Friday, August 15, 2008

Journey Of a Shatabdi

FOREWORD: Though it appears so at first look, this post is NOT about trains or railfanning. Non-railfans may safely go ahead and read it.

Adventure, it seems, has become synonymous with all my trips of late. What else can explain a mundane one-day trip to meet relatives in Baroda turning into a once-in-a-lifetime experience? The original plan was pretty straightforward- take the Shatabdi Express at 7am from Borivali, reach Baroda at 11am, spend four hours with my US-return sister, catch the Shatabdi Express from Baroda at 4pm and reach back home by 9pm. As simple as that. Or so it seems. Destiny, however, had different plans for me. So here we go-

As per original plan, me, Dad and Mom reach Borivali station early morning and board the Shatabdi Express at 7:00am. Amidst drizzling showers, the Loco Pilot does a clinically perfect job of hauling the Shatabdi according to its reputation, pulling into Vapi at 08:35 am, 150km in 1 hour 35 minutes flat! By this time, we had been served Tea, Biscuits, and breakfast consisting of Upma and Bread-Butter-Jam followed by a mango juice. All this nicely stuffed inside my stomach, (it's FREE food, how can you let anything of it go waste?) I was feeling sleepy just when the trouble began.

Our train was made to halt at a wayside station called Bhestan for a good 15 minutes. Maybe some technical problem, we thought. But then, we crawled upto the next station- Udhna where the train was again stopped. By this time, my friend in Baroda had sms-ed me that due to flooding at Makarpura near Baroda, rail services have been disrupted. At Udhna, dozens of suited-booted businessmen (who comprise a majority of the Shatabdi crowd) were out on the platform waiting anxiously for the signal ahead to turn green. One gentleman, around four coaches ahead, was animatedly shouting into his cellphone- "Tereko samajh me nahi aata kya b******. Idhar ruka ke rakha hai saala. Abe c*****, aa jaaunga main thode time me...". However, the crowd, except me, was in no mood to enjoy this free-show!

After a brief wait, we pulled into Surat. We were greeted with announcement- "2009 Shatabdi Express ke sabhi yaatri dhyaan de- ye gaadi agli suchna milne tak yahaan ruki rahegi." Damn! Boredof sitting indoors, almost half of the the train's 1000-odd passengers were out on the platform now. The food-stall owners, sensing a big business opportunity, started preparing huge quantities of bhajiya, khaman, toast sandwiches, vada pao and so on. I walked upto the engine and enquired with the Pilot. It turned out that flood waters were flowing above danger mark at two bridges near Baroda and as a result, till further notice, no train was allowed to go further. After an hour's wait, it was announced- "Platform Number 1 pe khadi Shatabdi Express ke sabhi yatri apna sthaan grahan kare. Ye gaadi kuch hi samay me nikalne ki taiyari me hain". It was nice on their part to give this advance warning but it turned out to be a hoax call. Fifeteen minutes later, same warning was repeated and this time we actually departed at 11:15am, after spending an hour and half at Surat.

The Loco Pilots showed a sense of urgency and speeded up the train upto the maximum limit it could and everything was going well when we were given an unscheduled halt at Miyagam Karjan Junction at 1:45pm. The kilometre stone outside read- "376". Dad remarked how my sister had come 20,000 km from the USA but we may miss meeting her by mere 20km! So near, yet so far! The passengers were now restless (and hungry) because breakfast was served five hours ago and lunch would be served only after Baroda. Most of them had now resigned to fate and were seen making the most of the unexpected delays by getting out on the platform and socialising. Some enterprising ones even went to the market outside the station and brought some hot kernels of corn to savour in the drizzling rain! Half an hour into the stop, Sayaji Nagari Express pulled into Miyagam from Baroda side and we rushed to their passengers to get a first hand report of what lies ahead for us. "There is water, water everywhere.It took us four hours to cover this 20km distance. Your actual journey will begin now", quipped one youngster, sending a wave of shock across our train!

After an hour, when it seemed that we may have to wait here for longer than expected, the catering staff of Shatabdi decided to throw the rules to the dogs and serve lunch to everyone (generally, lunch is served only to Ahmedabad bound passengers and not to Baroda ones). This brought in some reliefas everyone spent the next half hour savouring their packed lunch in the air-conditioned comfort of the coaches. Good news came at 3:15pm when we were given the green signal. But this was short-lived. At the very next station named Kashipura (this was the worst of the lot and did not even have a proper platform) we were made to wait again. The journey resumed at 03:45pm and now everyone was curious to know how grim is the flood situation ahead. Our train was put on the Up line as the Down line was appearently damaged by the floodwaters. Rules state that all doors of high-speed trains like Shatabdi should be kept closed throughout the journey but who cares! The curious passengers had opened all doors of all coaches and and occupied every inch of available space in the doorway to get a "good view"! (Ofcourse, I was one of the front-runners in this movement!)

The flood situation, it turned out, was much worse than what I had expected. Brown mucky waters all around, trees under water, people perched on rooftops of buildings partly submerged under water- scenes we normally see only on news channels were right in front of me. A certain bridge on a river called Dhadhar had been damaged by the raging floodwaters and workers were toiling to repair it as soon as possible. A goods train was made to halt on the damaged track on the bridge so that its weight can prevent the bridge from being washed away by floodwaters! This left only one track open for traffic from both sides and this is what had caused the massive pile-upof trains. Finally we reached a half-submerged Baroda at 4:45pm, after a five and half hour delay in a four hour journey! But there was no time to rest- our return tickets were booked in the same train and we needed to confirm as to what time wouldthe return train leave. The enquiry counters at Baroda were overflowing with hundreds of stranded passengers. This is when Dad decided to take the easier (though not exactly legal) way out- he approached the Station Manager directly and managed to get a cofirmation from him that the return train would arrive by around 8pm. One does not expect a person holding such a high office as The Station Manager of Vadodara Junction to answer such trivial queries but it was a kind gesture from him in time of crisis.

We finished our social nitty-gritties in the four hours we had at hand and returned to Baroda station by 8pm. Our return tickets were Waitlisted and had got confirmed only last moment, so we did not know our seat numbers. Again, we took the same route- asked the Station Manager about it and he calmly directed us to a couple of swanky touchscreens in the main foyer where one could enter the PNR number and get reservation status! Unluckily, the machine was hell bent on not giving us the required details. Thankfully, there was a dinosaur-era black-and-white computer placed the the Reservation counter for the same purpose. This one promptly gave the display- "Seats confirmed. C5-11,17,20". Announcements were made that Mumbai bound Shatabdi Express would arrive at 21:35. We went to the air-conditioned waiting room to spend the one hour at hand but it was overflowing with harried passengers so we walked back out and decided to "enjoy" the chaos on the platform. Finally, as promised, at 9:32pm, I boarded the first-ever "Overnight Shatabdi" for the return journey.

This time, my coach had LCD screens like the ones found in airplanes for our entertainment. However, there was one rider- it would show onlyone channel and that too pre-decided by the catering staff! We were subjected to half an hour of torture of an old episode of "Hum Paanch", followed by an even torturous episode of a serial called "Kitne Kool Hai Hum" (Yeah, Ekta!). Thankfully, this was followed by "Sa Re Ga Ma Pa" challenge and I decided to take a nap listening to the India's future singers belting out popular numbers (and crying for votes). After a coupleof songs, I heard "Whenever, Wherever" and I jolted out from my semi-sleep expecting to see Shakira on screen! But, it was some behenji-trying-to-be-modern imitating Shakira in pseudo Latino-American accent. Shatabdi's rules state that snacks be served as the train departs Vadodara and not showing any concern to the fact that it was 10pm now, the catering guys enthusiastically brought in plates of samosas, masala peanuts, a sweet and a mango juice for the passengers. This was followed by "evening tea" at 11pm. Finishing that off, just as we were trying to go to sleep, the catering guys barged in at 12 mindight with tomato soup and bread sticks with butter. Grudgingly, we finished off that too and like everyone else in the coach, went off to sleep. But this did not last long. As we departed from Surat at 1:15 am, the catering guy came and poked each of the sleeping passengers- "Sir, aapka dinner!"

The reaction on everyone's faces on hearing this just cannot be described in words! This was heights of abiding the rules- dinner is served at Surat every day so it must be done today also, so what if it's wellpast midnight! Ofcourse I was not hungry at this hour but seeing Paneer Mutter in the dinner tempted me a bit and I had a few bites of it, returned the plates and decided to sleep- once again. But, no! At around 1:45am, a loud screeching sound of Emergency Brakes and a heavy jerk woke everyone up with queries of "Kya hua? Kya hua?" From my numerous previous experiences, I knew our Loco Pilot had run over some animal or human. (the latter seemed unlikely- which idiot would be crossing the tracks at this unearthlyhour?) My doubt was confirmed by a catering guy who ran across the coach shouting "Aise sabko udaate rahega to Mumbai kab pahuchega?"

The matter was resolved soon and after an hour of not-so-peaceful sleep (after all, how can you sleep comfortably in a Chair Car coach?), I saw outside the window- a signboard showed "Vasai Road" and the LED clock next to it showed "02:44". This served as a wake-up call for everyone and we were finally out on a completely deserted Borivali station with the clock reading "03:06", ending what turned out to be a Once In a Century (or should I say, Shatabdi) journey!


  1. Hi Karan,

    An interesting account of what all happened!! When Akshay wrote in IRFCA that u r one of the passengers of the troubled shatabdi, was really eager to know the first hand account!!

    I had similar experience on board BSP Rajdhani due to passenger protests!! I hope u ve read the same which I posted in the IRFCA. In case u ve not u can do so in

    One thing about such incidents is, one gets to know the rules!! and its quite a different experience to see a Raj (and in ur case shat) stop at a station through which it would ve zoomed past ona given day!!


  2. loved da post.Came to know bout a lot of yo rail techs.
    But "Aise sabko udaate rahega to Mumbai kab pahuchega?" takes da cake :p

  3. What an experience u had!!!But Shatabdi lived upto its reputation of giving excellent service to its passengers...and u know wat one of the coat suit vaala businessman in ur train happened to be the chief advisor to the Zydus Cadilla u were in esteemed
    and man 120kmph mein run over...poor animal...

  4. @Lost Soul

    "Rail techs"? I kept this post as dumbed-down as possible keeping the sensibilities of non-railfans in mind. I'll show soon you what a post with "rail tech" typically looks like ;-)

  5. @ Abhishek Nair

    Yeah Shatabdi did give excellent service but the quality of food wasn't that great.

    The menu comprising of Tea/Coffee, biscuits, chocolates, bread-butter-jam, Upma, tomato soup, breadsticks with butter, paneer bhurji, dal fry, jeera rice and mango juice sounds yummy on paper. But when you actually encounter them.....well.. lesser said about is is better!

  6. Good one, man.. enjoyed every detail

  7. Dear Karan,
    Welcome to blog world, I have added your blog site to my google reader so that i will be able to read your reports first hand.


Creative Commons License
My World...My Views by The Blue Indian is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.