Train travels were always rare in my childhood. It was always easier to take the bus to travel to our hometown from Coimbatore where we were based at that time. The only time we took trains were during those rare visits to Kasaragod to visit relatives, and a journey to Chennai (Madras, those days) for some sightseeing. However, trains were always fascinating. My kindergarten school was along the railway line in Coimbatore - it was always fun watching trains rolling by. That said, I was afraid of a locomotive coming close to me - my memories of watching the noisy and smoke spewing locomotive passing by always has me closing my ears tight. I have one fond memory of traveling from Coimbatore to Kasaragod in General Class sitting compartment, by Mangala Express, which operated from Delhi to Mangalore those days (before Konkan Railway was commissioned). That journey was in a coach that was second from the engine - so I was kind of exposed to the sound of the locomotive for close to 8 hours - I emerged from the train less scared of the locomotive now!
It was in 1998 that my dad had to move to Mumbai since his employer transferred him there. There beckoned the need (it was a need, more than an opportunity then) to travel long distance by train. As a 12 year old kid, this was quite exciting. I think it was in December - during the Christmas vacation - that we travelled to Mumbai. It was on board the, then, 1082 Kanyakumari Mumbai CST 'Jayanthi Janatha' Express. We were traveling from Coimbatore to Mumbai.
This train comes in to Coimbatore around 1800hrs. Coimbatore station was a small place, had a typical smell (that we all called "railway smell") and mosquito infested then. Trains were always late - things got a little better these days though. To get into the train departing at 1800hrs, we were at the station by around 1730hrs - the train came in late that day as well. It think it came in closer to about 1900hrs. A Maroon coloured smoke spitting monster (an ALCo) was the power. I didn't know about locomotive classes then. Some trains got Electric locomotives then, while this train used to get diesel locomotives. My mother, brother and I were traveling - I think we had a lower, middle and upper berth then. We had quite some baggage - we packed them into the space below our berth, locked it with a chain (we had purchased a chain and lock specifically for this purpose) - we were told there were dacoits on the way, and they could rob our bags.
The coach was dim lit - dull incandescent bulbs were common those days. People used to carry torch lights those days - mobile phones weren't common yet. Meanwhile the train had rolled in to Tiruppur - this is when we purchased something from the pantry car - It was a plate of Samosa and a Coffee. The pantry car was run by a north-India based catering company. All the food were mostly of the North Indian palate. The Coffee, I still remember, was hot water that smelled like a Coffee, but didn't take like one. We had packed our food to last the journey - Idlis, chapatis and some rice preparations were packed from home. My mom had prior experience packing food for relatives who traveled long distances.
|Train waiting for a crossing (Representative image)
The first night went up in excitement. I slept on the middle berth - I was afraid if I would fall down during the night. I still remember - it was cold and appeared rainy. There were stone quarries around - we were at Cudappah (Kadapa) then. Except buying tea, we were mostly self sufficient in terms of food. It got hotter as the train got to the hinterlands of Andhra Pradesh. We passed Guntakkal, then passed Mantralayalam Road. We passed the mighty Krishna river through a very long bridge. The young and curious traveller in me was mostly glued to the window seat for most part of the day. As it got to afternoon, I remember raising a strange request - to buy our lunch from the 'train'.
My brother bought some food from Raichur - I think the train reached there a little past 12 noon. He bought a packet each of Tamarind Rice and Curd Rice. Both of them tasted terrible - the tamarind rice had only the colour, but no taste. Curd Rice had no curd in it! I do not think we ate the entire quantity - with that experience we told 'never again'! The train rushed towards Mumbai, in the meantime. We passed Gulbarga, and slowly entered into Maharashtra. An elderly gentleman traveling in the same cubicle as ours was of great help - this person explained the significance of various places on the way.
I remember him talking about Shri Raghavendra Swamy's mutt at Mantralayam - I remembered this gentleman when I visited this place later in 2018 during a official trip from office. We rolled in to Solapur sometime around 1800hrs. Solapur was a known name at home, for handloom products. Soon after we left Solapur, and as it got darker, the railway cops came around asking all of us to shut our windows, and advised that the area was infamous for robberies and we had to keep the windows and door shut at all times. The elderly gentleman explains the modus operandi of the robbers as the train whistled and chugged towards Mumbai.
Sometime during the dark, the train slowed down, changed tracks, slowly moved forward. Then it stopped, and started rolling back. We felt crazy - did the "driver" take the wrong track? We rolled back for quite some time, while another train ran through the other track. We stopped, then entered the mainline again and continued towards Mumbai. While we were at it, I saw that the previous track ended in the middle of no where - I was seriously worried if we had really entered the wrong track, and what if the "driver" could not stop before the end of the line! Years later, I ventured in to the huge data mine on Indian Railways, called IRFCA. I learnt that such crossing were called as "Scissor crossing" and quite a few of them existed in that section. I had never seen such crossing earlier - cannot deny the fact that train journeys were a rarity for me!
|A rough sketch of how a scissor crossing works..
The journey continued under the cover of darkness. The windows were kept shut due to the instructions given by the cops. We had our dinner and headed to sleep. Sometime during the night, it got colder. We had normal bedsheets - but nothing that could warm us up - Coimbatore was never cold, and we were never expected to that kind of a temperature! It got difficult to sleep as the night progressed - but I did sleep. I woke up, rather I was woken up, sometime around 3AM, if I remember that correctly. We had entered Mumbai. I remember watching the Godrej campus at Vikhroli, as we slowly crawled towards Mumbai CST. Local trains (EMU trains) of Mumbai overtook us at fairly good pace - and most trains had passengers - most seats occupied. It was a huge cultural shock seeing that - its not even day, and people already heading to work!
The elderly gentleman who made our travel enjoyable and memorable got off the train at Dadar. We continued our run towards Mumbai CST. As we neared CSTM, it was an ocean of railway tracks - a new sight for a person coming from a very small city. We slowly entered Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, an architectural splendour. My dad waited outside our coach to receive us - clad in a sweater (I've never seen him wear a sweater!), he was all excited to see his family again after quite a long gap. As we walked towards the suburban terminal, I saw that my train now had an electric locomotive (was a WCAM3, as I realized later). We walked over to the suburban terminal, and headed towards Platform 1, from where the hourly train to Panvel would depart. That was another experience in itself!
Long distance train journeys then became a part of life - it was enjoyable and exciting every time. As I got older, for some reason, train journeys became boring - probably because majority of the long journeys earlier were with family, while most of the journeys now are solo. Long train journeys are certainly an enjoyable experience if you have the right company (introverts, like me, find it hard to get random companions in a train).