Saturday, March 24, 2007

Rolling the Curves

Vizag-Koraput-Rayagada-Vizag rail trip, February 5 and 6, 2007

This was a trip I was alays dreaming about. Having lived in the close vicinity of the legendary Kothavalasa-Kirandul line (KK Line) for almost 15 years, I never had an opportunity to take a ride on it. It was on February 5 , 2007 that I finally had my chance. VSP, Praveen and Bharath came down to Vizag from Hyderabad. Sridhar Joshi, Seshadri sir (Chechu), Swaminathan sir, Karthik and I came down from Chennai. We took the only passenger service to Kirandul early in the morning at 6.30 AM. We all piled into the First Class to get the best of the line.

It was a march of the electrics all along. The KK line is meant for transport of iron ore. Large freight trains hauled by three electric locomotives each ply this route all day. In a matter of 6 hours we passed almost 50 electric locos!

Vizag to Kothavalasa was along the Chennai-Howrah trunk route. We deviated towards the hills after Kothavalasa. It was a normal run until we reached Boddavara. The hills appeared and pretty soon, we were rolling along horseshoe curves in and out of numerous tunnels.

Seen here is a tunnel that we are about to enter. We are on a horseshoe curve and could see the other end of the tunnel before we entered it.

One of the 52 tunnels on the KK line. A lot of people on maintenance work at the tunnels.

Tyada station. We were waiting for a freight train to pass us from the opposite direction and give us a clear way ahead.

The locomotive of our train, A WAG5. It is meant to haul freight trains on this line. The KK line was fully electrified in the 1980's.

One of the many interesting things we abandoned bridge. There must have been a realignment of the tracks here. Probably due to landslides.

An unusal site...a sole loco with a short load. This line ususally has king-size freights hauled by three locomotives.

One of the many exciting sharp curves in the hills. This one is close to Borra Caves station. The curve is a steep gradient and in minutes we reached a high altitude.

The only level crossing on the line upto Araku. This is a beautiful spot for a level crossing with trees and flowering plants all over. The road slopes down in a series of curves to this point and rises again.

The same level crossing seen from a distance... from the opposite side of the horseshoe curve that the line took. We are at a higher altitude thanks to the steep gradient of the curve.

The steep gradients brought us to the highest point on the line: Shimiliguda at 996.2 mts above sea level. The gradient from Kothavalasa to Shimilguda is at an average of 1:60. Shimiliguda was the highest broad gauge station in India until 2004. Surprisingly, Bangalore is at an altitude of 920 metres...only 76 metres less than Shimiliguda.

Sridhar Joshi and VSP relax after Araku. We had spent most of the hill section aty the door observing the route. Post Araku, the gradient levelled out.

The train curves along the backwaters of the Machkund reservoir.

We passed along river Kolab too.

Post Koraput, we were once again up the grade into the hills, forests and the remaining of the 52 tunnels. This is the famous Maligura viaduct over the Maligura Nalla. This long and curved viaduct delivered us into yet another tunnel. this viaduct was pictured copiously for promotional material by Indian Railways.

The view of the train on the viaduct.

We got off the train at Jeypore. We were supposed to spend the night at Koraput. But the Maligura viaduct made us go all the way till Jeypore.

We had ready transportation at Jeypore. This Mahindra Bolero took us all the way back to Koraput

Day 2. We boarded the Koraput-Rayagada Passenger early in the morning at 5: 00 AM. It was pitch dark as the train rolled out. Chechu loves to travel by the door. Despite his age at 65, he still possess the energy to stand by the door all day and enjoy the passing scenery. ..something that tires the rest of us. The early morning darkness proved to be a dampener for him and he was forced to sit until day broke.

The train took an alternative route...the K-R Line or Koraput Rayagada Line, yet another hill railway for transporting freight iron ore. This line is not under wires and allowed us to enjoy a diesel loco's run through the hills. Much line the KK line, the KR line too traversed the hills and tunnels.

The day broke revealing wonderful hills looming large in the winter haze.

At Lakshmipur, VSP harangued a tea vendor to supply us tea even as the train started to move.

One of the many station on the way early in the morning.

Soon we reached the most enchanting stations on the route: Rauli. As we cleared one long tunnel and broke into a brief clearing over a bridge before disappearing into another tunnel, we spied a horsehoe curve perpendicular to us and a station far away on the ghat side that seemed to be all alone.

It was all silent and uncanny. A bare and ethereal beauty in the middle of nowhere covered in haze.Apart from the tracks, signals, station house, a tiny platform and a couple of houses, Rauli was as nature made it. The power supply came from generators and solar panels and water was piped from a natural spring high up the hills.

Nestled on the hillside, Rauli was a one platform station. It overlooked a valley that had absolutely no human settlement. Ahead of the station was another tunnel. Hills and vegetation all around with no huma settlement, Rauli was a magical little station, one of the most beautiful ones I had ever seen.

Rauli is a crossing station and we waited here as the Hirakahnd Express passed us from the opposite direction. It was an obvious choice to have a crossing here. The hills on either side were treacherous and prone to landslides during monsoons. These hills warranted a block limit and a reversal to terminate trains in case of landslides or derailments. No wonder Rauli materialized.

From the platform we could have a hazy view of the steel girder bridge that we crossed minutes before on the far side. The horseshoe curve behind allowed us the spectacular site of watching the Hirakhand Express to cross us, go around a curve and materialize on the bridge on the far side of the curve. We watched in bated breath as the train came out of the tunnel, went over the bridge and disappeared again into another tunnel.

Our journey resumed. We were now passing through thick forests, steep curves and viaducts. Chechu was in great spirits as the wonderful scenery swept by. He perched himself at the door and enjoyed the run all the way down to the plains at Rayagada.

Viaduct after viaduct brought us from the high hills to the humid and sultry plains of the coastal side. The journey concluded at Vuzag, where we started.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Season's Greetings with Godavari

Konaseema and West Godavari - December 23-25, 2007.

Konaseema is located in the East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. It is a part of the delta formed by the river Godavari before it enters the Bay of Bengal. Godavari breaks into two distributaries after Rajamundhry. These along with smaller rivulets and numerous canals cut across the region making it quite fertile. Gautama Godavari enters the sea near Yanam and completely falls within the East Godavari district. Vasistha Godavari enters Bay of Bengal near Antarvedi and bifurcates the two Godavari districts (East and West) downstream.

In December 2006, Christmas fell on a Monday. The long weekend prompted me to join my friends on a trip through Konaseema. I joined Bharath Moro at Vijayawada and we travelled down to Rajamundhry enroute Bhimavaram to join Praveen, Roopesh and Tejender. Here is the summary of my trip:

December 22, 2006 : Chennai - Vijaywada (Grand Trunk Express)

December 23, 2006: Vijaywada- Bhimavaram (Vijaywada-Bhimavaram DEMU Train) -Rajamundhry (Narsapur-Visakhapatnam Simhadri Express Link) - Kovvur (by boat) - Kakinada (Tirupati - Kakinada Fast Passenger).

December 24, 2006: Kakinada - Kotipalli (by bus) - Mukteswaram (by two boats and a long walk across a river island) - Amalapuram (by autorickshaw) - Palakollu (bus) - Narsapur (autorickshaw)

December 25, 2006: Narsapur- Sakhinetipally Revu (boat) - Antarvedi - Sakhinetipally Revu (hired autorickshaw) - Narsapur (boat) - Gudivada -(Narsapur Vijaywada Passenger) - Chennai (Circar Express) .

Now for the pictorial report:

Somewhere between Gudivada and Bhimavaram close to the Kolleru lake. this pic was taken while travelling on a train. This region is rich in greenery and fresh water prompting many entrepreneurs to set up fisheries. I suspect some of these were encroachments of the lake.

The region has a lot of canals, many of them man-made thanks to the vision of one Sir Arthur Cotton, an engineer during the British Raj who specialised in irrigation. Little motor boats ('launches') like the one in the pic ply these canals and the Godavari river.

Cute little kids on the Simhadri Express link which took us to Rajamundhry.

At Rajamundhry, we met Roopesh, Praveen and Tejender. After a nice lunch, we headed to the banks of the river Godavari and relaxed there. This bank is known as Pushkarala Revu and is just beneath the first and third rail bridges across the river.

Pushkarala Revu. The river is very wide at Rajamundhry. The second railway bridge can be seen at a distance.

Old and New. The 100 year old Havelock iron railway bridge on the left and the newly built RCC bridge with its graceful arches on the right. The new one has replaced the older bridge. The Havelock bridge had been the only one across the Godavari between Rajamundhry and Kovvur for many years. It served well and has now been retired.

A plaque that commemorates the opening of the Havelock bridge more than 100 years ago. The bridge survived all these years as a mark of engineering and still stands strong.

The third bridge came up in the 1990's to replace the Havelock. It took a good 10 years to build unlike the Havelock which was completed in 2 years. Nevertheless the new one looks beautiful thanks to its graceful arches. Here is a great pic clicked by Roopesh of the bridge with a train on it.

Bharath and Praveen enjoy the cool breeze blowing across the river on the motor launch against the backdrop of the setting sun.

A train crossed the river on the second bridge as we started off on the launch.

We are closer to the banks at Kovvur now. All the three bridges are visible in the background. Click on the photo to enlarge.

Day 2: Kakinada railway station is well maintained with sprinklers irrigating the lawns. We were waiting for the Kakinada -Kotipalli passenger. One of the objectives of our trip was to check out this newly laid railway between Kakinada and Kotipalli. Unfortunately, the station officials had no idea when the train would turn up, leave alone when it would start.

Tejender walks towards the APSRTC bus that took us from Kakinada to Kotipalli. During this trip, we travelled on trains, boats, buses and autorickshaws and even walked across a long river island.

He is alive. This drunk boarded the bus en route Kotipalli, purchased a ticket and promptly hit the floor. He was later carried out and deposited on the roadside at Draksharamam (his destination) where he stirred for a minute and then happily slipped back into an intoxicated slumber.

On the banks of Gautama Godavari at Kotipalli Revu. The bus deposited us exactly at this spot, a kilometer away from Kotipalli town. The river is very wide here just like upstream at Rajamundhry. The sea is about 30 km away from here. Seen on the far side is a large river island.

We hired this boat to take us across the river to the island. The boatman took us to a secluded beach on the island where the currents were weaker and the river bed shallow so that we could have a swim. We had a good ride on this rudimentary yatch as the wind worked the solo sail. I had always wondered how these boats work. Now I have a fair idea thanks to the friendly boatman who displayed his skills in steering the boat across.

It was December and the water was cold. But it did not deter us from a swim. We did not venture deep as the currents were strong. The water was quite clean and fresh at this point.
It was the first time that I swam in a river this big. It was much better than swimming on a sea shore. However the currents were really strong further into the river. The boatman who knew his waters well kept a vigil and held a stick across to mark the limits for us. Godavari is a holy river and we were prompted by PVS Praveen to take three complete dips into the waters to cleanse ourselves spiritually!

A little ahead of us, these fishermen worked hard to pull a huge fishing net into place. The other end of the net was tethered to a boat in the middle of the river. Seen in the background is a makeshift shelter for buffaloes that are brought here for grazing. The river is shallower on the other side and the animals wade across it. The island is almost a kilometer wide. During floods, it submerges completely but during other seasons, it is put to agricultural use to grow cucumbers, pumpkin, watermelon and tobacco. We walked across this island after finishing our bath to catch a ferry to the opposite bank of the river.

The boat that took us to the other side. Seen at a distance is the river bank at Mukteswaram. All along there were many people using the ferry to cross the river both ways. They would land on the island, trek across it and catch a ferry on the other side of the island to the other bank. Some people also loaded motorcycles that onto the boat. We were accompanied by at least 5 motorcycles, a few bicycles and a couple of goats along with people on our ride to Mukteswaram. At Mukteswaram, we found that the road that terminated at Kotipalli Revu continued further as evident from the milestone close to the banks. A state highway interrupted by a river! The road took us to Amalapuram through a dense plantation of cocunut and other trees. It was the greenest countryside I had ever seen marked with several canals.

Day 3: This is the dockside at Narsapur on the banks of the Vasistha Godavari. Seen at a distance is Sakhinetipally Revu in the East Godavari district. Narsapur is in West Godavari. We took the first ferry of the morning across on our way to Antarvedi. Since there a few people we used one of the smaller boats. Much later during the day, the big barge seen here starts to ply carrying small vehicles and people alike.

That is Narsapur as seen from the boat that has reached the mid point of the river.

The river is calm and serene early in the morning only to be broken by the wake of the boat. The winter mist had not yet cleared as we set out to visit Antarvedi.

The scene on the banks of the river at Sakhinetipally Revu.

Ducks heading to the nearest pond - a still from the Konaseema life.

We wished the road would never end.

Even the most progressive of cities could not match the earthy aura of this countryside. Blessed are those who live here. Fields of paddy by the road, on our way to Antarvedi.

We hired this autorickshaw for Rs 200 to take us to Antarvedi on the seashore and back. The route was fantastic as the road took us along fields of paddy, cocunut trees, ponds and canals.

Antarvedi! The mouth of the Godavari. This is where it meets the sea. Seen here is the merger of the river with the sea. This picture was taken from a lighthouse that stood here.

The Bay of Bengal as seen from the lighthouse at Antarvedi, a little distance from the point where the Godavari meets the sea.

We returned back to Sakhinetipally Revu and took the barge across. Thereafter we went straight to the Narsapur railway station to catch a train to Vijaywada. I was supposed to alight at Gudivada to catch my train to Chennai. Seen here is the Narsapur - Vijaywada passenger on its brief halt at Pennada Agraharam, a beautiful little station.

The route from Narsapur to Bhimavaram was a treat thanks to the paddy fields and coconut trees and quaintly named little stations like this one.

After a couple of days of travelling, we finally relax on the train and check out all the snaps we clicked. L to R: Bharath Moro, Roopesh Kohad, Me and PVS Praveen Kumar.

More photographs can be seen in Roopesh Kohad's Album. They are much better than mine.