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Sunday, July 01, 2007

2137 Dn. Punjab Mail

My ancestral village is located in Bathinda district, in Punjab.

One of the most convenient ways to travel there from the place in the National Capital Region, where I presently reside, is to travel on the 2137 down, Punjab Mail, up to Bathinda, from where one can catch a bus to a small town and then another one, on to the village.

The train is supposed to depart from the local railway station at about 7:40 p.m., however, I have never seen it do that since it is almost invariably late. So, obviously, it almost never reaches Bathinda on time either, which is not all that bad actually, because it allows me a few more hours of sleep. Needless to add, it also helps reduce the chances of my having slept past the station.

However, a reserved berth in a second class sleeper compartment does not always ensure uninterrupted sleep.

On a recent trip, I must have curled up a bit while asleep, for when I tried to stretch my legs, my feet met with an obstruction. I woke up to find that a middle-aged man had climbed on to my (upper) berth to occupy the vacant space beyond my feet and was seated there, quite comfortably. My first impulse was to pretend to go back to sleep and push him down to the coach's floor with my feet. I overcame it soon, however, and asked him, very politely, if he could share a berth with someone shorter in height. He was not one to give in easily though and said that there was no point in doing that since he was, in any case, going to get off the train in 'a few minutes', which, it turned out, combined to form more than an hour!

On another such trip, I was woken up in the middle of the night by a loud female voice.

"Nee Parsinni, langhyaa, aithhe taaN lammiyaaN seataaN vehliyaaN hi paiyaaN ne!"

(O Parsinni, come along, a number of long seats (she meant to say berths) are vacant here!)

Along came the T.T.E. (Travelling Ticket Examiner) instead and, after enquiring about the old lady and her companions' travel plan, advised them to move to an unreserved compartment, which they did after a few moments of animated discussion. I slept undisturbed for the rest of the journey.

Besides incidents such as these, what makes the experience of travelling on the Punjab Mail special for me is the beauty of the Bathinda station (which features in the second of the two photographs posted above and where most of the constructions date back to the colonial-era).

The web site of the Indian Railways Fan Club Association, provides the following information about the famous train:

"The Punjab Mail runs between Bombay and Firozpur. This was the GIPR train; there was another train of the same name that ran for a while between Calcutta and Delhi on the East Indian Railway. The Punjab Mail made its debut on 1st June 1912. Like the later Frontier Mail, the Punjab Mail too used to connect with the P&O steamships on fixed mail days and would steam off from the Mole Station; on other days it departed from Bombay's Victoria Terminus.

For a brief period, an extended service called The Punjab Limited operated between Bombay VT and Peshawar, on the GIPR and NWR; this was a rival to the Frontier Mail, but does not seem to have lasted as a service for long. (There is some doubt whether the Punjab Limited was an entirely separate special service or a special extension of the Punjab Mail.) The Punjab Mail was among the fastest trains in pre-Independence India (probably the fastest one at various times). The train had air-cooled cars in 1945.

It was hauled by a variety of locos. XC locos were used after the rake was extended by the addition of third-class cars in the 1930s. In 1929-1930 EA/1 electric locos were used experimentally. The train later ran electric-hauled until Manmad, where a WP took over. From 1968 the train was diesel-hauled until Jhansi and by 1976 or so it became diesel-hauled all the way. A WCAM-1 loco was used a few times in an attempt to provide continuous haulage without locomotive changes, in the 1970s. Since then, and continuing today, it is hauled by a DC locomotive until Igatpuri and an AC locomotive thereafter towards Delhi and Firozpur."


Sidhusaaheb said...

Believe it or not but one of the most nostalgic things about India is the train journeys. I have travelled a lot b/w Bhopal and Delhi in the reserved compartment of Malwa (Jammu Tawi), Punjab mail, TN express, AP express, Karanataka and Keral, Dakshin express, lately Shatabdi and Bhopal Express with various experiences with various types of people ever since my childhood. When I grew up I have travelled in the general and in the reserved w/o reservation, travelled sitting on my suitscase with my elder brother in the area near the door and bathroom. And an equal number of 4-6 hr bus and train journeys between Delhi and Dehradun, Moardabad and very small towns and villages that go the by the name of Nagina, Seohara, Kaanth, Mallhiwala(UP) small 1 hour journeys between these towns by train and bus. I just realized this is like a pandora’s box if I start I can keep on writing for ever about these journeys and experiences. Sometimes in crowded some times in vaccant campartments, occasionally at the door with the feet on the steps and feeling the air on my face and seeing those, wheat, rice, ganna, mango baagh and fileds go by and small kids waving etc etc.. the black smoke from the steam engines (80s), the smell of the railway stations, the smell of the walls and windows of the train, the window bars and so on.. in those days we used to long for these airplane travels. But after the first couple of trips by the airplane I have realized they are most boring and stressfull journeys. And can there be anything more pleasing than the sight of your dear ones who ae waitng at the station to receive you with everyone’s neck going like an ostrich trying to find you.
Diaz | 07.02.07 – 5:46 pm | #


I sincerely hope you’ll be able to find the time very soon to write in detail about all those interesting experiences.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 07.02.07 – 6:23 pm | #

Sidhusaaheb said...

And Bhatinda reminds me of a famous thing from 50’s and 60’s era … BA via Bhatinda

It’s been 15-20 years now that I set my foot on a train … but from childhood memories the chuk chuk, ublay anday and cold drinks or tea in between is still fresh in my memory …!

Lovely reminder … and post
Asma | Homepage | 07.02.07 – 9:14 pm | #


I remember Bhatinda (very faintly) though I on very few occassions used to venture out in the city as we were on the Air Force Base (about 40 kms from city). My father took retirement during his teneure @ Bhatinda Air Force Base. I used to go to the Central School in Bhatinda Cantt. I remember there is a thermal power plant & NFL plant in Bhatinda (if I’m not mistaken).
Sifar | Homepage | 07.02.07 – 10:17 pm | #


@Asma: What is ‘BA via Bhatinda’?

I feel privileged to have been able to travel on the trains of Indian as well as Pakistani Railways. The designs of the coaches’ interiors vary somewhat, but both are nice in their own ways.

Although all the railway stations that I travelled through in the Pakistani part of Punjab are beautiful and have a quaint, old world charm, I particularly like the one at Lahore.

Thanks for the compliment!
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 07.03.07 – 5:05 pm | #


@Sifar: I’ve never been to the air-force station at Bathinda.

You’re right about the thermal power and fertiliser plants.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 07.03.07 – 6:09 pm | #


Haan jii … so sorry I was so stuck in work + Islamabad MB that couldn’t come and tell the whole tale.

Actually it’s from olden days in here. there used to be courses of maulvi fazil, aalim fazil and another one (I forgot the name) so … BA was a difficult thing in 50’s .. so ppl used to these courses in persian and arabic and would give a paper of english to get degree of FA or BA … !

So this route was known to be BA via Bhatinda (adopting a short-cut)

satisfies the curiosity … monsieur :>
Asma | Homepage | 07.06.07 – 11:06 pm | #


Oui Mademoiselle!

Thank you so much!!!!
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 07.07.07 – 3:56 pm | #


my pleasure
Asma | Homepage | 07.07.07 – 7:09 pm | #

Sidhusaaheb said...

I’ve traveled on this train many times – mostly bcoz it is the only train where we culd get confirmed reservations to mumbai – nice piece of info on the history of the train !
cyberkitty | Homepage | 07.08.07 – 4:03 pm | #


That second pic of the Bhathinda train station is so tranquil and beautiful.
sabizak | Homepage | 07.08.07 – 9:58 pm | #


@Cyberkitty: The Indian Rail Fan’s Association website provides historical details about a number of other trains. You might want to check it out.

@Sabizak: The pic was taken early in the morning, soon after I got off the train. That also explains the less than perfect light conditions.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 07.09.07 – 2:56 pm | #