Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Destination - Shillong (cont....)

                                 From Bangalore to Shillong

One of the reasons for this trip was a conference on cancer research. Anyway, I was happy that I arrived at Bangalore on time and didn’t have to belt along to catch my train to Guwahati and  The platform#6 of Bangalore Jn. was totally crowded and I was not surprised to see the train completely full with no vacant berth and the passengers with RAC ticket status, as usual, started requesting for berths but the train conductor had only one answer i.e. “I am sorry”!!! Well..I really felt bad for those passengers who didn’t get proper sleep for over 50 hours.

My co-passengers were from different North Eastern states like Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, etc. It was rather strange that initially we were mere looking at each other's faces and gave those pseudo-smiles but later into the journey we become like one big family. was 11:35PM but the train didn’t start (schedule departure time is 11:30PM), I got little curious and wanted to check but the passageway was too crowded with passengers trying to secure their baggage under the seats. Finally at 11:45PM the train started to roll with, I think, WAP-4 class loco from RPM shed/depot at the helm, 15 minutes late. I started to wonder if we will get further delayed or reach Guwahati on time. The first schedule stop, Bangalore Cantonment, was not too far just a few KMs away, nobody boarded the train, at least not in my coach. As the train rolled out again, I decided to sleep and thankfully I got a very good sleep for over 6 hours as I was tired…….The next day I woke-up to find myself at Chennai Central station (MAS) with vox of ‘chai-chai’ buzzed in my ears. This is the first reversal point of this train (there are 3 reversals in all). After about a 40-min halt, the train roll out of MAS, I thought it was a WAP-4 class from Erode shed/depot hauling my train but it was not to be!!! It was a WAM-4 class loco from Arakorram shed/depot. The run was not so good with a lot of unscheduled halts but once we left Ongole, the loco pilots stepped on the gas and we were at Maximum Permissible Speed (MPS) of 110KMPH constantly for a long time but, of course, the loco struggled. At this point I wouldn’t say we were running on time but we weren’t too delayed either and given the slack time to this train, I was sure we will be back on schedule. 
I started to get a little bored but I was able to connect to the internet hence I got myself busy on my laptop for a long time. I also started to interact with my co-passengers and it was a good way to kill time. We discussed everything from my cell biology and molecular oncology to the Indian Army to the Chinese usurpation in Arunachal Pradesh etc; it was kind of fun yet informative. The next cubicle almost turned into a movie theater with loud Hindi movies being played on a laptop and around 12 people crowded the entire cubicle, exasperated a lot of other passengers.
Soon the train rolled into Vijayawada Junction, the next schedule stop delayed by 10 minutes. We’ve had a 30-minute stop because a parcel van got attached and that took a lot of time. Vijayawada reminds of my good old university mate Kotti Reddy, wanted to call him at the station but he stayed very far from the city center so decided against it. The run from Vijayawada to Vizag was a mixed bag, rarely touched 110KMPH maybe because this train has gotten a lot slack time and the loco pilots were in no hurry!!  To give you guys an example: The time taken by 12842 Chennai-Howrah Coromandel express to travel from Chennai to Howrah (Calcutta) is ~26 hours but this train takes ~30 hours and both being superfast trains. Of course, the latter has many stoppages than former, almost double.
A WDP-1 class loco at the helm of Secunderabad bound express train at Rajmudry
I was lucky to spot a WDP-1 class loco at Rajmudry for the first time; it was at the helm of an express train to Secunderabad. This is one of the loco classes with BO-BO axle arrangement (Two bogies or wheel assemblies under the unit), the other (class) being high speed WAP-5 class. After we left Rajmudry, for around 3 hours I was at the door, doorplating as usual…...Where on earth do you get a chance to sit at the door while the train is running at good speed!!! I’ve always enjoyed this!!!  Talking about the food served on this train, I’d say it was not very good and unsavory but I had no other option.  The lunch and the dinner included a bowl of rice, the dal (preparation of pulses), and aaloo matar (Potatoes and Peas).

I was already 40 hours into the journey and another 40 more to go but I was enjoying the train ride. The only worry that I’ve had on my mind was to find a bus or a cab to Shillong after I reach Guwahati and try not to get cheated!! As the evening set in, we got ready for our next schedule stop, Vizag or Visakhapatnam another reversal point for this train. This station is a terminus which explains the reversal of southeast bound trains. The station looked clean and not too crowded and all of the ACs coaches of my train got cleaned. The schedule stop was for 20 minutes but the train took over 30 minutes stop, maybe an additional parcel van was attached or the one that was attached before got removed but I was glad because this time we did get a WAP-4 class loco. Here’s the photo I clicked:

12509 Bangalore-Guwahati express waiting for the starter at Vizag station
Around 7:50PM we departed Vizag, the acceleration of a WAP-4 was evidently better (than WAM-4 loco). It became too dark for me to take videos however I was still at the door enjoying the fresh cool air and chatting with the coach attendant. In no time the train reached the MPS i.e., 110KMPH and we soon crossed over from Andra Pradesh to Orissa state. This tain has a quite a long run in the state of Andra Pradesh, right from Morning ~10AM to ~8:30PM but it was nice. After being at the door and chatting with the coach attendant for over an hour, I decided to return to my cubicle and luckily the food I ordered was already there. I’d say the dinner was little better than lunch but I was really hungry so I didn’t care about the taste, just gulped it. I was also a little surprised to see a lot of unauthorized ‘micro-entrepreneurs’ trying to make some quick money inside the AC coach, normally they’re not allowed (inside the AC coach). Anyway…after the dinner, we (my co-passengers and I) got busy chatting about something new. One of the co-passengers was very curious to learn about cancer and this being my primary research topic, I was very glad to explain him about the Cyclins and Human Ras proteins, the signal transduction, the cell surface receptors etc. but I wonder if he did really understand all or any of this.
It was around 10:30PM and I started to feel groggy especially after having a lot rice so there was no second thought about sleep however I wanted to see the Chilka lake but I again missed it (next time I will travel on a train which covers the state of Orissa during the day and I know the name of the train!!). My sleep was disturbed around 1AM due to an ugly commotion between 2 passengers. One fella wanted to reduce the AC temperature because it was, according to him, getting warmer however the other lad (rather old) wanted to increase the AC temp. because according to him it was very cold. Well..what do you do in such situation???? It was fine by me either way!!! They summoned the coach attendant however he (the coach attendant) was in no mood to listen to them, he got annoyed and said that the AC has been put on auto mode and the temperature settings will not change, in rather inexorable voice. He also ordered these guys to return to their seats. This thing happens, especially when you are traveling a long distance on Indian train. I’d say this was not so bad; I’ve witnessed a lot of worst incidences than this. Luckily for me, it wasn’t too difficult to get back to sleep.

I woke-up around 6:30AM and saw the train entering a small town of Balasore for a couple of minutes schedule stop. It was a lot colder outside, I guess the temperature was around 11 Degrees C. but I was enjoying it even without warm cloths on. After we left Balasore, the next stop was Kharagpur Jn., a good 118KM run and it was done in style as the loco pilot maintained 110KMPH speed for a long time, I stayed a put at the door. Here’s the videos I took:
        Kharagpur Jn. has apparently the world’s longest railway station, the length is about 1072.5m. with biggest railway workshop in India, as well. Kharagpur as a junction station was established in Railway map in December 1898.

12509 Bangalore-Guwahati express waits at Kharagpur Jn.
          Anyway, we have had a very long halt and to my surprise, a passenger train bound for Howrah was given a penchant by the section controller. This passenger train was hauled by a WAM-4 class loco from Tata shed/depot. Here’s the pic I took

WAM-4 class loco of TATA shed/depot at the helm of a passenger train leaving Kharagpur Jn.
       I had to be very careful because there were a lot armed policemen, and nonetheless I clicked the photos without any problem. One of my fellow passengers wanted to know the reason for clicking so many train photos.Well..what do you do when you are a railfan and have gotten a camera in your hand and you are at the train station? Yes…start clicking the train photos!!! . I explained to him about my hobby and passion for Indian Railways and he, not unlike others, was very surprised. The food served on the railway station by the vendors was not too bad, I’d say a lot better than the food served on board the train however I decided to have only a cup of tea, it was very sweet and strong but I liked it. Soon the starter signal turned amber, this was a 2ACL signal which means the train was not on the main line but had to roll over to the main line with a speed restriction of 30KMPH. I also knew we will over take the passenger train which departed ahead of us. As the train came over to the main line, the loco pilots were in no mood to perambulate. The train touched 110KMPH in no time and I was again at the door. The coach attendant (jokingly) asked me if I had a ticket to travel to Guwahati, presumably because I spent a lot of time at the door than in my cubicle, not uncommon for a railfan. Soon we over took the Howrah bound passenger train at good speed and I guess couple of other trains, as well. All of the trains were hauled by a WAM-4 class loco.
We weren’t too far away from out next major halt i.e. Howrah Jn., we were already cruising through the suburbs of Howrah and running ahead of schedule. Albeit we were only 50KM from Howard Jn. and running before time, I knew we wouldn’t reach on time, let alone ahead of schedule. The reason being non-availability of platforms as this is one of the busiest stations. As we were nearing Howrah Jn., we have had a very long ~30 minutes stop right outside the station but I absolutely knew this is going to happen. Meanwhile, I spotted Dibrugarh-Howrah Kamrup express entering the station, delayed by over 5 hours evidently due to fog. I got a little skeptical that even though the train is running fairly on schedule, it will get delayed big time due to fog and, unfortunately, thats exactly what happened!!!

As I got off the train to buy a cup of tea but I was surprised to see a lot of people constantly staring at my feet. well, I guess because of my Ferrari Red shoes!!!! The Howrah station did not change much since my last visit in  November 2001, the old Howrah bridge very much visible from the station, looked  awesome as ever!!! Anyway, this was the third and the last reversal point for my train. I bid goodbye to WAP-4 loco, did a fantastic job all the way from Vizag to Howrah and got ready for diesel action all the way to Guwahati. My train got a WDM-3D class loco from HWH shed/depot and after about 30 minutes halt, we moved out of Howrah, 30 minutes delayed. The train was put on Barddhaman chord line section and though it was a total disappointment with regard to speed, I was happy to see the Eastern Railway suburbs of Howrah, looked rather rural.
             After an unscheduled halt at Bardhaman Jn., we got branched off of the chord line onto un-electrified lines, rolled over a massive curve and into our final leg of the journey to Guwahati but still ~900KM to go. The next stop was Bolpur Santiniketan, arrived around 2PM, 45 minutes behind schedule. The engineer guy told me that the train gets delayed after Howarah and this is not uncommon. He also added that the punctuality of this and other Guwahati bound train from South India has improved a lot as compared with the delays of over 10 hours or even sometimes 24 hours. This didn’t affect me at all because I didn’t have at catch a connecting train from Guwahati, I was relaxed.
It was a very overcast day, the time was around 3PM but it looked like 6PM and it got very chilled and foggy outside and me without my warm cloths, it got a lot more difficult to be at the door. I still tried to take videos but due to poor light, I couldn’t see anything on my camera screen but I stayed at the door even it was freezing outside. The police patrolling got heavy with heavily armed guards arbitrarily frisking passengers. This is another dangerous route with the local terrorist groups targeting trains, their first choice!!  Nonetheless, I was very excited to travel on this route, it is very beautiful!!! And, of course, with the kind of security provided on board, I was sure we were going to be fine.
The next schedule stop was Rampur Hat and by now the train was running over 1 hour late. We entered this station after 3:30PM, against 2:20PM the schedule arrival time. I still don’t know for sure but the schedule stop for this train is 20 minutes in here. One of the reasons being a single non-electrified line and/or slack time given to this train. We however had over 20 minutes stop and I didn’t see any train crossing from opposite direction. For the first time I had a tea in Kular (clay pot), it taste very different but was really very refreshing. In fact, I had 3 cups of tea. It’s really a good idea to use clay pots, it wouldn’t pollute the ground and besides it gives opportunity to locals to earn some money as these pots are hand made.

Clicked this from a moving train, while I was at the door.
I started to feel the heat of chilling climate and I couldn’t stand it anymore. Luckily, my fellow passenger was carrying some extra warm cloths and he offered me a thick jacket seeing my predicament in T-shirt and short, I was shivering. Finally after an agonizing ~30 minutes halt, the train started and I felt a lot better. It was 4PM but it became totally dark and thick fog outside. I clocked the speed of the train over my GPS device and it didn’t go over 50KMPH and quite understandably. The visibility reduced greatly and I could barely see a distance of 100 meters, hats-off to the loco pilots for driving a train in such difficult conditions and making sure it does not stop or even worst gets cancelled  but we were getting delayed, and by now the train was running over 2 hours late.  Well..I can only say one thing in this situation, ‘it’s better late than never’!!!
                                                         Departing Farraka Town

The train again took a 10-minute unscheduled halt to Farraka Town. Later in the evening the fog increased and the visibility got reduced to almost 50 meters. I couldn’t see the signal, except for a ‘red dot’ At this time the train was running around 3 hours late. The AC engineer lad asked me to get my camera to take a video of the train passing over the dam over the river Bhramaputra. Unfortunately due to very low light, the video didn’t turn out good but it was amazing feeling to pass over the active dam. The sound of water falling from over the dam was deafening. We passed at a very slow speed of 30KMPH due to, I think, permanent speed restriction over the dam. After this, I decided to return to my cubicle and turned on my laptop to see if I may be able to connect to the internet. I was, in fact, able to connect but the speed was way to slow so decided to listen to songs by Train (the American pop rock band). I like the songs My Private Nation, Save me San Francisco, and If It’s Love…and after listening to My Private Nation, I wish I had my private nation!!!!!
The train took a lot of unscheduled halts, evidently due to bad weather and we got further delayed running late by over 3.5 hours. Malda Town, the next major stop was reached around 8PM. I decided to have my evening meal from the food vendor on the station and for a change and I got to eat home-made rotis and vegetables comprising of potatoes and onions, it was very scrumptious. After a long halt, we moved on with cautious speed. The next stop was New Jalpaiguri (NJP), a major tourist spot and rail head for Darjeeling, a famous hill station. One of the other fellow passengers from Andra Pradesh who was kind of animated throughout the journey started to overreact upon learning that the train isn’t going to reach New Jalpaiguri on time. He was a honeymooner, which explains why he got restless and agitated and wanted to reach the destination on time!!  Given the distance and the speed (of the train), I calculated the time it will take to reach New Jalpaiguri and when I informed him that it isn’t going make it before 1AM, ~4 hours late, his face told the entire story. The train was slowly but surely moving without any unscheduled stop and this lad constantly kept his eyes on my GPS device because I told him that if the train speed crosses 50KMPH, we might reach before 1AM but it didn’t happen, too bad for him!!!

Once we reached New Jalpaiguri, he was a lot happy man and …well..I could understand his emotions!!! Nearly half of the passengers in my coach disembarked here including my good friend who gave me his jacket…which means…yep, you guessed it!!!! , I gladly returned it and thanked him and he invited me to his house, I accepted it. This was so nice of him!!!  After we left NJP, it was a complete silence in my coach and a lot of empty cubicles. I was extremely tired considering I was traveling for over 4 days and another 15 hours to go.  At this time I thought the train was running indefinitely late because nobody knew when will we reach Guwahati, not even the coach attendant but I was not concerned. I turned off the lights (of my cubicle) and went to sleep.
The next day around 6AM, my fellow passenger woke me up (he too became a good friend of mine). We had already entered the state of Assam and it very misty, overcast but beautiful and very rural. I inquired with the coach attendant about the arrival time at Guwahati and he said after 10AM (the schedule arrival time is 5:50AM). The train was made to wait a lot of time for other Howrah bound trains to cross as this was a single non-electrified line, saw Howrah bound Kamrup express from Dibrugarh, hauled by a WDM-3A class loco from HWH shed/depot. It crossed us at over 100KMPH speed and also spotted a couple of New Delhi bound Rajdhani express hauled by WDP-4 class locos and another passenger train hauled by WDM-2A class loco in beautiful livery. Here's is one of the photos.

WDM-2A class loco at the helm of a passenger train.

12509 Bangalore-Guwahati express

Guwahati station was not too far away, I guess 50KM but it took painful 2 hours to cover with hell lot unscheduled stops. Around 10AM we reached Guwahati outer and again we stopped due to non-availability of platform and in the interim I spotted New Delhi bound Poorvottar (Northeast) SK express hauled by another WDP-4 class loco. We finally got the starter and moved into the platform#6 of Guwahati station at 10:30AM, a delay of 4 hours and 40 minutes. I had an image of Guwahati station before I left Mumbai and it turned out to be true. It was crowded, dirty and complete chaos but luckily for me, my fellow passenger offered me a help to find a cab to Shillong. He was on his way to Zero/Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh, another 20 hours. After negotiating through crowded station, he managed to find a cab (a TATA Sumo) to Shillong. I thanked him a lot for his help!! From here, I traveled another 104KM uphill but it kind of took eternity to reach Shillong.  
The cab driver didn’t start until his cab got full, it made me very frustrated because it was already 11AM and I was losing time. After a long delay, the cab did get full and we moved on.  The Guwahati city was crowded with lot of shoppers was getting ready for Christmas and New Year. Soon we crossed over to the state of Megalaya and my happiness doubled. Shillong is, in fact, a hill station and a big city, as well. One of the major tourist attractions of Northeast India and, of course, very safe as compared with other North East states.  We started to climb a tough terrain but we got stuck in the traffic hundreds of time. The road to reach Shillong is very narrow with heavy traffic and once we got stuck in the traffic, we didn’t move for about 45 minutes to an hour. To make matter worst, a landslide blocked a major part of the road so the driver of my cab was very cautious and then due to broadening of the road, we were made to wait at lot of spots. At one such spot, I witnessed, for the first time, live dynamite detonation. The sound was extremely huge, it also juddered our cab and, of course, the security check points added to my wretchedness. It usually takes around 3 hours to reach Shillong from Guwahati but I reached after 5 hours including a 30 minute halt at Nong Poh, in Ri Bhoi district.