After spending close to 90 minutes and thereabouts, we were able to feel a gentle vibration in the air. We stretched our vision past the viaduct into the deep black tunnel, which I guess is tunnel no 41 UP, and could see an approaching light. The moment of truth and the reason why we came here. Our initial guess was just a pair of bankers going downhill after finishing its duty, but we were excited to witness 3 Kalyan WAG7’s acting as brakers with another idle G7 with a loaded BCNA going downhill. After a 4 minute display of cautious descent, we had the line clear to continue with the rest of the hike up to Monkey Hill. With an experience of walking through 3 or 4 tunnels, we started off towards Monkey Hill with a slightly more confident frame of mind. This of course is after snapping us in all possible angles and locations.
Technical part of me is not very sure, but my guess is this last tunnel towards Monkey hill was also close to around 700-900 meters long. So here we go chugging along after an unforgettable couple of hours. I have to mention here that at every possible opportunity, our generous IRFCAn was in touch with us and inquiring if we needed any assistance or help. We have been in touch for close to 4 hrs now playing a cat and mouse game and by now, we were pretty confident that we would not be able to meet this gentleman. Moving on, as we crossed around 25% of the tunnel, suddenly the tunnel went completely dark. All the lights inside the tunnel decided to take a break. We switched off our flashlights for an instant. Well, THAT WAS DARK, absolutely dark. I couldn’t even see my hands as I slowly stretched them and kept it inching it towards my eyes. The only reason I did not manage to pop my eye out was my awareness in the space and time dimension and not succumbing to spatial disorientation. Flashlights came back on quickly and our sprint towards Monkey hill continued.
Halfway down the tunnel, we could see an unmistakable triangular pattern of lights of a locomotive pulling something towards us. There was enough time for us to look out for the next refugee point and waited for the train to cross. It appeared to be some sort of a maintenance or a departmental rake. The subsequent walk towards Monkey Hill was brisk and uneventful. Just as we were about to pass the catch siding and have a look at the other two lines, the down mainline signal turned green. A quick sprint and a gentle climb towards the catch siding, Balaji express bound to Nagercoil, with a Pune 3D, headlights on, quickly rushed past towards Khandala. The mid line starter was also green and a KYN WAG-5A with a BTPN rake continued its journey towards Karjat after its mandatory brake testing halt at Monkey Hill.
After a refreshing 4 hour hike in the Sahyadris, we decided to rest a while before we could take the Sinhagad express towards Pune for the second leg of our monsoon rail trip and this was a bad decision. Until now, the adrenaline, the refreshing greenery and the excitement of spending quality time with nature far from the madding crowd had kept our energy levels and enthusiasm sky high. If anyone could recall, my friend had not slept in the past 24 hours and I have been up since 2 AM in the morning. A relaxing 5 minute nap at Monkey Hill was so tempting that we succumbed to it. All our adrenaline took a back seat now and tiredness and drowsiness took center stage. The 5 minute break did more damage than good and we had to drag ourselves back to continue with our hike. We called up our IRFCAn and figured out that he would be banking the Karjat-Pune Shuttle and would be his final trip of the day. Since the shuttle would not stop at Monkey Hill, with a sense of missing something we thanked him for all his help and decided to wait for Sinhagad. We were carrying sweets to gift people whom we may meet en route our travel and since we will not be able to meet our IRFCAn, we decided to indulge a bit and helped ourselves to a couple of famed Dharwad Pedas.
Once energized, it dawned upon us that the shuttle would stop at Thakurwadi and we still had time to make it to Thakurwadi. With the help of a few railway workers, we managed to reach Thakurwadi just in time as the Pune bound shuttle was almost arriving. We were only able to make it the penultimate coach before the shuttle started towards Khandala. Quickly boarded and called up our savior of the day to let him know we were in the shuttle he was banking and that we would meet him at Khandala. Soon enough Khandala arrived, a quick meet and handshake and we also decided to deboard at Lonavla as he would finish his banking duties to spend at least a few moments thanking him for his help before moving on. We had a surprise in store for us as we came face to face with Ashish Kuvelkar of IRFCA, Pune. I was aware of the famed Bhore Ghat Picture of Coimbatore – LTT, popularly known as Kurla express shot at the very same location where we spent close to 2 hours today, but was ignorant of the fact that this shot was indeed clicked by him. Apparently he was there earlier today trying to capture our HYB – CSTM express as well :). As we parted, we gifted our generous guide and well wisher, the famed Dharwad Pedas, albeit with a couple of missing pieces and with due apologies for the same.
Soon enough, Chennai bound 11041 pulled into Lonavla and after a quick check with the TTE, boarded one of the sleeper classes and in no time, drifted off to dreamland. Somewhere down the line we overtook the Karjat – Pune shuttle and pulled into Pune shortly before 6PM. We literally dragged ourselves out of the station and to the same nondescript hotel where we made a flying visit earlier in the day. I called up our original guide and well wisher for this trip and updated the day’s happenings and shared a few pics which I had taken with my mobile. It was then that we decided to make it to the IRFCA convention without fail at Bikaner in January 2016 as we were unable to meet with him and a few others as they were all held up with personal commitments. An hour of rest, followed by some tea, snacks and a quick bath and the planning for the next part of our trip started.
We had an onward journey sleeper class ticket to Goa (Madgaon) in 11097, Pune – Ernakulam poorna express. As much as we would have loved to take the sleeper, physical exhaustion and lack of sleep took a toll on us and we decided to travel by 3A. Tatkal showed an availability of around 10 berths and general waiting list of 3. With charting due in the next 10 minutes, we immediately booked 2 3A tickets to Madgaon and cancelled our sleeper class. As expected, we got confirmed berths on chart preparation and decided to doze off for another hour before venturing out for dinner. 8PM, we check out and drag us and our luggage again to Pune. Thankfully enough we were spared a climb as Poorna was berthed on PF1 of Pune station. A quick dinner, couple of bottles of water and something packed for later in case of eventuality, we quickly settled onto our berths for an extended rest before we reach GOA the following afternoon. After a terrific and tiring day, we drifted off with a satisfied soul and a tired body.
Early morning freshening up and rituals needs to be completed before the world around you gets up and I am usually a very early riser especially while traveling. The early morning freshness and the rhythm of the train speeding past vast fields of nothingness preps you up for the day. However the day started late for me considering the previous day’s adventures. By the time, I could freshen up and set myself up, we were crossing Sulebhavi and probably the Belgaum – Miraj passenger and shortly afterwards entered Belgaum. As is the fashion nowadays, Belgaum is now renamed to Belagavi. A long wait for the SWR Queen ensured that we have a good breakfast and some station tea. Rani Chennamma arrived with UBL WDP4 20026 in LHF and soon enough we were given the starter to proceed towards Londa.
Londa, usually a laid back and relaxed station was a beehive of activity. Poorna has a loco reversal at Londa to move towards Castlerock and Dudhsagar. As we entered Londa a good one hour late, we had on an average of 3-4 RPF boarding every compartment and settled down near the doors. A big setback to doorplating, which we will overcome in due course. Ever since Chennai Express decided to take a diversion to go towards Komban village, Dudhsagar, once a pure railfan’s delight and private spot, soon became a tourist spot with fly by night operators starting trekking and hiking services to Dudhsagar, which if I am not wrong is the 5th tallest falls in India. Needless to say the place had become filth galore with plastics and beer bottles and all sorts of items intended for very private & intimate use. Imagine this. A viaduct over which the train passes at an extremely relaxed speed, just enough space for another 2-3 folks on the left standing shoulder to shoulder, no space on the right, the majestic Dudhsagar waterfalls on the left and a deep valley down below taking the Mandovi river all the way to Goa. Now imagine close to 3000 folks in that narrow space fighting each other for a safe space when the train passes. A nightmare for the loco pilots and they have been raising this concern for way too long ever since Rohith Shetty decided to mess up with his movie for those who keep their brains at home. It had to happen and eventually it did, multiple accidents, life threatening injuries, a few fatalities of being run over by trains and to top it all our illiterate and the “educated” joined hands and broke the glasses and injured the passengers of the Nizamuddin bound Super (Goa Express as it is called). All such hooliganism and stupidity needs to pay and the yes the public paid. Dudhsagar was made completely out of bounds and the South Western Railway clearly indicated that it would press criminal charges against anyone found trespassing railway property and to ensure that this happens all the RPF Circus started off in Londa.
After a good 30 minute wait, the loco reversed and we started moving off towards Castle Rock. There is only one way, I could now doorplate up to Kulem and decided to get on with it. We started talking to the RPF guards on duty near the doors and asked them as if we knew nothing. We wanted to get off at Dudhsagar, but the last minute developments at Dudhsagar forced us to change our plan and go all the way to Goa. Well the RPF don’t know that. We expressed our disappointment on not being able to get off at Dudhsagar, even though it was not our plan and started empathizing with them (Which was Genuine by the way). Soon enough the talks become better and we managed to convince him to move off the doors so that we can atleast enjoy and click pictures and shoot some videos. In the meanwhile a very senior RPF officer boarded our coach and we came to actually realize the problems RPF face within our country. After an extended talk with him, he ended up showing us the videos of how GOA express was vandalized by the brainless tourists and how they were forced to do what they had to do. In the meanwhile, we reached Castle Rock, added a couple of brakers and moved on. As we neared Dudhsagar, he suggested us one way where we could actually manage to walk down to DDS with no fear of RPF or any other trespassing related issues.
Dudhsagar arrived and an army of RPF deboarded along with another army which was already present there. They ensured not a single passenger deboarded the train at DDS. After the brake testing halt, we moved forward and as we crossed the tunnel, the sound of gushing water and misty water sprays rekindled the spirit of adventure and that we should make it again here one way or the other. As always DDS is a majestic sight and this time it was no exception. In spite of below average monsoon, Dudhsagar waterfall is always a breathtaking sight. One good outcome of this ban fiasco was that Dudhsagar had regained its lost glory and the place was as green and clean as possible. With no plastics , beer bottles and other stuff around, I felt good for the place and the ban seemed justified. After all what do such over the top vandals like us deserve. We will miss the beautiful monsoon trek and solitude this place has to offer.
We had a technical halt again at Sonalium where a few disappointed trekkers boarded the train and rest of the run up to Madgaon was uneventful. Post Kulem poorna managed some breathing space and went on a rampage. Soon we joined the Konkan line from Mangalore and entered Madgaon a good one hour behind schedule. There is something about Goa beyond the beaches and partying spirit which I am unable to express in words. A feeling you have to experience it to appreciate it especially during monsoons. We take a pre-paid cab and move into our hotel near Colva beach where a spirited game of football was going on in full flow. After witnessing it for a few minutes, we order some food and freshen up and take a walk towards the beach. After enjoying the next football match for a few moments with a cup of roadside tea, went to the beach to click some snaps of the setting sun against the Arabian sea. However nature had other plans for us presenting us with a very cloudy sunset. While we were contemplating how to blend in with the Goan spirit the heavens opened up with absolutely zero warning in all glory. Add to that very strong winds and before we could hunt for our umbrellas or jackets, we found no need for the same. Shoes in hand with a heavy breeze and unprecedented downpour, we went walking barefoot towards our hotel for some dinner and enjoy the Goan spirit. We have another full day to explore and the plan initially was to visit the Sharavati Bridge at Honnavar and be back later in the day. However we had no idea on how things would change in the next couple of hours. Stay tuned.