Friday, August 22, 2008

A Short Journey Through Rain in Plains on a Very Late Train

We had gone to Lucknow-our Home Station and had booked our return tripon the hallowed 5609 Abadh Assam express. We chose this train as wewanted to be home by Sunday(17.08.08) night as we did not want the kidsto miss their schools as none of the overnight trains can give anassured timely arrival at Ghaziabad, our adopted Station. And there isno day train from LKO to GZB on Sundays except for Gomati andSwarnShatabdi, but then sitting in a confined space for 6 to 9 hours istiring, especially for ladies and kids.

So I had chosen this train which has a scheduled arrival and departureof 5:20 and 5:40 respectively at Lucknow. This is another thing that Iwas assured of a comfortable Sunday waking up as while completing its 31hrs of journey from Guwahati through WB and Bihar on single lines inmany stretches, to LKO it invariably gets delayed by a couple of hours.I was relying on for an advance update on its runningstatus. My train, that I would board on 17.08.08 from Lucknow, had toleave form Guwahati on 15.08.08 at 21:35hrs.
So far so good. My brother had decided to return a day before ie on16.08.08 by 4205 Padmawat Express. I went to see him off and sorted outthe SMB migration matter as his allotted berths had been changed oncharting and these new berths were occupied by the original unsuspectingallottees of these. However, matter was amicably resolved in a jiffy,just in time, when I took these unsuspecting passenger to the chart andshowed them their new berth numbers.

In the meantime I had checked the running status of my train whichdeparted comfortably 8 hours late from Guwahati. Now I was certain thatwe will get another lunch with our parents at LKO as it would not arrivebefore 14:00 hrs on Sunday. It is really rare that we get relieved bysuch inordinate delays of trains.

You will know what I meant above by reading this. Talking of delayreminds me of the fun we had while coming to LKO by 2230A LKO NDLSSuperfast Special of 14.08.08 which was to leave GZB at 00:05 of15.08.08. That was some day. On 14.08.08, since early evening TV wassplashed with the continuously `breaking' news of traffic jamsarresting entire Delhi and NCR, as result of a combination of reasonslike incessant rain, security checks on IDay eve, everyone and theiraunts deciding to leave the Town that very day, etc. People werecontinuously missing their flights, as continuously being broken asbreaking news by the news channels-who else? It was just short of theIndependence Day scenario or Armageddon for that matter. We were firsthand aware of the festival rush at stations as one of my colleagues hadgone to NDLS early in the evening to drop his family for Lichhaviexpress. He came back bounced as parking had been banned at NDLS and noplatform tickets were being issued. However, Lichhavi was nowhere in thesight of his poor kids and wife who were struggling to find their inchesat the platform, whereas as per it was about to reachALJN (Aligarh)!

It had been raining non-stop. So we thought we should not take a chanceand we left for GZB, 20min from our home, at about 22:00, to reach therewithout facing any traffic snarls at 22:45 - the scheduled time ofdeparture of 2230 LKO mail from GZB. The platforms were chockablock withthe passengers of, well, LKO mail, Prayagraj, Rewa Express, DuplicateLko mail (2230A), Triplicate :-) Lko mail (2230B) among many othertrains. Since we had arrived quite in advance, we decided to wait at PF3– by large the cleanest and most hospitable platform GZB got. Thefirst announcement we heard said in an almost incomprehensible voicethat LKO mail and PR had yet not been berthed at NDLS and furtherinformation will be conveyed as received. We knew we (Myself, wife, twokids, brother, wife, one kid) were going to have a long stay there.

So we decided to have a field day and spread our bedsheets at a cleanerand drier spot near some young students leaving for bandhing/bandhaoingrakhees. It was a three contnuous leave package festival season and nowonder I came to know later that on 16.08.08 Delhi roads wore a desertedlook. We treated our kids with Kurkure and Chips and ourselves with theChai and cold drink. I am station chai ka piyakkad, and a special fan ofchai of GZB PF1-2. We were having so much fun and remembering ourchildhood days, when our parents would spread sheet at moonlit platformsin some station. Our place was comfortable and we though we could easilyspent the rest of waiting. We took a couple of snaps for posterity. Thensome Keeda katoed me and I though of doing some survey and eventuallyFOBed down to the enquiry counter on the city side of GZB.

BTW, GZB is one of those rare stations where no PF is approachablewithout using FOBs. The caring gentleman behind enquiry countergesticulated 'two' by showing two fingers. I tried to confirm asexpected , "do baje ayegi?" He repeated his gesture and said twonumber platform. On asking time he said "barah". It was already23:50, so I mobiled my brother to wrap up our set up from PF 3 and moveto PF1-2. Fortunately we did not have much luggage. So we were there onPF 1-2 of Ghaziabad, which is entirely different in demography fromPF-3. Incidentally I guess 2229/30 is the only set which is taken onPF3-4 in its both directions. Otherwise very few eastbound trains aretaken on PF3-4 as most others, including Shatabdis, are taken on PF1-2.
PF1-2 is although a haven for tastebuds, with the host of its Pakoristalls and its thick tea, it looks neglected in cleanliness andsanitation. As soon as any local from Delhi side arrives, alightingpassengers converge on these stalls to have their fill before theyembark on the onward journey on foot, by road or by another connectingtrain. Though there are quite a few number of benches and with fansabove them, all of them were full occupied down to the Sahibabd end ofplatform. The floor of platform was not so hospitable as it isundergoing replacement of tiles. The PF is also home to quite a fewbeggars/alike of all excuses.

Even after 00:30 there was no announcement about our train, though theannouncer, whose voice was more comprehensible on this platform probablybecause of lack of echo as there are no walls here, was informing thatthe LKO mail and Prayagraj were at NDLS platforms. Since all scheduleshad gone haywire, manual announcement had taken over from the recordedsystem. So here we knew that we were going to have a longer PF familyconclave. We looked for some cartons to spread beneath our bedsheets.The benign stallowner gave us a big carton, on which we rested ourbacksides for another two hours before we eventually boarded our trainto find our berths occupied by initially unrelenting waitlistedpassengers, only to check and inform their allotted berths by calling139, one by one. They gratefully vacated our all six berths and moved totheir alloted confirmed/RACed berths in other coaches. They told us thatit was utter chaos at NDLS and that the chart was nowhere to be seen. Iinformed them that 139 is one point solution for all passengermatters/queries, well, except for the running status of trains on which139 was clueless that night. LKO mail, ShramShakti, Prayagaraj, hadalready went past us in the half hour between 01:00 and 01:30. Theremust have been something really serious at NDLS for these trains to getdelayed by such an order. I wonded whether IR had deliberately delayedthese trains to help the passengers who might have been stranded intraffic snarls that night.

Coming back to "Gauhati", as 5609/10 is known in local parlance,the train has been known to never turn up before 09:00 at LKO,especially in its VB days which lasted till not so long ago, as thistrain was probably one of the last BG ones to be converted to AB. Wehave done a few trips by it in its VB days also and most of time it usedto be like, "Abhi vacuum nahin ban raha hai...chal nahinsakti..."Once it remained berthed at LKO PF for more than a coupleof hours for this very reason.

Now, I was reassured in that I knew that it had been converted into AB.Sunday morning was a delightfully monsoon one, with an overnight drizzlegreeting us. I checked the status at trainenquiry/139 and found that ourtrain had made up about one hour in the night of 16.08.08 while itpassed through Begusarai, Mujaffarpur, Hajipur, Sonpur, etc and the ETAfor LKO had receded to 12:35 from 14:05 or so. But as day passed, therain was unrelenting and the train started losing time.

At noon, the trainenquiry ETA for LKO was 13:30, though adding up fromwhere the train actually was gave us that it wont arrive LKO before15:30. Now reasons for worry started piling up as we had long backfinished our Gauhati bonus lunch with parents. The train would reach GZBnot earlier than 01:30hrs, which was not a very good scenario, going bythe L&O situation here, even if the pick up discomfort to brother waskept aside. And add to that the expected condition of an inordinatelydelayed rake running through rain and thousands of kilometers.


Our train, which was almost entirely empty, arrived at about 15:15 atLKO and we comfortably boarded our compartment S10. We originally had 6berths, which were reduced to 4 as brother had left a day earlier. Asusual we got the end bay and our numbers were 66,69,70,72- no, thiscoach was not SMBed. It was still raining, but except for some wetnessof the floor, our coach was unbelievably clean, to our relief. The onlyother passenger so far in our bay was a young man, on 65.

So as the train moved, We encroached on 71 and spread our bedsheet (notthe one used at GZB) and lodged both our kids on the SL for their windowdelight, that too in rain. Let me tell, it is really rare, that wetravel in day train now-a-days as it is considered a waste of time, butI had taken this calculated risk to have a fun filled day ride duringmonsoon. So far I had been kind of repenting my decision, due to morethan needed delay and rains.

But I felt a rush when the train picked up speed against the rain and Isaid to myself that the pilot was going to have some fun with an empty24er rake with just one Ac and that too presumably empty. And that isprecisely what he did. In la jiffy we were racing through Malihabadwhile rain was sporadically relenting.

After Dilawarnagar the rain relented but the LP didn't. He kept pushingthe notches up and now we had opened the window pans. The countrysidewas a sight to behold, emerging vibrant green like someone's glowingbody after a long long shower, and the Dashahari Mango orchards ofMalihabad, with their midget plants, had turned kind of blackish shadeof extreme green. My son had just been gifted a toy camera with a rollby his aunt and I goaded him to capture that sight of mango orchards.The wind splashed our faces as if we were driving through the enchantinghills of Garhwal, with open window pans. After a long long time I washaving a train journey of this delight. In fact I do not remember when Ilast had such one. We were kind of soaking in the experience, whilesipping the pantry tea which was far better than what we get on mostflights. To add to it, there were no local passengers toobstruct/obscure our joyride, as probably our coach was fifth from lastand also due to the strict TTE who did a really commendable job in notallowing any unauthorized ticket holders to travel in out coach. In facthe went to the extent of picking a fight alone, with some policeofficial who was keen on traveling on an upper class ticket of anothertrain running behind ours. Despite all kind of genuine or otherwisereasoning with the TTE, the gentleman had to purchase proper tickets forthe train.

In Bareilly, our FIL-MIL had to come to see us at the station, with ourfavourite Kipps sweets.. And it is only Shranmjeevi Express, a SF thatdoes LKO-BE in about three and and a half hours, but our LP of my kindsaw us in BE at 19:15 after having left LKO at 15:45. Obviously therewas no train ahead of us to hinder our speed. I was wondering whetherthere is an empty slot for a train leaving LKO at 14:00 to land at NDLSat about 22-22:30, at least on Sundays, and whether such a train willshunt the SwarnShatabdi return trip from LKO. There is a Neelachalexpress but it does not touch LKO on Sundays, as it runs as Puri expressand goes via Kanpur on alternate days.

It was getting dark and colder and I was still reflecting on the dayride that we just had . After BE upto MB the LP maintained the speeds,though after MB, as there were quite a few crossings and some cautionsalso as doubling work and rail replacement is under progress, our avspeed came down. However we were at GZB PF-3 at 00:30hrs.

I also saw that electrification was progressing at brisk pace between MBand LKO. It looked as if some stretches around Hardoi were charged!However, this trip with a diesel at the helm through the Gangetic plainsbeing showered with a kindly rain was a thing which I wanted to describeas closely as I am capable of in words and share IT. It islow on details and high on emotions but hope you will enjoy readingthis. All of us caught cold that day.