Mission at Igatpuri July 6, 2007Posted by Arun Rajagopal in India, Indian Railways, Travel.
People have so many reasons to travel & visit places. I’d two reasons visit Igatpuri – an imposing railway bridge & a dream locomotive.
Located 137km north of Mumbai and 44km south of Nasik, idyllic Igatpuri is home to the world’s largest vipassana yoga center and is surrounded by some of the highest peaks in Sahyadris / Western Ghats.
A few months ago, I was browsing through IRFCA.org, the ultimate web destination for the Indian Railway fan, when I came across this beautiful snap of a train over a railway bridge over the Western Ghats (mountains). The picture was clicked from a resort overlooking the bridge. The picture had such a magical impact on me that I promised myself that I would get there some day and click a similar snap. The location was the Thull Ghats at Igatpuri.
This June, while I was on my vacation, I heard from a rail-fan that my favorite Indian Railways locomotive, the Bhusaval (BSL) Electric Loco Shed-based WAP4 with road number 22683, was a frequent visitor to Igatpuri, hauling the Ferozepur-Mumbai CST Punjab Mail on its run from Itarsi to Igatpuri.
A date with the BSL WAP4 22683 is one of the greatest ambitions of my life, since 22.6.83 happens to be my birthday! Hence, I decided to visit Igatpuri.
I was to travel on the Ferozepur bound 2137 Punjab Mail from Mumbai CST that would take me to Igatpuri. The helpful reservations officer at the Western Railways Foreign Tourist Counter at Churchgate, Mumbai went out of her way to get me a ticket on the train that was running full. My excitement knew no bounds as I waited for Punjab Mail at Dadar Railway Station. Soon, the WCAM hauled grand lady darted into the station at 7.10pm and I was on my way.
Bankers were connected to our train at Kasara that would push it over the Ghats (mountains) into Igatpuri. A senior gentleman sitting across me described in detail the three railway bridges between Kasara and Igatpuri. The Punjab Mail soon pulled into Igatpuri around 9.30pm and the WCAM was soon detached for a loco change.
Expectantly, I peered into the darkness waiting for my dream WAP4 to be attached to the Punjab Mail for its onward run. Seeing my excitement, an Assistant Loco Pilot too joined me to await the WAP4. I’d explained the whole deal to him a few minutes before. Understandably, the man was flabbergasted to know that I’d come all the way to Igatpuri just to see the 22683. Soon, there was a shrill horn of an electric loco and its powerful headlight beams pierced the night sky. Soon my excitement turned into disappointment as a dirt-streaked Ghaziabad (GZB) Electric Loco Shed-based WAP1 trundled into the platform to take charge of the Punjab Mail. It wasn’t the 22683. May be I would see it behind the Punjab Mail next day – I consoled myself. I then made my way out of the deserted railway station & got an auto from outside. The driver suggested staying over at Golden Resort, which is around 5km from the railway station. After striking a deal with him to take me to the railway bridges the next day, I soon checked into a room at Golden Resort, devoured an awesome Chicken meal and went off to snooze land.
I woke up early next morning and was taken in by the scenic beauty of Golden Resort. A well-laid out farmhouse sandwiched between two mountains, there was greenery all around Golden Resort. There was a misty silence, occasionally pierced by the shrill, eerie whistle of a distant passing train. Puffy clouds floated around the resort, signaling the impending monsoons that would bring four months of continuous torrential downpours to Igatpuri. I went berserk clicking snaps of the resort, which was virtually empty of guests.
Soon, Suneel, the auto rickshaw driver was there to take me to the railway bridges. Golden Resort is located 2km away from the crowded Eastern Express Highway – the NH3 connecting Nasik with Mumbai. The busy highway is laid in between agricultural lands where unassuming farmers go about their business.
Soon, we got to the first railway bridge where a track inspection machine was on duty. We took several snaps of the bridge from the highway as a large number of trucks & buses rushed by. Since, it was difficult to get to the bridge due to the forests & mountainous terrain, Suneel suggested that we get to the second bridge which was more accessible. The auto rickshaw soon proved its mettle as a vehicle of class that can get man through any inhospitable terrain. A worthy competitor to the guzzling Hummer. Before taking up the vocation of an autorickshaw driver, Suneel was a cucumber seller on trains in Igatpuri. This made him an expert on train timings & the rail topography of the region. We soon got to the second bridge after trekking through a sleepy village and long tunnel with maintenance work before reaching the second bridge.
Soon a Kalyan (KYN) Electric Loco Shed-based WCAM duo hauled freight train got on the bridge pushed by three banker locos. Villagers were hanging on to these banker locos, as they offer a illegal, dangerous yet convenient mode of transport between Kasara and Igatpuri. I was told that these villagers, despite railway warnings, even imprisonment & frequent accidents such as falling off the locos, still continue to use this dangerous mode of transport. Trains use this bridge to travel from Kasara to Igatpuri, while trains from Igatpuri to Kasara use normal terrain, which is at a kilometer overlooking the bridge. We took a few snaps of me on the bridge; I tried hard to pose with a cheesy smile, trying to hide my acute fear of heights.
Soon, a railway official chased us off the bridge, warning us of the dangers of unauthorized rail photography. And then the Lucknow bound Pushpak Express hauled by a majestic WDP4 screamed by, as I helplessly stared, unable to click snaps due to the hovering presence of the overly dutiful railway official.
We then got back on the highway, and reached a Bharat Petroleum filling station, behind which I could get a brilliant view of the bridge from a distance. Suneel informed me that there would be no trains till afternoon, so I took some trial shots and decided to come back to the spot by afternoon. On our way back, we hunted for an ATM. There are two ATMs at Igatpuri – one belonging to State of Bank of India (SBI) and the other to HDFC. The SBI one, which was opposite to the railway station, was not working that day, leaving a long line of irate customers. HDFC’s ATM located next to the Mahindra & Mahindra (?) factory was thankfully in order. Suneel stopped by the Loco Trip Shed at Igatpuri and I took a fruitless walk among the electric & diesel beasts in search of the elusive 22683.
I got back to the hotel and devoured another Chicken meal. At Golden Resort, they grow their own broiler chicken and I suspect that their chicken population suffered immensely during my stay with them. Plus, full marks to the cook at Golden Resort, he was almost divine when it came to cooking up noodles & chicken dishes.
I settled down on a hammock, plugged into to my MP3 player, watching the ducks cackle, the chickens pirouette in circles, the ancient parrot Mittu doze away to glory, the budgies titter in mirth, the cotton clouds sail by, the young couple in the neighboring mushroom cottage sip their coffee, the rabbits contemplate the mystery of the monsoons as a breezy wind rocked the trees.
I imagined the idea of a Blogger Social at Golden Resort, Igatpuri. The Manager told me that at its full capacity the hotel could accommodate 80 guests. Imagine the kind of fun people of the likes of CK, Bob Glaza, Lewis Green, Luc, TB, Connie Reece, DM & C.B. Whittemore would have here!
Golden Resort has a discerning mushroom cottage for honeymooning couples, a couple of air-conditioned suites & a large dorm that can accommodate over 20 people. Other amenities include a swimming pool, a park, a jacuzzi and on. The adventurous can even pitch tents in the nearby mountains, but this may be not a good idea during monsoons. Cell phones work with limited coverage, which is an excellent idea for those looking for some quietude. I reckon it’s best to stay in Golden Resort, Igatpuri during the four months of monsoon rains. The place has such a dreamy, idyllic feel and romantic expanse to it that has to be experienced to be believed. The place vibrates with the kind of creative solitude that will make a Philistine of the worst order invoke the Muses.
Manas Resort is a little more upscale, premium boarding place located on the highway, but lacks the dreamy ambience of Golden Resort, which is far removed from civilization.
Suneel was soon back with the vital information that three late-running trains were soon bound to get on the bridge on their way to Igatpuri. Among them were the Mangala Lakshadweep Express & the Godavari Express. We made a quick visit to a nearby temple, before I took my position at my predesignated rail-fanning spot behind the Bharat Petroleum Filling Station. I’d an assuring word with the staff of the filling station who had watched me hang around the area in the morning. They too confirmed the impending arrival of the Godavari Express. A cow was munching by, as I perched on the hill, eagerly waiting for the trains with lens & shutter. There was high-drama as the first train got on the bridge; a group of amblers on the bridge had to run for their life to get out of the way of the incoming train. Trains 2 & 3 soon followed. Bankers were shuttling between Igatpuri and Kasara ferrying each of these trains to Igatpuri. I clicked away to glory and even created a short video of the Godavari Express trundling on the bridge.
Finally done with my self-absorbed rail-photography adventures, I got back to the ever-patient Suneel waiting in his auto. We passed by the railway station, where I saw the jam-packed Howrah-bound Gitanjali Express make its way out of Igatpuri. The train was so crowded that even the toilets had 7-8 people in them!!! I was back at the hotel… and yes you guessed it again, ready to devour another Chicken meal. Suneel agreed to pick me up next day early morning at 3.30 for my return train to Mumbai CST. I bid adieu to the ever-helpful hotel staff, promising that I would be back soon.
The 7058 Narsapur-Secunderabad-Mumbai CST Devagiri Express was late by 45 minutes, when it finally trundled on Platform 4 behind a Pune WDM2 at 4.45am. There was an announcement that the very late-running Mumbai CST bound Punjab Mail would soon be arriving at Igatpuri. My heart fluttered – now could that be the 22683? Well, I couldn’t wait any longer… Devagiri was soon chugging out of Igatpuri and that was just the end of another journey and the beginning of another.
Click here for more snaps from my Igatpuri trip. Enjoy! Will be posting videos soon. Watch this space!