Unforgettable Train Journeys

Unforgettable Train Journeys

Let me confess beforehand that this blog is inspired by a blog by another fellow blogger Amitabha who is a good friend of mine and a mentor to me when it comes to blogging. Some time back he had written a blog about Unforgettable Train Journeys and from that very moment I started recollecting the various train adventures that I had.

Most of the journeys in my life have been done on train thus there is bound to be some adventures, I have listed down three of the very memorable journeys. Now when I write about them I pause to think twice if I was in my right frame of my mind to take it in the first place.

Midnight Express

During my college days, I was very much an active member of SCM (Student Christian Movement of India) and this meant that I travelled quite often to the different meetings arranged by them. One such occasion was NEYA (National Ecumenical Youth Assembly) which was taking place in Nagpur in the year 2003.

As usual being college students booking of train tickets was not the first priority thus on the very last day when we were supposed to depart for Nagpur that we realised that still did not have a confirmed ticket. With no other option, we decided to reach the station anyhow.

Along with me, my senior Mr Sandeep Pramanik was also travelling to the same conference and we were both standing at the station with a Wait Listed ticket. With just thirty minutes left on the clock for the actual departure of the train did we realise that we are in big trouble.

Being in our early twenties has its own advantage, the sense of adventure creates a unique adrenaline rush which pushed us to take the next absolute crazy step. We decided to board the train and not the General Compartment but the Non-AC Sleeper Coach.

Since both of us were travelling light with just a backpack thus managed to shove that under a berth of a friendly passenger. Ironically this passenger was a railway employee and was also travelling to Nagpur which was his hometown. It is to be noted that railway employees do not buy normal tickets like general passengers but they usually travel with passes. He was kind enough and happily accommodated our bags under his seat.

With no place to sit, we decided to stand at the entrance next to the wash basin and wait for the train to depart. We were hoping that the TTE (Train Ticket Examiner) when he comes to check the tickets in this compartment would be able to assign us a seat somehow or the other.

It was around 1.50 PM when the train whistled signalling the departure of Gitanjali Express from Howrah to Mumbai. Since it was way past lunch time and we were really hungry we decided to munch something, luckily for me, Sandeep was carrying some homemade Parathas along for fried potatoes. After gulping down few of them we settled down.

Myself Sitting By the Door
Myself Sitting By the Door

We laid out old newspapers in front of the wash basin and decided to settle down. No sooner did we sit we saw some RPF (Railway Protection Force) guards approaching. On seeing us they asked us to get up and knowing that we did not have a confirmed ticket asked us to go to the general compartment and not to sit here.

Going to the general compartment was not an option as it was already full so what we did was beyond imagination and when I think now gives me goose bumps.

We decided to go inside the toilet and hide all the way to Nagpur. Thus we both enter the toilet and lock the doors, keeping in mind the state of toilets on train trust me it’s difficult to spend few minutes and we were planning to travel all night.

After around 2 hours we come out unable to bare the claustrophobic situation. We remain vigilant and any signs of RPF or TTE made us rush back to the toilet. Minutes turned to hours and it was late at night and we were really tired. At one point we decided to sleep alternately, one would sleep and the other would keep a watch.

Since there was no place to sleep or sit so we decided to sleep while remaining standing and each other’s shoulders as a pillar to rest the head. Honestly, sleep did not come as it’s impossible to sleep like that.

Finally, the train reached Nagpur at around 8.30 AM and our incredible journey finally came to an end. The gravity of the situation did not hit me and it is only now that I realise that it was one crazy hell of a journey we took.

At The Conference in Nagpur (Myself on Extreme Left, Sandeep Next to Me)
At The Conference in Nagpur (Myself on Extreme Left, Sandeep Next to Me)
On My Return Journey with Other Friends Made During the Conference
On My Return Journey with Other Friends Made During the Conference

Roast Turkey

This was yet another journey that I took during my college days in the year 2002 on behalf of SCM (Student Christian Movement of India). The Odisha chapter had organised a Zonal Workshop at Koraput and me along with Sandeep Pramanik and Shyamal Kujur was attending this programme on behalf of West Bengal unit.

Unlike the previous journey, we had reserved tickets this time. I and Sandeep had reached station an hour early to catch Howrah – Koraput Express with its schedule departure at 9.30 PM. It was 9.20 PM and still there was no sign of Shyamal, in those days the mobile phone was a luxury item and none of us had them thus there was no way for us to call him up.

We boarded out compartment and took our seat and still there was no sign of Shyamal. The train finally departed and we were one man short with no other option we had our dinner and went to sleep. The train reached Kharagpur Junction and suddenly I see a face in the dark, panting and calling out my name. It was Shyamal, he was very late and somehow he managed to get up on the last unreserved coach and was waiting for the train to make a stoppage so that he can come to our compartment. So finally the full team as initially planned was on the journey.

It was 1st of May and summer was at its peak, we were travelling to a part of a country which is known for its extreme summer and we were prepared for it. All our confidence was shattered the next morning, the sun was harsh and the metal compartment was slowly heating up.

Shyamal and Myself at One of the Stations with a Wet Towel
Shyamal and Myself at One of the Stations with a Wet Towel

This particular train as a whole does not reach Koraput but only a few boogies from the original train are cut away and taken towards Koraput. So by midday the train had just 3 – 4 compartments, our compartment was nearly empty with us three and two more individuals. One of them was an employee of Holistick India Mr P K Seth going to Koraput for some official work and the other was Mr S K Mastaan who was returning to his hometown.

Other than us there was six STF (Special Task Force) personnel in our compartment to protect us since the area that the train would pass through was a high-risk Maoist Zone and there were attacks on train previously.

By post afternoon our compartment was like a baking oven with temperatures reaching the midway point of 50 degree Celsius. With no other option, we take off our t-shirt and wrap wet towels around our head to cool us off. The rexine covered seats were impossible to sit as they would stick to our back like a sticker.

We were in a dire state, such was the situation that when a cucumber seller had come aboard we managed to gulp down a dozen of them and even used the skin of the cucumber as a cooling pack on our head.

The train in this region passes through several tunnels and each time the train would enter a tunnel the STF personnel would position themselves at the four doors, this was scary but ironically was the only time we felt a little less hot as the tunnels were a lot less hot than under the baking sun.

And then the unthinkable happened the water in our compartment ran out so any station that the train stopped we would run to the tap and wet our head to cool off. This continued for the next few hours till the sunset, the train reached Koraput at around 8 PM in the evening and by now we were nearly half dead. We were so weak that somehow we managed to reach the venue and crash in our beds.

This journey was unique to me since I have never ever in my life ever felt so hot at one point I felt I would collapse.

Sandeep, Shyamal and Myself at Koraput
Sandeep, Shyamal and Myself at Koraput
Unforgettable Train Journeys (7)
Bonda Tribe People of Koraput
Unforgettable Train Journeys (8)
Finally We Return To Kolkata


Never Ending Journey

This was a much recent incident and I had already written about it in my blog about Varanasi but it was just a paragraph and I wish to elaborate it in details.

In 2013 during the puja vacations, I had decided to go on a photography tour along with two of my colleagues Prosanto and Dinesh to Varanasi. The trip as such was really good but all hell broke loose on our return journey.

We had the 5 PM Doon Express from Varanasi to Kolkata. The train was expected to reach Kolkata 8 AM the next morning. We left the guest house at around 3.30 PM and reached Varanasi Cant station by 4.15 PM. Dinesh purchased half a dozen apples (this purchase was very critical, read further to know why) and two bottles of water (1 Lt X 2).

The train was 15 minutes late and reached Varanasi at around 5.15 PM and departed with 10 minutes. Trains from Varanasi if going towards Kolkata always crosses the Ganges and we saw the city for the last time. The train took speed and reached Mughal Sarai Jn in time. Our initial plan was to pick up dinner from Mughal Sarai but then again we changed our plan since we did not plan to have early dinner. This was a BIG mistake which became the highlight of the journey.

If you Google “Cyclone Phalin” you will know that the rain that we were facing in Varanasi the last day was due to that Cyclone in the Bay of Bengal. There was a mass evacuation in the coastal areas and the government was preparing for something really dramatic. Now coming back to our return journey, after one hour from Mughal Sarai the train suddenly comes to a halt in the middle of nowhere. By now the weather had turned pretty bad and the drizzle had turned into heavy rains. After waiting for a 3 – 4 hour new came that due to the severe weather there was damage to rail overhead power and the train cannot move ahead till it’s repaired.

Now here comes the tricky part, we were in the absolute last coach of the train. Even so that the guards coach was in front of us. Our coach had no vestibule doors in the end section and we could see the train track behind us. This also meant that some of the rain water lashed inside the compartment. Much worse was yet to come since Bakri Eid was near so one gentleman had boarded the compartment from Mughal Sarai with three Goats. Yes, you have heard that correctly I really mean three huge goats.

The train was stuck and we started feeling hungry, we looked out the window and it was complete pitch darkness. Dinesh was a saviour we ate the apples that he had purchased at Varanasi and rationed the 2 Lt of water that we had. The apples were really small in size and really did not fill our stomach but we had nothing to complain since there were others with no food.

By now it was 11 PM and we decided to sleep off but sleep did not come since we were more interested in the update about the train’s departure. The goats added to the problems, goats stink I mean they really stink and the three goats added to the problem.

The night turned into morning and we saw the dawn breaking from the open connecting door of our compartment. Dinesh and Prosanto went out and saw few houses in the distance, this means there was a village nearby and that in turn means that there has to be some shop. They could manage to buy some biscuits of various brand name and none of them were known to us. There was a tube well also and they were used to fill up the empty bottles.

Unforgettable Train Journeys (9)
Unforgettable Train Journeys (10)
Empty Train Tracks

We ate the biscuit and drank the water and that was the most delicious breakfast that I had ever had in my life. It was nearly 8 AM in the morning and finally the train starts again. What a tragedy I was supposed to be home at 8 AM but now I am now starting my journey….again….

The train finally reaches Howrah at 9 PM that very day and after jostling through the pre-paid cab line finally reached back home at around 10.30 PM. What a trip that I had… I mean what a train journey it was.

Prosanto Standing In Front Of the Coach with an Open End
Prosanto Standing In Front Of the Coach with an Open End
Prosanto, Dinesh and Myself
Prosanto, Dinesh and Myself

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