Saturday, November 3, 2012

Aboard 12262 Howrah-Mumbai Duronto Express



       
        Aboard 12262 Howrah-Mumbai Duronto Express
I’ve had heard a lot of positives about the Durontos (The nonstop trains between two cities) from my fellow railfans and friends alike, hence without giving a second thought I decided to travel on this train from Howrah (Kolkata) to Mumbai.  Although I got a confirmed ticket easily, upon checking the status on the day of my journey i.e. July 23rd, 2012 I was little surprised to see waitlisted passengers. The scheduled departure of this train was 8:20AM from Howrah station so as usual I decided to reach an hour before the departure.  Upon entering the station after negotiating through the crowded streets of Kolkata even around 7AM, I saw a plethora of trains ready to depart and arrive.  I glanced through the departure indicator to see if my train was scheduled but it was not however I figured out that it will depart from platform#21. Meanwhile, I saw Secunderabad bound Falaknuma express leaving from platform#20, at the helm was an SRC WAP-4 class loco.  Also spotted Bangalore-Howrah express which had already arrived hauled by another SRC WAP-4.  
Finally, around 7:45AM my train was announced to depart from platform#21, as expected….. but for some unknown reason they (the section controllers) changed to platform#20 a few minutes before departure. The train was shunted in by a derated KGP WDM-2 class loco around 7:50AM. My coach was B1 (classified as LWACCN), 2nd from the loco which means I had to walk almost the entire length of the train. The first coach was, of course, an End on Generator car (EOG) classified as LWLRRM. As soon as this KGP WDM-2 got decoupled and moved away, a HWH WAP-4 got coupled to my train.  I was surprised to see HWH WAP-4 loco because I was expecting an SRC WAP-4 as this train is maintained by South Eastern Railway but later I learned that the regular link is indeed HWH WAP-4.  My coach was newly built (manufactured in 2009) a CBC coach. At 8:20AM on the button the loco pilots sounded the customary short and the long pitched tones and we departed. Simultaneously an EMU also departed which ran parallel for quite a long distance, and also Jaisalmer bound express train departed at the same time hauled by yet another HWH WAP-4 from Eastern Railway side of Howrah station.  It took a lot of time to negotiate the speed restrictions and join main line, unlike in Mumbai where the turn outs are quite faster, but upon joining (the main line), the acceleration of a HWH WAP-4 was superb. I guess we were doing about 100KMPH constantly for a long time and as a result reached Kharagpur Jn.  in about 90 minutes (of course we didn’t stop here). Meanwhile, the breakfast was served containing two slices of white bread, cutlets and mango juice, it was good!!  The LHB coach was not too comfortable as compared with ICF/RCF but the large windows gave a very good view of outside. We encountered a few Caution Orders (COs) of 30KMPH right after Kharagpur Jn. but after clearing those COs, we were back at speed of 110KMPH, in fact more than 110KMPH but rarely the train crossed 110+KMPH. After morning meal, I got engaged in conversation with my fellow passengers as we continued into a long journey of another 20 hours. 

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                                     Aboard Howrah-Mumbai Duronto Express
 The first technical halt was Tatanagar Jn., we pulled in around 11:30AM and after a 10 minute stop and crew change off we went. I saw a few, in fact; all of the armed guards got off of the train and a few ‘passengers’ boarded the train. Now…..I suppose the tickets for intermediary stations is not available on this train then how do these ‘passengers’ boarded with their luggage still, and I guess, will remain a mystery.  Anyway, the acceleration was once again fantastic with new crew members taking charge of the train.  I thought the train might run at 120/130KMPH but I guess never crossed a 110KMPH mark, perhaps did 115KMPH for some few minutes. The lunch was served around 1PM, which consist of typical Indian meal of rotis (flatbread), vegetable, rice, and curry etc. The food was not too bad but could have been better.  The next technical halt was Bilaspur Jn., we pulled in around 5:30PM and again a new set of crew members took charge of the train. I also spotted Bhubaneshwar-LTT (Mumbai) express hauled by a TATA WAM-4 class loco. I guess this, and Puri-LTT (Mumbai) almost always gets a WAM-4 class loco. We, of course, overtook this train. After a 10-minute halt we pulled out of Bilaspur Jn. and between Raipur and Bilaspur I guess the speed did cross 120KMPH but only for a few minutes.  This train takes a detour and skips Raipur Jn.  hence I was not able to meet my cousins…but nevermind!! The evening meal was served and then the dinner around 9PM.  The dinner didn’t have any choice; it was the same old thing!! Same vegetable, rotis, rice, and curry etc.  It was rather disappointing but really didn’t mind.  After the dinner and light conversation with my fellow passengers, I decided it was time for some good sleep. I took the upper berth with the AC ducts right over my head, couldn’t have asked for (anything) more. After watching an Air crash Investigation episode (TAM airlines crash in Brazil), off I went to sleep. I was very tired so I didn’t have a hard time catching sleep; besides being on train I have never experienced disturbed sleep.  The train stopped for 2 more technical halts viz., Nagpur Jn. and Bhuvasal Jn. but I was fast asleep.
The next day I woke up to see the train entering Igatpuri around 7:55AM, pretty much running on time.  Here the HWH WAP-4 22632 got detached and a KYN WCAM-3 21942. This is the same WCAM-3 loco which caught fire while hauling the Mumbai-Pune Deccan Queen express at Neral Jn.a few months back.  After a 10 minute halt, we pulled out of Igatpuri with cautious speed due to mountainous terrain and steep down gradient. The breakfast was served which comprised of 2 slices of white bread and a veg. cutlet with tomato sauce.  Soon we crossed Kasara, the start of Mumbai suburban section with cautious speed but after this the loco pilot accelerated to 100KMPH until we came across another major and long caution order of 10KMPH. The reason was a major train collision involving an MRVC EMU (the suburban train) and Nagpur bound Vidharbha express hauled by another KYN WCAM-3 21939.

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After clearing the speed restriction, we were cruising around 100KMPH through the suburbs of Mumbai until we came to a unscheduled halt right outside Kalyan Jn due to heavy morning traffic and rush hour.  After cautiously negotiating though Kalyan Jn. platform#6, the train again picked out the speed but did only 70-80KMPH because of Pune-Mumbai Deccan Queen express right ahead and a few CST (Mumbai) bound EMUs.  The overall run through the suburban section was quite slow due to above reasons but still the train managed to stay fairly on time.  We entered the destination i.e., CST (Mumbai) around 10:40AM on time.  So this marks the end of my 26 hours 20 minutes train ride on a Duronto express. Overall, it was a good and fairly comfortable journey but I think there’s some good scope for improvement in the service.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A 54 Hour Train Ride

 
 Prelude

       This was a short trip to Kolkata for my PhD exams and also a railfanning trip which I took July 19th 2012; honestly I was more excited for my railfanning part in this trip than my exams. I’ve had some other plans, as well but they didn’t turn out as I wanted. I Boarded Howrah bound 12151 Samarsata express from Mumbai for an unusual 54 hour train ride instead of 35 hours…… and how did this happen??  Please read on…!!!! :) 

  On Board Mumbai (LTT)-Howrah 12151 Samarsata Express


    This trip was no different from my other train trips except for the fact that I was little more than just jaded at the end of the trip, not that I didn’t feel jaded before but this was a little too much to handle. I was all geared up with my backpack and left my house at 7:30PM for Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (LTT), the starting point for Howrah bound 12151 Samarsata express. This station being so very close to my house, I was in no hurry.  Upon reaching LTT, the first thing I noticed was a complete makeover of this station. I couldn’t believe my eyes that I am at LTT which was once so damn filthy!! My train was already scheduled on platform#2 and as soon as I entered the platform, I saw my train being shunted probably by one of those new WDS-6AD class locos, and 18029 Shalimar express aka ‘Super Crawler Express’ was already shunted on platform#1. I was also very surprised to see the change in the orientation of this train; usually all of the 9 AC coaches of this train are in front, but not this time hence this avoided a long walk but I also knew that upon reaching Howrah I will have to walk a long way.  I quickly settled in on my berth and was quite happy to see the coach half empty after checking the reservation chart.  The train departed on time at 8:35PM but little did I realize that this is going to be one nirvana of a train ride! The loco attached to my train was WCAM-3 road# 21934, I was hoping for a WCAM-2P loco but never mind..!!! After carefully negotiating the speed restrictions, we came over newly laid 5th line and then the loco pilot hit the gas!!! We were sailing at 80KMPH until we came to a complete halt right outside Mulund station. At first I didn’t know why but as soon as Chennai Egmore bound express overtook us, I figured out that we will be diverted on main line and this is exactly what happened!!  I thought after joining the 3rd main line, the train will at least do 100KMPH, if not 105KMPH but I was totally disappointed. The train struggled to do even 50KMPH and as a result we reached Kalyan Jn., the first commercial stop, 25 minutes late. We departed Kalyan after about 15 minutes stop, quite unusual and got further delayed, a good 45 minutes now. By this time I started to feel a little strange because such delays have never occurred in Mumbai suburban section unless something seriously has gone wrong. The speed (of the train) was seriously taken a back even after departing Kalyan Jn. and to add salt to wounds, the train was taken on an isolated loop line outside Titvala station. This was by far the most unusual thing to happen and I was puzzled, I thought perhaps an EMU will overtake but then this does not make any sense. After about 30 minutes into the stop and couple of EMUs overtaking, I decided to call my good railfan friend Arzan Kotval to check if he had any information about this unusual delay of my train. Arzan told me that there has apparently been a major train collision involving Mumbai CST bound MRVC EMU and Nagpur bound Vidarbha express near Kasara. At first it was hard to believe but the same was confirmed by a coach attendant, he said that it will take about 3 hours to clear but as the details egressed and realizing the gravity of the accident, I knew we are not going to move for a long time!!! Later my mom called and informed me that 9 coaches of an EMU train derailed due to landslide and Vidarbha express which was running on adjacent track crashed onto the derailed coaches at high speed. The loco hauling this ill-fated Vidarbha express was a WCAM-3 road# 21939. There were 3 more trains ahead of us stranded viz., Firozpur bound Punjab mail, Nagpur bound Duronto express, and Amravati bound Amravati express. Being at such isolated area and not knowing when the train will move had me quite disquieted, I tried to sleep but couldn’t as the ACs were turned off and it was getting very difficult to breath. Around 2AM, I spotted an unknown Duronto express heading towards Mumbai, I was puzzled but I thought one of the affected lines must be cleared but later I realized that this was the same Nagpur bound Duronto express which is now heading back to Mumbai. This was soon followed by Punjab Mail and Amravati express.  By now I became so sure that my train too will return to Mumbai and this was confirmed by seeing my train loco, the WCAM-3 21934 getting attached at the other end of the train at Vashind station. Now I was left with 2 options, either my train will be canceled or will run via different route. I’ve had a backup plan to take the first available flight to Kolkata in the event of this train being canceled and if diverted, I decided to do the thing I love the most….railfanning!!! I was praying that the train shall get diverted and my prayers were answered. One of coach attendants informed me that the train will run via Panvel-Karjat-Pune-Manmad route. The usual train on an unusual route, wow!! Never in my wildest dream had I ever imagined that my train will run via Pune!! I, however, was a little concerned about my arrival at Howrah yet the railfan part in me was very excited! We reached Kalyan Jn. again at 5AM and after an abbreviated halt, the train got diverted on a line heading for Panvel.  I wanted to see the Panvel-Karjat route but I overslept only to be woken up at Karjat by the vox of ‘Chai-Chai’ around 7AM. The train departed Karjat with three WAG-5 banker locos pushing the train, interestingly all three locos were ex-Bhilai locos transferred to Kalyan shed. I was fully awake and was at the door, as usual, to capture the beauty of the Bhor Ghat in rain. It was truly a tranquil ambiance, a lot of small waterfalls, mist, and drizzle. Here's the video of my train climbing the Bhor Ghats
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   We reached Lonavla around 7:55AM where the thee banker locos got isolated. I was hoping to reach Pune around 9:15AM but that didn’t happen. Between Lonavla and Pune, my train was given a lot of unscheduled halts for Pune bound trains to overtake. It was only after 10:30AM we entered platform # 1 of Pune Jn.  At Pune I met Archit Goel after so many months and I was very happy to see him. Meanwhile the power of my train, the WCAM-3 21934 got detached and, as expected, a UBL WDG-4 road# 12311 loco came in to take the charge of my train up to Manmad with a reversal at Daund Jn.  After leaving Pune Jn., for the first time I was happy to see the speed in excess of 90KMPH and the WDG-4 pulled my 24-coach train with ease!! We reached Daund Jn. in less than 2 hours where my train reversed after a 20 minute halt. As we were exiting Daund, I spotted Bangalore bound Udyan express with its usual KJM WDP-4 loco entering Daund Jn.  
              KJM WDP-4 at the helm of Bangalore bound Udyan express enters Daund Jn.

       The lunch was served after Daund but my mom had packed some home food so decided to avoid lunch served on train. Unfortunately after Daund, we took quite a lot of unscheduled halts due to single line section. At one such halts, I spotted the Mumbai bound 12102 Janeshwari express from Howah hauled by twin Pune WDM-3A class locos and Pune bound Jhelum express from Jammu, hauled by twin GTL WDM-3Ds. The Jhelum express overtook Janeshwari express, for the first time I saw a non-superfast express overtaking superfast express train. 
        Twin GTL WDM-3D locos hauling Pune bound Jhelum express overtaking Janeshwari express

      I was expecting to reach Manmad Jn. around 5PM but we entered only after 6PM. This stop was very important because from here the train will have all clear high speed run and also I was able to determine the approx. arrival time at Howrah which was around 11PM next day. The UBL WDG-4 loco got detached and an SRC WAP-4 road# 22743 loco was brought in to haul my train all the way to Howrah. I also spotted Bangalore bound Karnatak express from New Delhi hauled by twin ET WDM-3A locos entering Manmad Jn. After we departed, there was no stopping to my train and it constantly maintained the speed of 110KMPH, even crossing this mark many times. I, as usual, was by the door enjoying the speed and at this time I’ve had completed forgotten as to why I was going to Kolkata!! The train hardly stopped at intermediate stations and even at Nagpur the halt was not more than 10 minutes.

Next morning I was eagerly waiting to reach Raipur as my cousins were waiting for me with some homemade food. The train entered Raipur Jn. around 7:30AM where I met my cousins and their family after a long time. The train took less than 2 minutes halt as expected and while departing Raipur, I saw Raigarh bound Gondawana express entering Raipur with BSL WAP-4 class loco. It was raining heavily in Raipur yet my train sailed at 110KMPH without any difficulty. The next stop was Bilaspur which we reached in less than 2 hours, maintaining good speed throughout. I spotted quite a lot of freight trains on this section which is not unusual.
I was quite chafed by my co-passengers behavior who were apparently some railway employees working at Kharagpur Jn. as ticket vendors. They were, not to mention, traveling for free in my coach. I really hate such imbeciles who travel for free on trains. Besides, all of them were heavy snorers so it was very difficult get sound sleep especially when all 4 of them snored together. I started to get real world-weary and couldn’t door plate as it was getting too dark too soon. Luckily I had some air crash investigation videos on my lappy which helped me a lot to pass some time. We passed through some major stations like Jharsurguda Jn., Rourkela Jn. etc with minimum possible halt time.
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After Chakradharpur, the train got diverted on Purulia-Adra route and for the first time I saw heavily armed policemen with AK-47 rifles and bulletproof jackets and helmets patrolling the train as this region is very dangerous to travel especially at night time due to heightened terrorist activities. Kudos to these policemen/paramilitary forces for doing wonderful job!! Few minutes after departing from Chakradharpur, we came to an abrupt stop for over an hour at a small station called Kunki for no apparent reason. Later I learned that there was a loco failure of a freight train which was running ahead of us. This additional 1 hour delay proved to be very expensive! I was expecting to reach Kharagpur Jn. around 8PM had it not been for this delay but we reached only after 9:30PM which meant reaching Howrah after 11:30PM. Nonetheless, the speed of the train was good considering the fact that we were passing through a very notorious area. As we were nearing Kharagpur Jn., the train slowed down and stopped numerous times due to non-clearance of line. This was very frustrating because it was already 10PM and we didn’t enter the Kharagpur station yet. It was only after 10:30PM we reached Kharagpur Jn. Here almost everybody disembarked and I was apparently the only passenger in the entire coach. I was feeling very jaded and I knew it will take more than 2 hours to reach Howrah so I decided to sleep off. I finally managed to get some good sleep without being perturbed. I woke-up to see the train marooned again right outside Howrah station due to non-availability of platform which is very usual. After 10 minutes halt, the train moved onto platform#21 of Howrah station around 1:30AM. I was very tired but also relieved that I finally reached Kolkata after 54 hours of train ride. Luckily got some good sleep before my exams. I thank my good friend Apurva Chaudhary from Kolkata for coming to receive me at the station at 1:30AM thus ending my 54 hours long train ride!!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Yet Another Rail Trip...


                    Prelude
This trip was planned 70 days in advance on April 26th 2011 and the reason was my Indian Council of Medical Research PhD scholarship exam. I’ve had also made a plan to visit Shillong to meet Lynda but due to lack of time I cancelled it. Also traveled to Kerala (Tellicherry) via Chennai, traveled by Coromandel express from Howrah to Chennai Central and then by  Chennai-Mangalore mail to Tellicherry.  Met Vimal, an IRFCA Chennai member at Chennai Central Station.  Finally, on my way to Mumbai, at first I decided to travel via Goa by Goa expess up to Pune and then the Queen of Central Railway, the Deccan Queen to Mumbai but scrapped that plan and decided to travel by Netravati expres to Mumbai from Kannur, in Kerala.
  
                   Mumbai to Kolkata

After excogitating over which train to travel, I opted for 12859 Gitanjali express, an early morning departure from Mumbai. Although I prefer night starts but this was apparently the only better choice to reach Kolkata on time for my exam.  At one of the reservation centers in Mumbai (although almost always I book my tickets online or through my cell phone) I was surprised not to see long queues because it was a holiday season and usually (and especially) people traveling to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar line up as early as 10PM the preceding day  to get confirm tickets. Well…some were luck to get confirm tickets and those who did not takes the other illegal way out.  Anyway, in about 5 minutes I got my ticket versus ~60-70 minutes had there been a long queue.  My travel date was July 15th 2011 and my exam was scheduled on 17th.  I was happy I got around 2 months to prepare for this exam.
                On the day of travel, I was very excited for 2 reasons: 1) Traveling by train, and 2) Visiting Kolkata after exactly 10 years.  My mom woke me up at 3AM on the button, got myself ready in an hour and off I went.  Boarded a suburban train (or local train as you call in Mumbai) for Victoria Terminus (VT) or Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), politically correct term, from Vidyavihar at 4:30AM and upon reaching VT/CST station at 5AM, I was surprised to see the station so quiet, usually this station is full of people during rush hour.  Quickly I rushed to platform 19 of VT station where Gitanjali express was scheduled to depart and after reaching there, I saw a huge crowd ready to board the train, not an unusual scene!!  Also, I spotted now endangered twin WCG-2 species (locos) on the same platform. Soon those WCG-2s were moved and the rake of Gitanjai express was shunted in by a WDS-6 loco.  This train shares its rake with Howrah-Puri express which is why it had East Coast Railway rake but the train belongs to South Eastern Railway zone.  My coach was 7th from loco and a newly built in the year 2010, also had those mobile/laptop chargers in each aisle.  Exactly at 6AM, the WCAM-3 loco sounded its hooter and off we were for a 1939KM journey to Howrah.  It took about 7 minutes to come over to mainline and after clearing the speed restriction, the loco pilot/engineer of WCAM-3 loco stepped on the gas and we were cruising at 60KMPH……. and accelerating!!!  Dadar, the first commercial stop arrived in 15 minutes, the stoppage was for 2 minutes and at 6:17AM we accelerated out off of Dadar station.   The run from here was really good with the train notching up to top speed of 105KMPH through the suburbs of Mumbai.  We reached Kalyan Junction, 2nd scheduled stop on time and after a 5minute halt, we got diverted on a North East line. The speed on this section was considerable slower due to  may up gradients and speed restrictions, nonetheless we reached Kasara in 2 hours (exactly at 8AM) at an average speed of 60KMPH, not bad for its (the train) name and the superfast status given to this train. FYI.....This train is the 2nd fastest train (after Duronto express) between Mumbai and Kolkata takes 30hrs 30 minutes to reach Howrah.  Anyway, at Kasara the train was given a pronounced stop because it was before time and also 3 WAG-7 locos (the bankers) were attached at the rear to help train climb the mountains. After about 25 minutes stop, we accelerated out. Meanwhile, Nanded bound Topavan express which was dropping back also reached Kasara however we were given a penchant and accelerated out.  As we moved out of Kasara, I stepped to the door as usual enjoying the beautiful Western Ghats.
Igatpuri (IGP) was out next scheduled halt where the WCAM-3 was removed and a WAP-4 of SRC shed was attached to haul my train all the way up to Howrah and I knew it’s time for 110KMPH speed and sure the WAP-4 didn’t disappoint.  Meanwhile, Topavan express too reached IGP right behind us with a WCAM-3 loco which goes all the way to Manmad.  Immediately after leaving Igatpuri, the loco pilot/loco engineer didn’t perambulate and stepped on the gas. We were over 70KMPH even before the IGP trip shed.  Strangely, it was getting hotter with no sign of rain but I was enjoying the speed sitting by the door.  The next stop was Nasik, the Wine Capital of India and one of the gateways to reach Shiridi. We were for the first time delayed by over 10 minutes but that’s not big deal!! The run after Nasik was really impressive with train maintaining a top notch for a long time. I got little surprised to see the train skipped Manmad at full speed. I immediately text my very good friend and a railfan crony Arzan Kotval to know if the train has a halt in here, his reply was negative.  
I started to feel a little dopy while sitting by the door so I decided it’s time to get back to my seat for a siesta. I also remembered how lucky I was the other day when I actually slept for few minutes at the door (of Azad Hind express) and still didn’t fall off of the moving train. The food served on the train didn’t look too bad but my mom had packed a lot of home made food so decided against having food served on the train.  After having lunch I was back to doorplating and this time I made sure I don’t sleep or feel sleepy. All this while at the door, I spotted a lot of trains in opposite directions with a variety of locos.I was at the door until we reached Nagpur.
                A lot of passengers wanted disembark at Nagpur, the Orange Capital of India and one of the major junctions where the trains from North to South and West to East meets. We reached Nagpur delayed by 10 minutes and here I spotted a lot of trains, as well viz., Mumbai bound Sewagram express was getting ready to depart, Pune bound GR departed with Pune WDM-3A loco, and of course, the ever delayed Shalimar-Mumbai ‘Bullock Cart’ express with TATA shed WAM-4 class loco, Patna-Bangalore Sangmitra express hauled by a WAP-4 from ED and to name a few more. After a pronounced stop, we started accelerating with new crew handling the train. It was getting too dark to see anything outside so I decided to head to my seat for dinner and a good sleep.
At Raipur, my cousin brother Nikhil was waiting for me to handover some home made food. We reached Raipur, at 11:40PM delayed by 15 minutes. He's been at the station to receive me or meet me whenever I traveled to Raipur. Thank you Nikhil if you are reading this!!!  After Raipur, I decided to catch some serious Z’s. Woke up the next morning at 6AM to see my train stranded at some isolated station in Jharkhand state. After a 20 minute wait, spotted an intercity express hauled by KGP shed’s WDM-3A in the opposite direction.  After this train left, we were given a go ahead signal. We were apparently still running on time.  
The next big stop was Kharagpur Jn. (KGP), this station prides in having the world’s longest railway platform. We were again delayed by 20 minutes however after a 10 minutes halt we accelerated out. I was hoping for some good speed again but…………….I was totally disappointed!!! The train crawled big time for some unknown reason and we got further delayed.  By the time we reached the outer suburbs of Kolkata, we were running 2 hours late. An unknown express train hauled by TATA WAM-4 overtook us while we were still crawling through the suburbs. After a delay of over 2 hours and a lot of unscheduled halts, we were diverted on a mid line and only then the loco pilot showed some aggressiveness but it was too late. After reaching Howrah station, the train again took an unscheduled halt of about 20 minutes due to non availability of platform. We finally entered Howrah station at 3PM versus 12:30PM had my train been on time thus. I was little tired but happy to travel to Kolkata. 

 Part II 
                                 On Board Coromandel express A.K.A ‘Ambulance Express’
           
Well…I’ve had heard a lot about 12841 Coromandel express which runs between Howrah (Kolkata) and Chennai Central like the speed, punctuality, cleanliness, and, of course, one of the flagship express trains of the Indian Railways and this is the reason why I didn’t think twice before traveling to Tellicherry in Kerala via Chennai.  Upon canceling my trip to Shillong, I decided to visit Kerala immediately after my exams, albeit I wanted to spend some time in City of Joy.  This train departs Howrah station at 1450 hrs and arrives at Chennai Central next day at 1715 hrs, covering 1661KM in 26 hours 5 minutes at an average speed of ~63KM/HR.   This is probably the fastest train between these cities!!  Interestingly, this train is also known as ‘Ambulance Express’ because a lot of cancer patients travel on this train to go to Christian Medical College in Vellore near Chennai. Here's the photo of Coromanel expess. Photo by Bharat Moro.

                I reached Howrah station well before the departure time ~ 1300 hrs and I saw and was very much expecting huge crowd at the entrance of the station.  Upon entering the station after negotiating through crowd with my backpack I felt much relieved and as usual on seeing trains I forgot all my worries.  I guess it wouldn’t be incorrect to say the trains act as an anti-depressant for me!!!  I looked at the departure indicator but my train was not scheduled yet, I also looked at the arrival indicator and saw Gitanjali express from Mumbai had already arrived and some yet to arrive trains.  Albeit my train was not scheduled but I got a feeling that the train will depart from platform 20 and I was correct.  Around 1400 hrs the train was shunted by a derated WDM-2 class loco of Kharagpur shed. The train looked clean, Center Buffer Coupling (CBC) rakes, my coach was 9th from the loco. I saw a lot of people getting ready to board the train and in fact some waitlisted passengers too boarded the reserved carriages all going to Chennai but I was not surprised because I was told that this train runs full all 365 days. After settling down at my berth, it was too difficult to move out due to huge crowd blocking the entire passageway. The train was undoubtedly hauled by a WAP-4 class loco of SRC shed.
                Right at 1450hrs the train started to roll out of Howrah. We crawled for a long time but as soon as the train changed to mid (bi-directional) line, the loco pilot/engineer proved why this train is called the flagship train! I am sure we were cruising at 110KMPH. We over-took a lot of suburban trains and also express trains however being a CBC train the jerks were inevitable but it was fun!!  The train maintained over 100KMPH mark until we reached our first scheduled stop i.e. Kharagpur Jn. for a 5-min halt.  We pulled in at sharp 1630 hrs (115km)!! Although I was happy traveling on this train, I didn’t forget that this very train had met with a huge accident not too long ago. It crashed while traveling at 110KMPH in the state of Orissa killing some 15 people and injuring a lot.  We soon accelerated out of Kharagpur Jn., and while we were still crawling out, I spotted Howrah bound Falaknuma express from Secunderabad entering Kharagpur Jn. hauled by a WAP-4 class loco of SRC shed.  After we left Kharagpur Jn., we were back at 110KMPH speed and even on sharp curves the train didn’t slow down.  I was really enjoying it but unfortunately couldn’t go at the door as it was already occupied by waitlisted passengers. This is probably the only train ride where I couldn’t be at the door even for a few minutes!!  
                The next scheduled stop was Balasore and I was not surprised to see we entered on time at 1800hrs for a 2 minute stop and immediately after we left Balasore, we were back at top notch and I felt this time it was even more aggressive. I was sure the speed was slightly but definitely over 110KMPH.  Soon we crossed over to Orissa state and passed through Jajpur Road Station at 110KMPH. This is the exact spot where the train met with an accident. I was little nervous!!  Here's the photo. Note: I didn't click this photo.

 It had become too dark to see anything outside however I was lucky to get a glimpse of Chilka Lake under full moon night while the train was on top notch and again on sharp curves it maintained max speed throughout. The train passed through some major stations like Cuttack, Bhubaneshwar etc. running on time but I was fast asleep.  I woke up around 4:30AM to see the train entering Vizag.  This is the reversal point for this train, SRC WAP-4 loco got detached and another WAP-4 of AJJ shed got attached at the other end of the train. After about a 30 minute halt, we accelerated out of Vizag.  The run from Vizag to Chennai was disappointing with lot of speed restrictions and the speed, I guess, never crossed above 100KMPH yet the train maintained its schedule. The next major halt was Vijaywada Jn. however before entering the station; we took a long unscheduled halt of 25 minutes right outside the station, probably due to non-availability of platform. Here I took my lunch consisting of only rice and dal. It was very scrumptious and very, very cheap!!  This is one of trains which run non-stop between Vijaywada and Chennai Central, covering the distance of 431KM in about 7 hours.  I was hoping for some high speed run but again this never happened till we reached Chennai.  Meanwhile I called Vimal, my very good friend and an IRFCA member from Chennai, about my arrival. My co-passengers were all Tamils, probably from some political party as they were constantly talking about the political issues in Tamil Nadu. I was able to construe their conversation thanks to my knowledge of Malayalam language.
We soon entered the suburbs of Chennai running on time. It is only here I thought the train was running above 100KMPH. At sharp 1715 hrs we entered Chennai Central, I was kind of sure that we wouldn't reach on time but it happened even after a lot of speed restrictions after Vizag. I met Vimal who arrived after 15 minutes. I really thank Vimal for coming to Chennai!!  My connecting train to Telliherry, Chennai-Mangalore mail, was scheduled to depart at 2025 hrs so I had a lot of time to spend in Chennai and to do some railfanning with Vimal.

 Part III
                                                            To Tellicherry on Mangalore Mail..
    
            This is not going to be too long!!  After spending some good time in Chennai it was time to board Chennai-Mangalore mail to Tellicherry. We (Vimal and I) reached Chennai Central at 1950 hrs and I saw the train was already scheduled. The loco link for this train was a WAP-4 of AJJ shed. At 2025 hrs, the train started roll out of Chennai Central station and I bid goodbye to Vimal and thanked him again for coming to see me at such short notice. On board I saw a lot of local commuters traveling on this train up to Trivallur and/or Arakonnam (AJJ), a better choice than traveling in suburban trains!! As the train gained speed through the suburbs of Chennai, the only thing on my mind was to sleep and I was tired hence I decided to sleep immediately after crossing AJJ.
Woke up next day to see the train entering Calicut (Kozikode), one of the major cities in Kerala. I became nostalgic because I used to travel to Calicut almost every weekend while I was doing my post graduation!  Tellicherry was not too far, approx 68KM more to go from here!! I finally managed to be at the door of the train for some railfanning and observation. I spent good 2 hours at the door with my backpack till I reached Tellicherry.  I spotted a lot of trains with diesel power locos as this section is still non-electrified. At 0900 hrs, the train pulled into Tellicherry station. Tellicherry is a small but beautiful town 20KM south of Kannur, the district headquarter. Albeit notoriously well-known for its political rivalry yet a very safe place to be!  After disembarking I didn’t think twice before making a move to my house by bus. I was very tired! Thus ending my journey from Calcutta to Tellicherry via Chennai.

FYI……if you ever happen to travel on a private bus in Kerala make sure you carry your seat belt!!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Destination - Shillong (cont....)

                                 From Bangalore to Shillong
                                  

One of the reasons for this trip was a conference on cancer research. Anyway, I was happy that I arrived at Bangalore on time and didn’t have to belt along to catch my train to Guwahati and  The platform#6 of Bangalore Jn. was totally crowded and I was not surprised to see the train completely full with no vacant berth and the passengers with RAC ticket status, as usual, started requesting for berths but the train conductor had only one answer i.e. “I am sorry”!!! Well..I really felt bad for those passengers who didn’t get proper sleep for over 50 hours.


My co-passengers were from different North Eastern states like Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, etc. It was rather strange that initially we were mere looking at each other's faces and gave those pseudo-smiles but later into the journey we become like one big family. Anyway..it was 11:35PM but the train didn’t start (schedule departure time is 11:30PM), I got little curious and wanted to check but the passageway was too crowded with passengers trying to secure their baggage under the seats. Finally at 11:45PM the train started to roll with, I think, WAP-4 class loco from RPM shed/depot at the helm, 15 minutes late. I started to wonder if we will get further delayed or reach Guwahati on time. The first schedule stop, Bangalore Cantonment, was not too far just a few KMs away, nobody boarded the train, at least not in my coach. As the train rolled out again, I decided to sleep and thankfully I got a very good sleep for over 6 hours as I was tired…….The next day I woke-up to find myself at Chennai Central station (MAS) with vox of ‘chai-chai’ buzzed in my ears. This is the first reversal point of this train (there are 3 reversals in all). After about a 40-min halt, the train roll out of MAS, I thought it was a WAP-4 class from Erode shed/depot hauling my train but it was not to be!!! It was a WAM-4 class loco from Arakorram shed/depot. The run was not so good with a lot of unscheduled halts but once we left Ongole, the loco pilots stepped on the gas and we were at Maximum Permissible Speed (MPS) of 110KMPH constantly for a long time but, of course, the loco struggled. At this point I wouldn’t say we were running on time but we weren’t too delayed either and given the slack time to this train, I was sure we will be back on schedule. 
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I started to get a little bored but I was able to connect to the internet hence I got myself busy on my laptop for a long time. I also started to interact with my co-passengers and it was a good way to kill time. We discussed everything from my cell biology and molecular oncology to the Indian Army to the Chinese usurpation in Arunachal Pradesh etc; it was kind of fun yet informative. The next cubicle almost turned into a movie theater with loud Hindi movies being played on a laptop and around 12 people crowded the entire cubicle, exasperated a lot of other passengers.
Soon the train rolled into Vijayawada Junction, the next schedule stop delayed by 10 minutes. We’ve had a 30-minute stop because a parcel van got attached and that took a lot of time. Vijayawada reminds of my good old university mate Kotti Reddy, wanted to call him at the station but he stayed very far from the city center so decided against it. The run from Vijayawada to Vizag was a mixed bag, rarely touched 110KMPH maybe because this train has gotten a lot slack time and the loco pilots were in no hurry!!  To give you guys an example: The time taken by 12842 Chennai-Howrah Coromandel express to travel from Chennai to Howrah (Calcutta) is ~26 hours but this train takes ~30 hours and both being superfast trains. Of course, the latter has many stoppages than former, almost double.
A WDP-1 class loco at the helm of Secunderabad bound express train at Rajmudry
I was lucky to spot a WDP-1 class loco at Rajmudry for the first time; it was at the helm of an express train to Secunderabad. This is one of the loco classes with BO-BO axle arrangement (Two bogies or wheel assemblies under the unit), the other (class) being high speed WAP-5 class. After we left Rajmudry, for around 3 hours I was at the door, doorplating as usual…...Where on earth do you get a chance to sit at the door while the train is running at good speed!!! I’ve always enjoyed this!!!  Talking about the food served on this train, I’d say it was not very good and unsavory but I had no other option.  The lunch and the dinner included a bowl of rice, the dal (preparation of pulses), and aaloo matar (Potatoes and Peas).

I was already 40 hours into the journey and another 40 more to go but I was enjoying the train ride. The only worry that I’ve had on my mind was to find a bus or a cab to Shillong after I reach Guwahati and try not to get cheated!! As the evening set in, we got ready for our next schedule stop, Vizag or Visakhapatnam another reversal point for this train. This station is a terminus which explains the reversal of southeast bound trains. The station looked clean and not too crowded and all of the ACs coaches of my train got cleaned. The schedule stop was for 20 minutes but the train took over 30 minutes stop, maybe an additional parcel van was attached or the one that was attached before got removed but I was glad because this time we did get a WAP-4 class loco. Here’s the photo I clicked:

12509 Bangalore-Guwahati express waiting for the starter at Vizag station
Around 7:50PM we departed Vizag, the acceleration of a WAP-4 was evidently better (than WAM-4 loco). It became too dark for me to take videos however I was still at the door enjoying the fresh cool air and chatting with the coach attendant. In no time the train reached the MPS i.e., 110KMPH and we soon crossed over from Andra Pradesh to Orissa state. This tain has a quite a long run in the state of Andra Pradesh, right from Morning ~10AM to ~8:30PM but it was nice. After being at the door and chatting with the coach attendant for over an hour, I decided to return to my cubicle and luckily the food I ordered was already there. I’d say the dinner was little better than lunch but I was really hungry so I didn’t care about the taste, just gulped it. I was also a little surprised to see a lot of unauthorized ‘micro-entrepreneurs’ trying to make some quick money inside the AC coach, normally they’re not allowed (inside the AC coach). Anyway…after the dinner, we (my co-passengers and I) got busy chatting about something new. One of the co-passengers was very curious to learn about cancer and this being my primary research topic, I was very glad to explain him about the Cyclins and Human Ras proteins, the signal transduction, the cell surface receptors etc. but I wonder if he did really understand all or any of this.
It was around 10:30PM and I started to feel groggy especially after having a lot rice so there was no second thought about sleep however I wanted to see the Chilka lake but I again missed it (next time I will travel on a train which covers the state of Orissa during the day and I know the name of the train!!). My sleep was disturbed around 1AM due to an ugly commotion between 2 passengers. One fella wanted to reduce the AC temperature because it was, according to him, getting warmer however the other lad (rather old) wanted to increase the AC temp. because according to him it was very cold. Well..what do you do in such situation???? It was fine by me either way!!! They summoned the coach attendant however he (the coach attendant) was in no mood to listen to them, he got annoyed and said that the AC has been put on auto mode and the temperature settings will not change, in rather inexorable voice. He also ordered these guys to return to their seats. This thing happens, especially when you are traveling a long distance on Indian train. I’d say this was not so bad; I’ve witnessed a lot of worst incidences than this. Luckily for me, it wasn’t too difficult to get back to sleep.

I woke-up around 6:30AM and saw the train entering a small town of Balasore for a couple of minutes schedule stop. It was a lot colder outside, I guess the temperature was around 11 Degrees C. but I was enjoying it even without warm cloths on. After we left Balasore, the next stop was Kharagpur Jn., a good 118KM run and it was done in style as the loco pilot maintained 110KMPH speed for a long time, I stayed a put at the door. Here’s the videos I took:
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        Kharagpur Jn. has apparently the world’s longest railway station, the length is about 1072.5m. with biggest railway workshop in India, as well. Kharagpur as a junction station was established in Railway map in December 1898.

12509 Bangalore-Guwahati express waits at Kharagpur Jn.
          Anyway, we have had a very long halt and to my surprise, a passenger train bound for Howrah was given a penchant by the section controller. This passenger train was hauled by a WAM-4 class loco from Tata shed/depot. Here’s the pic I took

WAM-4 class loco of TATA shed/depot at the helm of a passenger train leaving Kharagpur Jn.
       I had to be very careful because there were a lot armed policemen, and nonetheless I clicked the photos without any problem. One of my fellow passengers wanted to know the reason for clicking so many train photos.Well..what do you do when you are a railfan and have gotten a camera in your hand and you are at the train station? Yes…start clicking the train photos!!! . I explained to him about my hobby and passion for Indian Railways and he, not unlike others, was very surprised. The food served on the railway station by the vendors was not too bad, I’d say a lot better than the food served on board the train however I decided to have only a cup of tea, it was very sweet and strong but I liked it. Soon the starter signal turned amber, this was a 2ACL signal which means the train was not on the main line but had to roll over to the main line with a speed restriction of 30KMPH. I also knew we will over take the passenger train which departed ahead of us. As the train came over to the main line, the loco pilots were in no mood to perambulate. The train touched 110KMPH in no time and I was again at the door. The coach attendant (jokingly) asked me if I had a ticket to travel to Guwahati, presumably because I spent a lot of time at the door than in my cubicle, not uncommon for a railfan. Soon we over took the Howrah bound passenger train at good speed and I guess couple of other trains, as well. All of the trains were hauled by a WAM-4 class loco.
We weren’t too far away from out next major halt i.e. Howrah Jn., we were already cruising through the suburbs of Howrah and running ahead of schedule. Albeit we were only 50KM from Howard Jn. and running before time, I knew we wouldn’t reach on time, let alone ahead of schedule. The reason being non-availability of platforms as this is one of the busiest stations. As we were nearing Howrah Jn., we have had a very long ~30 minutes stop right outside the station but I absolutely knew this is going to happen. Meanwhile, I spotted Dibrugarh-Howrah Kamrup express entering the station, delayed by over 5 hours evidently due to fog. I got a little skeptical that even though the train is running fairly on schedule, it will get delayed big time due to fog and, unfortunately, thats exactly what happened!!!

As I got off the train to buy a cup of tea but I was surprised to see a lot of people constantly staring at my feet. well, I guess because of my Ferrari Red shoes!!!! The Howrah station did not change much since my last visit in  November 2001, the old Howrah bridge very much visible from the station, looked  awesome as ever!!! Anyway, this was the third and the last reversal point for my train. I bid goodbye to WAP-4 loco, did a fantastic job all the way from Vizag to Howrah and got ready for diesel action all the way to Guwahati. My train got a WDM-3D class loco from HWH shed/depot and after about 30 minutes halt, we moved out of Howrah, 30 minutes delayed. The train was put on Barddhaman chord line section and though it was a total disappointment with regard to speed, I was happy to see the Eastern Railway suburbs of Howrah, looked rather rural.
             After an unscheduled halt at Bardhaman Jn., we got branched off of the chord line onto un-electrified lines, rolled over a massive curve and into our final leg of the journey to Guwahati but still ~900KM to go. The next stop was Bolpur Santiniketan, arrived around 2PM, 45 minutes behind schedule. The engineer guy told me that the train gets delayed after Howarah and this is not uncommon. He also added that the punctuality of this and other Guwahati bound train from South India has improved a lot as compared with the delays of over 10 hours or even sometimes 24 hours. This didn’t affect me at all because I didn’t have at catch a connecting train from Guwahati, I was relaxed.
It was a very overcast day, the time was around 3PM but it looked like 6PM and it got very chilled and foggy outside and me without my warm cloths, it got a lot more difficult to be at the door. I still tried to take videos but due to poor light, I couldn’t see anything on my camera screen but I stayed at the door even it was freezing outside. The police patrolling got heavy with heavily armed guards arbitrarily frisking passengers. This is another dangerous route with the local terrorist groups targeting trains, their first choice!!  Nonetheless, I was very excited to travel on this route, it is very beautiful!!! And, of course, with the kind of security provided on board, I was sure we were going to be fine.
The next schedule stop was Rampur Hat and by now the train was running over 1 hour late. We entered this station after 3:30PM, against 2:20PM the schedule arrival time. I still don’t know for sure but the schedule stop for this train is 20 minutes in here. One of the reasons being a single non-electrified line and/or slack time given to this train. We however had over 20 minutes stop and I didn’t see any train crossing from opposite direction. For the first time I had a tea in Kular (clay pot), it taste very different but was really very refreshing. In fact, I had 3 cups of tea. It’s really a good idea to use clay pots, it wouldn’t pollute the ground and besides it gives opportunity to locals to earn some money as these pots are hand made.

Clicked this from a moving train, while I was at the door.
I started to feel the heat of chilling climate and I couldn’t stand it anymore. Luckily, my fellow passenger was carrying some extra warm cloths and he offered me a thick jacket seeing my predicament in T-shirt and short, I was shivering. Finally after an agonizing ~30 minutes halt, the train started and I felt a lot better. It was 4PM but it became totally dark and thick fog outside. I clocked the speed of the train over my GPS device and it didn’t go over 50KMPH and quite understandably. The visibility reduced greatly and I could barely see a distance of 100 meters, hats-off to the loco pilots for driving a train in such difficult conditions and making sure it does not stop or even worst gets cancelled  but we were getting delayed, and by now the train was running over 2 hours late.  Well..I can only say one thing in this situation, ‘it’s better late than never’!!!
video
                                                         Departing Farraka Town

The train again took a 10-minute unscheduled halt to Farraka Town. Later in the evening the fog increased and the visibility got reduced to almost 50 meters. I couldn’t see the signal, except for a ‘red dot’ At this time the train was running around 3 hours late. The AC engineer lad asked me to get my camera to take a video of the train passing over the dam over the river Bhramaputra. Unfortunately due to very low light, the video didn’t turn out good but it was amazing feeling to pass over the active dam. The sound of water falling from over the dam was deafening. We passed at a very slow speed of 30KMPH due to, I think, permanent speed restriction over the dam. After this, I decided to return to my cubicle and turned on my laptop to see if I may be able to connect to the internet. I was, in fact, able to connect but the speed was way to slow so decided to listen to songs by Train (the American pop rock band). I like the songs My Private Nation, Save me San Francisco, and If It’s Love…and after listening to My Private Nation, I wish I had my private nation!!!!!
The train took a lot of unscheduled halts, evidently due to bad weather and we got further delayed running late by over 3.5 hours. Malda Town, the next major stop was reached around 8PM. I decided to have my evening meal from the food vendor on the station and for a change and I got to eat home-made rotis and vegetables comprising of potatoes and onions, it was very scrumptious. After a long halt, we moved on with cautious speed. The next stop was New Jalpaiguri (NJP), a major tourist spot and rail head for Darjeeling, a famous hill station. One of the other fellow passengers from Andra Pradesh who was kind of animated throughout the journey started to overreact upon learning that the train isn’t going to reach New Jalpaiguri on time. He was a honeymooner, which explains why he got restless and agitated and wanted to reach the destination on time!!  Given the distance and the speed (of the train), I calculated the time it will take to reach New Jalpaiguri and when I informed him that it isn’t going make it before 1AM, ~4 hours late, his face told the entire story. The train was slowly but surely moving without any unscheduled stop and this lad constantly kept his eyes on my GPS device because I told him that if the train speed crosses 50KMPH, we might reach before 1AM but it didn’t happen, too bad for him!!!

Once we reached New Jalpaiguri, he was a lot happy man and …well..I could understand his emotions!!! Nearly half of the passengers in my coach disembarked here including my good friend who gave me his jacket…which means…yep, you guessed it!!!! , I gladly returned it and thanked him and he invited me to his house, I accepted it. This was so nice of him!!!  After we left NJP, it was a complete silence in my coach and a lot of empty cubicles. I was extremely tired considering I was traveling for over 4 days and another 15 hours to go.  At this time I thought the train was running indefinitely late because nobody knew when will we reach Guwahati, not even the coach attendant but I was not concerned. I turned off the lights (of my cubicle) and went to sleep.
The next day around 6AM, my fellow passenger woke me up (he too became a good friend of mine). We had already entered the state of Assam and it very misty, overcast but beautiful and very rural. I inquired with the coach attendant about the arrival time at Guwahati and he said after 10AM (the schedule arrival time is 5:50AM). The train was made to wait a lot of time for other Howrah bound trains to cross as this was a single non-electrified line, saw Howrah bound Kamrup express from Dibrugarh, hauled by a WDM-3A class loco from HWH shed/depot. It crossed us at over 100KMPH speed and also spotted a couple of New Delhi bound Rajdhani express hauled by WDP-4 class locos and another passenger train hauled by WDM-2A class loco in beautiful livery. Here's is one of the photos.



WDM-2A class loco at the helm of a passenger train.

12509 Bangalore-Guwahati express

Guwahati station was not too far away, I guess 50KM but it took painful 2 hours to cover with hell lot unscheduled stops. Around 10AM we reached Guwahati outer and again we stopped due to non-availability of platform and in the interim I spotted New Delhi bound Poorvottar (Northeast) SK express hauled by another WDP-4 class loco. We finally got the starter and moved into the platform#6 of Guwahati station at 10:30AM, a delay of 4 hours and 40 minutes. I had an image of Guwahati station before I left Mumbai and it turned out to be true. It was crowded, dirty and complete chaos but luckily for me, my fellow passenger offered me a help to find a cab to Shillong. He was on his way to Zero/Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh, another 20 hours. After negotiating through crowded station, he managed to find a cab (a TATA Sumo) to Shillong. I thanked him a lot for his help!! From here, I traveled another 104KM uphill but it kind of took eternity to reach Shillong.  
The cab driver didn’t start until his cab got full, it made me very frustrated because it was already 11AM and I was losing time. After a long delay, the cab did get full and we moved on.  The Guwahati city was crowded with lot of shoppers was getting ready for Christmas and New Year. Soon we crossed over to the state of Megalaya and my happiness doubled. Shillong is, in fact, a hill station and a big city, as well. One of the major tourist attractions of Northeast India and, of course, very safe as compared with other North East states.  We started to climb a tough terrain but we got stuck in the traffic hundreds of time. The road to reach Shillong is very narrow with heavy traffic and once we got stuck in the traffic, we didn’t move for about 45 minutes to an hour. To make matter worst, a landslide blocked a major part of the road so the driver of my cab was very cautious and then due to broadening of the road, we were made to wait at lot of spots. At one such spot, I witnessed, for the first time, live dynamite detonation. The sound was extremely huge, it also juddered our cab and, of course, the security check points added to my wretchedness. It usually takes around 3 hours to reach Shillong from Guwahati but I reached after 5 hours including a 30 minute halt at Nong Poh, in Ri Bhoi district.