Western Ghats during monsoons is one of the most beautiful visuals one can ever get n India. Relentless rains all the Way from Sakleshpur. No signs of stopping. A sleeper class travel on one of the most relaxed rides on the Konkan coast. Life is not all about meeting deadlines and a rat race. The simplest pleasures of life are the least expensive ones.
A fresh New Year & the rising sun waits to greet its first visitor on rails somewhere between Tiruppur & Uttukuli
An unplanned and adhoc visit to Vanjipalayam to experience some adrenaline rushing action near Tiruppur on a wet and lazy Sunday morning. Do not be fooled by the visual. One of the high speed action zones on the Coimbatore – Tiruppur section.
Part 4 : The Climax
It is undisputed blasphemy for me to sleep in a train with an emergency side lower berth at my disposal, but the brain and physical limitations of my body overpowered the unwilling heart and sleep was instantaneous. The misty and cool early morning was welcomed with a sedate cruise through Kohli, a good 40 minutes behind schedule. We sped past Godhani and after a customary outer halt and a crawl reached Nagpur at 5:50 in the morning. Like every other journey, my morning freshening up and usage of the bathroom facilities were done and dusted well before dawn while the washrooms were clean and manageable. Ten minutes later, we crawl out of Nagpur and our P7 started to really pump itself up after clearing all the points. Ajni was crossed at MPS and the ride between Ajni and Sewagram outer was as fresh as it could be. Rising sun, with a low lying mist, foggy morning rushin past green fields and the new Vidharba Cricket Stadium. 45 minutes after we departed Nagpur, the P7 peeps into the quintessential Sewagram curve, A full 90 degree curve where you can see the loco curving at 50kmph from any part of the train. I have to say that this curve had never disappointed me. We accelerate out of the curve while the Nagpur bound Mumbai – Nagpur Duronto speeds past us on the mainline from Wardha towards its final destination.
By now, PK is up and indulging himself. Breakfast was served around Majri. I am unsure if it was the previous nights tweet about the pristine quality and quantity of food or whether it happened in its natural course of events, the breakfast was well above average. Upma and vada seemed fresh and not yet cold. Pk believes his tweet did the trick and I did not want to deprive him of his satisfaction and hence agreed. Unsure of whether we would get breakfast when we change over to 3A at Balharshah, we fueled up. By the time we finished our breakfast Chandrapur was getting dispatched at MPS. Either we enjoyed the breakfast relishing every bite or our Loco Pilot was in a hurry. The reasoning favored the latter notwithstanding the decent breakfast. Sewagram to Balharshah was completed in 72 minutes, a distance of 132 kms average being exactly 110 kmph. A fabulous run completly eliminating the 40 minute delay and bettering it by 15 minutes. Well, time to deboard and move over. We gather our belongings, which was a shoulder bag and 2 bottles of water and amble over couple of coaches ahead to B3. As luck would have it, both the lower berth occupants had shifted over to 2A and we quickly occupied both the lower berths with absolute adult like matter of fact expressions and maturity and curbed our natural instinct to scream & jump up in joy and exchange high fives. More water and another round of breakfast and back to business. The next halt Vijayawada is another 450 kms and 6 hours away and a couple of hours of power nap would certainly not hurt.
Sleep was elusive. The heart won. However did not feel like sitting upright. So face down and pillows as support, I look out of the large windows, eyes wide open, like a chameleon and watching the best entertainment Indian Railways has on offer. I start counting poles, time taken, estimate the speed and compare against my GPS. Kept looking out for crossings, overtakes, high speed skips and the real thrill you get at the switch over points at MPS. Sirpur, Manchiryal, Pedapalli, Odela and every station enroute was just a passing blur. Full MPS crossings with heavy weights Grand Trunk Express, Tamilnadu Express, Telengana Express (Old AP) , Bangalore Rajdhani Express & Yesvantpur Sarai Rohilla AC Duronto. After a blistering non stop MPS runs with a few customary loop overtakes of SCR, we had a beautiful relaxed and a slow crossing with the rockstar, Karnataka Sampark Kranti Express near the Kazipet lake. A short technical halt at Warangal for about 10 minutes and we were back on track towards Vijayawada Junction, an extremely busy junction which had always amazed me.
As we departed Warangal, the entire train entered into an almost trance like state. Curtains were drawn, bedding re-arranged and slowly more than half our coach drifted off to sleep. It was contagious and we were not immune either. Lunch was served around 1230 in the afternoon and to our relief, it was well above average. I have earlier heard of this discrimination between sleeper class and AC passengers of this Duronto when it comes to food. All my skepticism went out of the window the instant I tasted the food. There IS a distinct difference. With nothing else to do and the LHB coaches dancing on the tracks at MPS, we settled down for a short nap amidst the rhythmic sounds. An hour later, while the coach was still in deep slumber, I decided to freshen up inside out completely and spent half an hour occupying one of the cleaner washrooms and returned cleaner, fresher and a much better odor all around me and was just in time to enjoy the extended and massive entry into Vijayawada Junction. Vijayawada Junction is one of the important Junctions of the Southern part of India, where the lines towards Howrah / Vizag & Nagpur / Delhi bifurcates towards Central Telengana & Coastal Andhra respectively
I have no words to describe this station. A massive well maintained clean and neat Junction with multiple lines, crossover, junctions, yards, stabling lines, loco shed extending at least 8-10 kms beyond on either sides, with 10 long well equipped clean platforms. It was a sight to see and experience. My first visit to this Junction during day time and it is a monstrosity of a junction. We met one of our friends at Vijayawada and after a short halt, a fresh crew is now all set to take us all the way to Chennai. Right on dot 1430 hrs, we enter into the final leg of our journey to Chennai, with a typical LHB jerk. As we exit Vijayawada, we meet a soon to be condemned AJJ WAP1 with the Chennai Central – Santragachi AC express with its rear end halfway into the Krishna River Bridge waiting for clearance to enter Vijayawada, one of the massive river bridges of Indian Railways. With a not so great monsoon season, the river was not in its full glory as we accelerate towards Chennai. As our trip nears its end, tiredness now takes over completely and we settle down for an elusive nap.
The Vijayawada Chennai section is supposed to a terrific run for our Duronto, but a lot of freights and slow moving express trains ahead of us sharing the same track ensured our acceleration was patchy at best. We were running around 40 minutes behind schedule when we crossed Nellore and thankfully we had a clear line post Nellore. The distance between Nellore to Ennore, around 160 kms was covered in about 100 minutes. Post Ennore, we had a typical sedate crawl around 40-60 kmph and reached Chennai without any further stops a good 15 minutes behind schedule at 2025 hrs. We step out for a quick coffee, get back to end of PF5 to witness a few shunting operations at Chennai Central and I have to say inspite of all the frustrations I have had being held from Vyasarpadi outer to Chennai Central every other time, the operations at Chennai was quick. The efficiency with with Railways worked to clear arrivals and departures was commendable inspite of the busy hour. Half an hour after we reached Chennai Central, Duronto has been shunted out & its loco out to the trip shed. PF 1 cleared in just 20 minutes; Brindavan enters and ready to get shunted out. It gets shunted out quickly enough and PF3 is cleared; Kaveri Departs and shunter loco out in no time PF 5 cleared; 30 minutes 3 PF’s cleared while Palani and Blue departs bang on time and the PF’s cleared of shunters immediately relieving PF 7 & 11. I was extremely impressed with the operations and the efficiency with with PF’s were cleared to make way for DD, MYS & CBE Shatabdi’s , Kovai, JS and everyone else to spend as little time crawling from Jiva to MAS.
There is now just one more activity left to do. We cross the tracks onto PF 11, help ourselves to some piping hot Sambhar rice and curd rice, enjoy a coffee and settle down onto our two lower berths on 12657, the sleep killer ripper mail. As is the norm, two passengers on the same PNR cannot have lower berths and PK had to gift his lower berth to one of our co-passengers in the same bay. I was successful in avoiding the exchange by maintaining eye contact only with the platform vendors. We depart as our fellow IRFCAn @SJ pinged us expressing his inability to meet us at Chennai and that he would be busy taking shelter under a tube light at Perambur waving at us and got our co-ordinates in relation to the loco. Unaware of his counting capabilities, we indexed our coach from the rear to stop counting at 3. We cross the Basin Bridge curve, switch over to the fast lane at Vyasarpadi Jiva, accelerate madly and wave at @SJ drifting past Perambur at 90kmph. As we shift back into the darkness towards Arakkonam hoping SJ did see us, we settle down for the first good rest on the sleep killer. The killer mail, true to its reputation was right on dot as we deboarded at Bangalore East and took a cab each to our respective destinations. 1 flight, 4 furious train rides and 5000+ kms, no official leaves, tired body and a refreshed mind. What more can you ask of a weekend ?
Panaromic Cab View on the LSE 7000 Hakone – Shinjuku service. The train drivers (Pilots) have an elevated view from above. The passenger view is just fascinating and these seats are sold off very early 🙂
Continued from right here …
Part 3 : Back to Nizamuddin
The ever unreliable NTES indicated that Nizamuddin bound Mangala express was on time at Morena, the scheduled halt before Agra. An 85 minute schedule for an 80km run was an overkill and we expected it to be on dot at Agra. With 15 minutes to spare, the thought of exiting the station for a hot cup of tea seemed inviting. However our lack of geography outside the station forced us to get on the foot over bridge and await Mangala on PF3. We had a sleeper class ticket in hand, but the lack of sleep caught up with us now and decided to upgrade to AC 3 Tier. As we entered the platform Mangala entered the platform silently sneaking past and fooling everyone including the platform indicator boards. A good 10 minutes ahead of schedule. One look at our designated sleeper coach and the blazing sun outside, we took the long walk in search of the TTE requesting an upgrade. The TTE was an affable no nonsense fellow and assigned us a couple of berths up to Nizamuddin. The occupants of the bay where we were allotted did their best to make the place inhospitable and be a deterrent for any new passenger about to join them and I have to say they were successful in their half hearted attempt. We roamed around other coaches, identified two good unused upper berths, informed the TTE and settled for a power nap.Meanwhile, our travel from Chennai to Bangalore for the next day was still a question mark and called one of our good dentist friends to book a couple of sleeper class tickets for us, reminding him to use our correct names age and most importantly the sex. By 11:05 AM we had 2 confirmed sleeper class tatkal tickets for our final leg of the journey and was relieved to know that the patient’s half pulled out tooth was finally fully out and sitting on the table. The TTE collected the difference in fares, issued the receipts, returned the change and the next thing we saw was us cruising beyond Faridabad and we were deposited right on dot, 1315 hrs at Nizamuddin.
Lunch outside at the Comesum restaurant was forgettable and hence no recollection except that I had one. The heat was taking its toll on us and started questioning our decision of travelling to Chennai in Sleeper Class, albeit a Duronto. We decided to split the journey and booked us on AC III tier from Balharshah to Chennai. PK, who has a fetish for PRS counters, wanted to have an intimate chat with the PRS clerk and started our hunt for the same. After extended enquiries and search, we found the PRS counters near Okhla. A confused clerk issued us 2 AC III tier tickets from Balharshah to Chennai on the Nizamuddin Chennai Duronto, scheduled to leave Nizamuddin in the next 1 hr, wondering how we would reach Balharshah in time tomorrow to achieve this feat. Well, we have a connection that cannot fail. We laboriously returned back to Nizamuddin, onto our scheduled platform awaiting a sleeper class full LHB duronto ride to Chennai. Half an hour later I was peeping out to feel the rushing wind on my face from my side lower berth emergency window.
The Duronto lives upto its name and was screaming at MPS as we passed Tuglakabad. The comparison between the Gatimaan ride and the Duronto ride was a tale of 2 sparkling contrasts. A sophisticated ride vs a down to earth one. 160kmph vs 120-130 kmph. Air conditioned vs natural breeze. Closed windows vs fully open emergency window. Silent vs Cacophony of sounds. Smiling service vs “service”. Trackside vs non trackside. Exciting vs Speechless. The difference in speed between the Gatimaan & the Duronto was a consistent 30-40 kmph, however the sleeper class travel in the Duronto accentuated every experience by a significant margin. Once again it would be unfair to use adjectives to describe the experience, but the Duronto ride started off with a mind-blowing and hair raising feeling, the latter being quite literal. We overtook some passenger or freight train every station enroute to Agra at 120-130 kmph with our WAP-7 loco screaming and pushing tresspassers out of the way. Stations, trains, trees, fields, bridges and every other landscape blurred past us. All I could hear was the loco whine, the breeze, the typical clickety clack of railway points as we go over them. A spectacular exhibition of aggression, precision and pride. The Nizamuddin – Agra section was completed in 1 hr 55 minutes, 10 minutes slower than what Gatimaan achieved in the morning, but I have to admit that I have more vivid memories of this Duronto ride than the former. The exhibition continued beyond Agra all the way upto Jhansi.
Dholpur, Morena and every other intermediate station was quickly left behind at a cruising 120kmph. Slight deceleration before approaching Gwalior and we skipped Gwalior on the mainline at a cruising speed of 70kmph while platform 1 was preparing for receiving the Bilaspur bound Rajdhani. The rhythmic motion, cool winds and the cyclic lullaby generated by the wheels on steel was slowly taking me back to wonderland when a sudden streak of flashing lights a bit ahead of us brought me back to senses. It took a couple of seconds to register the fact that it was another train cruising at maximum speed towards its destination, only to make an illusion as if it was converging right into us. Expecting a nasty jolt which never came, we converged into the portal safely passing the train at a right angle right below us. It was later once we reach our home would we realize that up and down lines go over each other at a couple of locations between Gwalior & Jhansi. Had we taken this geography lesson earlier, I would have had a video to share the experience, except now that the photographic memory is exclusively stored in a safe deposit locker somewhere in my ROM. Nevertheless, that was SOME sight.
Having full faith in the sleeper class catering service of the Duronto, we had ordered for dinner at Jhansi. Once again we were not let down by the on board catering and were eagerly looking forward for our dinner as we reached Jhansi right on schedule. Credit has to be given to the e-catering provider at Jhansi. It takes a lot to prepare something worse than on board catering. The mindless run continued on beyond Jhansi upto Bina post which the sectional speed was reduced to 110 kmph. By now, the body had exhausted its reserves and was begging for a rest, which we happily obliged. We never knew when we skipped Bhopal.
… to be concluded …
It was a day or two prior to our Independence day, Aug 15 and I was busy thinking about how the social media would come alive with patriotic messages masking the true feelings of indifference from the keyboard warriors. I had a client presentation with a PSU and was busy promising the moon on a cloudy new moon evening. My phone was on silent and set to vibrate to avoid any disturbance during my smooth and typical technical salesman talk. A few minutes into the first break, sensing the break, the phone popped out the name PK and with no time for pleasantries the conversation went like this.
Me : What ?
PK : Dai, lets make a Gatimaan trip this month or first week of September. Preferably in Sep as I cannot get leaves this month.
Me : Machan, I am travelling to Udupi this weekend and another one close on its heels might be an issue.
PK : Fine. Check if possible and let me know.
Me : Ok, will call later.
Well now my smooth talk presentation is done for good, both literally and mentally. My mind was poisoned by this caller and now it is my turn to become a keyboard warrior and the next session of my presentation went in route analysis and optimization for the travel, if at all it would materialize. Incidentally, my part of the presentation was over and I have confused my clients well enough to stay out for the next couple of hours. Line clear. A good omen ? Maybe ?
The plan was quick and an attractive late night red eye flight to Delhi from Bangalore in the wee hours just past midnight on the last Saturday of Aug 2016 nailed the plan. Red eye to Delhi on 27 Aug morning. Metro to New Delhi. Freshen up at the IRCTC lounge. Cab to Nizamuddin. Train spotting and selfies with Gatimaan. High speed ride to Agra. Back to Nizamuddin somehow. Duronto to Chennai and the ever reliable Bangalore mail on 28 Aug from Chennai back home early 29 morning and get back to work as if nothing happened. Great plan with some fast and furious rides on some of the best trains of Indian Railways. That leaves me now with the task of convincing PK to push for an extra day of leave and work out the details at home. I guess my enthusiasm rubbed into everyone and the line was now all clear except that quite a lot of our such adhoc plans have a great tendency to slip between the cup and the lip. Tickets booked. Fingers crossed. Waiting now.
Two days prior to our travel, being a sincere and senior employee that he is, PK decided to make his presence felt at work and planned a half day visit to his workplace, but thankfully confirmed that the trip is on. Now I go drum beating all around about my impending half impromptu rides to the rest of my fraternity and eagerly await the beginning of the impending weekend.
Part 1 : Flight to the Capital
26-Aug-2017 1830 hrs. Bangalore traffic is not bad. It is extremely unpredictable and Mr.Murphy always has the last laugh. Looking back maybe he had the first one too. Well,moving on, I was supposed to be picked up en-route either in a cab or an airport bus around 2030 hrs and hoping Murphy does not strike again, present ourselves at the airport around 2200 to have enough time to eat, drink, unwind and prepare for an uncomfortable two and a half hour flight to Delhi. Thankfully, the flight was not delayed and an SMS dutifully confirmed that our flight was on schedule. I reach my pickup spot around 1930, an hour before planned. Being a Friday night, there were enough intercity buses and watching them haggle with the passengers kept me entertained for a while until impatience started kicking in. A minute seemed like a couple as I called up PK around 2030 to check his whereabouts. Surprise, or rather no surprise. He was still stuck at work and waiting for a colleague of his who had promised him to drop him off somewhere between me and the Airport. Unlike a few moments ago, time reversed its velocity and 5 minutes pass by in a minute. Finally close to 2115, I was picked up, introduced, pleasantries exchanged and decided to get off the moment we spot a radio cab less than 5 minutes away. Soon enough, we thank his colleague and find ourselves in a cab instructing the chauffeur to display his best F1 skills. Thankfully, with the traffic not heavy, we reach the airport with a good 2 hours to spare for our flight. Carrying just a hand baggage, we were in the boarding area and ordered a couple of drinks and food. A couple more of our friends and hunger strike would have saved us enough to buy off that chain store outside the terminal. Anyway, the flight fare was cheaper and we settled for that. The flight was uneventful, cramped, on time, bounced twice on landing and let us off at a ghost terminal at Delhi.
Save a pat for your back if you are to land at the domestic terminal in Delhi. There are no facilities for passengers landing during the wee hours like the 3AM bouncy landing we achieved. All airlines customer support desks and other outlets closed except for a couple of coffee joints, the cheapest of the coffee priced enough to feed a family of two for a day. Without wasting any time, we went over to the luggage carousel, dragged a few luggage trolleys and positioned ourselves for a convoluted new yoga position to rest for an hour before boarding a shuttle to the Aerocity metro station.
Morning 0420 hrs 27-Aug-2016. We await the shuttle to take us to Aerocity metro station outside the terminal building. The airport now no longer looks like an airport. The shuttle came in around 0430 hrs. The first half of the shuttle was filled with passengers. The second half was filled with luggage and for the next 10 minutes the first half kept pulling out the second half. We decided to help the first half in help achieving their objective purely from a selfish standpoint. The site and stench of the luggage was unbearable. 0445 hrs, we were rolling towards Aerocity station and find ourselves dumped in some abandoned location. Apparently, it was indeed the Aerocity station as I managed to identify the Metro logo in the glistening moonlight. We thanked the conductor for relieving us of the misery called Delhi Domestic Arrivals and quickly positioned ourselves in a queue waiting to get the tickets to board the metro. A metro worker is setting up the ticket vending machine. Impatience in the queue. The first metro towards New Delhi is due in 10 minutes and the next one is a good 20 minutes later. Just as we were about to explode, the metro worker with a weird queer look said, “Bhai, what are you waiting here for ?” . Now that we know he was not willing to take a selfie with us, we inquired about “tickets” and were guided elsewhere. Phew !!! 10 minutes later we were off towards New Delhi Railway Station after escaping from a suffocating and overheated nightmare of a place called “Aerocity Metro Station”. The metro crawled all the way taking almost 25 minutes instead of the advertised 15 mins to reach the station.
The plan was to freshen up at the IRCTC executive lounge and take either a cab or a local to Nizamuddin Railway Station. Our previous experience with the IRCTC lounge was terrific. Things have changed now. It is terrible. I don’t want to spoil the experience and hence just a conclusion. Get into the IRCTC lounge if you have some cash to waste. The station waiting room would provide you with the same facilities at probably a percent of the cost. I am getting a lot of bad vibes now. From the moment we landed in Delhi, things have not been going great.
Part 2 : The Ride
Pathetic airport, forgettable executive lounge and lack of sleep made the decision for us. We took a cab to Nizamuddin and reached the station around 0645 hrs. SR King, Tamilnadu express had just departed and the information boards directed us towards PF No 5 for the coveted Gatimaan ride. A light blue LHB rake with a leading P7 stationed on PF5 made us skip a beat as a P7 ride on Gatimaan would kindle all sorts of controversy and a heated debate on the rail fanning community. Unfortunately that was not going to be the case as the TAJ express bound for Jhansi was all set for its 0700 hrs departure from the Gatimaan Platform. Early morning activity at Nizamuddin was brisk with multiple arrivals and departures. Karnataka Sampark Kranti, Goa Sampark Kranti, Golden Temple mail, Thirukkural and a few other trains came and went not knowing what is in store for them. TAJ departed bang on time and soon enough Gatimaan graced PF No 5 brought in by a Ghaziabad WAP5 30020. Unlike any of the regular trains on Indian Railways, the loco and the entire rake was striped with reflectors for better night visibility.
Fares, set slightly higher than the Shatabdi’s, Gatimaan caters mainly to foreign tourists and last minute travelers. The regular chair car class was filled up while the executive chair car had an occupancy level just a notch above 50 percent. Apparently the train also caters as a new excursion activity for the kids. On the day we traveled, there were a group of around 70-90 kids accompanied by their teachers off for a high flying ride to Agra and probably will take the same train back as well. The excitement on their faces was contagious and I am sure they had one hell of a ride back and forth. We had decided to travel in style and had booked the executive chair car. It provided a spacious 2×2 seating arrangement with lots of legroom for unhindered movement and freedom. Executive chair car also provided us ample opportunities for playing musical chairs with close to half the coach being empty. Amazon ads adorned our headrests and the train hostesses were busy moving back and forth with their practiced smiles setting up for some express service. Post the customary clicks, selfies, train board snaps, coach exterior and interior snaps, setting up the phone charging, GPS, speedometers and other miscellaneous activities which had bloomed out of nowhere in the last decade, the LHB rake gifted us with is traditional jerk, albeit slightly softer and I set my watch to display 0810 hrs, while we leave behind a busy Nizamuddin station.
Right on dot at 0810 hrs as we leave Nizamuddin, an immediate crossing with none other than the King Mumbai Rajdhani reset the bad vibes and set the tone for the rest of the trip. The acceleration was brisk and we were cruising along at Okhla at a sedate 120kmph. Breakfast started off with branded Muesli & Milk soon followed with some Guava juice, Paratha, 2 slices of brown bread, a decent helping of fruit and vegetable salad. By now we are ready for the dessert, the 160kmph run, a piece of cake. The breakfast, going by IR standards was exceptional. With tea to indulge and a huge window to my right, it’s time to let go of all my accessories and enjoy the run. Asaoti vanished at 160kmph and there was no looking back now. Palwal, Rundhi, Sholaka, Ajhai and every other intermediate station was left behind at 160kmph. I would refrain from using any adjectives to describe the speed. You have to feel it. We slowed down a bit after Bhuteshwar and skipped Mathura around 50-60kmph around 9:20 AM. The impatient P5 was quick to accelerate and was back at 160kmph by the time we crossed Baad. Few TSR’s between Nizamuddin and Faridabad gave little time for Gatimaan to recover and we reached Agra’s dedicated Gatimaan Platform 5 minutes behind schedule. Karnataka Samaprk Kranti, Thirukkural, Goa Express, Taj Express and another 8-9 unknown express trains were looped mercilessly for scintillating overtakes. This was my first ride ever in a train where opening the doors on the run never crossed my mind. We set our foot down at 9:55 AM with nothing but broad smiles. The trip was also a reconnaissance for a good trainspotting location and Sholaka seemed perfect. The next time we have an encounter with the Gatimaan, it will be with our feet planted firmly on the ground near Sholaka. It is time to experience it from outside and that would be the next mission.
…to be continued…