The previous weekend was one in which I was one with the greenery and the green beasts. What had initially started as a relative-fanning trip with my part mostly restricted to night-train travel and watching trains at my cousin's house in Madurai (that too only for just one full day) grew into a joyous railfanning trip with my camera being in the constantly excited state.
It was the last day of my First-terminal exams at school. I was scheduled to depart from Trivandrum for Madurai(MDU) at 2020 hrs by the perpetually late-running QLN(Quilon)-MDU pass. After much hesitation I gathered up enought pluck to ask my mum to see if we could try out the MDU-Bodinayakkanur(BDNK) branch. After having seen many pics and read about it in the group, and inspired by former-visitors-of-this-line Ranganath Eunny and John Lacey, I thought I should give it a try. My mother knew of my intentions and said she would consider it. It's working, I thought. Meanwhile, I went through the SR website and saw that there were two trains a day to Bodi and two back. But the whole journey takes 6 hrs from MDU to Bodi.
Countdown... we (my mother, my little railfan-in-the-making-if-not-already sister and I) reached TVC at about 1930 hrs. AFter a lngish wait, the pass trundled into pf2 15 mins late. The gentleman at the helm should have been a GOC WDM2 but I saw that it was an ED WDM2 #18484. The GOC man was trailing behind dead (another loco failure, I suppose). The ED loco had shiny metal plates for its road number unlike the normal painted numbers. We were some third coach from the last. So I had a real feast after Nagercoil (where the loco reverses). The ED guy was heavy smoker and a whistler(Napier/ABB turbo). All night I lay in the berth listening to the symphony by the WDM2. We arrived in Madurai at around 0440 in the morning, a full hour early!
At Madurai, my cousin's house is in a very superb location. Paddy fields stretch for many kms on one side, and the MDU-Virudunagar line flows on the right. MACL signals on both sides of the line within visibility limit fortell activity. Though this is a single line and the trafiic experienced comes nowhere near that in places like TVC, railfanning from the open terrace is quite interesting. Everyday at around 0720 a BOXN coal-wagon with coal flying about in all directions chugs past with twin locos in charge. Watching them is quite a sight. This particular time, I could see the locos smoking a kilometer away. At first, I thought something was on fire or that some dry field had been torched. However, the sight of twin GOC WDM2s (the trailing one was a Jumbo) was awesome, with smoke belching out of them. I took a long video of them. Shall upload them when time permits.
On Monday (4th Sept) we had planned to take the morning pass (dep. 0750 from MDU) to Bodinayakkanur and return by about two in the afternoon. However my mother had some purchasing to do and she considered (and it was quite true from a non-railfan point of view) six hours of watching her teenage son photograph trains & semaphores and travelling in a wooden-seated groundnut-strewn passenger a collosal waste of time. To top it all, we had to return the same night... so getting caught in some God-forsaken route would be the last thing one would want. So she persuaded me see her point(which was hard to miss) and assured me that we would do this line in our next vacations. I reluctantly agreed. At around 8 o'clock in the morning, I was still musing on the terrace silently. My auntie and she discussed he prospect of taking a bus to Bodi and taking the train back to MDU from there. However due to lack of time we didnt go ahead with it. After a small debate on compromises like taking the train to half the way and returning from there, I said I'd rather do this line later than make sacrifices. Later, mum was still softening. Finally we hit upon a solid decision - take the afternoon pass from MDU, reach Bodi, take a fast bus and reach MDU around 7.45 or 8 pm.
So...... thats was how it all started.
We reached MDU station at around 1345 hrs. "Golden Rocker" YDM4 #6481 was at the helm of the MDU-BDNk pass. This gentleman, I would later see, was a very heavy smoker with a steam-loco-like high tone, making me wonder if he was a YP in disguise. In the BG sidings, TNP WDM7 #11008 which runs on Biodiesel was shunting rakes. At 1440 the hi-tone sounded and we jerked off. I tried to chat with the young assistant but he seemed very business-like and almost irritated at my constant queries about tokens, ghat section, etc. Once out of the station, the MG line runs parallel to the BG lines south of MDU for some 400 metres and then veers sharply off to the right. Once we did that, our chief notched the YDM4 up and we literally galloped (Yeah, thats exactly what it felt like. The swaying was forward-backward). The beast up front had a faintly, yet obvious whistling-turbo like the BG-whistlers; and man, did he smoke! The aroma of the exhaust (and the LOOOUD purring) hit me in my face (and ears, respectively :o) ) and reminded me of why we Diesel lovers have a soft-corner for the ALCo family. We galloped at a slow pace through many slum-areas. I was waiting for the mountains to come.
Madurai - Bodinayakkanur line is a very old MG line constructed before independence. The chief traffic along this line is cardamom, not humans. There is only one train at a time on this route but still tokens are exchanged and semaphores continue to salute (they are Upper Quadrant) us as we trundle at about 40-45 km/h through the varied scenery.
After about 8 or 10 km, the lofty mountains appeared as grey shadows in the horizon. From here they accompany you all the way through the line. There are only three major stops here- Usilampatti, Andipatti, and Teni. All the rest are flag stops. However, I didnt see anyone flagging the train, and neither did the driver, so we chose not to stop at those places. All these stops may be called stations if just a station board, no loop line, no level ground and no signals can be called a station.The station boards were nothing but yellow wooden boards on stilts with all the black paint that was the name peeled off, leaving nothing but yellowish boards. God knows what the names were. However, my auntie remembers reading an article in the Hindu Sunday magazine about this line, and she says that it was said that this line wont be converted anywhere in the near future, as the present traffic is mainly cardamom (which wouldnt grumble whatever the gauge of the track might be). So - all MG buffs, we have a real treasure here.
Before Usilampatti, we saw the signal sighting board (the one with diagonal black and yellow stripes), and soon, the distant home signal (the fishtailed, yellow-armed UQ) came into view and the chief slowed down seeing that it was at caution. After sometime, the home signal came into view and it was at danger. "What the heck" I thought. With only one train through this line, I didnt see any sane reason for a home signal to be at danger. I suppose our driver thought much about the same and he kept giving out little blasts of the low-tone. After 2-3 minutes the signal slooooowwwly lifted and gave us the half-salute (caution- the 45 degrees up position). We notched up and slowly trundled into USLP. There were quite a few young guys on the platform watching the token being passed, and one very enthusiastic guy in the second coach was taking pictures of it for the IRFCA gallery :o)
We then throbbed through some very beautiful stretches of mountains and rock-cuttings which reminded me of the Quilon-Sengottai route (http://greatindianrailway.fotopic.net/c967335.html). I liked very much the quaint signal cabins along this route ... just bare sheds with no concrete stuff...reminds you that humble is beautiful. Another thing i noticed.. one of the fishtailed distant signals was at 45 degrees position and had THREE glass plates on it. Is this similar to the double-yellow-light attention signal or what? I have never seen this position before.
*sigh* Just check out the photos (i uploaded them in the unregistered upload, wait till they get approved)... cant describe the route in words. Its awesome... in every aspect!
We reached Andipatti after sometime. Later, we throbbed into Teni. This is a very beautiful station, and reminded me of Aryankavu in the QLN-Sengottai ghat section, the only difference being Aryankavu is nestled close in the hills but Teni is much more open. We got down here because I had to take the bus back to MDU so that we could be back in time for the train back home. *sniff* I swore that next time I'd do the whole route.
And so, Bodi beckons... its magical charm lies forever in the hearts of people who have done this beautiful line through the hills.
PS: Photos from this trip can be found in the album "Bodi Beckons" at my online gallery.