kalyan Junction, I guess the only thing the loco engineers did was to put the joystick in accelerating mode! We were cruising at 105 for most of the time after being hit by a speed restriction of 20KMPH and as a result we reached Karjat on time.
I started to feel a little tired and considering a very long journey, I didn’t think twice before taking forty winks ……however I did see the WAG-7 class loco ‘bankers’ (locos used to assist the trains to climb the mountains) getting attached to my train. I also saw the armed guards patrolling the train constantly as this train passes through one of the dangerous routes on the Indian Railways. I woke-up when the train was about to roll into Pune Junction, running on time. A bunch of passengers disembarked here however a lot of people boarded the train; I guess a few of them were genuine passengers while others were so-called railway employees traveling to Solapur. As soon as the train rolled out of Pune, I decided to go to sleep.
The next day I woke-up to find my train stranded at a small station on a loop line. I knew the reason, crossing of trains from opposite direction due to single line diesel territory. We were 15 minutes into halt but no sign of train crossing; however it was after 25 minutes I saw a passenger train bound for Solapur coming to a halt. We were still made to wait even after the passenger train left and I overheard from one of my co-passengers that ‘KK’ a.k.a Karnataka express bound for New Delhi will soon cross and sure it was. After about 50 minutes I saw this ‘KK’ with twin WDM-2A class locos from Itarsi shed/depot skipping the station from one of the loop lines. This ‘KK’ express has an interesting history, I will divulge it later!! We finally got the starter and rolled out of the station. I wondered if we were an hour late, well… not quite!! The run was reasonably good, touched 100KMPH speed regularly and I’d say the WDP-4 did a good job!! We were running on time thanks to the slack time given to this train. Meanwhile, I’ve had a good chat with the pantry guy, he sounded interesting fella with good knowledge of train timetable. He was very curious to know if I was from USA and didn’t believe me when I said I’m from Mumbai!!! I have noticed one thing while traveling especially by train that a lot of people are very curious to learn but finds difficult to initiate the talk but once they do start, they become very close to us…so close that we feel like we have known them for ages!!! I was as usual enjoying the train ride, seeing the beautiful countryside made me feel very happy and of course the cold climate outside.
Later in the day I was fortunate enough to meet one of the railway officials traveling to Bangalore from Guntakal. It wasn’t difficult for me to start the conversation with him; I saw the railway ID card and asked him if he worked for the South Western Railway, his reply was affirmative!! After taking about the basic operation of the Indian Railways, I started to talk about the technical aspect and he was quite surprised to learn that I know a ‘lot’ of technical things about the Indian Railways. He said that he is working in the signaling department of the South Western Railway Zone. I’ve had a nice time with him, got to learn a lot of new things about the signaling system on the Indian Railways.  He also told me about the history of this KK express. The KK is actually prestigious Bangalore-New Delhi Karnataka express which in the 1970s used to run as Kerala-Karnataka express. One train used to start from Trivandrum as Kerala express and the other from Bangalore as Karnataka express and these 2 trains used to amalgamate at, I think, Secunderabad and hence the name KK express. Even after the separation of the 2 trains today, the name has stuck, sometimes for the one, sometimes for the other. 
 An unknown passenger train hauled by GTL WDM-2A class loco entering an unknown station 
                                                  The Sun sets but the journey goes on!!

I didn’t realize the time went by as I was so enwrapped in technical talk. Meanwhile, I saw a lot of trains passed by and though I don’t remember the name of each train, I did see Bhubaneshwar bound Prashanti express hauled by another WDP-4 class loco from KJM shed/depot and the other Chennai-Shridi express hauled by, I think, WDG-3A from GY shed/depot. But I did realize that my train was running late by an hour and I started to get a little worried because I didn’t want to miss my train to Guwahati and I’ve had a  1ittle over an hour to change over at Bangalore. When I enquired with one of the pantry guys, he said that the train would reach Bangalore City Junction (SBC) until after 11PM. I was appalled but I knew and was confident that we will make way before 11PM. As soon as we entered the suburbs of Bangalore I gotten very happy and even more so after I realize that the train is again running on time which means I will be at Bangalore City Junction at 10PM and will have about 1 hour 30 minutes. Fortunately the train didn’t take any unscheduled halt and entered SBC at 10PM, almost on time.
I was feeling a little tired after I got off of the train but was also excited to board Bangalore-Guwahati express for one reason; I always wanted to travel by this train to Guwahati. The Bangalore city looked very nice and clean, saw the new Bangalore ‘namma’ metro train system. ......However I would be wrong if I say I was not confused at Bangalore station, so I called up my good friend Akshay Iyer in Mumbai as he is very familiar and knows in and out of this place. He advised me that the train to Guwahati will depart from platform#6 and sure it was confirmed by the digital indicators on the platform. The crowd at the platform got denser; I guess almost everybody wanted to go to Guwahati and the worst affected was steerage. The train was scheduled……. but there was no sign of train even after 11PM (the schedule departure was 11:30PM). Meanwhile I saw 11013 Mumbai-Coimbatore express departing Bangalore after reversing, hauled by another loco i.e. WDM-3D class from Erode shed/depot on its way to Coimbatore, another 7 hours journey. At 11:10PM, my train (12509 Bangalore-Guwahati Superfast express) finally got shunted and I was shocked to see the un-reserved coaches getting completed satiated even before the train came to a complete stop. My coach was once again 5th from the loco (Coach# B3, a 2005 manufactured AC 3 Tier class, the coach was constructed at Rail Coach Factory, Kapurthala). I felt a lot better after I boarded the train and in the cold ambience, the only thing I wanted to do was to catch some Z’s………

...From Bangalore to Shillong cont...