Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Journey to the Abode of Clouds

                                                 A Journey to the Abode of Clouds

Prelude

In the recent past, I have been adventuresomely exploring many places in India, traveling on trains for days together alone. I traveled thousands of kilometers on trains in 2013 and this year, I have already clocked around 6000 KM, and I am targeting over 20,000 KM before I drop curtains on my Indian railway journeys forever by the end of this year. I managed to make this trip in the very first month of this year….to my second home – Shillong in Maghalaya aka the Abode of Clouds aka the Scotland of the East aka Pine Capital of India..phew!! Many AKAs huh?!?. I, in fact, wanted to travel in December but due to my busy timetable, I rescheduled it.  As usual, I took the longest possible train route i.e.,via Pune - Kolkata – Guwahati, instead of boarding a direct train to Guwahati from Mumbai – I've never taken the short route! My first leg of the journey started from Mumbai to Pune on a bus then onto the train to Kolkata (boarded the 12129 Pune – Howrah Azad Hind express) then onto another train from Sealdah (the 15657 Sealdah-Guwahati Kanchanjunga express) and finally on a bus to Shillong from Guwahati train station. It took exactly 96 hours to reach Shillong but I absolutely relished the journey!
                                                   
                                            The Beginning of a 96-Hour Journey

Being an impassioned Indian railway enthusiast, traveling on trains bring me a lot of joy – especially on long journeys of over 2-3 days. On the day of travel i.e. 18 January 2014, I was absolutely commoved and felt like dashing out of the house forthwith!  With a huge and quite heavy backpack, I bid goodbye to my mom with a promise to return as planned. I had planned to travel on a bus to Pune, rather than train because I wanted to enjoy the part of the journey through the expressway. The bus wasn’t scheduled to depart until 11:45 AM but I, as usual, arrived at the bus stop too early because I have experienced the pain of missing bus on two occasions! Without much, rather any delay, the bus arrived and that marked the start of my long journey! It was a double axle Mercedes coach, very comfortable and cozy, and, of course, was very cold inside. After a few stops en-route and negotiating the unwieldy Mumbai traffic, we were on the Mumbai-Pune expressway at Panvel - delayed but only just!  I was really impressed by the acceleration of the bus on the expressway – in a few minutes, we were voyaging at 110 KMPH even on some curves.  I thought I was on a train hauled by a WAP-4 class loco!  The arrival time at Pune was 3 PM but I knew it would not reach until 3:30 PM. The 6-lane expressway between Mumbai and Pune is one of the best roads to travel at high speed - very comfortable and smooth. After about 2 hours into the journey, a stopover was taken at Lonavala, some 120 KM off Mumbai, for refreshment and pick some more passengers. It was supposed to be a 20 minute stopover but went on to become an hour – this resulted in a massive delay and dashing all my hopes of reaching Pune before 3:30 PM. Although my train to Kolkata was going to depart at 6:25 PM but I was eagerly looking forward to meet my very good friend Archit Goel! After managing some superb run between Lonavala and Pune – I arrived in Pune around 3:45 PM – a delay of 45 minutes. I, however, did manage to visit the Goels!

At 117 on 12129

The above title may be discombobulating for most but I am sure my railfan cronies, if reading, must have figured out by now!  After saying goodbye to Archit and his family, I hustled up to reach the Pune railway station because I had only about 40 minutes to cover about 10 KM and considering the notorious Pune traffic on weekends, 40 minutes were way too less. After routing and rerouting the shortest way on my GPS device, I arrived at the station mere 10 minutes before departure of my train. Thankfully, the train had arrived at platform # 1,  and as a result I did not have to rush around searching for the platform number. My coach number was B-1, an AC 3-tier class, and I knew it would be close to the loco so I cannonballed along down in that direction without even looking at the coach position indicators on the platform. I managed to board the train just 5 minutes before the departure and faced tough time adjusting my baggage underneath the seat and as a result, I did not get a chance to check out the loco link, one of the things I religiously do before the start of any train journey. I, however, knew that it was a latest diesel loco – a WDP-4D # 40153 class loco of Pune shed.
It was well past 6:25 PM but strangely the train did not depart and rather surprisingly, the 11041 Mumbai-Chennai express, hauled by a WDG-3A class loco of Kazipeth shed, was given a go head before us in the same direction. I wondered what was going through the minds of the section controllers!  After a delay of five more minutes, the starter signal eventually turned Yellow and we slowly accelerated out and after clearing the speed restrictions of 30 KMPH, the train accelerated to about 80 KMPH immediately. What a resplendent performance by a WDP-4D class loco!
After a brisk run, the train entered the first stop, Daund Jn. about 75 KM from Pune, where the train reversed and took the Daund-Manmad route after a 20-minute halt. I was, as usual, by the door (doorplating) as the train gained some good speed. The coach attendant, although, asked me to shut the door, I did not! After about an hour being by the door, I decided to have dinner and then slept early because I wanted to be fully awake for the next action packed day. My mom had packed some very delicious food so I did not order anything from the train’s pantry and I usually avoid the food served from the pantry car. My co-passengers, apparently from the Indian army, were heading to Shillong, as well and we have had some good time together. After discussing various topics ranging from the politics to elections to, of course  my research on leukemia; I called it a day. 

The 12129 Azad Hind Super Fast Express Waiting to Depart Daund Jn. after the Reversal 

I woke up in the middle of the night…rather early morning around 1 AM while my train had arrived at Manmad station. Upon returning to the door (thankfully the coach attendant was fast asleep), I saw the green aspect signal on the up line and I figured out that a non-stop train is going to rend through the station at high speed. Eureka!! In a few minutes the 12112 Amravati-Mumbai super fast express shattered the silence of Manmad station at full speed with full HT horn. What a sight that was!  The train was led by a WCAM-3 class loco of Kalyan shed, not sure about the road number because at such speed, it was impossible to determine (the loco road number). After the loco change from a WDP-4D (diesel) of Pune shed to a WAP-4 (electric) of Bhusawal shed, the starter signal turned green for my train and soon we accelerated out and picked up good speed until it came to an impasse on a loop line. No sooner I figured out the reason for an unscheduled halt than I saw the main line signal aspect changed to green, and it was time for an overtake!  A few minutes later, I saw a small light heading rapidly in my direction on the main line and I knew it was the 12101 Mumbai-Howrah Jnaneshwari super fast express about to overtake at full speed. Once again, with full HT horn and hauled by a WAP-4 class loco of Santragachi shed, it ripped through the main line at full speed.  A spine-chilling sight!!..……After all of these amusements, I went to sleep again. 
The holler of ‘Chai-Chai’ woke me up around 7 AM while my train had just pulled into Badnera station – running on time!  From here on, I was by the door for almost whole day enjoying the high-speed run and the countryside scenes. The train conductor aka the TC, however, upon seeing me by the door for so long, questioned me on whether or not I was genuine passenger,  he eventually let me off only after seeing my ticket and the ID. This situation is not uncommon for me at all! The run after Badnera was fantastic with the train maintaining the top speed even on curves, enervating the coach line up.   

The 12129 Pune-Howrah Azad Hind Super fast Express at Wardha Jn.

BOBRN Class Freight Train.
Clicked this photo while my train was speeding around 100 KMPH. 

The WAP-4 # 22915 of Itarsi shed at Raipur Jn. 

The train pulled into Nagpur Jn. aka the Orange City slightly before time and this gave me the opportunity to check out the unreserved class coaches but they weren't too crowded. I was also pleasantly surprised to see the 12101 Jnaneshwari express on the adjacent platform; this meant that my train was closely following and chased it despite having more stops! This is one of the stations were loco crew changes and after a fresh set of crew took the charge of my train, it accelerated out after a 15-minute halt. I was eagerly waiting to take a video of the famous diamond crossing which is immediately after Nagpur station (Diamond crossing is the track configuration where the coalescing lines provide track connection with each other at right angles). 
The speed the train maintained after departing Nagpur was even more staggering – Although the Maximum Permissible Speed (MPS) was 110 KMPH however, the GPS on my phone showed the speed of 117 KMPH for a very long time. It seemed that the new crew at the helm of the WAP-4 class loco hauling the 12129 Pune-Howrah Azad Hind express had probably gone demoniacal! …and here is the explanation for the above title!   
            A little later in the day at Durg Jn., I met Dr. Dhaval Mavani and another railfan friend from Bhilai. Being a railway enthusiast, I have made so many good friends from all over India and some from overseas sharing same passion! Even though we could spend only about 5 minutes at the station, but it was a nice first meeting, and at Raipur Jn., I met my cousin who brought, a much needed, home food that helped me continue my journey without ordering anything from the train's pantry till the end. We departed on time from Raipur, however, for some strange reason, even after cruising at good speed throughout; the train did go off schedule by almost 30 minutes……. But it did not throw me out of kilter because my connecting train (the 15657 Kanchanjunga express) to Guwahati from Kolkata wasn’t scheduled to leave until 6:25 AM the next day.                  
           After an early dinner, I decided to call it a day from my train spotting activity because after doorplating for almost 8 hours; I started to feel a little outworn. Besides, my destination was still 36 hours away. I did not even realize that I was fast asleep until, I think, one of my co-passengers woke me up as the train was entering the Howrah station platform # 22 at 3:50 AM running absolutely on time. Upon coming out of the station in the wee hours of the morning, I was lucky to find a Sealdah bound city bus and in about 10 minutes, I arrived at Sealdah railway station to board the 15657 Kanchanjunga express bound for Guwahati - 30 hours more to reach Shillong!!

This concludes my journey from Mumbai to Kolkata. The blog on my journey from Kolkata to Guwahati and then to Shillong coming soon!
Post a Comment