Jonathan Lee

Worldly Images

India March 2011

Talk about changing the plan. This trip was one constant change from start to finish, even before we left the country. And all thanks to DLW spitting out WDP4Bs like they were coming into fashion.

Thanks to someone spotting the ever reliant Avadh Assam Express with a WDP4 we had to change our plans from doing that ex Delhi to doing 12557 Sampt Kranti Express instead, which we were doing forward from Lucknow to Narkatiaganj anyway. Another great plan that soon went in the bin when I’d discovered that it too was a WDP4 throughout! The result was us paying RS2132 for a flight from Delhi to Lucknow, which was actually a better move in the end, especially as 12557 missed the train we needed to be on…….

We got from Lucknow airport to the station in a taxi easily enough and ended up on 19037 LTT – Gorakhpur to Gonda, where we found YDM4s 6533, 6564, 6625, 6575, 6486 & 6571. The bash went downhill from there as 12512 Trivandrum – Gorakhpur was over 3 hours late and we missed our 1825 stopper from Gorakhpur to Kaptanganj, which meant we couldn’t do a fill in move on the Kaptanganj – Thawe MG. What we didn’t expect when we actually got to Kaptanganj that night was that there wasn’t actually any MG left, all the track had been removed and the chairs and signalling equipment was all stacked nicely having been ripped up ready for the BG works to commence.

We ended up on the 2245 Gorakhpur – Narkatiaganj passenger that night, which had a bonus sleeper coach at the front, however it wasn’t a bonus that it was 3 hours late and missed the 0345 Narkatiaganj – Bhikhana Thori. The result of which was us having to wait for the 0930 up the branch instead and having to flag the 0930 to Raxaul, which we would have ended up on once we’d got back off the branch, which departed with 6439. We ended up with 6758 down the branch, which was a very pleasant journey on a not very wedged train at all.

Having made our way forward to Darbhanga, where we arrived on 12562 New Delhi – Darbhanga with PTRU WDM3 18956, we ended up in the Station Masters office asking how to get a hotel for the night. They got a rickshaw guy to take us to a hotel, the first of which (Hotel Gautam) was full, and we ended up at the Hotel Naveen, which cost RS678 for a double room and extra bed. We slept very well that night!

After waking a couple of sleeping rickshaw riders the following morning, in the cool Bihari air as dusk broke, we arrived at the station just as BWN WDM3A 18875 did with 13185 Sealdah – Jaynagar, which we did forward to Sakri Jct for a trip to Laukaha Bazar on the MG. We had time to look around at Jhajahanpur where YDM4s 6303 & 6339 were the resident spares engines and 6525 was on the fuel point, 6532 seemed to be the most recent addition to the outbase as it was in the new dark blue livery and 6752 was painted in a one off livery with JJP shed markings on the front. During the day we had 6754, 6551 & 6592, the latter of which we had to Laukaha Bazar and back. A slow journey, one which we were convinced we were going to miss our train off back at Sakri, but its slack time ensured we did make it. Of course 18875 again on the return 13186 Jaynagar – Sealdah, which we did all the way into Sealdah.

Having done 16420 to Digha and back on the 12847/8 Howrah – Digha Duronto we met Samit Roychoudhury for an evening meal before doing 12377 Sealdah – NJP throughout that night. We were originally planning to stay in Kolkata the night and had booked on 12345 Saraighat Express throughout to Guwahati the following day but thanks to IRFCA I’d found out it had recently changed links to a WDP4B, which we confirmed at Guwahati two days later when we watched it arrive……

One good thing did come from changing our plan in that we ended up on 13248 Danapur – Kamakhya from NJP to Kamakhya which ran via Alipurduar Jct & Goalpara. After a night in Assam’s capital, Guwahati, having stayed at the Hotel Siroy Lily where our bill came to RS2887 for the night, we went forward to Lumding, via Haibargaon on various NGC WDM2s, one of which 17859 had just been transferred in from ERS!

Then it was into the depths of NE India and the MG through to Agartala 15695 2055 Lumding – Agartala. Luckily we’d just missed a 36 hour strike in the area, relating to train crew fearing a reprisal after a local terrorist had been killed, but we weren’t spared the typical NE second rate service.

Once awake and the curtains were pulled back, near Dharmanagar, the extent of the BG works going on became evident. There were new bridges, earthworks, sleeper replacement and they were even replacing the sleepers beneath the train as we ran through the Dharmanagar area, with the new BG/MG sleepers, so the rails could be simply moved out from the MG to BG position when the time came.

We were 2h20m late into Agartala having arrived at 1450. The crew have to be commended as we were away by 1507 on our return journey, just the 52 minutes late!

En-route back to Badarpur the run was worse than the run down, how you might ask, is that possible? Well by festering about at Manu for 35 minutes for a start, for no really apparent reason either as we didn’t cross anything. Then by waiting at Kumarghat for a whole 1h13m! At least at Kumarghat there was some sort of explanation as to why, pasted to the wall. There was a “Total Block” between Dharmanagar & Kumarghat from 1050-1450, daily, between 07-11-2010 & 06-04-2011. We assumed this was for the re-sleepering to take place, that we’d seen on the way down. The same notice also had a couple of train re-timings with the 0645 Agartala – Dharmanagar being retimed to 0500, and the return working of the 1110 Dharmanagar – Agratala being retimed to 0950. This would explain why we hadn’t seen both trains that morning.

Having departed Kumarghat 184 late and only 108km into the journey it was already dark and lights out time. I did get up at 0330 to get the banker at Harangajao, where 6354 was waiting to back on as we arrived.

Our plan had been to go through to Lumding for the “Hill Queen Express” back to Lower Haflong that day however we were 4 hours late by Maibong and the southbound LMG – Silchar day train was already sat in waiting for us to arrive with LMG YDM4 6177 so we were off there and back south with it, to wait for the “Hill Queen” at Lower Haflong.

There was some impressive new BG alignment going on south of Maibong with new stations, somewhat removed from their current MG representatives, seeming to be stood in the middle of nowhere. Clearing of the valley somewhat spoilt the picturesque scenery, but all was necessary to get the mighty BG tracks to infiltrate the Cachar Hills. At Dautuhaja the line curved round on itself twice and at the highest point you can see the station down below with the second tier of tracks above it, with the BG alignment following it at some points. Where it didn’t new tunnels had been drilled through the hills! The most impressive of the construction works came on the approach to Lower Haflong where a 600m bridge across the valley, some 100m high, had pillars in various stages of completion with spans being added at one side as the struts were completed. Despite the fact that this construction would end MG as we knew it, I have to say it was quite impressive to see the lengths the Indians were going to in order to get it completed.

Lower Haflong station is very pleasant indeed, with its rather relaxed status and quaint little booking office and station buildings. The people were of the same state, no myther, hassle, or even a glancing look really, even from the truck full of Army personnel, as we walked across the track to photograph 6177 before it departed.

The refreshment rooms at Lower Haflong were well prepared for the arrival of the Barak Valley Express, and executed their daily duties very well, with their metal plates already loaded with slop, stacked neatly on the tables ready to be dished out.

We found out that the “Hill Queen Express” had left Lumding over 2 hours late, which wasn’t great. However our boredom was eased when LMG YDM4s 6388/6411 pulled into the station with a northbound goods train. The driver brought it to a stand at the south end of the station and immediately everyone waiting on the platform rushed towards it and clambered onto the engines. Once the driver had drawn the train into the station those not on the engines clambered aboard the guards van at the rear, and those that couldn’t get in there just got into the empty box vans! With nothing to lose we ended up in the front box van, rucksacks and all, with about 30 other people. We thought we’d soon be back on the platform when two RPF came wondering down and looked into the van but they just scanned around, looked at us, and carried on walking…….

We were aboard a freight train, climbing the hills of Assam, right behind a pair of YDM4s, it couldn’t get any better! there was no myther at all from anyone. The odd person wanted to know where we were going but that was it. It was a very surreal experience indeed. An experience that came to an end at Mahur, where we crossed the “Hill Queen” coming south with LMG YDM4 6712, which we did back to Lower Haflong and then all the way back to Lumding in the AC chair car, which was empty.

Two days after doing it for the first time, we were on the 2055 Lumding – Agartala again, this time only to Badarpur, which would lead us into 3 days in the Silchar area riding around on YDM4s to our hearts content………

We based ourselves at the Hotel Kanishka in Silchar which cost RS1200 per night for the room and RS200 for the extra bed, where we arrived after spending quite a nice day riding around on the Badarpur – Silchar line. We spotted the following during the day at Badarpur on freight trains:

6490, 6390/6393, 6617 (shunting the yard), 6192 (which went out on the back of the Barak Valley to bank through the hills), 6639, 6420/6536, 6413/6765, 6365, 6714/6642 & 6489. In the

In the yard at Badarpur were a load of steam engines in various states of decay as follows:

YGs 4091/4405 rusting away at the entrance to the yard, YG 4367 which had been restored to working order, but didn’t appear to have been used, 4119, despite having some of it’s red paint still visible, was rusting away behind the wall, but was probably in better condition as it was sheltered? 2166 was covered in ivy and other creeping vegetation, again in a rather rusted state. YG 4118 was off it’s wheels and dumped on the deck, also rusting away. And finally at the bottom end of the yard YGs 4098/2110 were off their wheels, rusting away and being used by the locals to attach their washing lines to. All had their withdrawal dates painted on the side somewhere, which were all round about 1996. It is quite safe to say that of the 7 there, only 4367 was ever likely to turn a wheel again……

Our 3 days in the Silchar area were frustrating, tiring & yet excellent at the same time. The timekeeping was shocking with some trains being 7 hours late, and some like the Silchar – Agartala passenger was never less that 2 hours late away from Silchar! The day we were going to do the Silchar – Jiribum passenger (only to Arunachal Jct) it was cancelled for no reason. There was anohte roccasion where we ended up not doing the Badarpur – Bhairabi passenger as it was so late the train we wanted to make down the line arrived before it departed. Not to be beat we did this train forward to Rupasibari, 3.3km up the line, and walked back, just so we didn’t end up spending 7 hours straight at Badarpur! We did have the pleasure of being gifted an Alco machine in the shape of 6110, which unfortunately returned north with the overnight to Lumding the night before we’d do it throughout. By the time we left on our overnight journey back from Silchar to Lumding we’d rode on no less than 21 LMG YDM4s:

6272, 6354, 6177, 6411, 6388, 6712, 6213, 6271, 6497, 6661, 6501, 6366, 6639, 6110, 6579, 6745, 6192, 6387, 6713, 6390 & 6714

The very last of the bunch had been the banker on the way back north, which we hadn’t seen but the loco number had been collected for us by the coach attendant.

After arriving into Lumding Jct 2h38m late we made a very bad decision, without knowing it, which was to watch 15718 Mariani – Guwahati depart, which we knew at that point was terminating at Chaparmukh and forming 15717 return from there. All due to track subsidence between there and Guwahati, which a sign at Lumding confirmed and also confirmed that all trains between Guwahati & Lumding (other than the aforementioned) would be suspended until 1700 that evening.

Our plans were to head east and cover Ledo, Dangari, Jorhat & the newly constructed line from Dibrugarh via Moranhat to Simalguri. That plan all came crashing down around us after we’d festered at Lumding for 8 hours only to find a notice posted outside the ticket office confirming that all trains were suspended between Guwahati & Lumding for the next 2 days with only one “special” train running in each direction each night. While deliberating what to do we made a second massive error in watching 15933 Dibrugarh – Amritsar depart with it’s booked WDP4. Which despite being a WDP4 would have been a far better option that what we ended up with.

Having spent our 8 hours at Lumding we then spent 7.5 hours getting to Guwahati by road. Firstly in a Maruti van, which took us through some rather rough terrain to Nagaon where we arrived 3.5 hours later having cost RS3500. The driver & his mate were going to stay the night in Nagaon, for two reasons, one to get their van fixed and two because they didn’t want to driver back through the “rough” terrain overnight for fear of being stopped by bandits!

At Nagaon they negotiated a taxi to take us forward to Guwahati, which cost us a further RS2220 and took another 3 hours. We eventually arrived at 2300, only to find all the hotels in Guwahati full with people that had come off trains arriving from the west. We were left with no choice but the spend the night dossed down on the platform floor with hundreds of other folk, which didn’t turn out quite as bad as it sounded……

With 3 days to re-plan at the drop of a hat we quickly decided on staying in Siliguri for a couple of nights. En-route we attempted to do a bash on the Rangiya – Rangapara MG line, only to be told by station staff that trains were suspended due to “agitation” up the line somewhere. Having reached Alipurduar we attempted to do the afternoon passenger to Bamanhat, to get the branch in, another ill fated move due to the train being over an hour late and it only being a plus 40 on its return for the last train into NJP. We abandoned that idea at New Cooch Behar and ended up on 13148 New Cooch Behar – Sealdah, in some very empty sleeper class coaches, with BWN WDM2 18779. Which itself managed to site outside NJP to allow us to watch the last passenger train to Siliguri Town disappear round the corner, leaving us with no choice but to get a rickshaw to the Hotel Conclave, where we paid RS1150 for a twin with extra mattress. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to work out exactly what happened the moment we’d got into the room, shower, food, bed in that order.

The following morning, nice and refreshed, we did the NJP – Haldibari passenger throughout to get the branch in with MLDT WDM2 16680. Back at Raninagar Jalpaiguri later that afternoon we found out exactly what happened there with the New Alipurduar & Haldibari portions of 13142 to Sealdah. The Haldibari portion arrived first with MLDT WDM2 17900 and the New Alipurduar portion arrived into the adjacent platform with HWH WDM2 “jumbo” 17850, which shunted the front coach off its set, with us on board. We thought it would shunt out and onto the other portion as 17900 was already at the starter signal outside the station, but no, 17900 back onto 17850 and did the shunt move itself. Which involved shunting the front coach off the Alipurduar portion onto the Haldibari portion and then the lot back onto the Alipurduar portion. 17900 then worked the train forward with 17850 inside, not doing a thing, despite me asking the crew to give it some. 17900 had been removed at NJP as we had it again later that night back to Siliguri on the last passenger which we’d sat on for almost an hour before it departed almost an hour late!

Our departure from Siliguri was aboard the once a week 15644 Kamakhya – Puri with freshly out-shopped UDL WDM3A 16452 to Barsoi. Where we made an executive decision and ended up going through to Katihar on MLDT WDM3A 16283 which was an excellent machine indeed, to return via Barsoi to Radhikapur with 16569 on the afternoon 55729 1425 Katihar – Radhikapur passenger. On our journey back from Radhikapur aboard 13146 Radhikapur – Kolkata, with BWN WDM2 18779, we were treated to some guy getting into sleeper class with a bag of leaves, which he decided would be better transported if he tipped them out onto the floor, spread them about, and got dossed out on the top berth! We ended up in Malda Town that night at the Hotel Shine which cost RS700 for a room with a large double bed and a single, which included a bog that didn’t flush, not bed covers and thankfully a towel that was used to block the vent into the room to prevent any more mosquitoes getting in.

The next of our un-planned moves was to Balurghat on 55721 0650 Malda Town – Balurghta passenger with MLDT WDM2 17485. It was refreshing run out and back to Eklakhi Jct, where thankfully I went over to the ticket office while the loco was running round and discovered that some trains had been re-timed. Getting ourselves off the train at Eklakhi saved us further frustration on the trip as we’d have likely missed our southbound passenger back to Malda and probably our overnight that night forward to Lucknow, which would have probably driven us over the edge at that point.

As it happened all was well and after a decent mean at the Hotel Shine we were on the platform in plenty of time, listening to the random announcements of:

“Keep the station neat and clean, do not throw rubbish here and there”

“Do not take foodstuffs from unknown persons, it may be a trap to rob you of your belongings”

“Do not journey without proper ticket”

“Carry less luggage for your comfortable journey”

“Railways are our national property, therefore we must save them”

Our 13413 Malda – New Delhi “Farakka Express” was worked by LKO WDM3D 11334 throughout to Lucknow. We confused the guy in our compartment of four when we got off the following day at Kashi and did the late running “Doon Express” into Varanasi with LKO WDG3A 13650, only to get back on again at Varansi. Had we actually managed to get our act together at Mughalsarai we’d have probably withered him even more when we got back on at Kashi. My packet of crisps was still on the table where i’d left them to……..

The following 24 hours were spent getting the three main routes from LKO – BSB in, via Sultanpur on 13413, back via Faizabad overnight on 14236 with LDH WDM3A 16534, then back the following day via Rae Bareilly on 12875 with KGP WDM3A 16147. That job done we went forward to Lalkua on the MG with IZN YDM4 6459 on 15308 “Nanital Express”.

Strangely after all the wrong doings Indian Railways had thrown at us during the trip we arrived into Lalkua bang on time and made a plus 10 onto 14120 to Kathgodam with LKO WDM3A 16378 and a cracking day followed which involved locos from different sheds all day, GD WDM3A 16496 back to Lalkua on 55302 Moradabad passenger for KTE WDG3A 14751 to Kashipur on 55315 Lalkua – Kashipur passenger, for TKD WDM3D 11249 to Aliganj on 55308 Ramnagar – Moradabad passenger then LDH WDM2 17772 to Ramnagar and back to Moradabad on 55307/310 Moradabad – Ramnagar – Moradabad passengers. That’s when Indian Railways had one last thing to throw at us to test our nerves!

14555 Bareilly – Delhi Jct was 2h15m late arriving into Moradabad with ABR WDG3A 14723 dead inside TKD WDP1 15044. There were people hanging out of the doors, in the cab of 14723, all down the sides of the engine, perched on the buffers between the coaches and in literally any space they could find. Imagine how relieved we were to find our 2AC berths still empty…….

14555 arrived into Delhi at 2350, what i hadn’t mentioned was that we had an 0215 flight, which check-in would close for at 0115! Never before had i been so close to missing a flight and thankfully the taxi driver understood we were close to the wire and got us to the airport in 45 minutes, where we arrived at 0050 with 25 minutes to spare.

This trip had been quite possibly the hardest 3 week trip of my life and it took 3 weeks to recover from it! Of course i will be returning to the NE to do what we were denied on this trip. Looking back though I wouldn’t have done anything different and the whole thing was a cracking experience, even if it didn’t seem so at the time.


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