Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Rolling Over the Brawny Pamban

   Rolling Over the Brawny Pamban

Most of the journeys in our lives end......but some come with return tickets! Returning to Mumbai from Rameshwaram was not too unmanageable because I easily got confirmed train tickets to Bangalore via Chennai and then to Mumbai on a Jet Airways flight. After enjoying a 3 day trip in and around Rameshwaram, it was time to return home. I was, however, not really happy because I kind of hate to return home, especially when I am on a long trip. I always become a little discompose even if I think about returning home. Anyway, we (my mom and I) checked out of the hotel early because I wanted to spend as much time as possible at Rameshwaram train station for railfanning. Besides, they would have charged us extra, had we prolonged our stay even by an hour. Our train to Chennai Egmore, the 16102 (then 16702) Rameshwaram-Chennai Egmore Boat Mail was scheduled to depart at 5 PM but we reached the train station around 12 PM.  My mom, obviously not a railfan, opted to settle down in a retiring room and I got 5 hours to photograph trains. I took my camera out and strolled the entire length of the platform. Albeit I spotted a very few trains, however I still enjoyed it. I was expecting the station to be not very crowded and tranquil but it turned out to be exactly opposite; maybe due to some festival many people foregathered Rameshwaram on that day. My first spotting of the day was 14260 Varanasi-Rameshwaram express which was idling in one of many pit lines, and then a little later I spotted a passenger train bound for Madurai with a Golden Rock (GOC) shed’s WDM-2 class loco at its helm. I also spotted the Chennai bound 16702 Boat Mail in one of the pit lines - the power of the train was a GOC WDP-3A class loco. This was the very same loco which hauled the overnight 16713 Chennai Egmore -Rameshwaram Sethu express on that day. An hour before the departure, the train was shunted on to the main line platform. Our coach B1 (an AC 3 tier sleeper class) was 4th from the loco which meant a good walking exercise for my mom to walk almost the entire length of the train which was about 350 meters. I was not expecting many passengers to board from Rameshwaram but I was pleasantly surprised to see the coach filled with a lot of passengers, especially from Gujarat. This turned out to be a 'blessing' for my mother because she got company to talk to but I wondered if I am in Tamil Nadu or in Gujarat.

The 16701/16201 Rameshwaram-Chennai Egmore Boat mail

The GOC WDP-3A Class Loco
      At 5 PM on the button, the starter signal for my train turned Yellow and the GOC WDP-3A class loco accelerated out with 16702 Boat mail bound for Chennai Egmore. I was very excited to travel on this route, especially over the Pamban Bridge – a 2000-meter railway bridge over the Palk Strait connecting the island of Rameshwaram to the Mainland India. The train crawled out of Rameshwaram station at slow pace but gradually gained good speed until Pamban Jn. – the first commercial halt. The sinewy Pamban bridge is located immediately North West off Pamban railway station. After a minute halt, the train accelerated out with a restricted speed of 15 KMPH. No sooner the train left the station than I could see the brobdingnagian Indian Ocean and I became captivated to the fact that the train is going to cross over the Indian Ocean. I stood at the door right from the time the train departed Rameshwaram and I also knew that many passengers will pile up at the door to get a view of the ocean, hence I had already ‘reserved’ my place (right by the door). As soon as the train rolled on to the bridge, I experienced the strong wind current and it became very uncomfortable to hold on to my camera against the strong current while dangling by the door and exposed to the ocean beneath with no real support except for the door handle; I was absolutely not prepared for this. It was a perilous 10-minute ride over the bridge, however it was all worth it. Besides, I love to take risk! It took 10 minutes to cross over to the mainland India – a distance of 2 KM at cautious speed of 15 KMPH. After crossing the bridge, the loco pilot stepped on the gas and the train quickly gained speed to about 50 KMPH before coming to its another scheduled halt at Mandapam,......delayed but only just!  It was very nostalgic for me to travel on this route for the second time; the first time I traveled was back in 2006 when the Chennai Egmore-Rameshwaram route was served by meter gauge trains. 

Rameshwaram-Cennai Egmore Boat Mail Rolling over the Mighty Pamban
                                     (You could hear some people taking right behind me) 
The next stop was Ramanathapuram - 40 KM away. This is one of the major towns connecting Rameshwaram. This town is many centuries old, historically very important and it has been mentioned in the Hindu epic of Ramayana, along with Rameshwaram. Anyway, the train reached Ramanathapuram delayed by over 20 minutes and that got me into a little concern because any further delay would imperil our journey back home, as we had to board a connecting train to Bangalore, and then to Mumbai on a flight, we've had a very less buffer time. I would have, however, been a lot happier, had my journey back home been jeopardized but considering my mom was traveling with me, I did not even think about it. The train's scheduled halt was for 2 minutes but for some strange reason, the train didn't move for a long time thus delaying it further. 

The Boat Mail at Ramanathapuram
            After an out of the blue 10-minute halt, the train accelerated and I, as usual, decided to stand at the door even though it was very dark outside and mizzling. The next stop was Manamadurai Jn - 60 KM away. I was hoping that the train would cover up some lost minutes due to the buffer time....and it did, the train covered some 15 minutes before we pulled into Manamadurai Jn.  This was encouraging and I was quite sure that the train wouldn't take an eonian stop at this station due to the delay….but to my horror, the train once again stopped for ‘eternity’. Meanwhile, I called up my railfan crony - Ranjeet Iyer – in Chennai and asked him to check-in for my flight to Mumbai online. He immediately did it and I could not thank him enough. My concern, however, was billowing with the amount of delay which was setting in due to a very long halt. Albeit the train did cover the delay of 15 minutes, an additional delay of 15 minutes at Manamadurai Jn. ensured that we were again off schedule by 30 minutes. The train eventually did depart around 7:30PM  and alleviated me. Not surprisingly, it started to rain real hard and I decided against doorplating as it was too dark to see anything outside and the coach attendant ‘sternly’ asked me to close the door for securities reasons.

At Manamadurai Jn. 
            It was about the dinnertime and I was very hungry, however the train did not have a pantry car and the food I packed at Rameshwaram was over, besides I forgot to pack some food at Manamadurai Jn. I was, therefore, left with no other option but to wait till Tiruchchirappalli Jn. which was 3 hours away. While the train continued to run with a 30-minute delay, I decided to take ‘Siesta del Hidalgo’.
            A  much later, I woke up to see the train stopped outside Tiruchchirappalli Jn. due to the non-availability of platform but I was pleasantly surprised to see the train running on time. The train pulled into the station at 2230 HRS on time. Luckily, I spotted a food vendor selling Vegetable Biryani near the second-class unreserved coach. Without giving a second thought, I cannonball along. Upon reaching there, I was blown straight out of the water to see the unreserved coach completely packed with people with no place to even stand, every inch of that coach was occupied in every possible way and not to mention the scrimmage resulting from the pandemonium. I was awed! I have traveled on the 2nd class unreserved coach  many times but never seen so massive crowd before. With another 8 hours to reach Chennai, I wondered how would those people travel in such deplorable conditions overnight!
With just 5 minutes into the halt, the starter signal turned Yellow and the train pulled out of Tiruchchirappalli Jn. on time and this made me completely decompressed. I quaffed the Biryani within 5 minutes and decided to sleep as I was very wearied and hoped that the train will continue to run on time.  A little later, however, all my hopes crashed immediately when I found out that the train stopped again….in the middle of nowhere! I figured out that the line ahead was not clear as I could see the Red aspect of the 3CL signal flaring at my train. It was only after a 25 minute unscheduled halt, the signal turned Green and we started - back to square one!  
I was so tired at this point of time that I didn't care whether or not the train runs on time, I slept. After a not so good sleep for about 4 hours, I woke up around 3:30 AM to see the train entering Villupuram Jn. – still running over 20 minutes behind schedule. The train slowly crept into Villupuram station and it was the time for a loco change because the Villupuram-Chennai Egmore route is electrified. The diesel locomotive (GOC WDP-3A) gave a way to an electric locomotive (AJJ WAP1). With another 167 KM to go in about 3 hours – I was very positive of arriving Chennai on time. The acceleration of WAP-1 class loco was so magnificent that it pulled the 19 coach long train with ease and crossed the speed of 100 KMPH within a few minutes – this was very encouraging for me!  It was around 4 AM and I decided to stand at the door again – the coach attendant was fast asleep on the other side of the coach so I was not bothered. The doorplating at high speed was so amazing but, of course, it was also very dangerous primarily because I was not fully awake.

The train was closing in on the suburbs of Chennai after some high speed run, although it was still running late by 25 minutes. We reached Tambaram – a suburb of Chennai around 5:55AM. Chennai Egmore station is about 25 KM from Tambaram and I was again positive that the train will cover this distance within 35 minutes. The train cruised through the suburbs at good speed and at this point I became absolutely sure that we are going to reach on time and that we wouldn't have to hustle up to catch the connecting train. Finally, around 6:35AM, the train pulled into Chennai Egmore station – a delay of mere 5 minutes, which was very acceptable, and as a result, we had almost an hour to reach Chennai Central station to catch our connecting train, the 22625 Chennai-Bangalore Double Decker AC express, to Bangalore City.
 This concludes the part -I of my travel from Rameshwaram to Chennai. Part-II coming soon.