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A train for the trucks! July 13, 2007

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in India, Indian Railways, Travel.

Check out this unique RORO (Roll On-Roll Off) freight train spotted at a railway station between Bhatkal and Kumta during my travel on Konkan Railway, India last month.

You can hear the drivers screaming hello (twice in the video) if you have your ears pointed. The RORO train is a blessing to truckers who have to travel between Mumbai and Honavar on the NH-17. With the RORO train, they can sleep in their trucks and avoid the extreme difficulty of driving loaded trucks through extreme terrain and poor weather conditions during monsoon rains.

The journey on the train is faster as well as more fuel economical. Read this interesting news article to know more about how the RORO train has become a boon to the Indian freight industry.

This video is dedicated to blogger buddies C.B. Whittemore & Lewis Green, who happen to be train lovers as well; my grandma who gave me train-spotting company back in the days (miss ya lots), and members of railkerala group.

Mission at Igatpuri July 6, 2007

Posted 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 GreenLucTB, 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.

A man is disturbed from his reverie with my photography exploits at Thull Ghats…

Click here for more snaps from my Igatpuri trip. Enjoy! Will be posting videos soon. Watch this space!

The French Connection July 4, 2007

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in India, Indian Railways, Travel.

One of the reasons I love traveling is that I love to meet people. When you are on the road, you can’t help but meet interesting people, share enriching experiences with them and then let those memories become a treasured part of your life.

I met this awesome French couple from Toulouse on board the 6345 Lokmanya Tilak – Trivandrum Netravati Express on my way from Mumbai to Kollam, Kerala. They had boarded from Madgaon and were headed to Kollam as well.

Guillaume, Julie & I soon hit it off, and I volunteered to show them around Kollam. Guillaume is a Commercial Art student who would like to join an advertising agency some day, while Julie is majoring in Sociology. Guillaume’s blog features some of his work. What I liked most about them was their very endearing nature & openness to savor travel experiences of all kinds. I took them to Ashtamudi Lake at Kollam, which is among my most favorite spots on Earth. Every vacation, I take a rejuvenating boat ride on this lake and click snaps of the railway bridge over it.

Ashtamudi Lake is where one of the most tragic railway accidents in India occurred in 1988, when 8 coaches of an Express train fell off the bridge into the lake killing close to 100 people.

After the boat ride over the rainswept lake where Guillaume & Julie took to the oars while I clicked snaps, we took the long ferry back to Kollam town. After the exciting but tiring ride, we went drinking into late evening and had a great time. Next day, we went to Allapuzha (Alleppey), where G&J had to take a backwater cruise on a traditional Kerala houseboat to Kollam. G&J got a houseboat on the Alleppey – Kollam cruise for just Rs 4500 ($109), which was an unbelievable bargain – the usual going rate starts from Rs 7500 ($182). The 83km scenic ride along Kerala’s backwaters is reputed to be among the world’s greatest travel experiences and lasts a day & night. I dropped them at Alleppey and met them the next day at Kollam, from where they took off to Kottayam to visit Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. It was quite painful bidding adieu to them. Hopefully, we will all get to meet each other someday.

Here are two videos:
The first one’s got us going on a boatride on Ashtamudi Lake… there are 3 languages spoken in the clip (English, Malayalam & French… have fun!)

And here’s one where they take off on their backwater cruise from Alleppey to Kollam…

And here are some snaps from our adventures…

A train gets on the Perumon bridge as G&J give the oars all they got…

A duo of fishermen sail by after waving us adieu….

The Govt Ferry on its way to pick us from Perumon…

Vehicle Ferry at Kollam…

Kids returning from school use the Perumon Bridge to get home, they were waving us goodbye…

G&J on the bridge…

They are having an argument about taking the boat out in the rains

The starting point for the backwater cruise to Kollam at Alleppey, note the toddy (Kallu) shop….

The Goddess of Light (Vilakamma) Statue at a family house on the lake, Kollam

The Goddess of Light (Vilakamma) Statue at a family house on the lake, Kollam

The Goddess of Light (Vilakamma) Statue at a family house on the lake, Kollam

Heya Guys….

G&J on the houseboat with the driver

G snappin me…

Chinese Fishing Nets on the lake, Kollam

G&J getting drenched by the light drizzle

Ferry on the way!

This creature at the bus stop was the object of G’s attention

Bishop Jerome Nagar Complex, where we hung out for a while…

G is fascinated by this lovely autorickshaw

G loved this outdoor ad in Kollam for a ceiling fan… that cools the coolest!

The Diva Junction July 2, 2007

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Conversations, India, Indian Railways, Travel.
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My blogger pals were in my thoughts even in my travels. Toby Bloomberg @ Diva Marketing Blog is someone who has been quite excited about my 42-day break. In one of my journeys through Konkan Railway in Western India, I came across this railway station which interestingly shares the same name as her blog. Here’s Diva Junction, Maharashtra for you. Hey TB, how does it feel to have a railway station in India named after you?

A snap-up with the mighty WDM2 June 15, 2007

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in India, Indian Railways, Travel.

That’s ‘proud me’ perched in front of the hood of an Erode based WDM3A beauty that was to haul my train (6345 Lokmanya Tilak Terminus – Trivandrum Netravati Express).I’d got to LTT, Mumbai quite early from Igatpuri to catch Netravati Express that leaves for Trivandrum every morning at 11.40. LTT was as always crowded with trains leaving for Gorakhpur and other places. I snapped up a few pics of the train without getting noticed by the RPF (Railway Protection Force) or railway staff. I then decided to do the ‘ethical’ thing… ask the loco engineer who was running a series of checks on the WDM2-3A for permission to take snaps of his loco. He said yes and I wondered if the stars fell out of the sky. Most loco drivers refuse to have their locos shot as railway photography is against the law in India.

‘VS’, the loco engineer then asked if I would be interested in taking snaps with me posing with the loco. I thought my ears went bust. And then wondered if even the sun had fallen out of the sky with the stars. Soon I was sitting in the loco cab, trying to act the loco chief, while VS snapped me up, as over a hundred eyes curiously peered at the guy with the red-t-shirt & the loco driver who went about clicking him. My fav snap is of course this one.

Guys like VS are a rarity – he was polite, gentlemanly, considerate & helpful… meeting him definitely made my day. And a dream came true… posing with the mighty WDM2.

A week’s labor June 15, 2007

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in India, Indian Railways, Travel.
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Life’s been extremely happening in the past week, with me traveling to Mumbai and Igatpuri and coming back to Kerala. The week has a seen a lot of adventures, a little bit of work, long train journeys, lots of railway photography and interesting experiences. Rather than tell you about my week in a chronological story format, I think it would be a good idea to tell you about incidents & experiences as they come to my mind, more in a disjointed fashion. What say you?

Firstly, a word about Airtel, the mobile service provider whose prepaid connection I use.

No more roaming blues
I got impeccable roaming coverage wherever I went. I never made any calls as such, but extensively used SMS. It’s a pity though that they have increased their international SMS rates from Rs 3 to Rs 5. Someone else who has a good standing in my book is Western Railway.

Customer Service to the core
I swear by the super-professional staff at the foreign tourist counter at Western Railways Reservation Centre at Churchgate, Mumbai. They are professional, considerate, caring & smile – which are qualities I admire in people in the service industry. The lady at the counter sacrificed a good part of her lunch break to help me get tickets from Mumbai CST to Igatpuri and back. She accommodated my request to travel on the Punjab Mail and gave me a convenient connection back to Mumbai on the 13th morning so that I could catch my train to Kerala. She battled with the reservation system for over 20 mins before issuing my tickets while I shared my life story so far. If you are a foreign tourist interested in seeing India through some extensive rail travel, I recommend that you get your tickets & travel advice / support from the Western Railways foreign tourist counter at Churchgate. Of all such counters I’ve been to in India, I think they are the best.

Hello from Kerala… June 6, 2007

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Conversations, India, Indian Railways, Travel.


It’s been a week since I got to Kerala, India & it’s about time I blogged about my adventures. I got to Trivandrum on 31 May and the monsoons have been elusive since then. It’s pretty humid out here, but I’m enjoying the sunshine along with loads of train rides, exams and movies.

I’d my first train ride on the 1082 Kanyakumari-Mumbai Express on 31st morning. Like always I ended up hanging about the door. 1082 was hauled by Erode-based WDM2 that has a ‘freaky modified front side’. Forgot the road number. Enjoyed the slight drizzle and clicked my first set of rail snaps.

Next train ride was two days later on the 7229 Trivandrum-Hyderabad Sabari Express to Ernakulam Town. My first ever journey in an electric train in Kerala. The Erode-based WAP4 proved its mettle as speed king.

Spent the next few days with some friends in Ernakulam, soaking up the trains. Roamed around in Ernakulam, and visited Vallarpadom, where Cochin is to get its new container terminal. Spent the nights listening to the crooning of diesel & electric locos and the incessant attack of mosquitoes at railway quarters, Ernakulam.

Went for a few movies as well – Shootout at Lokhandwala (Hindi), Goal (Malayalam), Time (Malayalam) and Khakee (Malayalam). Except Shootout and Goal, everything else was a waste of time.

3rd June. The most exciting day of my life. I’d my first ever foot-plating experience (riding in a locomotive). I can’t believe that I had to wait for 23 years to get on a loco, but I’m glad that it finally happened. You can see ‘my glowing self’ from the pic. It was amazing, being right in the thick of action with the majestic Erode WAP4 blaring its 2 pairs of HT-LT horns and leading one of the fastest trains in Kerala with élan. It was so cooooooool!!!

Came back to Ernakulam on Bokaro-Alleppey Express. Returned home next day on 2626 New Delhi – Trivandrum Kerala Superfast Express, which was running late close to 2 hours. Enjoyed the ride in 3AC. Clicked a few snaps as well. Got to meet Muscat based buddy Jayashankar who was traveling to Chennai on his favorite ride Chennai Mail.

Left for Trivandrum yest to meet a few friends, after my second exam. My ride was the 2626 New Delhi – Trivandrum Kerala Superfast Express again. Got my ticket to Dadar on the Ernakulam-Dadar Special for Thursday. I’m so looking forward to seeing Konkan Railway during the day. After a great evening of bar hopping, came back home around midnight, after catching the 6343 Trivandrum-Palghat Town Amrita Express train, which probably has to be the Express train with the shortest rake in Kerala. Got home and slept like a log.

For more snaps from my rail trips in Kerala, visit my flickr account arunmct.

Update on Cyclone Gonu: I’m sure that you guys have heard about the vicious cyclone Gonu that’s hit the coast of Sultanate of Oman and Persian Gulf today. Blogger friend Lori Magno mailed me this morning, enquiring if all was well and I was out of harm’s way. I was so touched with her kind gesture… and once again reminded me of how blogging has led to such powerful friendships. Thanks Lori. My folks & friends are in Muscat and they say that they are out of harm’s way. Here’s a blog from Muscat that features regular updates on Gonu.

Blogger Social ’08: I got the rundown on Blogger Social ’08 from CK’s & Mark Goren’s blog posts. What an excellent idea… I’ve just completed the survey & will blog about this soon. I’m excited at the whole prospect & can’t wait to meet all my blogger-friends & have a rockin’ time. After all, it’s not about social media, it’s about being social!!!

I also want to thank CK, David Reich, Drew McLellan, Lewis Green, Luc & Valeria Maltoni for their comments on my post – Here’s to share & care. Thank you for being my friends!!! 🙂

Rail Snaps from Kerala, India – 16 June 6, 2007

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in India, Indian Railways, Travel.
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An idyllic station next to Trivandrum, originally uploaded by arunmct.

An idyllic railway station next to Trivandrum

Rail Snaps from Kerala, India – 15 June 6, 2007

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in India, Indian Railways, Travel.
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A WDM2C baldie leads an express train, Trivandrum, originally uploaded by arunmct.

A WDM2C baldie leads an express train, Trivandrum.

Rail Snaps from Kerala, India – 14 June 6, 2007

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in India, Indian Railways, Travel.
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Close Encounter with a double WDM2 headed oil tanker train, Trivandrum, originally uploaded by arunmct.

A close encounter with a double WDM2 headed oil tanker train, Trivandrum.