It was a moonlit night in old Mexico. I walked alone between some old Adobe haciendas. Suddenly, I heard the plaintive cry of a young Mexican girl. That’s how Pat Boone starts off his Speedy Gonzales and has nothing to do with this recollection of mine.
It was indeed a moonlit night and a good night’s rest was in the beckoning. I took my little monkeys to bed to quickly get them to sleep so that I can indulge in a little bit of “me” time before I wind up for the day. Just as my heavy eyelids was desperately trying to out bulge my eyes to send me to paradise, I heard that distinctive beep of someone pinging me on Facebook. It is a cardinal sin not to check and go to sleep, lest the demons unleash the lousiest dreams on the planet. I have a message waiting for my droopy eyes. “Let me offer you a deal. A visit to RCF, Kapurthala. Does it excite you ? Received permission to visit the factory on 17th October 2013. So if you are interested, I will add your name on”. Before I rant on, let me emphasize, why this is a BIG thing. First, I am a rail enthusiast and a visit to manufacturing facility where the passenger coaches are manufactured is a dream. Second, getting permission to visit a
Central Government owned research and development manufacturing unit is not something you get everyday in India. You need to pull a lot of strings to get this done. Needless to say, I am super excited and still not sure if the actual journey, factory visit, a personal trip after a while or something else which is making my adrenaline hit the roof.
The First Night – 14-Oct-2013 :
I have never traveled in “The Rajdhani Express” (To be referred as the RAJ henceforth) and excitement of traveling in one of the better Rajdhani Expresses in its LHB avatar was making the day crawl ever so slowly. Packing for a single traveling male is just a 10 minute exercise and in spite of an extended one hour relaxed packing schedule, time seems to have come to a complete standstill. As the clock slowly crawls past 5PM, I bid my goodbyes and embark on an exciting trip ahead. Bangalore roads were empty due to holiday season and the short trip to the railway station was much quicker than anticipated. With a full 90 minutes to kill before departure, I met my other fellow railfans and decided to indulge in a short pre dinner roadside junk, which on hindsight, would turn out to be one of the better decisions we made. As the rake enters the platform, the nondescript and dull platform suddenly barges to life. For some reason, which I am still yet to comprehend, I just fail to understand the urgency with which the passengers board the train. It is not as if it will pull out ahead of schedule when everyone boards.Anyway we gave way for all those busy bees who wanted to reach the capital a bit earlier than us, settled our luggage inside and got ready for a small photo shoot. The loco HAS to be shot and framed. So off we go, shoot the LOCO and a few otherwise useless shots and before we knew it, we were all set for departure. Boarded the train, got our tickets checked and settled for the Great Rajdhani Dining experience.
Dinner in RAJ is a sight to behold. Just as we settle down, our designated pantry attendant stacks the dinner right next to the doorways and vestibules. My assumption on this bizarre maneuver was that he was trying to be efficient, however as the dinner progressed, it was clear that he did not want the passengers any way to escape this exclusive gourmet. Water bottles were nearly thrown at you, soup sticks slid on a not so sparkling plastic red plate, A red piping hot liquid, which we later came to know as tomato soup was slid efficiently across. Now that the starter was served, it was finished ever so quickly as we did not intend to savor the taste for a longer time. Sarcasm apart, we finished it quickly because that’s all it takes to gulp two tablespoons of soup. Now comes the main course. 3 Chapathis each the size of a standard Indian Idli, A paneer curry which sent us on a leather hunt for the paneer and 4 tablespoons of rice, which was, well let’s just leave it at that. A request for yoghurt / curd was promptly served with a red blazing stare and followed by a small cup of white liquid 30 minutes later. The dessert was a surprise. We were served Baskin Robbins smallest cup of Vanilla ice-cream. It was honestly as vanilla as it could be, but I could already hear a few passengers complaining that they did not want a milkshake for dessert. Now that the Lilliputians were served dinner, the passengers decided to settle down gradually for what is going to be a good 30 hours of the RAJ experience, albeit with a grumbling stomach.
As the train started cruising through the Makali ghats, the passengers gradually started to retire for the night. Peace prevailed as lights were switched off and RAJ started picking up towards its next halt, Dharmavaram, which is a crew change halt. The railfans in me and my friends and the non existent photographer in myself, kept us awake for a good amount of time, trying to upload the clicks so far to IRI. However the patchy internet and cruising through signal free area, made it an effort in itself. By the time we successfully managed to upload one single click, we were slowing down to enter Dharmavaram. A quick doorplating and we witnessed a huge curve with station lights and signals gleaming along the tracks. One of my favorite sights is a train switching , snaking and crawling to enter an almost deserted station late at night. As usual, the cameras breathed life and managed to click a few forgettable ones. As the train departed Dharmavaram, we decided to call it a day to enjoy the ripping action after Secunderabad and of course, we did not want to miss the loco change festivities the next day.
15-Oct-2013 – Early Morning around 5 AM :
The key to travel in a long distance train in India is proper scheduling of your daily activities during the course of travel. A 30-33 hour ride could be reason enough to pamper yourself to an extended sleep or letting your mind wander aimlessly, but it could have an irritating impact. It is of my strong conviction that you should complete the washroom usage before 5:30 AM in the morning. They are clean relatively, with water available and no waiting period. Anything beyond 6:30 AM, you have a long waiting period and your body may not be willing to co-operate with your mind. So based on my past experience, I was all up and dandy and fresh by 6:00 AM and looking through the large transparent glass window to evaluate our position. As expected in this section, we were a good 30-40 minutes behind schedule. The RAJ was in no hurry and maintained the delay all the way up to Secunderabad.
We were positioned 13th or 14th from the LOCO and in spite of our brisk and accelerated walk sprinkled with a few sprints, we were not able to witness the grand detachment of KJM WDP4B from our RAJ. However, the LOCO area was a beehive of activities with loads of folks checking various gauges and levels, while a LGD white stallion 30290 silently enters the frame to storm the RAJ all the way up to Nizamuddin. Ten more minutes, loco coupled, pressure gauges checked, oil levels refilled and the P7 is all set. We make a quick sprint back to our coach and ready to latch on to the best part of the RAJ. No , I did not mean the food, but the high priority adrenaline pumping high speed run. The P7 departed with the backlog of around 30-40 minutes to catch up. Back in our seats, we were served a delicious tasteless breakfast with miniature models, eaten effortlessly by us as we quickly started ripping the outskirts of Secunderabad. It was time to witness the beautiful Raigir curve, but nothing much to describe here as we almost missed it,for which we made amends on our way back. Quickly reached Kazipet and made up around 10 minutes of lost time.
The Kazipet Disaster :
Konark express was gracious enough to let us go first as our RAJ honked and jerked to start. As quickly as it started, it was forcefully stopped by a fellow passenger a few coaches ahead of us. As we peeped out, a crowd had gathered ahead and a good number of them squatted to get a deeper look below the train. Fearing the worst, we were informed that someone had slipped between the platform and the train and authorities are trying to extract him. To our relief, he luckily survived, but probably with some life altering disability. Our TTE explained later that he slipped while trying to board the train balancing his breakfast on one hand and trying to get in on a moving train using his other hand for support. As much as I would like to blame the lip smacking breakfast provided by the pantry that he was desperate enough to enjoy the cold and bland station breakfast, it was his fault entirely. It was later informed to us that he was operated upon and will live. So much for a breakfast, but it sure made us sit in shock for a while. The 10 minutes we caught up so far was wasted and we were 90 minutes behind schedule when we departed Kazipet
Nostalgia Reloaded :
I was a regular traveler on the Chennai (The then Madras) – New Delhi trunk route during 1995-1999 and yes it was a no-brainer and my journeys always used to be in the legendary Tamilnadu Express, which till date enjoys extreme high priority and still known for its ruthless and aggressive run. As we moved out of Kazipet and merged on to the Chennai – New Delhi trunk line, it all started coming back to me. The wide eyed , open mouthed and shocked expressions on travelers waiting for their rides, the sheer awesomeness of high pitched whine from the then WAP1 and the calm which would have restored after the storm passed, helpless passengers looped at various wayside stations for the legendary TN to pass through the mainline and the pride and thrill within me as we go an a rampage station after station. Hasanparthi Road, Jamikunta, Ramagundam , Manchiryal and the likes were shown no respect. A sudden argument with the famed pantry boys of the RAJ, as it brought me back to the present, left a lingering feeling wishing I was on the TN rather than the RAJ.
Anyway, it was make up time and the RAJ had its intentions clear. We have a catwalk of prestigious trains in the offing as we settled down for an aggressive run. RAJ is the king now atleast on wheels if not on meals. RAJ, incidentally following the TN literally, charged past all the big towns and made a mockery of the 90 minute delay at Kazipet as were just 50 minutes behind now as we cruised past the Wardha River at Balharshah outer. The right curve onto the river amidst a foliage of greenery had not changed in the last 14 years. Yes, I had never traveled in this section after 1999 and my loyalty to TN just keeps coming back. First Love maybe :).
Just as we clear the river, we meet the first of the heavyweights, our counterpart, the Numero Uno Primo Supremo, Bangalore bound RAJ crossing us on its way to Secunderabad, the last of its high speed sections. We were welcomed into Balharshah, by another white LGD stallion with another legendary and always popular AP Express in tow ready to give some distance between itself and the Bangalore bound RAJ
Balharshah reached, made up 40 minutes, loco relaxed, LOCO pilot changed, Exclusive gourmet meals ready, line clear, signaled and our RAJ is already furiously accelerating in its pursuit to reach the land of oranges and make up for the remaining 50 minutes. RAJ is a sprinter and a very good one, it is not like your typical marathon athlete, but a marathon athlete with a spirit of the 100m dasher. The next milestone is to get ahead of New Delhi bound AP, right in front of us and considering the delay , it was our educated guess that it may not happen before we reach Nagpur as AP is not a sloucher either.
While all this analysis were in progress, our super exclusive pantry attendant started off his circus again, albeit a bit tired (Probably due to enjoying their own cuisine) and we quickly finish our uneventful lunch samples and prepared ourselves for high speed crossings of the evergreen Grand Trunk Express and the almighty TN. We crossed GT before Sewagram, known for Mahatma Gandhi’s Ashram. Sewagram is an RF paradise where the trunk lines from Mumbai and Chennai merge and a triangular bypass from Chennai trunk line to the Mumbai trunk line. Chennai – Delhi trunk line slows down to a 50kmph speed limit to negotiate one of the famous and massive curves of Indian Railways and is a sight to watch for every rail enthusiast. Trains on the Nagpur – Mumbai trunk line, rips through Sewagram without slowing down on the mainline.
A quick glance at our watches and realized we had hardly covered up around 10-15 minutes delay. Apparently, the though process was telepathically transferred to our loco pilots and pumped the loco with an extra dose of adrenaline. The result, a breathtaking run of 70kms completed in about 34 minutes on the flat Vidharba region of the country. 5 minutes before time at Nagpur outer and a 10 minute delay as we pulled into the land of Oranges. AP is still ahead of us and we are coming for you soon !