Exploring the North Bengal on Tracks … Part-3

For those who haven’t read the previous part, here is the link Exploring the North Bengal on tracks: Part 2

Hello everyone, I am back again writing the third and the concluding part of the wonderful and illustrious railfanning trip to North Bengal, which I undertook along with Pramit Mitra, a fellow railfan and friend of mine. This part contains those events, which were concluded in the final day of the trip and our efforts to make this day the perfect finale of an unforgettable trip.

It was 28th of June and I was the first one two wake up, even before the alarm started to ring. Admittedly, it was one of the most comfortable and refreshing sleep after what we saw went through the day before. It was 6.05 am, the endless honking of locos gave us a good company all the night, wasn’t in any mood to stop.

 

I have a tendency to have a cup of tea/ coffee every morning before breakfast, and went out voluntarily and had one cup of railway coffee. The sight was mystic, and going by the skies, a typical North Bengal monsoon climate, which gives the tendency to rain at any point of time, was evident. Soon some familiar announcements were made, the first one being 15959 HWH-DBRG Kamrup Express at platform no.1. As soon as I was finished having a cup of coffee, came to the room while Pramit had started packing his stuffs. Soon, one more announcement followed and that of 13147 SDAH-NCB Uttar Banga Express. We both got ready and it was just 7.15 am. We still had 15 minutes time before our train to Alipurduar Junction, 13149 SDAH-APDJ Kanchan Kanya Express to make its 15 minutes halt at this very station. Luckily for us, the train was scheduled to arrive on time and the platform where it was supposed to arrive was 1A, just a floor below our retiring room. We saw the crowd gathering to board and assumed it was our train, and rightfully so, the maroon livered BWN Alco came to the platform, chugging with the rakes of 13149 and slowly halted for its 15 minutes scheduled stop. While we reserved a sleeper berth, Pramit had other idea of boarding some other coach, about 2-3 coach ahead of ours. It was most likely S8 coach, while we had the bookings of S4 coach. Although yes, the train was empty in patches, we expected some passengers to hop in from the next halt, Siliguri Junction. The idea of Pramit was to get the curve with the alco in the front, while our original reserved coach would have had the curve to be partially visible. So by going 4 coaches back, we had quite a prominent view. The train was almost 60 % empty; we took one emergency window seat. In the meantime, both of us had a packet of Janata Meals apiece. As soon it was 7.45 am, the typical alco horn hooted to mark the train to leave for the last 160km odd expedition.

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The curve towards Siliguri Junction, just after leaving New Jalpaiguri station.

As soon as the train left the platform, the lines towards Jalpaiguri Road (the route which we took last day) and the lines towards Alipurduar Junction or the forest route bifurcates. The signature NJP curve towards the latter route was almost 180 degrees. The 8km route between NJP-SGUJ is via the main streets of the City of Siliguri. One can see bustling city life of the largest city of North Bengal and the roadside markets were in heap as we approached Siliguri Junction. We saw the toy train lines coming parallel to the broad-gauge line, right from NJP to Siliguri Jn from where, we saw the lines getting diverged towards its district HQ; Darjeeling. We even did spot few EMD’s of Siliguri shed, lined up mostly to go inside the loco shed.

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A Siliguri homed WDG-4 (GT 46 MAC) EMD locomotive, resting near its home shed at Siliguri.

Siliguri is a unique station that has all three gauges on the functional basis. We even spotted a toy train on the other side of the platform, a view that was partially blocked. After a brief halt of 5 minutes, the alco leading our started to chug off the platform, and we saw the Darjeeling bound toy train line curving away. As soon as the train leaves Siliguri, one can see the famous Hill Cart Road running parallel along with the broad gauge train lines, before both these routes curve out towards different route.

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The Tea Gardens before Gulma

As we went farther, the cityscape was falling back; lush green tea gardens started growing both the sides of the railway lines. We were entering one of the most cherished railway routes of North East Frontier railways; the Siliguri- Alipurduar Jn route via forests has started henceforth. The hills of the lower Himalayan foothill were starting to appear more clearly to our sights, plus the presence of monsoonal cloud, a lush green tea garden, a hill backdrop, a beautiful white river bed summed up a priceless view for railfans, who loves to experience onboard actions more than anything else. Apart from railfans, a normal traveler too, would cherish this sight.

Soon, the rain started to spill and unexpectedly, it was mild and stopped in few minutes. Meanwhile, our train was looped in the station called Gulma. One of the most picturesque stations in the route, with hill backdrop and filled with abundance of greenery all over the place. At this station, one can see alike most of the stations in the route, a warning board indicating elephant corridor ahead.

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The beautiful Gulma Station 🙂
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Curving into Mahananda Wildlife Park… The first forest corridor, if you are starting from Siliguri side.

Yes, for those of you, who have heard frequent news of elephants getting run over by trains, this is that particular route, where in the 160 km odd stretch, one has to cross as many as 4-5 forest corridor and tiger reserves. Starting from Mahananda and ending at Buxa Tiger Reserve, the route has common serenity and greenery for most part of the journey.

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The approach before Sevoke Station 🙂

The next beautiful station that comes in this route is Sevoke. It is one of the most popular picnic spots and holiday gateway to many tourists across the state. The National Highway-31A, which follows Sevoke from Siliguri, happens to be the main highway to Sikkim from Bengal. The striking Coronation Bridge is visible from a distance if you are traveling by train. The station during monsoons perhaps is the best time for a railfan to visit. As soon as the train skips the station, a small railways bridge, parallel to the Coronations Bridge follows up over River Teesta, offering perhaps the best scenic view of monsoonal clouds over hills and river bed turns up. The picture is given below:

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The picturesque Teesta River flowing near Sevoke. One can see the Coronation Bridge just below the cloud.

Meanwhile, our train picked up speed and charging towards its next halt at New Mal Junction and on the course of traveling, we entered the core forest area. We lost the mobile tower connection after entering the core zone. The combo of continuous chugging of the alco and the rain forests across us gave us the feeling that is priceless. We soon saw the train slowing down and once again, getting looped in Bagrakot station for a possible crossing.

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Just Before entering Bagrakot. The North Bengal hills during Monsoon.

Ultimately, a Malda Town homed alco arrived Bagrakot with Alipurduar-New Jalpaiguri passenger. Our train was looped for over 10 minutes, before the passenger from the other side made its way for the official halt. We left Bagrakot at about 9am and once again, the saga of switching tracks to the main line and acceleration took place. Sooner, the backdrop scenery was even getting prettier with shadier clouds. The slim cloud lines cutting across the hillocks and the lush greenery with sporadic rains was the exact feel we sought to spot before beginning the journey.

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The New Jalpaiguri bound passenger from Alipurduar at Bagrakot with Malda Town homed alco…

We slowed down at a station called Dam Dim. Even more, we were looped for yet another crossing from the other side. This time it was the 15468 Alipurduar JN- Siliguri JN Intercity Express, which was hauled by a beautiful livered Malda Town WDM-3A. Consequently, our train departed towards New Mal Jn and finally at around 9.20am, we reached the place.

New Mal serves for the Malbazar region of the Dooars in Jalpaiguri district. One can get down here, hire a car or book an auto to reach numerous close-by wildlife reserves, notably Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary. For those who are traveling to Gorumara National Park, New Mal is the alighting point once again.

After a brief halt of 5 minutes, the alco chugged past the platform number 1 of New Mal Jn, only to proceed slowly, maintaining a speed restriction in crossing a river bridge after the station. The route between New Mal and Chalsa is filled with beautiful curves and gradients. There is a point where the train curves downhill negotiating a beautiful gradient before entering the station called Chalsa. This is technically closer to Chapramari forests, but the connectivity by rail and not so good road services ensures the passenger to deboard at New Mal only. One more unscheduled halt at Chalsa was imminent and briefly, after few minutes halt, the train departed.  We entered into the core forests area once again and the warning board of crossing a possible Elephant Corridor was present in every possible location, making the train to run at a restricted speed while crossing the place.  After clearing the elephant corridors at phase, the run was pretty decent. On route, we overtook 55767 Siliguri Jn- Bamanhat Passenger at Binnaguri. Finally, a commercial stop serving Birpara town came by the name of Dalgaon. This is a popular location for tea trading and export business and perhaps the 2nd biggest town in the route after Malbazar (New Mal).

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The Elephant Crossing Warning Board for the LP’s, which can be found in plenty across the whole route between Siliguri-Alipurduar Jn.

As per the time table of this train, we were running about 15 minutes late, when we left Dalgaon and in about 20 minutes from then, we crossed Madarihat, a place close to the Jaldapara National Park.

The beauty of North Bengal forests cannot be just defined in one blog or article. The area it covers and the geographical locations of the same are two of the most striking features of these ranges. A person, who will be traveling to these forests for the first time, he is sure to be mesmerized with the colossal size of the whole North Bengal forests and will take him quite some time to just enjoy each location contentedly, and rest assured a fine time to recollect endlessly.

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Inside the core forest region

After crossing the river called Jaldhaka, we reached for the next commercial stop at Hasimara. For those tourists, who wants to reach Bhutan border by road can alight at this very station. Hasimara, happens to be around 15 kilometers away from Jaigaon, the Indian side of the border and this has the most popular entry point to Bhutan at Phuntsholing, the Bhutan side of the border. Indian citizens can enter and exit without having a Visa requirement to travel, although they must possess a valid government photo ID to go further inwards the country. Jaigaon is well connected to Alipurduar and Siliguri by road and public transports are available in heap. Also, Hasimara serves the nearest railhead for Chilapata Forests.

Coming back to the story, after halting for 2 minutes, we left Hasimara at about 10.45am and on course for the penultimate stop of the route, Hamiltonganj. This station is barely 10km from Hasimara, and in about 10 minutes we reached Hamiltonganj. Some handful numbers of passengers de boarded, leaving almost 75% empty for the last stoppage. We then entered to yet another core forest area once again with speed restrictions for elephant crossing.

Stations like Kalchini and Garopara were skipped at a decent speed before we came to a halt at yet one more unscheduled halt at Raja Bhat Khawa. This is a station, located near the main gate of Buxa Tiger Reserve, one of the most popular forest reserves amongst the lot. In the meantime, Pramit and I were praying for the train to reach on time, as immense slack is provided in the route between Hamiltonganj and Alipurduar Jn. Rightfully so, a train which was late for about 20 minutes, suddenly crawled the way out of Raja Bhat Khawa at 11.45 and finally entered Alipurduar Jn exactly at 12.15pm, which is 5 minutes behind the scheduled arrival time.

Alipurduar Junction happens to be one of the oldest divisions of North East Frontier railways and location wise it is slightly far from the main city of Alipurduar. We came out of the train and went straight to the auto stand, hired an auto to Chowpathy More, the City Center of this small city. Shortly, we had a good lunch at a popular restaurant called as Pagla Baba Hotel and Dhaba. Thus, after having lunch, we came out the restaurant, and saw the time was ticking close to 1.25pm.

We had a scheduled to stick at this point of time and according to it, we needed to take the road route to Coochbehar Town and from there to New Coochbehar station to board 13148 Uttar Banga Express at 15.15pm. Coochbehar is extremely well connected by road and it takes around 25 to 30 minutes by road to reach this city, which is about 20kms away from Alipurduar. Instead of taking a passenger train, we intentionally opted out the train option to reach New Coochbehar. Although the Bamanhat passenger, which we overtook at Binnaguri, was scheduled to reach Alipurduar station (not the junction one) at about 1pm. Although, considering the route it travels, we assumed and confirmed it was running late by 30 minutes, which meant it will cross Alipurduar station, which was half kilometers away from the city center at about sometime around 13.35pm.

Trust was a big issue, and trusting NFR passengers, especially the ones in the forest can prove to be a risky aspect. Risky in the sense of punctuality as we had barely an hour and 45 minutes for the connecting train to leave New Coochbehar. Apart from buses, one can get share jeeps for 20rs per head for reaching Coochbehar, we hopped in one of them and we were caught in a closed railway level crossing.

It was the 55767 Bamanhat Passenger hauled by an EMD from Siliguri shed, entering Alipurduar station. Pramit, having traveled in this forest route thrice, knew the signaling the priority of the passenger services and assured me that we will reach even before this train arrives New Coochbehar.

How correct was he?

We reached Khagrabari More at Coochbehar town in about 30 minutes, from where we took a Toto (electric rickshaw) and reached New Coochbehar station (which is 5km away from the city) and the time was barely 14.30pm. We got our tickets in this beautiful and well maintained station of New Coochbehar to New Jalpaiguri by Uttar Banga Express. In the meanwhile, we heard an announcement of 12506 Guwahati-Anand Vihar North East Express to arrive at platform number 1. North East came with the same link of 20001, and departed the station at about 14.50pm. We thought the passenger might have crossed New Coochbehar and entered the route towards Bamanhat. At around 15.00pm, an announcement of this passenger’s arrival was made, and we saw the EMD with the rake, curved in the approach towards the station, waiting for the home signal to show advance. Thus Pramit was right; we indeed reached the station before the passenger actually did. Thanks to the single line and absence of loop lines in this section, trains from Alipurduar Jn to New Coochbehar, sometimes, suffers in maintaining time. It finally entered around 15.05pm.

We hopped in the crowded general coach of 13148 Uttar Banga Express, which departed exactly at its scheduled time and started to march towards New Jalpaiguri. Both of us were tired, and sat in the middle of the coach, enjoying the continuous MPS run in the single line stretch. We gradually did reach New Jalpaiguri exactly at 17.30pm, exactly like the previous day.

Now it was once again the time to take pictures of trains and locomotives, the way to spend next hour and a half. We saw a WDM-3D loco homed at Malda Town shed, having the typical zonal livery instead of the conventional blue-white livery. In the meantime, both of us took a pic of EMD locos lined up one after the other and consequently, took the picture of each other standing near one loco.

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We saw the arrival and the diesel to diesel loco change of the Dibrugarh bound, Avadh Assam Express. We understood that the loco hauling Avadh Assam, travels all the way to Lalgarh (Bikaner) in the North Western part of the country and returns to the North Eastern end of the country to Dibrugarh as a part of its round trip. Thus, this loco completes a cycle and from New Jalpaiguri, this directly goes to its home shed of Siliguri for maintenance and inspection.

We went out of the station premises, had a plate of the delicious momos once again. After having done with the food part, we did buy the dinner from a nearby food center. Our train to home, 12344 Darjeeling Mail was shunted at platform number 1, exactly at 19.30pm

We saw the arrival of my favorite, 12346 Saraighat Express to Howrah at around 19.35pm. The loco in the lead was a WDP-4 loco from Siliguri. Meanwhile, we checked the loco that was going to lead our train, and it was a WDP-4B from Siliguri (forgot the road number).

This time around, it was the same clean coach with charging points available at either sides of the coupe and unfortunately, both of us had Upper Berths. Although Pramit had side upper, still considering nothing to spot much in this return leg, decided to sit in his designated place for the rest of the night.

We hoped for a better show for the return leg, and boy oh boy, we were taken into one hell of a ride. After departing sharply at 20.00pm, our train had no reasons to slow down, and notched up the MPS after crossing the Mahananda river bridge. We reached Kishanganj exactly 2 minutes before time, at about 21.03pm. We covered a distance of 87km in about 62 minutes. After departing Kishanganj, we were closing on to Malda Town and the run in the rest of the route was more than worth stating.

After our dinner, we decided to lie down. When we briefly woke up, the train slowed down and it looked as if we were being looped at a certain station. The time was 22.45pm and to my utter surprise, we have reached Old Malda Junction, 5km away from the main Malda Town station. As per the timetable, we still have nearly an hour odd time to reach the distance of 5km. This is because of the increment of route speed from Malda Town to New Jalpaiguri from 100kmph to 110kmph speed. Although the track conditions were upgraded and lesser speed restrictions, the old time table was still in effect for most of the North East bound trains.

Now the question on why were we looped? It’s not because we were running horribly before time, it is because on the main line, we saw the Howrah bound 12346 Saraighat Express, was halted and admittedly, it too has reached Old Malda immensely before time and had almost 50 minutes still to arrive the main station.

Soon at around 23.15pm, Saraighat was the first to leave and less than 10 minutes later, our train departed for the 2nd halt at Malda Town.

I slept as soon as we left Malda Town at about 23.55pm. When I woke up momentarily, saw the train halted at a station, and the time was 4.12am. It was Burdwan, and still we had nearly 100km to cover before we reach our destination. I slept once again and Pramit woke me up just before Dum Dum outer, and told that he will deboard at this point, to catch a local back to his place. Thus, he got down at Dum Dum Jn, and waved me goodbye.

Finally, I reached Sealdah at 6.20am; walking down platform number 9B with a single bag and a lifetime full of unforgettable memories that have concluded over the last 3 days.  Thus like always, it was the home coming, which is always sweet after a small yet wonderful and a tiring trip.

 

Thank You all for reading this long yet an illustrious journey report

 

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