Odds and Ends
Tense race at Cuddapah
The Mumbai Chennai express (the old Dadar Madras) involves a journey with 5 meal times en-route. Especially in trains without pantry cars, there is this atavistic temptation to hop off at stations to forage for food. Such was the case at Cuddapah station (Cuddapah with the famed and mysterious "HX" railway code). Out of pure habit, we picked up an idli-vada chatni on the platform and were on our way back to the coach, when a newly set up fruit juice stall attracted our attention.
Freshly made juices, with a generous dollop of sugar, swirled around in the mixer right there. So we ordered a pineapple juice each and by the time we greedily clutched the tall glass in hand and the i-v-chatni in the other and started walking, the train began to move. It was a strict 3 minute halt, and we were not prepared for that. We ran, bringing into force all the bygone skills of the lemon and spoon or egg and spoon school races and with the help of a friendly pull-up of the AC coach attendant, we just about made it and without spilling a drop. Needless to say, the hard-earned i-v-c and the juice had that extra tang as they were disposed of, as the train picked up speed and moved off into the hot Rayalaseema landscape.
First in the phone book
Ataria, with railway code "AA" is the first meaningful station on the Indian Railways list of stations. "A" is Armenian Ghat Goods Shed, an obscure location tucked away under the Hooghly bridge or someplace and I'm not even sure it is used these days. So Ataria, a small town on the line from Lucknow to Sitapur City on the metre gauge, is the first genuine passenger station on the alphabetical list of stations. My 15 minutes of fame was the crossing that our passenger had with another passenger in this tiny station. Tiny station, but has a crossing line to allow trains to slide comfortably past each other with that spirit of adjustment that make single line operations so much fun.
When I got in at Lucknow, I took the door, to get a better view of things. This was a good move as the train got crowded at the various suburban halts at Lucknow (Lucknow City, Daliganj, etc) - it is the metre gauge that touches the old parts of the city. After this, the line travels more or less parallel to the Sitapur highway. Close enough to read the destination boards of buses on the highway. Bakshi ka Talab is a nice little station on the way. Gola Gokarnnath is a bit further up.
By the time we reached Ataria, people were on the roof and smoking beedis contentedly and watching the landscape with no particular haste in their actions. I have been told more than once, by railway people, that many rooftop travelers actually do buy tickets and either just prefer to go up there or are law-abiding but forced up to the roof because of lack of space where they are supposed to travel. And as everyone knows, when you gotta go, you gotta go, because the next train is after 2 hours and bus is quite expensive by comparison.
At a crossing station, it can sometimes happen that we could be late and the crossing train has already come in to the station, in which case, we would move on after a 2-3 min halt. Here, there was no sign of the other train, so once the crossing dynamics became clear and at least a 10 minute halt assured, people clambered down leisurely from the roof and brisk business of tea and snacks took place with the seriousness that it deserved. An old man got off my coach and hunted around for a bargain sweet for his granddaughter. I was watching with interest and detachment - I didn't want to lose my pole position at the door and instead, I had leechies at Sitapur later on. But the halt in Ataria, with the neat station garden maintained by the dedicated station master and gangmen, will remain a pleasant memory.
Kalakand at Kalakund
Between Mhow and Khandwa, early in the morning, just before 6 a.m., the Jaipur Purna express (the old Meenakshi express which used to go all the way to Secunderabad) comes to Kalakund station. During the two minute halt, we were already up and at the door and had the good fortune to take advantage of a strange play on words. A milk sweet by the name of kalakand was being urgently offered at that hour of the morning, at Kalakund station. So that was gleefully had by the two of us who were awake and reluctantly, later on, by others in the party.
Later on, in the journey, thalis were loaded on to the train. These were not the circular, compartmentalised variety that Bill Aitken mentions in his "Travels on a lesser line", but the more common, rectangular variety. But it was still good. The pictorial highlight of the trip was the looping the loop, where the train takes a long, long curve and comes back under where it was some minutes previously and continues its descent into the Deccan plateau. Washim and Hingoli (Dn) - for Deccan, were nice stations in the winter evening sunshine and the kid in the party had a nice wash at the station tap at Washim.