Monday, September 2, 2013

.......To Rameshwaram

Rameshwaram Bound
           I hadn’t been on a long train trip for quite some time and upon my mom’s imperativeness, I immediately booked the tickets to Rameshwaram – A small but beautiful town in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. There’s no direct train from Mumbai to Rameshwaram but then that’s so gratifying for any Indian railway enthusiast. What is the fun in traveling from A to B non-stop!!  I always prefer to take the longest possible route!! After researching for over 3 hours for the best possible connecting train to Rameshwaram in the wee hours of the morning, I zeroed in on a train via Chennai but the AC -2 tier class of 11041 Mumbai-Chennai express was badly waitlisted and I knew it wouldn’t make any sense booking waitlisted tickets. Eventually, I settled in for 11021 Dadar (Mumbai) – Tirunelveli Chalukya express to Madurai as tickets were available in AC-2 tier class, and then from Madurai decided to take the Tamil Nadu State Transport aka State Express Transport Corporation (SETC) bus to Rameshwaram. I've had some more options available to travel via Ahmedabad or Hyderabad but I decided against it as my mom is clearly not a railfan!! The return journey to Mumbai was made via Chennai, and Bangalore. We (my mom, and I) boarded 16702 Rameshwaram – Chennai Egmore express (Boat Mail), and then took 22625 Chennai Central - Bangalore AC Double Decker express to Bangalore, and finally we boarded a flight to back to Mumbai.

                                         On Board 11021 Chalukya Express
     This was the first time I was going to travel on 11021 Chalukya express but I was excited albeit I heard some negative things about this train. My coach# A1 was brand new, manufactured in the year 2012 and being 4th from the loco was kind of blessing for me!!  The train was scheduled to depart from Dadar terminus, Mumbai at 9:30PM from platform#8 and we (my mom, and I) reached before 9PM which in turn gave me some time to spot other trains arriving, and leaving Mumbai.  The train bound for Shridi town was getting ready on the opposite platform, at the helm was a KYN WDG-3A aka ‘Shakti’ class loco and at the helm of my 11021 chalukya express was a KYN WCAM-2P # 21877 class loco. The train was full but most of the passengers were traveling till Bangalore. After settling in, I decided to check out the loco as usual. This is the first thing I do whenever I travel by train.  It was, as mentioned above, dual voltage 2900HP KYN WCAM-2P class loco. The train departed 5 minutes late, around 9:35PM and slowly came over to the main line after negotiating the cross-over speed restriction (technically known as On X-Over speed restriction) of 20KMPH.  After joining the main line, the loco unleashed the power and with a 17 coach load; it took mere minutes to cross 100KMPH mark through the suburbs of Mumbai….but we did slow down a number of times as we were closely chasing 17057 Mumbai-Secunderabad Devgiri express and we were closely chased by Hyderabad bound 12701 Hussian Sagar express till we reached Kaylan Jn., the first commercial halt.  Notwithstanding my train slowed down and crawled, yet managed to reach 5 minutes before time at Kalyan Jn.  After a 3 minute halt, we were given a starter and got diverted on line bound for south whilst Secunderabad bound Devgiri express took the north bound line. After leaving Kalyan Jn. and negotiating through the neutral zone we were back to Maximum Permissible Speed or MPS of 105KMPH and continued to maintain for a long time and as a result we arrived Karjat Jn. 7 minutes before time.  The banker locos (KYN WAG-7 class) were already waiting on one of the loop lines and got immediately attached to the rear of the train to push it up the mountains. After a protracted halt due to early arrival, we accelerated out cautiously. I decided to be at the door in spite of coach attendant asking me to close the door. I stood there for almost an hour till we reached Lonavala. I was astounded by the beauty of the Bhor ghats (mountain passes) at night with clouds levitating around, cold and brumous ambience. We were doing decent speed even while ascending the steep gradients and hence we reached Lonavala before time by over 10 minutes and I knew we will have a good 15 minutes halt resulting from early arrival. This gave an opportunity to get down and check out the train, and the loco link again.  While doing so I overheard two guys talking about the Indian railways, and the locomotives. After listening to them of their ‘technical knowledge’ about the Indian railways, I felt like correcting them big time. They were talking nonsense!! It was apparent that they have had no clue as to the difference between a diesel, and an electric locomotive. Meanwhile, an announcement went off about the departure of Lonavala-Pune EMU (suburban train) before my train. I figured out that we are going to trail this EMU right till Pune Jn. because unlike Mumbai, Pune suburban section does not have dedicated lines for suburban trains. Immediately after the EMU left, we were given a starter to proceed. We accelerated out, and accelerated well but, as expected we took a lot of unscheduled stops which resulted in 10 minutes delay, however due to slack time between Lonavala and Pune, we managed to pull into Pune Jn. at expected time 1:10AM but only just. The loco changed from KYN WCAM-2P (electric loco) to PUNE WDM-3D # 11384 (diesel loco). I thought a GY WDM-3A would haul my train from Pune as it was lying idle on a pit line right next to my train but a PUNE WDM-3D came in silently out of nowhere. It would have been a great off link, had it been a GY WDM-3A loco attached my train. In the meantime, Hyderabad bound 12701 Hussain Sagar super fast express, hauled by KZJ WDM-3A class loco, entered Pune Jn. 10 minutes before time.  I guess this train was closely following my 11021 Chalukya express.  After about 15 minutes halt, the starter was given to my train and rather not surprisingly 12701 Hussai Sagar express started at the same time.  After carefully negotiating the turn outs, my train was routed to south bound line whereas 12701 Hussai Sagar express, after running parallel for about 100 meters, got routed to east bound line. After leaving Pune, I decided to sleep so hopped onto the upper berth while my mom was fast asleep on lower berth unaware of the drama unfolding outside and unaware of what was I up to. 
            I woke up around 6AM and quickly figured out that we were waiting at Miraj Jn., we had covered some 250KM from Pune overnight. Miraj is a small yet beautiful town some 60KM from the city of Kolhapur in the state of Maharashtra and bordering the state of Karnataka. There was nothing much to spot here except for a passenger train halted with a WDM-3D class loco of Pune shed.  

               An unknown passenger train with WDM-3D class loco of Pune shed at its helm at Miraj Jn.

                                                The line bound for Kolhapur from Miraj Jn
               After a 5 minute mandatory halt, we accelerated out rapidly but never crossed the speed of 80KMPH till we reached Belgaum, and then Londa Jn. because I think the section speed restriction was 80-90KMPH. We reached Londa Jn. 10 minutes before time and were given a pronounced halt because I could see Howrah (Kolkata) bound 18048 Amravati express leaving Londa Jn. right ahead of us. This was the first time I was going to travel beyond Londa towards Hubli so I was looking forward for it. It was beautiful outside after we left Londa Jn., it felt like the earth was covered with a green rug. I sat by the door, doorplating as usual. There were a lot of speed restrictions and the section speed, even after leaving Londa, I believe was not more than 90KMPH due to numerous sharp curves and gradients.  All the while, we were closely trailing 18048 Amravati express. We reached Hubli Jn., the South Western Railway headquarter, on time at 12:30PM. I got to see a lot of trains with a variety of locos, including Howrah bound Amravati express hauled by twin GY WDM-3A class locos, which was running right ahead of us from Londa Jn. I got the opportunity to click a lot of photos and even the presence of RPF (Railway Police) didn’t bother me. 
                                       My coach# A1, an AC-2 tier of 11021 Chalukya express

                                                  11021 Chalukya express waiting at Hubli Jn.
                                      An AC-2tier coach of 18048 Vasco-Howrah Aravati express 

   Twin WDM-3A class loco of Pune shed at the helm of Hubli- Delhi Nizamuddin link express
                     After a 15 minute halt and a crew change, starter was given to my train and slowly we crawled and then accelerated out of Hubli Jn. for the next schedule halt at Haveri. We covered the distance of 75KM very quickly and around 1:45PM we reached Haveri.  I didn’t quite have a pretty sight to see upon reaching Haveri. Unfortunately, a train (most probably 06511 Bangalore-Jaipur GR express hauled by UBL WDG-4 class loco) had crushed a man to death and his mutilated body was being video shot by some 5-6 media guys instead of taking the body to the autopsy center.  It was apparent that those media guys just didn’t have any respect for the departed soul!! It seemed that they were in a kind of competition as to who will broadcast first on the NEWS channel. Human run overs by train is not uncommon in India but I didn't see anything like this before. Anyway, we were running before time so again there was a pronounced halt however we departed on time around 1:55PM. This train does not have a pantry car but has the catering facilit so I immediately ordered the food as I was very hungry. The food was reasonably delectable but more importantly I just wanted to douse my hunger. After lunch I decided to doorplate again but it was getting a little boring as there was not much to spot on this section except the never ending fields, and I was eagerly waiting to reach Bangalore. 
                                                         Open field after leaving Haveri
                  The schedule arrival at Yesvantpur, Bangalore was 8:50PM but we reached 10 minutes late due crossing of trains enroute and  the non-availability of platform upon reaching the outer of Yesvantpur,  we were held up for over 20 minutes right outside. There’s a massive 70 minute official halt here with loco reversal hence I got an opportunity to venture outside the station to buy some decent food from a restaurant.  After the dinner, I decided to perambulate around the railway station in order to observe the trains entering and leaving Yesvantpur, and some locos idling. I was hoping that my train will get a KJM WDP-4 class loco but to my surprise it was PUNE WDM-3D which continued after refueling and after getting attached to the other side of the train. The train departed at 10PM right time and after doorplating for 15 minutes through the suburbs of Bangalore, I decided to go to sleep.  A lot of people had disembarked at Yesvantpur so my coach was quite empty which allowed me to take the side lower berth (I guess almost every Indian railfan, by default, request for side lower berth while booking their tickets, whether at the reservation center or on-line). I woke up around 4:30AM to find myself at Erode Jn. in Tamil Nadu state. The train again gets a reversal and gets diverted on the line bound for Madurai. The train bound for Coimbatore from Chennai Central, 12674 Cheran express had already arrived and was waiting right next to my train with an RPM WAP-4 class loco at its helm. Interestingly, this train shares its rake (RSA) with Cennai Central-Ahmedabad 12656 Navjeevan express express.  Around 4:40AM, we crawled out of station and I again decided to doorplate albeit I was only half awake. I was not expecting high speed action here but to my surprise the train did cross the speed of 110KMPH and for the first time ever since I boarded the train in Mumbai, the acceleration of WDM-3D class loco was superb with 17 coach load, it crossed 110KMPH with ease. After spending some time at the door, I returned to my berth to complete my much needed sleep and I was little tired, too. I opened my eyes to see we were exiting Dindigul Jn. around 7am, running right time. Again and as usual, after freshening up, I decided to be at the door. It was beautiful outside with a lot of mountains and some low clouds around but surprisingly no rain.  I spent the entire 1 hour at the door, till we reached Madurai – my intermediate destination to Rameshwaram.  After crawling through the outer of Madurai Jn., we pulled into Madurai Jn. platform# 2 on time at 8AM. Immediately after disembarking, a few railway porters gathered around to help carry our baggages but I politely refused them as I was carrying my backpack and my mom was with her duffle bag. I bid goodbye to 11021 Chalukya express, and also thanked the loco pilots for doing a wonderful job!! I was awed at the cleanliness of the railway station and it wasn’t too crowded. This was the end of my amazing 39 hours train ride but I was ready for a 4 hour bus ride. From Madurai we took the Tamil Nadu State Transport bus service to Rameshwaram, a distance of 161KM.

    WDM-3D of Pune shed at the helm of 11021 Chalukya express at Madurai Jn.,
          Traveling by bus was totally a different experience from that of train, of course it was nice but at any day I’d prefer train over bus or flight. Got a good glimpse of Madurai town while traveling from railway station to bus station, which was 10KM away. I really liked the city, pretty clean and well managed. The newly built bus station was huge and again pretty clean but I really had a hard time communicating with people due to lack of my Tamil language skill however in some way managed to communicate thanks to my Malayam language skill. After asking a lot of people for the right bus to Rameshwaram, I managed to find one just in time. One thing I noticed is that although I was faced by a language barrier, people were still helpful!  It took about 4 hours to reach the Rameshwaram town bus station from Madurai. I have had my GPS on and was constantly tracking the route and was eagerly waiting to travel over the Pamban bridge which connects main land India with an island of Rameshwaram. It was an amazing feeling to cross over the Bay of Bengal on Pamban bridge. Nothing much had changed since my last visit in 2006 except the gauge conversion from meter gauge to broad gauge railway line. Finally we reached our final destination around 12PM. This ended my one way journey of 43 hours from Mumbai to Rameshwaram, covering the distance if 1855KM. It was an amazing journey which I’d like to do it again, and will do it again soon!!

 The route I took from Mumbai to Rameshwaram.

……….Stay tuned for a blog on journey back to Mumbai!!