The 'Halwa' Trip: Jan Shatabdi to Kozhikode (With video)

Halwa is a dense confection made from grain (or flour) and sweetened with sugar (or honey). 

I am not a very big fan of confectionary. Although I don't have a sweet tooth - but I do end up developing sweet tooth once in a while. It was one such day and I badly wanted to eat some Halwa. My hometown makes some amazing Halwa - but I wanted to eat the traditional Kozhikoden Halwa. Kozhikode is a city in Northern Kerala - it is famous for its delicious Halwa!

History has it that arab traders gifted the Halwa when they visited the Zamorins, the, then, rulers of Malabar. There is another anecdote that Halwa was concocted by cooks from Gujarat for a royal feast of the Zamorins. The characteristic of Kozhikode's Halwa is that these are prepared in Coconut oil, and not Ghee (Clarified Butter), which is common elsewhere. Kozhikoden Halwa comes in various flavours - Pineapple being my favorite. Unlike the versions of Kozhikoden Halwa that is sold across the state, the one in Kozhikode is usually softer and not very chewy. 

Kozhikode has this famous marketplace - the 'Sweet Meat Street' or SM Street, or as we malayalis call it - the Mithayitheru. Although I've been to Kozhikode many times, I haven't been to this must-visit shopping avenue. I did some basic research on the internet - zeroed in on some shops that are authentic and finally drew up a plan. I broke my plan at home - after approvals from regulatory authorities at home, I made my travel plan. 

April 01, 2021:

I started off from home after an early breakfast. It had rained quite heavily the previous night - the road outside my home had puddles of water, and sand washed in from kerbside. It was still humid outside, and I was sweating as I walked about half-a-kilometre to the nearest 'limited stop' bus stop. My home is along the state highway that connects Kodungallur to Shoranur via Thrissur. Bus services in my region are largely operated by private bus operators - they operate two types of services - the "Blue" buses: Ordinary services, that stop at every bus stop on the way; and, the "Pink" buses: Limited stop services that stop only at specified bus stops on the way. The latter takes about 10 minutes less than the former to cover the 38 kilometres from Kodungallur to Thrissur. 

I got a bus to Thrissur soon after I got to the bus stop - with the pandemic beating down people quite hard, buses are often not very crowded these days (Government has capped occupancy in buses as the date I type this). Getting a seat was not difficult. In the initial days when bus services resumed after the lockdown, drivers were temperate and buses were operated at moderate speed. Cutting down operating cost was important, and driving discipline is an important component to it. As people get confident that the virus has left us for good (no, it hasn't - and it wouldn't unless we force it to), bus drivers are back to their honk-happy mode. Rash driving, with frequent honking to terrorize smaller vehicles on the road is back again!

Cutting short, I was at Thrissur about an hour before my train was scheduled to arrive/depart. I spent some time spotting buses, before heading to the railway station. I was at the railway station a little before 1015hrs. My train was to depart at 1040hrs. This was my first visit to a railway station in Kerala after the pandemic began. I had arrived in Thrissur, fleeing from Bangalore, in March 2020 running away from the fear of getting stuck. Thrissur station was deserted - not the bustling station that I am used to seeing. The ticketing counter was deserted - the enquiry counters didn't have anybody asking for timings or updates. A handwritten coach position status told me where my coach would be. Most stations in Kerala still lack digital coach indicators - we still rely on coach positions written on boards, and standing below coach position boards - and then running helter-skelter when the train actually arrives!

I stepped on to platform - it was silent. A pall of gloom hung over the platform - most shops were closed. Even the famous Higginbothams book stall was closed. The refreshment room was open - that was the only slither of hope. I headed straight to Platform 2 - where my train, and all trains towards Shoranur/Palakkad would depart from. Thrissur station, despite being a very important and crowded station in Kerala, doesn't have adequate facilities. One still has to climb up the stairs to use the foot over bridge - lift/escalators seemed missing (they exist only on one side the station). While climbing up the stairs, the arrival of the intercity express to Bengaluru was announced. This train came with 2 WDP4Ds doing the honours. The train was empty - literally empty with some coaches not having a single soul! The train departed soon later. 

Deducing from the crowd on the platform, I guessed my train would be crowded. There were over 500 seats still vacant at the time I reserved my seat - perhaps the rest were sold over the night. My train - yeah! You might have guessed from the title - the Trivandrum - Kozhikode Jan Shatabdi Express rolled in to Thrissur by 1037hrs, with WAP7 #37205 of Royapuram Electric Loco Shed. I was quite flummoxed as I got into my coach - the coach was packed! The congested seating arrangement made me quite scared - on one side the government talks of pandemic precautions, while on the other side it allows crowding in trains!

WAP7 #37205 of Royapuram at the helm of my train

The train got moving by 1040hrs - perfectly on time. I was in an aisle seat - thankfully not a middle seat. I was quite uncomfortable sitting in that crowd - I moved to the door soon after the Ticket examiner came around to check tickets. This was my first experience in the non-AC 'Second Jan Chair Car' - all previous travel were in AC Chair Car (avoided AC this time due to the pandemic). Second Jan Chair Car has a 3x3 seating layout - with half the coach facing forward, and the other half backward. Meanwhile, the WAP7 upfront was having fun was a comparatively lighter rake. The only thing that held back the WAP7 was the 85kmph speed limit in this section!

We slowed down as we approached Bharathapuzha - some maintenance work was in progress around the bridge, and there was a speed restriction. As we crawled towards Shoranur station, I spotted another train also entering Shoranur through the line from Palakkad. This was the first time I saw simultaneous reception of trains at Shoranur. Both the trains had a parallel run for some time, and then diverted to their platforms (my train on Platform 7 - what a coincidence; and the other train on Platform 5). The other train was Sabari Express from Secunderabad. By the way, we got to Shoranur by 1113hrs - about 12 minutes before scheduled arrival time. 

Somewhere on the way...

The platform came to life with the arrival of my train - vendors were everywhere selling water bottles, packed snacks and lunch items. I had planned to have my lunch from Kozhikode - after all, I was traveling to a place that is famous for its culinary delights! It was terribly hot out on the platform -  there was no shade in the part where my coach stood. During the wait, the Coimbatore-Mangalore Special Express (the former 'Fast Passenger') was allowed ahead of us, and the Parasuram Express to Nagercoil came in. We started off from Shoranur perfectly on time, at 1130hrs. 

Right outside Shoranur, waiting for us was Sri Ganganagar Kochuveli Express with a WAP7 doing the honours. We slowly crawled out of Shoranur - picking pace as we rushed past the line towards Nilambur. I remained at the door for some more time - the coach was less crowded now, and I managed to find a 'near-empty' row. There were some speed restrictions owing to maintenance work on the way -the train kept slowing down once in a while, and then picking pace. We overtook the Mangalore express, that had departed ahead of us from Shoranur, at Pallipuram. The train had very little stops - making the journey a little boring. 

We got to Tirur - the only stop between Shoranur and Kozhikode - at 1208hrs. Tirur stop serves the district of Malappuram - and my coach mostly emptied out here. There was less than 50% occupancy as we departed from Tirur, at 1210hrs. We crossed the Nagercoil bound Ernad express crossed us a little past Tirur. The run got even more boring after Tirur - it was sweltering hot outside, and hot wind blew through the coach, adding to my misery. We were looped at Feroke, due to a frieghter occupying the main-line. We made a brief stop before setting off to Kozhikode. People prepared to get off at Kozhikode as the train slowly crawled past Kallayi. I had no hurry to alight - and hence remained seated until the train came to a complete stop on Kozhikode's Platform 6, at 1258hrs - 7 minutes before scheduled arrival time. 

It took quite some time before I could get out of the station - only one exit was opened due to the pandemic. In the hindsight, how useful would it have been had they opened all the exits. The crowd could have been controlled much better - instead of a train full of passengers trying to exit through one single exit. (There were two exits - one from Platform 6 and the other from Platform 1). After exiting the station, I headed straight to fulfil my halwa desire before returning back home - not without eating the famous Kozhikode Biryani from Kozhikode's famous Paragon! 

Do watch my video on this journey:



NOTE: I do not recommend travelling without an emergency/unavoidable reason during this pandemic. Stay at home as far as possible. Stay safe!

Journey in a Nutshell:
Train Number: 02076 Thiruvananthapuram Central - Kozhikode Jan Shatabdi 'Special' Express
Loco link: WAP7 #37205 of Royapuram
Coach: D4, WGSCZJS #09601, based at Thiruvananthapuram Central.

Ratings:
Punctuality: 10/10 (Departed on time, Arrived before time!)
Cleanliness: 10/10 (Absolutely clean)
Bedroll: Does not apply.
Catering: Only packed food was available - did not buy. 

Overall: 10/10

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