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 ?