Thursday, November 03, 2005

Bang to Bhag! Trip of lifetime

“The train won’t be able to get you to Chennai in time. Also, its raining heavily out there. Be careful…” were the words that Satish spoke out when he heard my plans of visiting Bhagalpur, my home town. It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon of 27th October. According to my plan, I was scheduled to leave by the night train, Chennai Mail, for Chennai, where I needed to board Coromandel Express for Howrah at 9am. There was a disruption in rail traffic to Chennai due to a mishap near Bangarpet, about 60kms from Bangalore. As a result, the trains bound to Chennai were diverted through Salem, making the total journey time to Chennai double of normal time, nearly 10 hours.

It was raining ‘Bulls and Cows’ as I finally decided to make a move from office around 4pm. But I was prepared – equipped with a water resistant jacket, a Bermuda and Woodland’s sandals. Yes, that was my dress code for office that day! I went home, packed my bag, had an early dinner and was off in, well, not exactly a flash, but then, I tried my level best to be quick! By 7:30pm, I found myself at Kempegowda Bus Terminus, searching desperately for a ticket in any Chennai bound bus. After some great tussle and hustle, I finally managed to get an Airavat (a KSRTC Volvo bus) ticket for 10:10 departure. The bus left only by 10:45pm, but I was not bothered, as I trusted the bus to make it to Chennai latest by 6 next morning. I was not disappointed; I found myself in Chennai at 5:15. The bus was late by an hour but no one was complaining!

As I got down of the city bus (that I boarded from the interstate bus terminus to avoid the flooded streets), it was nearly 6. Glad to be in Chennai Central (railway station), I called up home, just to be informed that Babul Bhaiya (my cousin, staying in Hyderabad) or BB hereby, was also reaching Howrah on the same day as me, and that he would be taking the same train to Bhagalpur. I was more than glad, for I had not met him for more than 2 years! ‘What a time ahead of me!’ With the ‘worst’ part of my travel already over, I was really getting excited, wishing that the journey to Howrah would have been 4hours instead of the normal 1day and 4hours! What I wasn’t aware of was of course the great journey ahead of me… A journey 1 of its kind!!

As I entered the station, I saw never ending queues of Homo sapiens at all the ticket counters! It looked as if they were distributing free tickets!! Puzzled, as I moved forward towards the Ticket Status Enquiry phone booths, I noticed that none except one of the electronic displays was working. To my irritation, same was the case for the enquiry booths; I had to check the allotted berth (as I was wait-listed when I bought the ticket, but got a confirmation just before I started for Chennai). As I diverted my attention to the ‘last man standing’, the display board was flashing a list of all delayed and cancelled trains. ‘Ah! Just because of 1 train mishap, a hell lot of trains have been affected!’ But wait! I was about to get the first shock of the morning! The very first name was ‘Tamil Nadu Express’. Now I knew that this train was not Bangalore bound, but in fact was to go towards Vijayawada (with final destination as New Delhi), which was the precise route I was to go on… As I read the list further down, terror stuck – the last train number read as follows: 2842, Coromandel Express was also in the list! What a waste!! Firstly, they had not informed me in advance about the cancellation, and secondly, they could have delayed the train in worst case. Then it dawned to me – the queue at the ticket counter was not for getting tickets, but for getting full refund of the tickets already purchased!! ‘Why did they cancel the train just because Chennai was flooded? Once we move out of the city, it would have been fine again! I had a buffer of 8 hours of transit time in Howrah…’

Just as proceeding towards Tirupati started to take shape, someone informed that ‘Andaman Express’ (bound to Delhi via same route as Tamil Nadu Express) was about to leave from platform no 9. I was quick to grab the opportunity and with some luck found the train moving by 6:30! I called up BB to update him of my situation.

‘I’ll be there in Vijayawada by 2:30pm’

‘But my train, Falaknuma Express is also scheduled for a delayed start of around 2 hours, thanks to heavy rain in Visakhapatanam!’

So THAT was the problem of all these cancellations… I wondered.

‘If you get a train for Howrah in quick time, don’t wait for me in Vijayawada, as I may reach there only around 1 o’clock at night!’, continued BB.

‘As you say…’ I murmured.

‘Once you are about to reach Vijayawada, give me a ring.’


---More to come!

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