December 21, 2007

Half a foot, maybe !




It all began on the most eventful day in the history of IRFCA (Indian Railways Fan Club). 26th February 2006. The First IRFCA Convention. In the final session where we discussed the future of IRFCA, I suggested a mid-year railfanning session at some convinient location.

A few weeks ago, Pune Gangman Ashish Kuvelkar re-ignited the spark and planning for the same got underway over the world wide web. Plans were made by Ashish, PVS Praveen and our TT man VSP. Ultimately the date for the Jumbooree was fixed. A weekend and a second saturday to boot. That gave VSP his much deserved holiday. Invitations forwarded, plans finalised, booking for the journey and accomodation were all done by PVS, VSP and Ashish.

Ultimately it was the Gangmen from Hyderabad, Bangalore, Pune and Chennai who decided to converge at Guntakal for the First IRFCA Jumbooree.

Unfortunately it was getting increasingly difficult for me to get a leave on the said day as a couple of my colleagues were already backpacking somewhere abroad. However, there came a lifeline in the form of a trip I needed to do to Bangalore . The SBC trip was a last minute planned one and I left by bus. After finishing off my work by late afternoon at SBC, called up VSP who accused me giving them a 'haath'! And then I let him know about my whereabouts and informed him that I would make it to GTL after all.

I booked myself on an APSRTC bus till Gooty, and proceeded to meet a friend near Yelahanka. I was scheduled to board the bus at 9PM. The bus turned up at 9.30PM. The journey was uneventful till Bagepalli, where we halted for a light dinner at around 11PM. The bus was scheduled to reach Gooty at 2.30AM, but considering the half an hour delay, I guessed it would be 3AM when it touches GY. I had a light nap, and when I awoke, we were almost near GY, but the time in my watch worried me. It was just past 3.30AM. Finally we reached the bus depot at 3.55AM My plan was to take the Hampi express from GY station to GTL. SBC mates Vivek Old Man Pillay, Bizzy Mishra and Ravi Sundarajan were aboard the same. Took an auto-rickshaw and raced towards the railway station. However, reached the station only at 4.10AM, and by then the Hampi had already departed from GY. I was casually informed that the next train to GTL was at 8AM. I had already enquired about the bus service, which too was at 6AM.

// I went and met the station controller, with whom I had made contact the last time I was there.. and he put me in the caboose of a twin GY WDG-3A led freighter which was on its way to Hubli via GTL. We started at 5AM and by the time I made it to GTL, it was 6AM. The train was halted for quite some time at GTL outer, and I was on the mobile communicating with Vivek Pillay and VSP about my co-ordinates. As the freighter approached GTL station, I could spot VSP, Vivek, Tejender, Kamesh and Bizzy with his cam eagerly peering out of the balcony of the GTL retiring rooms. As soon as I was spotted by them, I could hear a cheer and a wave.. and as I exited the freighter, could also spot the flash in front of Bizzy spotlighting me! The look on the face of an RPF Inspector who saw me waved off the the freighter and turned to see the eager IRFCAns waving was seen to be believed! //

After a round of complimentaries and general updates from the above mentioned, and ascertaining that PVS, Ravi, Bharath and the Pune gangmen were cozying in the official resthouses on the other side of the station and that the Madras gang had withdrawn enmasse; I proceeded to get ready for a day that had already started in such a befitting fashion.

6.45AM and we were all set to embark on the First IRFCA Jumbooree. VSP Sir informed us that the Tea Stall at the Station entrance was serving some hot n delicious Upma which Roopesh was already warming his throats with; and so, with 24 bucks paid, myself, Vivek, Bizzy and VSP Sir filled ourselves with Upma worth travelling all the way to GTL for..

6.55AM saw us reach platform 2 of GTL where a cool blue GTL YDM-4 was waiting for us, ready to depart with the GTL-PAK passenger in tow. Spotted Taad-ka-jhaad PVS and around him were Ashish Kuvelkar and Apurva Bahadur. John Mani was busy snapping the relics of the old steam shed and some MG wagons n coaches that probably will not see the light of the day come 2007; while Ravi was trying to find his GPS device a cool position. Bharath Bhai Moro was nowhere in sight. However, he mysteriously appeared bang in time for the departure.

Yours truly and VSP wanted to relax our gullets with some coffee which seemed refreshing in PVS's hands, but 2 minutes before departure, we faced the 'stock over' board. The major discussion that engulfed all of us was the positions that we were to take in the MG coaches. Nothing seemed perfect till VSP Sir managed to have the luggage van of the SLR opened up exclusively for us.

The YDM-4 bluebird gave an ecstatic cry as it chugged off the Jumbooree! Off we were.. some of us cheering, some of us shutterbugging and the Bluebird smoking along. We quickly picked up speed as Ravi managed to find his GPS and himself a good spot. We passed Hanuman Circle where a sizeable crowd made itself home in the 5-coach rake. One of the coaches was marked SR and was in the Vibgyor livery while another one was marked SWR! Incidently the SLR made up the middle of the rake rather than the ends.

The route was splendid with some amazing curves, and as we doorplated the SLR with our legs dangling, me and Tejender wondered how close our feet were to the ballast. Half a foot, maybe..

At one of the stations, we got a coffee vendor on board.. and he served us the best coffee we had in days.. nothing to beat strong n hot coffee.. hmm.. the taste of that is still lingering on my tongue, precisely a week since I had that. Each one of us had two cups of the same, while me and VSP had half a cup extra!

At Khaderpet - the last station before BG meets MG - we were put on the loop to allow the DMM-GTL MG passenger snake into the station. There were a few villagers who had boarded the luggage van we were travelling in, and one of them had a basket of tomatoes with him. PVS promptly bought half a kilo and we had some nice succulent tomatoes to compliment the soft n dull scenery of the Penukonda ranges. This area is a rocky one with hills jutting out of the ground more than trees, but still we were quite amazed to find a lot of land under cultivation, even though finding a farmer on-field seemed more difficult than finding a tiger in the forests of Bandipur..

MG meets BG just before Kalluru, and soon we bridge the Pennar. It was still the monsoon season, but there was not one drop of water under the twelve piers that span the Pennar. Speaks something about the rains in the region, which is widely regarded as one of the desertlands of the South Indian peninsula. Kalluru served us some amazing Idli-vada, although PVS almost swore by its non-existant Upma.

After a 10 minute halt, we clambered in to the SLR aided by Tejender, who was pulling all of us up. And hence began the last stage of our MG journey that day to our destination, Garladinne. Ravi was constantly being pinged by all of us in turns wanting to know if his GPS could match the accuracy of our old-fashioned methods of calculating speed.

Garladinne station did not have too much activity and as soon as the MG passenger train was waved off / seen off / snapped off by the 13 lunatics who descended there, it seemed as though all activity at Garladinne came to a halt.

A dozen of our ancestors climbed down from the trees to see how their future generations might turn out to be. They spotted half a dozen crazy people with some small silver coloured boxes in their palms pointing towards them.

The return trip was to be by the more modern cousin.. the obese guage.. and we awaited the Hindupur-Guntakal passenger to arrive at Garladinne and transport us to Gooty, which was to be our next destination. After rounds of snappography practised by the dozen, we procured the tickets for the journey. Incidently, the same were issued only after the train had left Anantapur, a distance of 18kms, which according to the station master, the passenger train covered in 12 minutes.

We were keeping our fingers crossed and wanted to see the GTL former Beauty Queen 16200 lead the passenger.. but then it wasnt to be.. anyways, freshly coated in the new striking GTL livery was our chief, and no sooner had the 13 lunatics bade farewell to Garladinne, did the long tone sound the start of yet another BG journey. Almost all of us took up positions at the doors of the first coach, while PVS decided to give company to Ravi who seated himself in a side seat with his antenna affixed on the outside of the blue coach.

The journey was uneventful, and the shutterbugs came to the fore when we approached the famed GY curve, and on the RU arm at the bifurcation was a WDG-4 awaiting our entry into GY. As we disembarked at GY platform at around 11AM, I chuckled at the thought of being at the same spot exactly 5 hours back waiting to hitch a ride to GTL !

GY brought us some amazing spottings. The highlight were the dual WDM-2A locos from way up north, nicknamed Prabal by their home shed Lucknow. A pair of KZJ WDG-3A locos were being attached to a freight rake, and on the other side of the island platform, were a trio of GTL WDM-2 locos, a Jumbo heading the pack. Incidently, there was no GY loco in direct view! However, a cursory glance towards the Diesel Loco Shed brought us in contact with a bevy of them. And off we were to the GY DLS, the first Diesel Loco shed in South India; a shed that has over the past forty-plus-years has acquired a name for itself in terms of keeping the locos fit-n-fine. The same has been recognised officially with the shed having procured ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certifications for itself.

We were greeted at the DLS by the Senior Mechanical Enggineer Mr M Srikanth, who turned out to be an admirer of the snaps that are posted on one website meant for crazy people like the 13 who sat before him. He was not just gracious enough but also eagerly willing to answer the querries posed to him like a barrage by PVS, Ashish, Apu, Ravi and myself, while Roopesh and VSP were trying desperately to keep their eyes open! He gave us enormous info on the past, present and future of GY shed.

He also confirmed that GY would still be holding onto a few WDM-3A Baldies for use in the Briganza Ghats and retain their beautiful liveries. This was one of the best news I had heard in a long while. He also introduced us to his Chief Information Manager, who explained to us the various processes that happen at a Diesel Loco Shed. Being there first hand was an amazing experience. Not to be missed.

It was time to give our hungry stomachs something to brood on. We headed to a small eatery near the station, not before having some delighted moments with models of WDM-2 (18207, the first WDM-2 alloted to GY), WDG-4 and a WP plinthed outside the station. However the place was full and also too small to accomodate the 13 of us. On PVS's advice, we decided to proceed to GY town, about 4kms away and got ourselves comfortable in the AC Dining Hall of a decent restaurant. And thence for a surprise.. Dear Old Ravi Sundarajan decided it was the right time to get his name etched in the memory of a dozen railfans. And he did that by announcing that the lunch was on him! We had some delicious Andhra Style Meals amidst talk of and only of trains.

We had decided to take a passenger train from GY to GTL, but our great man from the Babudom of Andhra Pradesh - VSP - decided that he would confirm the punctuality of the same from some contact of his. Unfortunately for us, it wasnt on time. Hence we decided to take a bus to GTL. Outside the hotel, we found ourselves a 7-seater autorickshaw, but just about managed to fit in 13 lunatics, the driver and his assistant into the same. How we all fit in is still beyond my imagination. As we reached GTL bus station, we found ourselves a NEKRTC bus bound for Bellary awaiting us, and into it we got in, occupying the back benches of the same. And like true back-benchers, we made noise and had fun. Our CDAC representative, Ashish, was pretty inquisitive about the hand held electronic ticket dispenser which the conductor used to issue us the journey tickets. He followed it with a few snaps, probably interested in replicating the device at work!

At GTL, we proceeded to the Cozy Railway Guest House and made ourselves comfortable. Apu, Ravi, VSP, Tejender, Kamesh were all in slumber in one room, while myself, Bharath, PVS, VSP, Roopesh, Bizzy and Vivek engrossed ourselves in banter which ranged from food to tech-talk to jobs and of course.. Railways! At around 6PM, we all decided to head to the overbridge at the point where the line to Dhone branches off. Mr Time Table had informed us about the MYS-JP express that would wind its way up the ramp towards DNC at 1820 and we waited in anticipation of the same. Close to 1840, the 13 railfans were given the treat that they longed for. Apu could not hide his delight behind his wide grain when the ex-GY and now GTL homed rebuilt WDM-3A pulled out the 9775 from platform 3, cruised past two points and chugged away to glory on the DNC line leaving behind a huge plume of smoke outlined by the rays of the setting sun, and a bunch of railnuts sweaking in delight and heading over to see what the scene looked like in each of the digicams that captured the moment for posturity !

It was dark now, and as a WDG-4 led a freight into GTL and another GTL loco led out the express to MAS, we took a hike along the tracks into GTL station. We headed to the Refreshment Rooms on platform 5. While most caught up on some Biryani at the NVRR; myself, Kamesh, PVS and Bharath headed to the VRR to have some awesome Pongal n Vada that was served there. There we bade Goodbye to the Organiser-in-chief of the trip - VSP - who took a bus back to GY to catch the 7652 KCG-MS express to TPTY and get himself a darshan of the Almighty who adorns the seven hills.

We then headed back to our rooms to pack ourselves up for the return trip. Ganged up on platform 4, where the CBE-LTT exp which was to take back the Pune Gang back home arrived three quarters of an hour late. In the meantime, we were in touch with VSP, who just made it in time to catch 7652 at GY. We were booked in 7604 which arrived almost an hour late. Ravi had by then made himself comfortable in the FC of the NED-SBC Hampi Link express, while Vivek and Bizzy gave us company till 7604 reversed out of GTL. All of us were asleep within 5 minutes of the train chugging off GTL.

Not for a moment did I wake up, and when I did, we were cruising past Falaknuma and reached KCG 20 minutes late. Tejender bade us Goodbye at the station, while PVS and Bharath hitched a ride till Vidyanagar, Kamesh and me till Begumpet, while Roopesh was sheduled to disembark at Hafeezpet.

Took an auto for the last leg of the journey of 1km from BMT to my place to end one of the most enthralling trips of my railfanning life..

It was an awesome trip done under - as Apu aptly put it - No Catenary !

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