Metre gauge to the land of tigers part 2

November 30th 2017

For the previous report of the trip from Mailani to Palia Kalan click here

The next day we woke up at the ungodly hour of 0400 to catch the 0420 52258 Mailani to Bahraich passenger. A quick check of NTES showed what I expected the train was running about an hour late so we sat around in the hotel a little longer, constantly refreshing NTES until the train showed departed Bhira Kheri. At 0530 the train finally arrived the YDM4’s headlights piercing the thick fog. Despite its early departure the train officially has no sleeper cars, and its overnight counterpart from Bahraich the same. However some sleeper cars from former express trains have been released into general service and often as not there is one on the night trains  now relegated to unreserved coaches. Unfortunately we did not find one of these coveted coaches with the padded seats so instead settled onto the wooden benches and did the best we could do get some sleep. I actually slept fairly well and woke up right after we had left the Dudhwa forest segment at Belrayan. Despite the cold I took to the door to enjoy a bit of YDM4 thrash as we headed for Munjara Purab. At 0735, about an hour late we finally reached and disembarked and photographed the train departing, the fog hung thick in the air as the sun rose and the roar of the YDM4 could be heard for several minutes fading into the distance as the train headed across the big dam over the Ghaghara river.

 

One can say whatever else they want about UP (and I certainly have my shares of complaints) but the foggy mornings of Uttar Pradesh are some of the most magical that I have ever experienced. Our walk towards the river was full of incredibly atmospheric scenes so much so that we found ourselves constantly stopping to take photos. What a shame there were no more trains scheduled until well after the golden morning light would be gone. 

As with many places in India we were hardly the only people using the tracks to get where we were going, the bridge over the Lower Sharda canal even had steel plates laid over the ties and was being regularly used as a pedestrian crossing. Not much of a danger given the relatively few trains that pass through here nowdays.

Despite our constant photo stops our first train 52259, the Bahraich to Mailani passenger was predictably also running an hour late so we still had a decent wait for our first shot at 0900. 

Almost exactly an hour later the train was followed by the 52241 Bahraich to Mailani passenger which was amazingly running only 20 minutes off schedule. (below) The smoggy conditions were far from ideal for such a large scene, in hindsight we should have tried to walk back to the station to catch the 52252 to Bahraich. But it was hard to predict just how late the train would be just from NTES so we decided to walk across the dam to photograph it crossing. We waited for what seemed forever but finally the train showed at 1125, a full 1 hour and 40 minutes late. 

With no trains now for supposedly 2 hours we walked back to the station to wait for our ride either onwards or back to Palia Kalan depending on which train showed first.  As before both trains were ungodly late so we had several hours to sit at nowhere Manajana Purab even after our long walk. I made the mistake of buying some Bananas and walking across the track to the benches to eat them, not realizing I was surrounded by monkeys, one lept up and almost snatched them right out of my hand. I quickly retreated and grabbed the biggest stick I could find and ate my bananas while waving the stick to keep the dozen eager monkeys away. Needless to say my time at what should have been a rather peaceful spot was anything but that since I had declared war on the local inhabitants. 

While the outbound train 52254 should have been first instead the 52251 Bahraich to Mailani showed up first at 1500 running about an hour late. Then instead of quickly departing with us aboard the staff decided to hold the train here for 52254 which would not arrive for another hour. 

(Below) The colorful outfits of the passengers make up for the dull lighting as the typical scene of chaos of any metre gauge crossing ensues. 

For a video of our return journey, click below

 

It was past 1530 at this point and the already dim sun had nearly disappeared into the haze. Regardless there was still plenty to photograph a the intermediate stations. Belrayan (Below) is the beginning of the forest section and from here there will be virtually no traces of civilization for the next 29 kilometers. There is also no crossing station and this segment contributes significantly to the delays in this segment. 

I said almost no trace for a reason, about 8 km out of Belrayan we come to a halt at the ghost station of Sonaripur, this station is located deep in the tiger reserve and once served as a crossing station. Today it is a technical halt for railway gangmen who maintain the line within the tiger reserve. Not all trains halt here and one certainly does not want to be left behind when the train leaves as the danger of tiger attacks is very real here. 

Within the Dudwa forest the train runs at a maximum speed of 30 kph to avoid killing wildlife, despite this there are still calls to remove the railway entirely as there have been incidents in the past when trains have killed tigers and other wildlife. With the light fading I hoped it would be the prime time of day to see some tigers and I stood at the door the whole way keeping my eyes peeled. Unfortunately the only wildlife I saw was several peacocks and some deer which would be my experience at other wildlife reserves later on as well. 

By the time we exited the forest region at Dudwa it was almost dark and the light had completely faded by the time we reached Palia Kalan station. That evening we made the arrangements for a driver to pick us up to follow the morning train to Mailani, unfortunately tomorrow wouldnt go as planned but thats a story for next time. 

 

 

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