WARNING: This is essentially a backup of memories from my mind's RAM. Also, this is meant for a large variety of readers, from close relatives to train-crazy railfan-buddies. As such, there could be many portions that are intentionally meant to satisfy the needs of my railfan-friends or my classmates. So please don't get pissed off or bored. Just skip the parts that you find incomprehensible (especially certain words in CAPS)...
It all began with a flashy poster put up on our school's notice board, announcing the debut of the National Aerospace Olympiad. In a nutshell, a team of six from each school was asked to write a forty-page long report on 'India's Space Journey: Aryabhatta to Chandrayaan-I'. Simple. But it turned out to be quite a herculean task condensing all we knew into a mere forty page affair. I made ample use of Photoshop and managed to come up with a collage-cum-flamboyant-work-of-art for use as our front page. We printed it out on glossy paper and Kishor's printer handled the job excellently. To say the least, the report was ready in the last minute. What happened later was a dream...blurred recollections of our stiff-upper-lip-Principal calling me and announcing with a straight face that we got selected, then the next 15-minute-presentation-with-80-slides-followed-by-a-splendid-questioning-round too went off well.
Ah... well, I think I'll skip the rest of the bleat and go straight to the Trivandrum-Chandigarh trip and the subsequent competition, for I can imagine some readers waiting with a bit of lead piping outside my house if I go beating about the bush too much.
DAY 1: October 22nd
Well, we took the 2625 Kerala Exp from Trivandrum. We had the AS5 coach, faaaaaaaaaar away from the ERS WDM3A at the helm. I settled down in our coach (the other five students and our Vice-Principal were the rest), my mind still resounding with the repeated instructions from my parents - "Dont stand at the door when the train is moving" "Dont get lost trying to photograph exotic locos" "Take care of your belongings" "Give up your silly railfanning for once", etc. Finally, we took off from the crowd of anxious parents, waving sisters, smiling brothers and THUS BEGAN THE GRAND JOURNEY UP THE MOTHERLAND!
The WDM3A was doing a good job. I had initially planned on taking pictures through the violet AC-window-glass itself by adjusting the camera's white balance. But as luck would have it, we got the dirtiest window ever, and the dirt was between the two glass layers, so even a heavy downpour of rain would never heal it. Hari(fellow railfan-cum-classmate) and I were quite dejected at the sight of it. Around the time the train reached Quilon, we managed to gather enough pluck to go and stand near the door, not at it. I took a good snap as the train rounded a HUGE curve, and surprisingly, I got the whole train on it along with the splendid greenery that Kerala is famous for. At Ernakulam(ERS) we broke free of the fear and cautiously stood at the door and shot a few WAP4s and some WAM4s that had strayed into the trip shed. The surprise loco was AJJ's "Barbie Doll" WAM4. She looked quite cute in the silver-pink-indigo livery.
At ERS, loco reversal and loco switching(from diesel to electric) take place. we got a new ED WAP4 at the other side(the side close to us - we were the 4th coach or so). In a short while, the P4 blew its (as Shanx says) "punctured harmonium" horn and we took off. In a flash we realised that Mishel and Avinesh had got off to buy a few books at the stations and were nowhere to be seen now. Frantic cell-phone calls did no good, as they had them switched off(I wonder why people do that). Finally, Mishel himself called us and said that they were in some coach far off, but fortunately in the same train. Quite an adventurous start, that was. Nothing more happened on that day. Lazy bums, we decided to start studying only the next day. At around 2000 hrs, we rolled into Coimbatore, my birthplace. My aunty, one of my uncles, and my little cousin were waiting for me there. After a nice long talk(the train halted for a long time since we were early) I hauled the bag of goodies which my aunt had given for crunching during the journey, said goodbye and had my dinner inside.
Each state or region has its own characteristic smell, and Tamil Nadu had a very fresh, grassy smell after a good North-East monsoon. (I just LOVE that smell!). Fell asleep after sometime...
Next day morning, I woke up to the sound of my mbile-phone alarm and woke up Hari too, and we took our cams and proceeded to the door for a great day of railfanning. Little did I know that that very day was going to be the best day of railfanning so far in my life! We started decently by snapping the rising sun. Slowly, our lenses turned to WAG5s and WAP4s. A short while later, we grew reckless and shot every passing train(each of which had different liveried or even different classes, of locos). We tried to study a bit, all of us, but were in no serious mood to. We did study, but that was for a short while. At about 11 o'clock, we rumbled over the Krishna river, which had a loooong bridge atop it, and seconds later, we entered my favourite station enroute - Vijayawada(BZA). The station is very picrturesque - green hills very close, long rakes of freight below the maze of cantenary wires. To top it all, this was a train-spotter's paradise... BZA had it all - WAP4s from ED, LGD, AJJ; WAM4s from AJJ, BZA itself; WAG5s from various sheds, and the lovely tigerface WAG7s. IT was a sumptuous electric feast out there. A few brown MLY WDM2s lazed in the sunlight, and a unique WDS6 "Jamuna", freshly painted, looking like some vintage ALCo, was also present. BZA being a "Clean-Train-Station", the coach was disinfected with pesticides and also washed a bit. We were running rather late after BZA, and to top it, we were held up at some lonely station - Mehboobabad, where we met face to face with the King of electric Freight: the WAG9. I was standing at the door and happened to glance back. I hurried inside and called Hari, who was all perked up when he saw the green and yellow locomotive. we trundled about for some time and were held up again at Kesamudram. We were crossed by a very fast train hauled by a dirty LGD WAP4. I happened to look back and saw the WAG9 approaching. Took a good photo and also a video as we left the station, overtaking it. We then sped past varied places, through arid scrubland , surprisingly dotted with many cemeteries (Hari was pissed off at this, but don't ask me why) That would've been the end of the day's railfanning but for the stop at Ramgundam. A few shots of GTL, KZJ, and MLY WDM2s followed. It grew dark outide and we settled down and started preparing for the quizzes, et al.
I was woken up early next morning by Hari, much before the others even thought of stirring. A groggy glance at my watch signalled 6 am. Anyways, I was biting cold outside and both of us put on our sweaters and 'monkey-caps' and proceeded to the door. The scenery in Madhya Pradesh - near Bhopal - was pretty good. The presence of plenty of trees was a welcome relief from the awful thorny bushes that are part and parcel of TN and AP landscapes. The sun came up and the railfanning started. Now it was the time of the Jhansi(JHS) shed locomotives. WAG5s started appearing. We stretched our legs at Bina Jn. After a while, we rumbled into Jhansi. The approach to the station is quite interesting. First, there is a longish curve to the left(when one is facing the loco). THen comes the JHS Diesel loco shed. (we spent some time here and we six guys were debating over whether a dog - whose head was on the ground - was dead or was killed by tribals and eaten). Then comes the JHS yard, full of locos - WAG5s from Ludhiana, WDM3D(Katni shed!), WDM2s from JHS and lots of puny WDS4s. An uneventful day followed. We were expecting WAP5s but only saw them at NDLS. We never saw a white(WAP5 or WAP7) in Agra or Mathura or even Nizamuddin! Anyway, we arrived at NDLS rather late and managed to haul all our luggage to the exit, where VP's (short for Vice Principal) contacts were awaiting us. A quick intro, a quick dumping of bags into the Innova and the Zen, and we were off. However, the place we were about to stay didnt please us much. A certain "Standard Hotel" in Daryaganj, Old Delhi. Anyways, we got decent rooms, and I proceeded to recharge my camera's dead batteries. Avinesh was on a high after getting a socket to charge his MP3-player. I was trying to get some sleep, but found myself going to Mishels' room; and all of us started watching TV. I desperately wanted to sleep, so I borrowed Avinesh's MP3 player and fell asleep to Bon Jovi's "Have a nice day".
Woke up at about 5 o'clock to fell a gurgling sound inside my ear and a painful stinging now and then. I thought it was my ear unclogging, as it was clogged the day before. However the irritation became nbearable and I had to conclude that there was some insect, probably a bloody mosquito or something inside. I hurriedly put on my jacket and called on VP, who accompanied me to a 'Dr. Shroff's hospital' nearby. An ENT, Mrs. Dhawan, good lady, took the infernal insect out (it turned out to be something about the size of a small cockroach) while I hurled my foulest curses at it. At about 1430 we were taken in two cars to the New Delhi station. Hauling my least-portable if not least-bearable luggage through the 12 platforms was a task in itself. we (read Hari and I) were overjoyed to see a WAP5 at the head of the Chandigarh(CDG) Janshatabdi, but a little disappointed on not getting the usual WAP7. Anyway, we got a dirty non-Janshat. coach and a window in which there was water in between the two glasses! Providence is least rewarding to people in need. Anyway, I dismissed all my ideas of shooting pics from the door as
1. WAP5 can really pull your lungs our by going fast and braking quickly;
2. I spotted Semi-Automatic-rifle-bearing RPF cops and I didnt want to make a mess of my life by getting jailed at 16;
3. It was dark and foggy outside
Anyway, we reached Chandigarh (but not before I enjoyed life for sometime by standing at the door for 5 mins) and one of our team mates was still to come out of the toilet. We waited for him and after 10 mins or so he came out with a look of someone who had had a hard day at the office.
Then came the fun part. We were squezed into a blue autorickshaw. God! WAP5 was nothing before this. The guy flew past traffic, whizzed past latest cars and reached us bang on time in front of Hotel Balaji, which was to be our stead in Chandigarh. Well, I suppose everyone knows Chandigarh is a 'planned city' and is called "City beautiful". Well the thing I liked about it was the raods... all wide, straight and neat. But the buildings were very monotonous. And our Hotel Balaji fed us nice, soft rotis and paneer butter masala. I fell asleep soon to the sounds of some movie (where some "nigga people"(as Avinesh put it) break into a bank and steal money and radioactive gems(!), blah blah blah...)
We had to get ready to go to the Auditorium by about 12 noon, so we had a quick breakfast at Balaji's itself and got ready. I suppose we were radical in choosing not to wear our school uniforms that day and we are, right? So we went in jeans , denim jackets and what not. Anyway, at noon we were whisked away in a stupid bus (whose seats could just come off the floor if the bus rounded a curve fast - and they did!); waited for other schools also to come, out of which many took their own time; and finally, we landed bump in front of the auditorium which was to be our place for the next 2 days.
The inaugural speech was presented by the guy Dr. DP Sabharwal himself, and he went on about India's acheivements et al, and I think i saw Kishor standing in 'attention' after he finished...heheh... Anyway, we had the prelims of the quizzes due and we managed it well. we (mishel, avinesh and I) thought we had messed up the Intelligence quiz(which was a four page, 1hr long affair, which we were supposed to do in 20 mins; I suppose the guy who set it couldnt have done so) Whatevah... The hall was pretty cold - that we noticed from Day one. Hari also tried his hand at the sketching competition that day.
The results of the prelims of the quizzes were announced. We also had a visual round; after that, our school was the only one to qualify in all the three quiz-finals. we then had the painting competition - for which yours truly had gone and tried out scratching the paper(and got the second place for it... muhahaha!)
Lunch absolutely sucked. Big time. Some packed thingy with nothing to eat properly... the panner curry was sweet! What the .... Afternoon, we had the finals of the three quizzes and we won two of them(Space and Intelligence) and came out third in the Awareness quiz. bah! it wasnt an awareness quiz at all...more like a commercial quiz and musings of a nostalgic Hindi-biased freak asking questions on old Hindi SERIALS(!) and their SPONSORS(!!!) Anyway, the other teams were pretty convinced we would be the overall first, but we werent very sure of it as we were worried about the presentation.
That evening we were taken to the Rock garden in CDG(I suppose this needs no intro). We messed about for a while, took soem really beautiful photographs(beautiful people included!) and went to some place belonging to the Air-force for a cultural programme. We decided to make up a very patriotic skit that would woo the judges, so we made up the same, and at the last moment, also sang a malayalam poem(Pora Pora naalil naalil...). The description of the day would be incomplete without a word about Bhavans Vidyalay, Chandigarh. To begin with, these people were there beside us in the intelligence quiz. During the quiz, a part of the answer for a question was displayed on the screen, not accidentally, but unknowingly - ie., a folder having a name similar to the answer of a particular question was shown. It was the buzzer round, so we took the chance and said both the answers correctly. At this time, the Bhavan's Vidyalay guys(to be specific, two guys and a girl) got pissed off and complained about the folder to the quizmaster, who was smart and replied, " It was a buzzer round. If u had also seen it, y didnt U press the buzzer?" Quite true, eh? Anyway, WE WERE AHEAD OF EVERYONE EVEN IF THOSE TWO ANSWERS WERE NOT CONSIDERED. So much for that. Now, after the cultural programme, we had dinner late at night and we were permitted to launch a rocket model that we made(only we had something like that - HAIL!) as they didnt allow us to lauch it during the presentation the next day. This thing, it shot up, and landed straight onto the plate of that girl from Bhavans Vidyalay. Talk about coincidece and targets! We mumbled our serious apologies and she was quite okay. Soon after, our VP came upto us and asked us cheekily, "How did u manage to take it to the correct target?" to which we replied "Father, our rocket is definitely male!"
Nice ending to a good day. Upon reaching the hotel, we practised and rehearsed our presentation and I copied all my pics onto Kishor's laptop and burnt a CD from it. Safe!
Woke up early and had the same breakfast with the extremely watery tea-which-was-brewed-in-an-aquarium to make a mess of my stomach. Anyway, we had to draw lots for the order of the presentation, and Kishor, spiritality personified, thinking all others, save he, had bad luck dripping from their sorry hands, proceeded to draw the lot himself. It turned out to be a uninteresting number 8. we saw all the presentations, which were about the same as ours but Apeejay school, Jalandhar had done a wonderful job... If any of them is reading this, hats off to the guys who did it! Well, about our presentation, it went well (and fortunately it was immediately after luch, so we thought the effect of the better presentations would be worn off the judges). We handled the question-answer round very decently. However, I was really nervous about the guys from the Apeejay school, as they had also qualified for some quiz and could beat us and walk off with the first. By the time the presentations were over, it was time for the finale... the results. Mr. Sabharwal kept us waiting by releasing his new book for space quiz. In the end, he started off giving mementos too all the participating schools. We noticed that our school and Apeejay school were not called to the stage. So it became obvious - we were the runners up if not the first. Then came the sweet, heartthumping moment... Mr. Sabharwal announced, "Well I shall not be keeping u waiting any more... i call upon the runners up...Apeejay Shool, jalandhar!" Our heart jumped in joy... this was the best moment of all... Coming all the way from the tip of South india and walking away with the FIRST PLACE!!! All the rest was a dream.. being called upon the stage... being congratulated, photographed, interviewed by reporters... whew! We had a HUGE stack of prizes, so we decided to skip the trip to Pinjore gardens and boarded the dingy, smoking bus again... but in an entirely different mood altogether.
Mishel's granpa's friend at Chandigarh had come to see us and took us to a nice South Indian restaurant for a really good 'homely' supper. Walking our way bacl to the hotel, we did a great lot of 'bird'watching(ahem...). That night my mobile was as busy as never before.. cousins, freinds, and our PRINCIPAL! Festivity at its best... we watched 'The Mummy returns' and slept off........
We UNFORTUNATELY couldnt go to Delhi on the Kalka Shatabdi so we had to contented with a rickety, but fast bus to Delhi. Kishor totally confused a few of us by giving extremely vague if not misleading directions to where he was, when all the while he was very near to where we were standing. VP got pissed off at our inability to turn up puntually at any place and kept muttering all the while. But we were all grateful to the good man he was, for accompanying us and arranging accomodation, transport et al in Delhi. The sardarji who was driving the "Chandigad-Dhilli" bus was, I suppose, an experienced hand., He lifted both hands off the wheel, reached for his cooling glasses, put them on, and continued driving withi one hand on the wheel and the other holding a bar beside the window...cool, huh? We reached Delhi at about 3 o'clock and proceeded to go out for luch and do a bit of shopping and/or sightseeing. We went to a McDonalds eatery and had some pathetic food, which did the worst job of satisfying my appetite. Son after, Kishor proceeded with Vp for gaping at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, red Fort, etc and the others and I went to shop and to check out the Metro. We did a stupid job of shopping... bought a watch for my sister and a jacket for myself. After sometime wasted there, we went down the steps of the metro station at Rajiv Chowk(aka Connaught Place) The Metro station was awesome, looking just like some International Airport, plus rifle-clad RPFs. We purchased tickets to the Central Sectretariat station (about 5 mins away), because the man behind the counter thought we wanted to see the city (but we wanted to see the city from the Metro - so we wanted to go thru the elevated regions of the track) and the route turned out to be totally underground. Anyway, the ride was awesome to say the least... superb acceleration! We got off at Central Secrt. and purchased tickets back to Rajiv Chowk, where our cabby was waiting for us. Only after friends told me about the seriousness of it and how close I was to being imprisoned if the cops caught me shoting the metro that I really felt scared. Anyway I was cautious while photographing! After all this entertainment, we trundled into our rooms and packed our bags for tomorrow. Mishel's uncle came to see us and took us to a restaurant for dinner, where we had the customary dosa, et al. After reaching our rooms, I finally decided to put the ear-drops (prescribed by that Doc at Daryaganj) because I thought I'd consult her once again to know whether everything was fine with my auditory organ before I left for Trivandrum. The ear drops blocked my ear completely so I slept soon.
A great trip and now time to go back... WE were to take the 2626 Kerala exp back to TVC. At around 1000hrs we were dropped at NDLS railway station by VP's friends. We tahnked them and proceeded up the huge flight of steps and broke our backs walking a few hundred yards to pf-6. Some shunter brought in the train and we jumped in gratefully. The porter charged Rs100 for carrying our bulky luggage and prizes and depositing the same in the coach. At ssharp 1130 the slight tug told us we were off. NDLS to Faridabad is very very boring... as the train rumbles on verrry slowly through crowded "Tilak bridge", some-other-bridge and a few slum-dwellings. All along, there are about four tracks parallel to ours and a few EMUs carry humanity rather disgracefully. Spotted a few WAP5 and some commonplace locos. THree WAG9s were spotted at Agra, Bina and some other place.
Woke up and thought I'd now switch to shooting scenery rather than locos now. Since the train was near Ramgundam, I shot a few pics of the factories and the thermal powerstations. One thing noteworthy was that after Antri(forgot where it was; this noting was based on a memo I had set in my mobile) the up and down-lines separate for a long sistance, and just outside Sandalpur station, ther was a huge and awesome curve in the down line... We almost saw the track which we had come from, beside us! Nothing more happened.
Last day in the train! I had set the alarm in my mobile to go ff at 0445 since the train passes through Coimbatore at 0500 hrs and I wanted to see it before we returned home. When it rang, I was too sleepy, and switched it off. When i did wake up at about 0600, we had oly reached Coimbatore North(CBF). So I lodged onto the door and waited. Coimbatore came and went. Then came the section I was waiting for...the Walayar ghat section on the Kerala-TN border. I knew it would be looking the best-ever in this season of a good monsoon. And boy, did it look BEAUTIFUL! Took a lot of pics from the door. Watching from the window and ennjoying from the open door are completely different. Once we reached Palghat, I returned to the cool interiors of my coach.
Once we had reached Kerala, a rather sad feeling came over me. I was disappointed that everything was over so soon. Now to return to the same boring life again... school, studies, exams...damn! I lay down and tried to sleep. Couldnt. So woke up and played cards. Nothing more happened till Quilon. At Quilon, I got the opportunity to shoot the only loco that had been missing all throughout - the YDM4! I got a charging YDM4 at the helm of the Quilon-tenkasi passr. Watching it disappear into the mountains far away brought back sweet memories of my summer trip through this line. The fact that this route(QLN-Tenkasi) is nestled in the heart of the Western Ghats and looks so far away from humanity and cities makes it seem all the more far away from the concrete buildings and iron mess of the contemporary world. God bless the British who took so much pain to build this line. After about an hour, we reached TVC... back home and were given a grand reception at school. Thus ended a wonderful, awesome trip which will always remain indelible in my memories, to treasure forever.