India 2012 - 13: Metre Gauge across Narmada River (50 p.)
The previous trip report part:
India 2012 - 12: M. H. O. W. - Metre Gauge to the Place without Name (50 p.)
The accompanying video:
February 12 2012
We continue our journey with my first secret service "interrogation". A young man in air force uniform approached me and introduced himself as "military secret service". I wanted to show him my permit but he stopped me revealing he already kept it in his desk anyway! The extent of Indian bureaucracy sometimes proved to be quite creepy... He asked me why as a tourist I had come to a completely untouristy town. I explained railway photography to him, showed him some pictures and promised only to take photos of railway installations. Finally I emphasized that the line soon would be converted to broad gauge and it was the last chance to see. This probably was the deciding factor as he meant it was OK and walked away. Still, I did not stay alone as now a bunch of younger men had discovered me and of course everyone wanted to get to know me, more and more were called in. I changed position where I immediately was welcomed by a horde of children. One of the young men also joined and dragged by one after another of his offspring for me to take pictures of. In the meantime the loco shed also saw some action. The only purple YDM-4 was put into service while another was busy shunting flat- and tank cars.
Former Sabarmati YDM-4 6415, the only based at Mhow in this livery.
Busy track workers, in the background you can spot my "interrogation specialist".
The crews took short breaks on the shunting lines, I managed to shoot this portrait during one.
Of course all children who had previously played at a nearby pond had to pose.
A little further back you could find a small freight yard, YDM-4 6373 was shunting a few cars - that's how I got my metre gauge freight train photos.
As long as it helps?
Four on a bike, this would be topped later on!
Now tank cars were being shunted.
I waited for the next train south, at first in vain - this was the reason: YDM-4 6719 negotiated the curve into the station with 52988 Akola - Mhow passenger delayed 20 minutes.
The train came from the mountains where people had collected wood - which was now swiftly thrown out of the doors.
Others were waiting to transport it home. For the ghat section the train had received YDM-4 6360 as banker.
A group photo of the local children, there also was a noticeably neglected boy who seemed to be an outcast.
Finally the purple class YDM-4 departed with 52987 Mhow - Akola fast passenger. The collected wood had been quickly decimated.
Mhow-panorama showing shunting YDM-4 6373, waiting 6735 and departing 6415, buffalos and pond to the right where the children had played.
I quickly distributed candy to the kids, made sure that the one boy also got his and marched back to the station. I only wanted to reach my hotel at Indore as I was very tired and the place heating up and full of people not the ideal spot to relax.
Full house at Mhow.
I said goodbye to the station master and still caught the next train to Indore, around noon three were departing within less than an hour.
I found a seat in a general class compartment of the already quite crowded train. Here I got to know another student and exchanged mail addresses. We reached Indore soon, I only had to fight my way to the exit. There was no waiting to board until everyone had got out here. Luckily I was a little taller than the average Indian and could carry my camera bag outside above everyone's heads. My new acquaintance accompanied me to the Tuk-Tuk stand and gave me his necklace as present. It was once more one of those encounters you could not imagine in Europe.
Next I rode the taxi to my nearby hotel, of the business chain type. My driver needed to be patient as reception had to search for some time until someone could change a 1000 into 30 rupees. The room was comfortable and large, I wanted to get rid of some dirt, started a general clean up and ordered laundry service. Showering was also heaven, I visited the restaurant and transgressed for the first time not ordering Indian food but a chicken burger. After a convenient nap I was visited by Vivek, a young IRFCA friend with whom I already had arranged the meeting by mail before the trip. Afterwards I soon went to bed as next morning would be another early start.
February 13 2012
I had rented a car to get me to Khandwa which was supposed to pick me up at 6 o'clock. On one hand the metre gauge trains were completely overcrowded, on the other hand I would be able to visit a desired spot that way. However, I had my doubts if we would reach it in time as it was a 90 km route across the mountains and the train would be there shortly after 7:52 a.m., so everything depended on traffic density and road conditions. A drop of bitterness was skipping the ghat section on rail, but there was hope that a tourist metre gauge line would survive here. Hoping for an early departure I walked down to the lobby at 5:45 a.m., spoke to several drivers in the street, but nobody wanted to take me. Finally, after 6:20 a.m. I was picked up by my driver Lucky, who did not know much except for my destination, Khandwa, and did not speak a lot of English. The streets were clear, so our Tata Indica could properly be accelerated. Indore seemed modern, the lanes of the bypass were lined with blinking red lights, I had not seen that anywhere before. Soon we turned onto state highway 27 and approached a toll booth where 32 rupees had to be paid. The road surface was excellent from here, partly brand new. Only occasionally occuring villages with speedbumps and a few lorries could slow us down, luckily the main traffic flowed towards Indore at that time of day. Still, Lucky was no inferior to our driver in Rajasthan speedwise, so we mostly made progress at 90-100 kph. The mountainous section was traversed by several serpentines, here we met the railway line again and crossed it several times. Then the flatlands continued, conglomerations of houses became larger, morning life started and children were taken to school in all types of vehicles. Along the roadside once more fires provided warmth in this cool morning (for impressions of the ride see video from 1h:01:40). Shortly after 7:30 a.m. we reached a larger town, and Narmada River - which I had crossed on the first rail journey already once near Hoshangabad - announced itself. Exactly here I found the scene I had wished for, several enormous bridges just north of Omkareshwar Road station. "Road" was a common title for stations situated at the back of beyond the namegiving place, sometimes dozens of kilometres away. Morning mood was fantastic, temples everywhere along the river, the temple town Omkareshwar was located on a river island nearby. People bathed in the river in front of me, at a temple behind me chanting and gongs inbetween could be heard.
The arched bridge of state highway 27 across Narmada River.
Location and atmosphere simply proved to be bombastic.
As promised: five on a bike! :-)
Old fashioned cow vs. motorized cow.
Alright, a railway bridge could also be found here! The train was slightly delayed and Lucky, who had relaxed in the car, joined me. Finally it was time.
YDM-4 6737 accelerated past Omkareshwar Road home semaphore signal onto the mighty bridge, behind me the temple chanting fittingly became more and more ecstatic.
52992 Khandwa - Ujjain passenger left a long smoke trail behind past the bathing community.
Narmada panorama with donkeys and cows.
We continued to drive, view from the bridge at a more modern one.
Overtaking manoeuver on the bridge...
Now we still had an hour driving across the countryside ahead of us, mostly deserted and barren but with crowded chaotic settlements inbetween. I especially noticed ox carts where the animals had blue painted horns. Finally we turned onto highway 26 and soon reached Khandwa – the locals pronounced it like "Kandawa" - , a very busy small town. Lucky took me to the partly bustling railway station, now in Central Railway territory, and I was left on my own until the departure of my train in the evening. Sadly I had not gotten any place on an earlier train to Manmad, originally I had planned to arrive by metre gauge train at 2 p.m. and continue directly to Pune. Right at the first platform I looked for the station manager and showed him my photo permit. But he told me he only was the master of the metre gauge station, I should turn to the broad gauge station master on platform 1. Really, I was standing on platform 5, in the metre gauge section of the station. Across the pedestrian bridge I walked over to broad gauge platform 1.
View at the metre gauge part of Khandwa Junction, to the right a northbound broad gauge express had stopped.
Busy life at the main broad gauge platform.
The big boss had not arrived yet, so I approached the duty station manager who was performing the actual operational work. In the office I met some friendly chaps who told me to wait for the proper station manager - an elderly clerk. He came, read my permit letter carefully and sent his assistant to the market to copy it as I had already given away all my copies. In the meantime I had taken out my slides, especially the duty station manager was fascinated, also the guard who had joined us. I let them look at the photos and choose a few to keep.
In a break without boss the assistant asked me for a photo.
Afterwards I was provided with the retiring room, basically a hotel room right at the platform, to comfortably spend the time until departure. I laid down inside the formerly elegant room, only the bedding could not be trusted so I used my jacket as spread. Not a bad way to stay here, refreshing rest and trains right in front of the door, to the right in the photo. Traffic was quite dense as this was the Central Railway mainline which I already had travelled on by Punjab Mail the first day of the journey.
At noon I visited the vegetarian refreshment room - seperate veg and non veg restaurants existed - and later awaited the arrival of my metre gauge train from the day before, Ratlam – Akola. Sadly the location was not very inviting, I stood on a small hill at the end of the overcrowded platform where people relieved themselves despite of official toilets being just metres away on the other platform. Two elderly gentlemen walked by as I was standing there, squatted down and did their small business - as traditional in India, with local clothes no opening was necessary. Between the tracks several pigs romped about. Now the train from Akola arrived, particularly many people had waited for it.
YDM-4 6726 - my loco from the day before - returned from the south hauling 50 minutes delayed 52974 Akola - Ratlam passenger. Along main metre gauge platform 5 it accelerated shortly chasing a poor piggy in front of it.
Stop! Stop! Always those traffic rowdies... ;-)
Next it was time for the train into the opposite direction to pass the nice semaphore gantry - the signal had already fallen back.
Mhow YDM-4 6431 hauling 52975 Ratlam - Akola passenger, meeting broad gauge electric freight loco WAG-5 HA 23282 of Arakkonam shed - close to Chennai in southern India! - with freight train.
My decision against this train obviously had not been bad, the only time I witnessed metre gauge rooftop travellers. I could have reserved a sleeper, but even here it was not guaranteed to be able to look outside with such a crowd.
Platform 3 (broad gauge) and 4 (metre gauge).
Greeting the cabin from the departing loco.
Poverty was visible especially at stations, a young girl from a family obviously living on the other platform ran across to see me.
Next the train to Akola was leaving as well.
On broad gauge not much was about to happen, and I had enough in the upcoming heat, so I returned to my room. I presented a little something to the girl and left.
After four o'clock, just as I wanted to look outside again, someone knocked at my door and told me the station master would expect me. I walked over to the office where I was met by a gentleman sitting opposite the station master, from "Central Railway intelligence"...