Son, There Isn’t Enough Time – III

Road At Last
Road At Last
Yours Truly
Yours Truly

It had taken us 3 hrs to hike the 5 km to Adderley. The killer gradient laughing all its way behind us. We took our time, freshened up, hydrated ourselves with loads of stream water, which has been channelized to flow into pipelines with small water pits all along the tracks. It made sense to drop of all our water bottles and a bit of carrying load as fresh water was in abundance in the Nilgiris. After a quick & generous intake of fresh fruits and vegetables not sparing even the orange peels, we started off for the next 5 kilometers towards Hillgrove. The plan was to go beyond Hillgrove and jump onto the road where the tracks cross the roads more often beyond Hillgrove. It was half past noon as we moved our tired butts. The half hour break had stiffened all our muscles and took another 15 – 20 minutes of uphill trek to get warmed up and loosened.

Lunch Break
Lunch Break
Light Dispels Dark
Light Dispels Dark
Abundance
Abundance
And it goes
And it goes
Fully Reloaded
Fully Reloaded

The heavy lunch in our backpacks was slowing us down and draining our energy at an unprecedented rate and being the smartest individuals we were, we decided on a double whammy. Eat our lunch, reduce the load and fuel up your energy reserves. The NMR operates only two train on the Mettupalayam – Ooty sector. An early departure at Mettupalayam and the same passenger train back to Mettupalayam from Ooty later in the afternoon. Overestimating our superhuman abilities, we expected to meet the return passenger after our 20 km trek at Coonoor and certainly not the huge whooshy sounds from an oil fired X series steam locomotive carefully descending the gradient as we settle down for lunch. The lunch party quickly organized themselves along a small track side temple and waited patiently for the breakdown special to move past us with a few confused NMR railway staff waving at us. The gang men duo who picked up halfway towards Adderley exclaimed that this was a breakdown special which is now coming back after clearing the landslides which suspended the services a few days ago. Another half hour spent eating and cleaning up the place. Trust me when I say, the place is so pristine that leaving any mess over there will hang over your neck for the rest of your life, not that it assumes you can mess up anywhere else. Any which way, please clean up your mess.

A modern bridge
A modern bridge

Things started to get a bit spiced up now. There was a single gang man waiting for just beyond bridge no 42, around a couple of kilometers ahead of Hillgrove and about 1.5 km from where we just cleaned up after lunch. Apparently a wild elephant is on the run around bridge no 42 and is now in hiding as the BDS (breakdown special) scared it off. It should take another hour or so for it to come out and it would be a wise decision to step up our pace. Well, we were all fully perked up and with a much lighter almost non existent load on our backs, the pace stepped up literally and just as were about to cross the bridge no 42 one of us had to sit down right in the middle of the bridge to massage the leg muscles from severe cramps. The Adderley gang had informed us that just beyond bridge no 42, one can walk down a path to the road and get a lift to Coonoor. With one of us getting cramped up we spent another ten minutes discussion various scenarios and it was finally decided that a couple of us would assist him down to the road, get back and continue on with the hike. Each one of us was tired to the bone and no one wanted to let go of the remaining trek and accompany him all the way to our Glendale guest house. Hence we wait. Meanwhile, we have been handed over to the next gang man who would accompany us up to Hillgrove. He gave us the directions and the trio was off to hit the road.

Looking Back
Looking Back

While we waited for the two of them to return, we were shown the tracks and signs of the elephant which had been roaming around bridge no 42 and given some practical lessons on what to do if an elephant chases you. The cardinal rule is, never try to outrun the elephant or ever try reaching higher ground. These large creatures are deceptively quick and can climb real fast.The best option is to go down the hill as they very rarely chase anyone down the slope due to the excess weight and balance. As we were getting enlightened, the trio calls up having spotted the elephant. Our guide without a second’s hesitation asked us to run down the bridge to stay on the other side (Apparently elephants do not cross railway bridges) and wait till he gets back. After close to 30 minutes, which felt like a couple of hours, all of them were back after an adventure. They had managed to put up the member who cramped up onto a vehicle to reach the Glendale guest house and we continued on our hike.

I Bless You
I Bless You
The Last Mile
The Last Mile
Protective Rock
Protective Rock

The return passenger from Ooty normally reaches Hillgrove around 4 in the afternoon and for our guide cum escort, that is the only way out back to the plains. We had an hour left and another mile to go. Now this was a run. He was literally dragging us at a breakneck speed. We now have another 300 meters to hike. I can see the station building straight left.I could see the old abandoned building nearby. I can see the water tank, the water filling area for the steam locomotive. I can even see the station board. I just couldn’t move. When you see the destination in sight, hell freezes over. None of my muscles responded to a single command from my brain. I had to drag each and every cell within my body and this last 300 meters turned out to almost to be the most impossible part of the trek. Once I set foot on the station platform which is a couple of inches from the ground, I threw off my backpack somewhere and stood right under water tank with water gushing down and out from around a hundred feet above and after five minutes, I was dripping wet, tiredness out into oblivion, headache washed away. Two energy bars, a liter of water, 2 cups of coffee and 10 minutes later, I could not have felt any better and fresh as a daisy, ready to hike another 10 km uphill. My smart brain instantly let me know that it was insanity and adrenaline talking. Time now to wait for the Mettupalayam bound passenger.

The Clickers
The Clickers
Seeya later
Seeya later

The NMR especially between Jul – Dec is as charming as it can get. Uphill, the passenger stops at Adderley, Hillgrove & Runnymede for water, oil, cooling off and lets the passengers walk around, enjoy the breathtaking views, soak in the surroundings and unwind. Once all done, the train whistles and waits until everyone is back to continue on its journey. There is enough time built into the schedule to let passengers breathe in the pristine environment up to Coonoor. I had always wanted to get out and watch trains go rather than get into the train and watch the landscape rush past. This is almost next to impossible on the NMR. Now we are here, with no train to board and waiting for the Mettupalayam bound passenger to roll down to Hillgrove. As the hustle, bustle and whistle seeps in from the hills, a bunch us get to wait to capture the moment as the NMR beauty rolls down the bridge into Hillgrove with wide eyed passengers. Now, as the train rolls down the bridge, hills in the background and heart in my mouth, I almost freeze just to take a snapshot in time. Now, this is one feeling, I could never be able to express in words. Every single passenger inside were looking down at us, confused finding non railway folks at Hillgrove, sporting the widest grins stretching ear to ear and waving with all their heart and might. Well that WAS special.

Hillgrove
Hillgrove
Steady & Careful
Steady & Careful

That was a 30 minute halt. They wanted to know. Who are we ? Why are we there ? How did we reach there ? and everything else about our crazy hike up. The NMR passenger chugged off towards Mettupalayam at 5PM. The station staff wound up for the day, closed the tea & snacks stall and a couple of them guided our way down to the road through slippery rocks, fresh water streams and moss laden path. A careful fall and twenty minutes later, we were on the road waiting for our driver to pick us up and found ourselves dropped at the Glendale Guest house all for ourselves, except for a couple of caring cooks who took care of our culinary needs till 2 AM the next morning. After a spirited session with great food and cold beers, we called it a day around 2 in the morning only to continue from where we left off the next morning from 7 AM. The Glendale estate is a private property with beautifully manicured tea plantations where the cooks spent their entire morning and early afternoon in the kitchen taking the best care possible of their guests. The group started leaving in batches to their respective destinations starting around 4 in the afternoon. The estate manager managed an unofficial private visit to the tea factory, which unfortunately delayed our departure slightly and we managed to reach Podanur 2 minutes after our train, usually 10 minutes behind schedule at Podanur, departed towards Bangalore. After a lot of ifs and buts, I settled down with my usual travel partner near Coimbatore Junction, at a decent hotel for a day trip the next morning to Bangalore.

At Last
At Last
Just a few minutes
Just a few minutes
Fresh and Clean
Fresh and Clean

Before I wind up this blog, it needs to be said that this trek has been one of the most enlightening and delightful trips I have ever done. Trekking uphill may seem tedious, but it seemed to me at least that it is a safer alternative to going downhill especially if the terrain is slippery like it was during our trip. Nature is beautiful. Once you start appreciating its beauty, you do not need anymore campaigns on saving the earth. For one, we cannot save it. It is far more powerful than us and secondly, you will never destroy something which you love. Hope I was able to take you along with me in this trek. Do let me know with your comments and I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I relived the experience writing this. I certainly DID NOT HAVE ENOUGH TIME.

The Fog descends
The Fog descends

Son, There Isn’t Enough Time – II

Spoilt By Nature
Spoilt By Nature
Kallar
Kallar

An hour before the departure of the Ooty toy train. The crowd and excitement builds up. Camera’s ranging from a simple mobile phone all the way up to the bulky DSLR’s with lenses slightly smaller than the tank’s snout is all out in the open. It’s raining and no one cares. The early morning chirping of birds are masked by shutter clicks and hissing steam.Excited passengers go shutter crazy. The TTE is checking , well what else, the tickets. A handful of folks click ridiculous photos looking into the moon with the selfie sticks, while the rest watch in amusement. A final hoot and a final call and all the passengers settle down. Ready to depart and signals set, the trademark hoot followed by a push and the little beauty chugs on towards what would be a mesmerizing 5 hour journey into natural beauty. A slight drizzle, hooting and puffing and crawling out of Mettupalayam, The X Series loco pushes a train full of passengers, who have brought out their child within and cameras as they prepare for an exciting and delightful experience on the UNESCO heritage NMR (Nilgiri Mountain Railway).

Welcome to NMR
Welcome To NMR
Can You See That
Can You See That
Ready ?
Ready ?
Check and Engage
Check and Engage

With the star of the day out of the way, its time to regroup and move on. We separated the trek requirement part of our luggage consisting of energy bars, water, medicines, food, rain protection gear, cameras and flashlights. We picked up a few items needed on the way and rushed past overcast clouds and wet roads along the foothills of Nilgiris towards Kallar railway station. Right at the foothills of the Nilgiris and the entrance to the forest ahead, Kallar, named after the river, was a quaint and serene station where the Ooty passenger has the first of its unscheduled stop for water filling and aligning the gears to catch on for the steep climb ahead. The actual climb towards Ooty starts at Kallar. We spent around half an hour at the station master’s hut and fuelled ourselves with a heavy breakfast for the steep climb ahead. The station master was kind enough to hold back two of the gang men to accompany us and delayed their daily inspection check duties for our safety and assistance. They would accompany us halfway up to Adderley and hand us over the next gang. We had no idea on why they would take such measures, but as the day progresses, it would dawn upon us.

The Gang and the Gangmen
The Gang and the Gangmen

We have all the pre-requesites of a professional photographer. The DSLR Cameras, Facebook Pages and the knowledge of how to sneak in a copyright into our images. So out comes our gear and we click all over the place and delay yet another 15 minutes little realizing the fact that the 2 gang men were actually waiting for us. Maybe it is just another day at work for them unlike us who believe that nothing is more important than our own precious time. I had trekked ghat sections earlier and when the gang men questioned us on our knowledge of tunnels, bridges and trekking along railway lines in the ghats, the significant never dawned upon us. Anyway, we saw that the section had a gradient of 1 in 12.5, which apparently is one of the steepest gradients on earth. Just to get the perspective right the Bhor & Thull ghats of Indian Railways hover around 1 in 30 to 1 in 40 range. The gradient never looked menacing and we expected the trek of close to 14 km to be difficult but not strenuous.

And it Begins
And it Begins
The First Tunnel
The First Tunnel
Inside The First Tunnel
Inside The First Tunnel
The Exit
The Exit
The First Real Viaduct
The First Real Viaduct

Five minutes is all it took for us to realize how wrong we were. The gradient was a killer. With a moderately heavy load on backs, oil greased tracks, uneven and slippery track-side access, the gravel ballast and the killer gradient let us know immediately who is in charge there. Any leftover hint of overconfidence and complacency we had was wiped off instantly and the instructions sent out to us resonated with more reason. No perfumes, no bright colored dresses, camouflage dressing if available, no strong soap odor, no unnecessary talking, no sudden movements, no loud noises and the most scary of all, we are all children of mother nature, respect mother nature and you will survive.

Tempting
Tempting
The First Real Viaduct
Thats how it is

The forest was rough and wild. The rain gods decided to take a break and showed up just every now on then to have a check on us. After a 10 minute trek, we could feel our muscles begging and lungs having a workout. Meanwhile we were slowly falling into rhythm and the trek getting steadier by the minute. The gang men had a lot of stories to keep us entertained and informed all the way up. There were continuous updates coming over the BSNL network on the track situation, elephant sightings and other dangers / precautions. We passed through a location where one of the gang men was mauled by a tusker, a memorial stone to refresh the memory and not to let our focus drift. We crossed a couple of tunnels and came face to face with a long curved bridge and a thunderous sound of gushing waters below us.

The First Real Viaduct
Perk up your spirits

The bridge came out as open and wild as it could be. No supports / walkways on either side except for longer wooden sleepers. High winds, gushing waters and nothing but openness around us, it was not a time to look down through the wide gaps between the wooden sleepers. With extreme focus and dedication, trying to keep the fear of heights at bay, we crossed the first of the many bridges and viaducts careful not to slip over the oil stained sleepers. As we reached the end of the first long bridge, there were 2 gang men ready to take over the reins from those who accompanied us until then. After a 2.5 km trek which took close to an hour and a half of which 5 minutes were spent on crossing that 100 meter bridge, we bid them goodbye with lots of gratitude and respect. A few monkeys kept wandering around us taking in the mystery of seeing a bunch of amateurs doing an impossible uphill trek in the Nilgiris. We took a 15 minute break right after the bridge, hydrated and re-energized ourselves and started off our next 2.5 km trek to Adderley. The short trek so far had already drained us out and the rest of the journey already seems like an uphill task, no pun intended.

Destination Adderley
Destination Adderley

Small talk, more interesting chat with the gang men and their daily routines, focused climb, cool weather, lack of rains, heavy breathing, tunnels, viaducts and bridges, monkeys , cane assisted climbs, an experience of a 2.5km trek behind us and an hour later we found ourselves right under the water filling area of Adderley. Adderley, by no means can be called a station by any stretch of imagination. The station consists of a gang man hut on the left with wide open views of nothingness on the left and thick dense forests on the right. The gang man hut has an inverted U shaped entrance, courtesy of a mad elephant trying to make its way through while the employees took refugee and prayed to almighty. We had a half hour break and some rest at the hut listening to the experiences of the railway men and the difficulties they face in keeping the NMR operation running. The amount of work these hardworking railway men get done in harrowing and difficult weather conditions combined with threat of wild elephants and other animals is no trivial proposition. Add to that the salary and facilities they receive makes it a complete raw deal for them. The chief gang man over there has already spent close to 30 years at Adderley and expects his retirement in the next few years or so. We as passengers enjoy the beauty and charm of our rail networks little sparing a thought for these men. A big salute to their dedication and hard work ensuring the safety of millions of passengers across the country.

Look Ahead
Look Ahead

Son, There Isn’t Enough Time – I

The Final Call
The Final Call To Action

I was probably just about to enter my teens then and summer vacations meant a trip down to Coimbatore to spend a couple of weeks with my maternal grandparents, uncles and cousins and this time was not any different. Two months of time to kill. Cell phones were part of science fiction movies and entertainment primarily consists of travelling & outdoors. Television was always restricted to those 2-3 hours of bland meaningless babbles when broadcast did happen, of which a good half hour is spent in aligning the receiving antenna in search of good signal which is always around and never found. It was one of those nights and an adhoc idea floated around to visit the Nilgiris the next morning. I was caught off guard and started fantasizing my trip on the “OOTY TRAIN”, presently called NMR (Nilgiri Mountain Railway), only to be disappointed as the plan was brutally dismissed considering paucity of time. Who wants to enjoy the journey when the destination in sight. In my frustration, I kicked off the receiving antenna and I guess started receiving alien signals probably later intercepted in the making of Krrish, the Indian version of ET.

Relax Please
Relax Please
Here comes the Legend
Here Comes The Legend
The Wait
The Wait

Fast forward a quarter century (Phew!, that’s a while), things have changed now. Television is 24×7 and the number of channels exceed my counting ability. Watching the road is happenstance and is an event only when we are tired of looking at our mobiles. Everyone looks like a spy straight out of a Ludlum novel with gadgets and wires hanging out all over the place. Certain things never change and my undying desire to travel in the NMR is one such constant. The last few years I have been blessed with a set of like minded folks who share the same idiosyncrasies as mine and an NMR travel did become a reality, which is for a recollection at a later stage. However the ride made me realize what my father stressed earlier 25 years ago, “Son, we do not have the time”. How true! The beauty of the NMR was breathtaking and it was clear as day that the 5 hrs riding the train uphill from Mettupalayam to Udhagamandalam is indeed not enough. So when my crazy group decided to take a hike along the tracks to Coonoor, it was no brainer and the decision was made.

Red Leads Blue
Red Meets Blue
I did not expect this
I Did Not Expect This

NMR trips are always planned over a weekend thereby not hindering our professional commitments and the dates were set for Nov 21-22 2015. I was disappointed. Family & other commitments meant that I will have to give this a pass. Without waiting for a last minute decision considering the realities, I had to pass this on and did so without delay and wished everyone else to have a great time and miss me without fail. As we neared the dates, a higher power decided to withhold some of the hikers to ransom by dumping professional obligations and a few personal duties that the dates had to be reworked and the hike was subsequently shifted to the second weekend of Dec 2015. With another chance to redeem my wish and thanking my stars, I began planning for this along with my usual partner in crime.

Freshening Up
Freshening Up
WAP7 Shunting
WAP7 Shunting
Oil Lit Lamp Post ?
Oil Lit Lamp Post
Final Checks
Final Checks
The Photogenic beauty
The Photogenic Beauty

The NMR UNESCO heritage railway climbs a good 2 kilometers across 46 kilometers from Mettupalayam to Udhagamandalam. As much as we were excited and blinded by the trek, common sense prevailed and we quickly realized that this is impossible to trek the entire stretch and the plan was reworked to trek all the way from Kallar to Coonoor, a trek a kilometer vertically and 20 km along the ground. Little did we realize how steep the incline was during the planning stage. However we had worked out the plan in detail to ensure that after a 10 km trek up to Hillgrove, we can manage exits and reach the roads if needed. We had obtained verbal permission from the Public Relations Office, Salem Division, Southern Railway. A couple of our group had talked to Mettupalayam station manager, who apparently was a patient of one of our trekking group and he had assured us of help and assistance as well.

Thats My Crown
That’s My Crown
The P7 Badminton Saga
The P7 Badminton Saga
Careful WAPPIE
Careful WAPPIE
And the fun begins
And The Fun Begins
Oh Please ...
Oh Please

The passenger for Ooty is scheduled to leave Mettupalayam everyday at 7:10 am, weather & nature co-operating by not letting the land slide on to the tracks in the mountainous region. The plan was to arrive before this departure, group ourselves and drive down to Kallar and start our trek, while the drivers would drive our cars to the guest house at the Glendale Tea Estate. Given the short notice and vacation time around, my partner and self, had a harrowing time to in figuring out the best option which would leave us well rested prior to our strenuous trek. Luck was in our favor as we managed to get the last 2 available tickets from Bangalore to Salem in 16526, popularly known as the Island Express. The Indian Railways berth allocation logic is something even Duckworth & Lewis cannot comprehend. Getting a lower berth with 300+ vacant berths may still be a gamble, but we were blessed with 2 Side lower berths on the last 2 available tickets upto Salem. From Salem, it was decided that we would take the Nilgiri Express aka Blue Mountain and popularly called as Blue all the way up to Mettupalayam, which is the official connecting train to the Ooty NMR passenger

A portrait is fine
A Portrait Is Fine

D-Day, Dec 11 2015, I was waiting patiently for my 16526 at Whitefield. I had just received information from my partner that he had just departed from the previous station 10 kms behind and would be at Whitefield in another 15 minutes. I should have realized that I was in for an exhilarating run when I boarded my coach just 9 minutes after his call. The Loco Pilot was on an absolute high and showed it with full gusto. We ripped through the outskirts of Bangalore with darkness & light flashing past us like tripped up disco lights on a high. We made a lot of time and joined the Chennai Salem mainline at Tirupattur and let ourselves rest for a well deserved break. The controllers had better sense, extended our rest and fulfilled our wish by letting the legendary 12623, Chennai – Trivandrum mail, overtake us at Tirupattur. A relaxed run and we found ourselves dumped on Platform 1 of an extremely clean Salem Junction. We had a good 90 minutes at Salem and fueled ourselves with some roadside food and a steaming cup of tea. The Blue arrived a few minutes behind schedule and we were halfway to dreamland as the train pulled out of Salem and next thing I know, I was analyzing the electric locomotive at Mettupalayam 15 minutes ahead of our scheduled arrival, wondering when did the Coimbatore – Mettupalayam section get electrified

Show Me The Way
Show Me The Way

Rocket

12133 , Mumbai CST – Mangalore Junction express, nicknamed ROCKET by rail enthusiasts enters Udupi on the Konkan Railway. Overnight rain followed by bright sunshine with clouds playing hide and seek while our Pune Bound 22149 waits for the line to clear.

Rocket !!!
Rocket

 

The Konkan Wait

Waiting for crossings on the Konkan Railway is never a boring affair especially during monsoons. Heavy clouds, Lush Greenery and stations sneaked in between natural surroundings make it worthwhile. Seen here is our Pune bound 22149 from Ernakulam waiting for Mangalore bound Intercity from Madgaon at Karwar.

The Konkan Wait
The Konkan Wait