The weather till that day in Trivandrum had been blazing hot, without as much as a speck of white in the sky. My train was scheduled to depart at 1620 hrs and an hour before, almost eveything was packed. All of a sudden Murphy struck and the skies darkened threateningly. I glanced outwards and uttered the foulest curses... it had started raining heavily and the sky was pouring for all it worth. All my plans of a perfect evening journey were foiled and I was really angry. Boy little did I realise what was in store!
Anyway, braving the thundershowers, our humble and faithful old M800 took us to TVC. By the time we got into the platform, the rain stopped and I heaved a sigh of relief. Since there were just a few minutes to departure, I didnt do my usual routine viz., checking out the loco. Anyway the beast at the helm was a blue-white WDM2 from the Erode stables.
At sharp 1620 the diesel sounded its twin-tone horn and we set off, negotiating the points south of TVC till all the lines merged into one and the speed restriction was cleared. Then came the sound and smoke show... the V16 engine inside the locomotive roared to life as the loco-pilot yanked the throttle open and the smoke rushed out of the exhaust stack. Within minutes we were cruising at a comfortable pace of 70-something kmph. This route is non-electrified, and single line. The world outside was green, and devoid of the 25-kV wire mess and also the cantenary posts which appear at regular intervals and threaten to smash into your head (if you happened to be leaning out the doors on the left hand side, in an electrified route ;).
The weather outside was just perfect... thanks to the rain that had stopped a few minutes before. Unlike the case when you travel by train north of TVC, the south-bound route immediately gives way to greenery, instead of winding through residential areas. I had got the emergency window (which is devoid of the iron bars) so I was having a great time with my head out the window, the monsoon wind in my face, and a very microscopic drizzle to add to it. The WDM2 at the front was doing a great job, constantly at notch-8 (full throttle) and since my coach was the third or fourth from it, I could hear the symphony clearly from my perch. There was nothing I had to care for... my exams were over and my results were long out. For now all I had to do was to enjoy my holidays.. and when carefree journeys like this happen in the midst of nothingness, the feeling is just not expressible!
There are a couple of stone tunnels in this route near the Kerala border.. we roared into them in full song, and even as the lights were switched on and it looked like night, the tunnel would refuse to terminate. With even more obstinancy, our loco would refuse to notch-down the throttle, and so the aroma of the smoke would fill the whole coach and put me on a high ;) A few seconds later the sea of darkness would end and out we would emerge into fresh air and greenery.
After an hour or so we trundled into Nagercoil Jn.(NCJ). Here the loco detaches itself from our rake, runs around and couples itself to the other side, as the route here is like a Y (we come by the left fork, reverse and take the right fork). The north end of NCJ was spectacular - the Western Ghats in all glory, clouds kissing the green peaks and the skies threatening to open up any moment. At the station, I stood at the door and savoured the place. A couple of rakes were stabled at the lines, and the green-grey mountains loomed above the azure-blue coaches. A couple of locos idled in the trip shed far away. As we pulled out of the station and the far away mountains came into view again, we took the track to Tirunelveli and moved closer to the hills. The monsoon breeze was getting stronger and stronger as the train pulled into the twilight. Finally we took a gigantic curve and slowed down to enter Aralvaimozhi station. Well I had come across a photo in wikipedia and I knew precisely what to expect:
Windfarms studded with windmills! Hundreds of them in the distance.. I got myself a cuppa chai and went to the door to watch them. The breeze was really strong here and the windmills were infinitely rotating on and on. It was getting dark and the train gathered speed and chugged away from the station, right into the windfarm! I had to crane my neck from the door to see the full height of the machine.. (Many of them were those of Suzlon). For a full fifteen minutes or so we played hide and seek with the mills, darting across them till we left them behind as they receded into the distance. The last images in the fading light were undoubtedly those of the towering white giants.
We reached Tirunelveli station (TEN) well after dusk and had our supper here, accompanied by the famous brown gooey halwa. The dim, loud station atmosphere.. the "chaaya", "kophee kophee" vendors and the intermittent announcements over the PA system... all made the previous couple of hours look straight out of a dream figment. Trundling past its dark, silent yard populated with freight wagons and the occasional idling loco, we picked up speed and rocked into the night. The drama was not yet over... the breeze soon turned into a gale.. albeit a very dry one. It blew like a cyclone into the coach and at times I even feared that the train would topple over. The wind spared no one and within a few minutes every shutter was down in the coach. Feeling a little adventurous, I ventured over to the door. The heavy metal (pun unintended) door was swinging wildly in the wind and I didnt want to risk my life.. It was quite frightening really! I returned to the coach, only to be given the job of "responsibly looking after the baggage" while my parents and my sister slept. It was already around nine o clock or something and the train slowed down at a wayside station. For a night crossing...
I headed to the door(after waking up my sis ;) and stretched my hands and legs in the breexe which was still blowing. The station was a typical wayside one, with a single platform for the loopline and none for the mainline. We waited on the loopline, to the sound of crickets in the bushes nearby, the only sounds being the soft chatter of people and the gentle whirr of fans inside the coach. The semaphore signals at both ends were at danger with their arms held horizontally. Then the pinprick of light appeared in the distance, growing larger and larger and finaly materializing in the form of two WDM2s smoking for all their worth with an express in tow.
Soon after the tail lights faded into the darkness, the semaphore arm lifted up and we tugged off. The rest of the journey was a dash in the darkness.. going on and on for miles and miles into the night with the WDM2's headlamps illuminating the darkness ahead while the train was on a curve, the piercing green signal far away, the glow of some city far out on the horizon, tiny wayside stations where we stopped for a crossing or two... and finally pulled into an ever busy MDU station a couple of minutes past 2300 hrs. As I took a final look back at the train I was surprised at why I loved this journey so much.. After all, I have travelled such a lot on trains and there was no particular speciality to this one! Well these are things we cannot always find a reason to like...
Total distance covered - 300 kms.. ticket fare - a hundred and fifty rupees.. the six hours spent in the sleeper class coach on an unelectrified single line route, relishing the monsoon magic - priceless!
PS: Photos are not exactly of good quality as this was the best I could manage at very low light and at ISO200 on my cam.