December 26, 2022:
I was groggy and a little tired. I had some breathing issues as well - I had barely recovered from a very bad chest infection that stopped me from even going to work for close to two weeks! The hot filter coffee I had purchased from the stall on Platform 1 was just the concoction I needed to jumpstart my brain cells. The time was a few minutes short of 0500hrs, then. I decided to check if there was a paid waiting room, or a shower so that I could change and get fresh. The paid AC waiting room was locked - but there was a free Second Class waiting room nearby. The room was crowded - but it had very clean toilets and a bathroom. I decided to change and get fresh - just what I badly needed for a headstart.
I spent some more time at the waiting room after changing. I had to buy tickets for my train to Sengottai, and onward to Kollam - I was to travel in an "Unreserved Express Special" train. I headed to a current reservation cum unreserved ticket counter at the exit near me. This was the first time I had been to Tirunelveli station - I hadn't realised that the exit I saw wasn't the main entrance of the station. The clerk at the ticket counter said he couldn't issue unreserved tickets and I must go to the "other" counter - without specifying where the other counter was.
I walked out of the station and checked if there were any counters around - but couldn't see any. I returned to the counter - I saw another person also being told to go to the "other counter". Both of us went to the counter again and asked where the "other" counter was. He now told that the main building was "next" to this building and the unreserved counter was located there. This, so-called "next" building was located about half a kilometre away! It was a long walk to reach this place - interestingly, the counter I had earlier gone was at one end of Platform 1, and this main entrance was at the other end!
There was little bit of rush at the counter - most people were sent back saying the train they wanted was fully reserved. I was told the same when I asked for a ticket to Kollam. I explained that I wanted to travel via Sengottai - the guy gave out a really wierd look. I was asking for a ticket through a route that would get me to Kollam only 8 hours later, while the direct train would do that in the 4 hours or so! He regain composure a little later - and told me that he couldn't issue a through ticket, although there existed connections, since the instruction from Headquarters was to issue tickets only to stations that could be reached by a single train - no changeovers were permitted, it seems!
Since I had a longish halt at Sengottai, and I could easily buy the next ticket from there, I asked him to issue a ticket to Sengottai instead! The fare for this 80 kilometre ride was Rs. 45. I had to wait at the counter for a little more time since he didn't have change. Although I usually carry change on me, I was unable to hunt them out from my bag at that time. I got my balance money and the ticket after about 5 minutes. I was quite hungry by now - my last meal was about 10 hours ago, and I hadn't slept much either. I went out in search of something to eat - but the restaurant was just opening up, and the vendor told I would be another 30 minutes before they start selling food. I picked up a tea to satisfy my hunger pangs, and headed straight to the platform.
Tirunelveli station was quite busy at this hour - the Tiruchendur Express from Chennai was just departing, while the Nellai Express from Chennai was arriving at Tirunelveli station. I was too lazy to climb up the stairs to use the foot over bridge - I preferred walking through the Trolley path instead. My train to Sengottai was to depart from Platform 5, according to a hand written message on a board outside the enquiry counter. The Sun was just rising, and the early morning rays gave a golden hue to the surroundings. I walked down to Platform 5, where the rake of my train was already berthed. A dead WDG3A was coupled to the rake as well - I wasn't sure if the same loco would work the train, or if the loco had just shunted the rake to the platform.
|All set to go!|
|So, this was the train!|
I went around looking at the coaches - people were already inside, but they weren't crowded. 4 Passenger train were departing from Tirunelveli in a span of about 30 minutes - and all of them were departing from Platform 4 & 5. I wanted to be in a coach closer to the loco - to record the raw sounds from the loco! Meanwhile, the Kollam bound Ananthapuri Express arrived on Platform 2. Soon after the train came, vendors mobbed around the train with breakfast items. It struck me that I could buy my food from there - although the vendors would also come down to sell around my train, my thoughts were always "what if they don't?". I walked down to Platform 2 to get my breakfast - picked up two items - a plate of Idly-vada, and a plate of Pongal. My plan was to have one immediately, and one a little later, so that I could delay my lunch, if needed.
I finished the Idly-vada first - must say, it was delicious. The Sambhar was too water, but the chutney made up for it. By now, the loco was turned on, and another passenger train (the Tiruchendur Express Special) was shunted in to Platform 4. The loco for my train was WDG3A #13499 of Golden Rock diesel shed - the loco seemed like a good smoker, and it produced good sounds while it was idling. "Smoke" is generally frowned up on by the general public - but the railfans love to see them belch out thick smoke!
My train, the 06685 Tirunelveli - Sengottai Express Special, was cleared for departure about 2 minutes before the scheduled departure time. The train didn't depart until 0700hrs (the scheduled departure time, though). Interestingly, the Kollam bound Ananthapuri Express was also cleared at the same time. Both the trains departed together, as well. It was a fun-filled parallel run for quite some time - the WDG3A chugged out quite quickly and we almost overtook the WAP7 hauled Ananthapuri express (that line had a speed restriction). We parted ways about a kilometer or two down the line - our train turned towards Tenkasi.
|This ride was certainly worth Rs. 45!|
The line towards Tenkasi is part of the Tirunelveli-Sengottai-Kollam railway line commissioned by the Maharaja of Travancore in 1902. This line was built to connect the princely state of Travancore to British presidency of Madras, via a railway line built by the British from Chennai (Madras) to Tirunelveli (Tinnevelly) via Trichy and Madurai. Passenger services on this route begain in 1904 - it was a meter gauge line back then. The section was closed in phases for gauge conversion (between 2007 and 2010), and was reopened as Broad gauge line between 2010 and 2018. The railway line has some charm of the meter gauge line, in places - tighter curves and narrow permanent way clearance, etc.
The railway line passed through a very beautiful landscape - paddy fields spread across the horizon, as far as my eye could reach. The section was interspersed with smaller canals carrying water for irrigation. The landscape was quite unlike the arid landscape common towards the northern part of the state. The green horizon, a cream coloured train with the ALCo's chugging as background music made for a scene that any railfan would dream of! I was enjoying every minute of this ride - the sleeplessness from the previous night disappeared as the journey progressed.
|Just a sample of what I saw...|
We rolled in to our first halt, at Tirunelveli Town, by 0707hrs. This station did not have a loop line - had a single platform located right on the main line. The station had a proper announcement system, though. The train wasn't very crowded - in fact, the coach didn't have over 50% occupancy at any point of time. A few passengers joined the train at this station, and we got moving by 0708hrs. This train happens to be the only train operating in this section during day hours - at every station, the train stops for a minute, sometimes more if it reached early, and starts off. At most places, the starter was already taken off as we stopped.
The track ran through lush fields for most of the time - we were running perpendicular towards the western ghats for most of the time. Most stations on the route were single line stations. The first station with crossing facility was Cheranmahadevi - this station had two platforms. We got to this place by 0727hrs - slightly behind schedule at this point. This halt was 2 minutes long. Interestingly, a vendor selling tea and Samosa got in from here. The Samosa, often called pupps in some parts of the Tamilnadu, or Patti samosa in some parts of India, is a triangular shaped, crispy, fried snack, usually with onion & potato filling. During my school days, a little over 2 decades ago, onion pupps were our go-to snack during breaks. They used to be sold at one rupee back then - I think it was 3 pieces for Rs. 10 now. The tea served along with delicious - ginger flavoured and not very watery.
The next station, Kallidaikurichi was also a single platform, single line station. Although I did note down the timings at each station, I'd be skipping a little detail in this post for brevity. It is the sole train in the route, and surely doesn't depart before scheduled time! We got in to Ambasamudram by 0748hrs - this was also a crossing station, and had 3 platforms. Ambasamudram is a major town on the route - it is the access to hill stations of Maancholai and Papanasam. The railway line ran parallel to the ghats after Ambasamudram - the line became much more beautiful here on! The next stop was at Ravanasamudram - I was in love with the names of places on this route.
The station after Ravanasamudram, Kila Kadaiyam - was just a kilometre away from there! That is perhaps the shortest distance between two stations. Kila Kadaiyam was a fairly big station - we got there before time, and we had some rest there. We left from Kila Kadaiyam at 0818hrs - perfectly to schedule now. The crowd in the train was stable almost through the ride. The terrain changed to slightly rocky terrain now - there were paddy fields, but much less frequently now. Railway electrification works were in progress in the route - I spotted foundations being laid for OHE masts at multiple places.
The next crossing station on the route was at Pavurchutram (0832hrs). As mentioned earlier, this was the sole train on the route, and we had no crossings during the ride. The ride did get a little monotonous - especially with no crossings or other railway activity. This route was not part of my original plan - I had planned only for the Sengottai-Kollam route. I actually extended it to Tirunelveli only to adjust time. However, at this point, I really felt I would've missed traveling on one of the most spectacular railway lines had I not traveled this way. The lush fields, western ghats and the rural Tamilnadu scenes were enticing!
We rolled into Kizha Puliyur by 0841hrs. This station was located right amidst a village - with many houses almost directly opening to the platform, save for the railway's fencing. This was also a very short break. Kizhapuliyur was the last station on the Tirunelveli railway line before it merges with the Virudhunagar-Tenkasi railway line. Calling it the "last station" is wrong - since the Tirunelveli-Sengottai line is the mainline here! We slowly curved into Tenkasi, reaching the station by 0849hrs. Tenkasi station still retained some of the old time charm - with a huge banyan tree arching over the platform. Tenkasi station had 4 platforms - and we were received on the 4th. The train emptied out, quite literally - I was the sole occupant (or was there one more?) in the coach after Tenkasi.
|WDG3A #13499 after we got to Sengottai|
We left Tenkasi at 0850hrs - perfectly at its scheduled departure time. The line continues to be spectacular after Tenkasi as well. The terrain gets a little mountainous, interspersed with lakes and waterbodies. Tenkasi is home to the famous Kuttralam (Courttalam) water falls. The run after Tenkasi was eventless - the change in terrain was the most prominent. The train finally rolled in to Sengottai station by 0905hrs - about 10 minutes ahead of schedule.
My last visit to Sengottai was a decade ago - back then the station was a mix of broad gauge and meter gauge tracks - I think there was 3 broad gauge platforms and 2 meter gauge ones back then. The meter gauge section is now converted into a small yard - the station, now, has 4 platforms. We were received on Platform 2. Platform 4 was occupied by Pothigai Express, while Platform 3 was used by the triweekly Silambu express. Pothigai was worked by twin WDM3Ds and Silambu had a WDG3A at its helm - all of them from Golden Rock. In addition, there was a WDM3A, also from Golden Rock, doing off in the yard. The WDG3A that brought in my train was turned off soon after it was disconnected from the rake. I had to spend the next 2 hours and 40 minutes before my train to Kollam departs - I spent all the time doing nothing at the station!
Hey! Do watch my video from this journey on YouTube!
Journey in a Nutshell:
Train Number: 06685 Tirunelveli - Sengottai Express Special
Loco link: WDG3A #13499 of Golden Rock
Coach: GS, GS #116535 based at Tirunelveli
Coach Maintenance: 10/10
Bedroll: Not Applicable
Catering: Not Applicable
This journey was an eye-opener! Just like the saying goes, the real India is its villages! This was a beautiful, eye-calming train ride through lush fields along the western ghats! The places were typically rural and the beauty was unspoiled. I just thank my luck that I decided to travel this way. Its surely a route one must travel in, just to enjoy the feeling of an Indian Railway ride. Things might change once the lively diesel trains are replaced with mundane MEMUs! Do check this out if you'd like the experience of riding!