Planning journeys are never easy - more so when you try to fit in as much as possible in a short span of time. My Rameswaram trip was one such experience. I had three things to accomplaish in that trip spanning 3 days - the first one was the DEMU ride (done!), the second was visiting Rameswaram (done done!) and the third one was.. surprise (done done done!). As part of the plan, I had to get to Dindigul from Rameswaram (I originally had planned to reach Madurai, which evolved into Dindigul over time). This entire planning happened since I happened to spot a direct train from Rameswaram to Dindigul via Madurai. However, I realised, only during ticketing, that the train I was looking for operated only on Sundays, and I was traveling on a Saturday!
|The majestic Pamban Bridge, from the road!|
The entire plan had to return to the drawing board - I had already ticketed multiple segments already, and the trip had to happen! While searching for alternatives, I realized the only way I had was the travel via Trichy. I had two options to travel from Rameswaram to Trichy - the first one was to take the afternoon train (which was ruled out since I wanted to spend some time at Trichy), and the second was to take the "boat mail", which was chosen for more reasons than one. I looked for options to travel from Trichy to Dindigul, and zeroed in on Pandian Express due to its timings. This also gave me some time at Trichy to, perhaps, get fresh and sleep for a while at the Retiring room.
January 08, 2022:
After a very tiring day roaming around in the hot sun, I dropped my weight onto a bench at the windy Rameswaram station. The PA system was already announcing about my train - we had well over an hour to go then. I had originally planned to visit Dhanushkodi on that day - but the lockdown put a lock on all my plans, and I replaced that with a visit to the Pamban bridge instead. I was on a budget, and traveled only by buses. The heat had drained out all the energy I had, and I badly needed some rest. I remained on the bench for quite a while - the cool breeze had a very soothening effect. The station was quite deserted - not much passengers had turned up for the Boat Mail to Chennai.
|Rameswaram Station from outside..|
|This is our train! The Rameswaram - Chennai Egmore Express|
Boat Mail is a historic train that connected India to Sri Lanka - in the olden days, passengers traveled by train from Chennai to Dhanushkodi, from where they were carried to Srilanka on steamers. This boat component gave the train a very unique name - the "Boat Mail". Although the train isn't officially called the Boat Mail any more, old timers fondly refer to this train as the "boat mail". The train doesn't go to Dhanushkodi anymore (the tracks to Dhanushodi were washed away by the cyclone of the 1960s - the Government of India has announced its intention to restore this connection, though), and the steamer connection to Sri Lanka is also gone!
|WDM3A #16859R of Golden Rock ready to start from Rameswaram|
The train was to depart at 1725hrs - I headed off to check the loco at around 1645hrs. Golden Rock's WDM3A #16859R in Tondiarpet Loco Shed's colours was the power for the train (the very same loco had brought my train to Rameswaram as well). The loco was turned off at that time - I remained there until the loco pilots came in, turned on the beast and did their pre-departure checks. I had a long walk back to my coach - S9, which was at the rear end of the long rake! I went around checking the occupancy in each coach - they were all empty. That quite didn't seem alright to me. My coach, S9, was a 2013 built Sleeper coach (WGSCN 136368) - interior lights were all turned off, and with almost all the windows closed, it was quite dark inside.
I had an upper berth - I left my bag there, and sat on the nearby Side lower berth. The train did not appear on the eCatering list, and I was a little worried if I'd be able to get something for dinner. I was not sure if any of the en route stations would have food - I completely missed thinking that Manamadurai could have some food (the same station that gave me sumptuous breakfast that morning). I bought some snacks from a vendor on the platform to make up for some food.
The train started off exactly at 1725hrs - the coach remained empty. I was the ONLY occupant in the coach! A little after the train got moving, a visually upset Ticket Examiner turned up at my seat. He smiled and appeared relieved on seeing me. He asked me if I was Binai - I said, Yes. It seems I was the only passenger to board from Rameswaram in the 4 coaches he was handling! That is, just one passenger in the 288 berths he was handling! The train was actually waitlisted when I checked a couple of days before the journey. It seems people cancelled their journey due to the lock down!
Meanwhile, the train had approached Pamban station. A vendor from the on-board catering team came around and took orders for dinner - I was relieved to see him! I placed an order for a Vegetable Biriyani (the other option was Chapati - which I am not a great fan of). The stop at Pamban was quite short - we got moving by 1742hrs. The sun was setting quite soon - it was the moment I was waiting for - to see the sun set as the train crosses the Pamban bridge. The train entered the bridge by around 1745hrs. The 2 kilometre long run across the Palk strait started soon later. The run across is painfully slow - but the sun set is a visual treat! I'll leave you with some images to show you what I saw!
|Entering Pamban Bridge|
|The road bridge as seen from the train|
We exited the bridge by 1759hrs. The train picked pace soon after exiting the bridge, and we got to Mandapam by 1808hrs - this stop was very short, and we got moving by 1810hrs. Darkness was slowly setting in. The run after Mandapam is along the shore - the sea is only a little away from the railway track. The train swayed quite violently as we passed through the stretch - and there was a strong breeze blowing across the train as well! Interestingly, my dinner was served soon after we left Mandapam! That would be a very early dinner - but was a blessing in diguise since I could rest for a while after that.
The Vegetable Biriyani was quite delicious - the typical tamilnadu styled biriyani. The train got to Ramanathapuram by the time I finished the Biriyani (1841hrs). A few passengers boarded here - the coach was not deserted anymore. I was the only passenger from Rameswaram until Ramanathapuram. A family of 5 joined the bay right next to mine - so there was some sound now! We left Ramanathapuram at 1844hrs. I badly wanted some rest - opened up the berth and lay down on the side lower berth. It was dark already and there was nothing to see around. I tuned in to a movie to spend the rest of the time.
We had a stop at Paramakudi (1924hrs) before we got to Manamadurai (1948hrs). The train was welcomed into Manamadurai by the cacophony of calls by vendors selling various food items. I thought I should've waited till here to have my food - the variety seemed good! May be next time! We left Manamadurai at 1951hrs. I returned to the movie - a slapstick malayalam comedy movie. I choose such movies while traveling for the single reason that I can stop and start anywhere without having to suffer from anxiety about what happens in the next scene!
We pulled in to Melekonnakkulam for a crossing, by 2005hrs. We crossed the Bhubaneswar Rameswaram Express here - a Golden Rock Alco was the power, for this LHB rake train. We left from there at 2009hrs. The train had a steady stream of stops after Manamadurai. The run was eventless (skipping the details, they are too mundane) through the run. I remained engrossed in the movie until it got over. We left Karaikudi at 2113hrs, and Pudukkottai at 2144hrs. The movie was over by now, and I decided to have a short nap. We rolled in to Tiruchirappalli (Trichy) station by 2236hrs - early by 4 minutes.
I rushed straight to the retiring room - I had booked an AC dormitory to spend my waiting time at Trichy, roughly about 4 hours. I only remember checking in, getting fresh and crashing on to my bed. Luckily, I had left an alarm on my phone before crashing. I slept quite well for the time I was there. I woke up around 0215hrs for my train leaving at 0250hrs. I just managed to finish off my morning chores and rush out of the room - I could hear the arrival of my train already being announced. I returned the keys and ran down to the platform. My train was being announced on Platform 4, and I was on Platform 1 then. There was enough time for departure, but then I didn't have any idea about the coach position.
On reaching the platform (#4), I realised that my coach would be at the front end of the train. I was traveling on the 12637 Chennai - Madurai Pandian Express in Second Class Sitting coach. This is a very short journey - hardly 80 minutes or so. Reservations in these second class coaches were a real blessing - really wished they could've continued reservations, for atleast a limited number of coaches. My coach, D1, was a 2017 built LHB Second Class sitting coach (LS 176546) based at Madurai coaching depot. I managed to get some tea from the platform before we started from Trichy (0256hrs - 6 minutes behind schedule).
This was an eventless journey - nothing to watch either. I was groggy - the tea didn't help matters much. Since, this was a short journey, I didn't want to risk taking a nap either. The train had a non-stop run from Trichy to Dindigul home signal, where we had to wait for about 5 minutes for clearance. We got in to Dindigul by 0415hrs - roughly 25 minutes behind schedule. I was, perhaps, the only person happy with the delay! The delay reduced my waiting time at Dindigul for my next train! More on that in the next post!
Hey! Do check out the video of this journey on YouTube!
Perhaps a small correction is required in this part? "However, I realised, only during ticketing, that the train I was looking for operated only on Sundays, and I was traveling on a Sunday!The entire plan had to return to the drawing board - I had already ticketed multiple segments already, and the trip had to happen!"