The entire planning process for this trip to Rameswaram was a little confusing. The last time, I had traveled from Madurai to Rameswaram - and was wondering if I should keep it simple, silly and just repeat what I did last time - but then, there were no trains from Madurai to Rameswaram that could fit into my requirements. It was later that my DEMU ride plan came in, and the entire planning process was redone. The decision to ride the DEMU was also based on the timings of my train from Manamadurai to Rameswaram. There weren't too many options to pick from, and this made things a little easy. The Trichy Rameswaram Express (formerly a passenger train) was the only option for me at the timeframe I looked for.
My initial plan was to travel both ways in the same train - but then a little bit of replanning happened and the return was booked in a different train - more on that later. The 16849 Tiruchirappalli - Rameswaram Express had just second class sitting coaches - although an "Express", it was still more of a passenger train. Wonder why the railways do not introduce Airconditioned chair car coaches in these trains - may be that would get more people to the train. I reserved this ticket early on - plenty of tickets were available, but I just didn't want to postpone the booking.
January 8, 2022:
The DEMU from Virudhunagar dropped me at Manamadurai a little over 50 minutes behind schedule. I was quite tired - the delay drained me out a bit, and I hadn't slept much the previous night. To add to that, I was traveling on a mostly empty stomach (except for a tea and some biscuits from Virudhunagar) that was now bubbling and threatening to erupt. The DEMU was greeted by a swarm of vendors selling breakfast dishes - there was a waft of aromas from the food they were selling. This increased my hunger - but I was busy capturing the DEMU departing from Manamadurai. All the vendors just disappeared soon after the DEMU left.
|Welcome to Manamadurai|
|So this was our train...|
I rushed over to the Vegetarian refreshment room on the first platform to check if something was available - only to be rudely told that "no food is available". I was hungry - I just walked out of the station to see if anything was available - not even a tea stall in the vicinity! I was back on the platform to check if there were other stalls - a little towards the Rameswaram end of the station was a half open store. I am not sure if he was opening or closing - but only a part of the opening was open. I checked if he had something - I had actually decided to buy biscuits or some other packaged food from there - but he had fresh food available! I picked up a pack of Idli along with some vadas. The food was piping hot (it was being unloaded into the stall from the vehicle standing outside the station) - I was quite excited about that!
I quickly checked my coach position also with the vendor - who informed me that I should stand near the RPF Outpost (Railway protection force) - all reserved coaches would be around that spot, it seems. In addition to that, he quickly advised that I must have my food before heading to that spot, since there were not water taps around the spot, and I'd have to return to the area around the stall to wash! Sweet! I liked that advice - and heeded without fail! The food was delicious - certainly recommended if you travel that way!
The station was silent - and there were no passengers either! People began trickling in only a few minutes before the train turned up. Interestingly, the Government of Tamilnadu was just gearing up to contain the third wave of the pandemic, and the government had announced a "weekend" lockdown that week. Tourist places, including places of worship, was out-of-bounds for visitors on Saturday and Sundays, while the entire state was to be in a state of complete lockdown on Sunday! I was traveling on a Saturday - the temple was out of bound (I really wanted to visit the temple - but had to be ruled out this time) for me. May be this was the reason there were less people at the station.
|Waiting at Manamadurai for our train...|
|The train coming in...|
The train pulled in at 0950hrs - about 5 minutes behind schedule. The train, 16849 Tiruchirapalli Rameswaram Express, was hauled by WDM3A #16895R of Golden Rock diesel loco shed - I've been usually getting WDG3A recently, and this was a deviation! The loco was in the typical Tondiarpet blue livery - perhaps a recent transfer to Golden Rock! My coach, D1, was the fourth from the locomotive - and very interestingly, this was the only "Chair Car" coach in the train. I would've been really happier had they sent the usual GS coach instead of the WGSCZ coach that I was traveling in - thankfully, the coach was empty and hence the seating was comfortable. The coach was built in 2004 (WGSCZ 04603) and based at Trichy coaching depot. The coach didn't seem to have undergone refurbishing anytime recently, and considering its age, it might well go under the scrapper's torch soon. The coach didn't have a mobile charging point, and the overally interiors looked not-so-great. My original seat was occupied by some other person - but then the coach was very sparsely occupied, and I moved to a different seat.
We started off from Manamadurai at 0953hrs - about 3 minutes behind schedule. It was quite hot and windy as we begun our journey to the East Coast of India. The run was largely eventless - we didn't have any crossings or hold-ups anywhere. The train was on its own through the run. We had stops at Paramakkudi (1018hrs), Ramanathapuram (1056hrs) and Uchipuli (1118hrs) before we reached the coast. The train was more-or-less empty after Ramanathapuram. Not many people were traveling to Rameswaram, due to the lockdown.
The landscape changes as we get closer to Mandapam. Farm lands are replaced with marshes, and the sea gets visible at the distance. It gets really windy, and the train oscillates constantly. The Bay of Bengal is quite unique in its appearance - the water is turquoise colored, unlike the darker shade of the Arabian Sea. In fact, one can spot the sea on either side of the track (there is the highway to the right of the railway track, and the sea is beyond the highway) as we get closer to Mandapam. We got to Mandapam station by 1129 hrs. This is the last station on mainland - we were taken on the last platform (farthest from the main building) - very few people got off (only a few were in the train at this point), and no body boarded. The stop was short - we got moving by 1131hrs.
Remnants of the old Mandapam station is visible as we slowly move out. The bridge is not very far from the station, and in fact, the train runs quite slow after Mandapam station. We entered the famous Pamban Bridge at 1154hrs. The Pamban bridge is a 2.1 kilometre long bridge connecting the main land to the island of Rameswaram, originally built in 1914! The bridge has an openable bascule section to allow for passage of ships (the bridge is just 12 metres above sea level). The bridge was severely damaged by a cyclone in 1964. The bridge was originally built to carry meter gauge trains - it was strengthened and converted to Broad Gauge in 2007. This bridge is a maintenance nightmare since it is located in a very corrosive environment. The location is also prone to high-speed cyclonic winds, due to which the bridge has anemometer activated signal posts at either ends. The signal doesn't permit entry if the wind speed is higher than the set threshold. As a precautionary measure, trains run over the bridge at a meagre 10 kilometres per hour!
|The road bridge as seen from the train...|
|The new railway bridge under construction|
|Exiting Pamban Bridge|
Trains generally take about 12 minutes to pass the 2 kilometre bridge. It is initially very exciting as the train enters the bridge - but all the excitement dies down a few minutes into the run. The wind is quite heavy, and its a task to hold on to lighter electronic gadgets like mobile phones - utmost caution is advised if you plan to use stuff like extension rods or selfie sticks. Work on the new bridge, being built to the left of the exist track while traveling TO Rameswaram, was progressing at a brisk pace. As we passed the under construction piers of the bridge, I spent some thoughts to all the people who lost their lives during the construction of the existing bridge. The newer bridge employs machinery, and there is priority to safety of human lives - none of which existed when the current bridge was built.
I was eagerly waiting for the moment we enter the bascule portion - the iron cage structure was fully rusted and looked a little too scary. The waters below didn't seem quite deep - the sea bed could be seen, and the turquoise coloured waters make it all the more enjoyable. The adjacent road bridge had a lot of viewers - the train crossing the bridge is indeed an exciting moment. The run over the bridge lasted exactly 12 minutes - the train entered the Pamban Island as it exited the bridge. The permanent way goes through sandy grounds.
We rolled in to the Pamban station soon after we reached the Island. Pamban station retains all the charm of the bygone era! The station still retails its stone masonry and slanting roof! If you are on a budget, you could actually alight at Pamban and take a bus to the temple (will cost you much lesser than hiring an auto from Rameswaram station). Frequent buses are available from right outside the station, to the temple. The halt at Pamban was short - this station is largely used by the locals, and the train, as such, was quite empty! We got moving from Pamban by 1156hrs.
The train runs through a terrain that quite resembles a desert after Pamban. The train cuts through a lot of settlements on the way - it was mostly deserted during my last visit, back in 2012. There is a siding on the way to Rameswaram - there is a cabin and block station as well. Rakes of a few trains were parked there as well - guess this siding was made to increase capacity at Rameswaram. We flew through these places, and quickly approached Rameswaram. Traffic to Rameswaram is at an all time low with very few trains resumed after the Pandemic. Add to that, the weekend lockdown announced by the government bringing down the number of visitors too! We finally rolled in to Rameswaram station at 1209hrs - early by 6 minutes!
|Arriving at Rameswaram|
|The loco after we got to Rameswaram|
|End of the railway line!!|
Do check out the video report of this ride on YouTube!!
Journey in a Nutshell:
Train Number: 16849 Tiruchirappalli Rameshwaram Express
Loco link: WDM3A #16895R of Golden Rock
Coach: D1, WGSCZ 04603 based at Coaching Depot, Trichy
Punctuality: 10/10 (No major delays)
Coach Maintenance: 8/10 (Points deducted for not having charging sockets!)
Bedroll: Not Applicable
Catering: Not Applicable
Overall: 9/10 (It was a good journey)
This train is a great option to travel to Rameswaram. Having a reserved coach is a blessing - I am not sure if the train still has reserved coaches, though. The journey to Rameswaram is always exciting - especially the prospect of traveling over the "sea". Its a very memorable journey! A journey of the life time!