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 …