Sunday, May 29, 2011

Vidarbha Sojourn

Shakuntala Railway is set of two narrow gauge lines radiating south and north from Murtizapur in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. The southern line is 113 km long going up to Yavatmal. The northern line is 89 km long going up to Achalpur which is close to Paratwada town. Murtizapur is located on Mumbai-Kolkata mainline. The lines were laid by British to transport cotton from hinterland to the mainline. The lines were steam hauled till 1994 when it was converted to diesel. Now days there is one train only per line. Both the trains leave Murtizapur a little after 7 AM and come back to Murtizapur by late night. Recently the speed was clamped to 20 km/h because of which the Yavatmal train comes back only by midnight. Another interesting fact about these lines is that they are privately held by a British company called Killicks-Nixon and leased to Indian Railways which operate them. These lines have lost their economic importance and are run simply for local political compulsions. The train fares are very cheap and anyways there would be lot of ticketless travel. The roads are much faster and takes one in one-third the time. Still these lines run and remain the symbol of bygone era.

I harbored a longtime wish to travel on these lines to witness how is the life and operations in this part of the world. To finish been there done that. I got that chance this year in March when I was visiting Nagpur. I made a circular route plan which included traveling on these lines, visiting Chikhaldara, then traveling back to Nagpur via Morshi, Warud, Katol which is the region in the foothills of Satpura range. I termed this entire trip as Vidarbha sojourn.

Chikhaldara is a small town close to Achalpur/Paratwada, near Amaravati. It is the only hill station in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. Vidarbha is one of the hottest region of India and Chikhaldara being a hill station, I was always to curious to see how it is. Though it was not the best time to visit it but went with thinking that if it turned out well, it would much better at other times. I am even contemplating living there later in life so just wanted to see it myself. It is situated at 1115 mts above sea level, supposed to be cooler than plains, amidst forests etc.

I started from Nagpur one morning for Yavatmal. I took an state transport bus to Yavatmal at 9AM to catch return train from Yavatmal to Murtizapur at 1PM. However, when I reached Yavatmal, I came to know that the train arrives only by 3PM and returns back by 4PM. I tried to strike a conversation with personnel in Station Master's office who became conscious on my queries. The person asked me whether I was a journalist or some official who is asking such questions. I allayed their fears by telling them that I was just a simple railfan who is interested in rail heritage. Since there was quite some time I thought of going back to town and have meal and come back. After a decent lunch I even spent an hour in a cyber cafe just passing time. I came back to station by 2:30 PM. Now I got to speak to the real Station Master who showed some interest. Before I could ask for his permission to take photographs, he himself asked me whether I was carrying a camera in the pouch dangling from my shoulder. I said in affirmative to which he requested whether I could take some pictures for him? I was delighted. He said that I could go ahead and click in the station premises.
The station was unlike the stations we know. Though the railway land where it is located is quite big and barren, the station is diminutive. How could it be big which receives only one train in the entire day that too a slow, decrepit narrow gauge train. The passengers over period have shunned it and have taken to buses. The only saving grace for this station is passenger reservation system (PRS) which receives some footfalls during the day and something for the station staff to manage. After the permission I took a stroll around. I was more interested in capturing some historical facts, emblems etc. from British period and steam era. There was a huge old style metal water tower with canopy like roof resting on structure made of old rails.

There was water in that tower still probably to provide to station. I circled it and after careful examination spotted a rail with marking of year "1864". Wow that was a discovery. Earlier the foundries which manufactured metal equipments used to etch the year of manufacture on the rails and other structures.

Apart from that a separate line coming near the water tower was present with a pit. On this line, the steam engines used to come to fill water and even to drop ashes. The blackish soil around the pit was evidence of that. Further towards the end of line there were masts with hollow lamp like structures. These must have been oil lamps used to signal during night operations. I sat there thinking and imagining how the scene would have been? Steam wafting from engines over these lamps in a wintery night with full moon creating a surreal moment. There were hardly any people in the station waiting for the train. At around 3PM the train finally arrived snaking among the line side bushes. I was clicking it till it came to a halt.

I briefly met the driver which was a character unto itself. More about him later. I clicked the stationary train from all angles and came back to the station master. He wanted to send these photographs to Central Railways headquarter for their magazine. Though this place has no importance in terms of traffic but makes a good topic of heritage and trivia. Now the problem arose of how to transfer these photographs. I said I could email it to them in few days when I return or transfer to any PC but neither was feasible as there was no PC around nor he could wait for long. He came up with idea that we could go to town and copy it in a cyber cafe. When I asked wouldn't the train leave by then to which he jokingly said that I was with Station Master and train would not leave without his order. He assured me that they are not holding the train back and it anyways stops for an hour for drivers to relax and nobody's in a hurry. So I jumped pillion to the Station Master on his bike and rode up to a cyber cafe and quickly transfer photos. While coming back he offered to have some drink. We had a glass of lassi each for which he insisted on paying. So I had a glass of lassi on Railway's expense. We came back then station master made a paper authority which is a procedure to give permission for train to leave. He introduced me to driver, guard who were friendly.

I kept my bag with the guard and boarded in one of the coaches. The train trotted out of station by 4PM and passed through some filthy suburbs before coming in the open.

I was surprised to see the residents of these suburbs standing alongside and enthusiastically watching the train and children waving and running along it. The train though has no significance outside is still a welcome visitor in their lives.

Now about the driver. How it happens that one encounters most interesting people at unexpected juncture. When train stopped at the first station, I walked towards the engine where the driver invited me to join him which is what I was looking for. I climbed atop and driver gave his seat to me and himself sat on the space in front of instruments. When I first saw him at Yavatmal, he turned out to be an untidy though dutiful person, a muslim as due to his skull cap. He wore his uniform over an inner clothing with his ID card neatly hanging from the pocket and mobile phone hanging form the neck. He had worn skull cap, a deliberately kept beard which was black, brown and white making his persona of that of a Muslim. First he enquired about myself like where I was from, what do I do, married or not etc. After satisfying himself he started his story. He told me that he has four wives at different locations which kind of confirmed that he was a Muslim. He explained about his wives how he happened to marry them. It was only happenstance that he took over hapless women as their wives. During childhood he was a rowdy and everybody disliked him. His parents and relatives would taunt him, how would somebody give his daughter to him to marry to which he would reply that he would show them by keeping four wives. So even though his marriages were not pre-planned but destiny turned out to be that way. Two of his wives are sisters, one an abandoned woman and another through some circumstance. His children from his first wife are of my age and do their own business. He stays with his first wife at Murtizapur. After only some time I come to know that he is a devout Hindu. He turned out be a benevolent candyman who distributed candies to children around this line. He was not just a candyman to children but to adults too.

He would give sugar candies to children and tobacco candies aka various pan masala/guthkha pouches to adults. He said that he spend Rs. 50/- everyday towards this and showed me his stock for today. I picked a couple which were locally made candies. This largesse and benevolence came from his contentment. He looked really content with his life in his conversation. He was earlier a driver of broad gauge trains at Bhusawal. Then he took a salary cut in terms of perks he would receive on mainline and came back on this line to live a peaceful life. He himself is a vegetarian, tee-totaler, non-smoker and even does not chew tobacco which he merrily distributes to people. He eats only home-cooked food that too with a little salt and spice. At one station children gathered around the engine and he gave them candies.

One of his so called wives, a widow with a child from earlier husband lives in a village on the route. She came up to the engine and handed him over his tiffin for that night. Every other day he would take the train out from Murtizapur either going south or north and returned the same day. He was a quack of acupuncture as well where he would put pressure on pressure points in hands and shoulders. He gave me a demo of it by working on my hands. I was so intrigued hearing his story that it gave me goosebumps. His life could be made into a movie.

While he narrated his story we passed few stations. All the stations seemed like they are in middle of nowhere. The stations themselves were nothing, just a board and an abandoned stone house. None of these stations had any staff since very long. The guard doubled up as ticket clerk and sold tickets to passengers from his coach window. The sun set while we were on the move. We stopped at a station called Darwah Motibagh which had some staff. It was a tea break station.

From here a new driver joined who would take the train all the way to Murtizapur. This arrangement of another driver was put as it would be really tiring for one person to bring the train all the way from Murtizapur and take it back. Now my driver friend went back to guard coach to rest. The new driver was equally friendly and showered warmth. We now strutted along the countryside in complete darkness. There were hardly any settlement or any road or any other activity. The engines headlight beam was piercing the dark as knife. The stars were out and expectedly denser than what we see in cities. At around 9PM I got off the train at a station called Karanja which is a town. I decided not to travel up to Mutizapur which would be quite late and I may not find a lodging and then I wanted to catch next day's train. I wanted a night's rest before that and I also wanted to eat. I bade goodbye to both the drivers. They informed me that they would be on the north train day after and invited me to join them. According to my plan, I was supposed to return back day after from Chikhaldara so hoped that I would meet them and come back with them from Achalpur. After getting down, I walked through the town which was closing down looking for a lodging. I walked for 20 mins all the way to bus-stop but there was nothing. Then I asked a cycle rickshaw to take me to a decent hotel. He took me to the most decent hotel where I was reminded of CWG saga of our standard of hygiene could be different than theirs. The rooms were filthy though cheap. After looking at few rooms, I settled for least filthy. For dinner I had veg biryani at their restaurant which was spicy. I went to sleep to wake up early for next day's travel. I woke up in time thankfully getting some sleep. After taking a bath quickly left the lodge and went to the bus stand. I was promised that there would be buses going to Murtizapur but there was none and earliest was expected at 6:30 AM which could have been late considering that north train leaves Murtizapur by 7:15 AM and it takes at least 30 minutes to cover the distance. There was a private vehicle which languishingly started a little before 6:30 after loading passengers. I was glad when I reached Murtizapur that train is yet to leave. Infact, both south and north trains were there and drivers and guards were doing final preparation. This was late spring so at this time, there was a nip in the air and sunlight filtered through the haze. The light was great for photography and I took several pictures.

The drivers of north train were not that welcoming even after narrating my stint yesterday with their colleagues. Finding that I wouldn't be lucky this time, I reluctantly settled in one of the coaches at the door. The train lazily started and continued at same slow pace. I was feeling nice, sitting at the door, nice weather and fields passing before my eyes.

We stopped at a station where I hoped that we would find something to eat, at least a cup of tea but found only a small vendor. I had biscuits to satiate my stomach. After some time we reached Banosa aka Daryapur which is a significant town. I was told that train would stop for some time for breakfast etc. The station is adjacent to bus stand which has lot of activity and hence some eateries. I quickly ruches to an eatery and had decent breakfast. There were lot of passengers who got down and embarked on the train. My foot board was taken and had to share with a old, drunken farmer.

Folks in the train were amused at me taking photographs. At one station I saw some folk sitting at the rooftop. I decided to go upstairs myself to enjoy unhindered view and space. Since the train would go maximum to 20 km/h there not much danger of falling off. Though I was very cautious my companions at the rooftop were sleeping! The line went dead straight for most time surrounded by fields at both side which were empty at this time of the year. Here one sows only when there is rain as ground water is limited and irrigation too is not there. After some time we reached Anjangaon which is again a significant town. I decided to detrain here and take bus for onward journey to Paratwada which is the gateway to Chikhaldara.

At Anjangaon I took a auto-rick to bus stand. While I was waiting there I was just taking a stock of where I am? I was hopping from town to town all alone in this part of Vidarbha which is my home. I was not worried here and I thought I would make it through without any trouble. A little a bus came destined to Paratwada coming from Akot. Akot reminded me of my sojourn to Indore in Meter gauge train from Akola. Akot was first major station there. I was in the same territory. The road to Paratwada was a state highway depicting Baitul as one of the destinations 100 km away. Baitul is a station in the heart of Satpura on Delhi-Chennai route very well know to train travelers. I have a wish to visit that town as well but that was for some other time. At Paratwada bus stand there was a bus ready to go to Chikhaldara. I quickly boarded it but it left only 40 minutes later. I was happy to find a window seat as it gets very crowded. After some time we started climbing the hills.There were a couple of wind turbine which are visible from very far away.

It wasn't really cool in the afternoon but town was quaint. When I got down I was thinking where should I stay. I could see there were some lodges around. One guy approached me regarding a hotel and cab to go around. I accompanied him and got a room for Rs. 400/- per night which was decent. The person told me that this being off season, the rooms are available otherwise in season like monsoon and winters, there is lot of rush. After lunch I took a stroll around in the market and found that it is quite laid back.

The place reminded me of Matheran. In the evening I visited a couple of points like Bhimtal and couple of other points. There is a huge garden in the town which had coffee plants. I have been to coffee growing regions like Chikmagloor in Karnataka and found that the atmosphere here is equally salubrious. Next morning I thought of waking up early and visiting the sunrise points which was couple of kms away. While I was still walking up to the point, the sun rose from within the tree leaves.

It wasn't cold just perfect atmosphere. There was no hustle-bustle, in fact not many people could be seen around. I just took a long walk along a circuitous route and came back.

Then I went for breakfast in the eateries near main station. After freshening up I decided to leave the place and head back. Whatever exploration I wanted I had done that and it was enough for me. I got a picture of the place. I decided to come back in season with family to properly explore the place. There is no major towns beyond here as it is mostly forest and very sparsely populated. Most of the people are tribals because of which any commercial activity is anyway discouraged. There is a Project Tiger site close by - Melghat which has significant tiger population. To visit that one has to go to a point called Semadoh from where one could enter it. The entire area must be turning into a heaven in Monsoon but one should have their own sturdy vehicle to visit around.

The return bus was the same I traveled in while coming. The bus got crowded just like while coming up. The settlements on the way have only these buses to their rescue. There did not seem any auto/tempo services probably due to poverty and not much economic activities around. When I reached Paratwada, I was thinking of options. Should I take the train with friendly drivers or should I simply catch a bus to Nagpur but that too via which route? After waiting some time I realized it is time for the train to arrive at Achalpur station. As I had not seen the end of line at Achalpur so I decided to receive the train at Achalpur station and then think of returning. The Achalpur station was surprisingly within 15 minutes walking distance from Paratwada bus stand. I went to another dream again. What if we could extend the narrow gauge line from Achalpur to Chikhaldara? It would be another mountain rail in India. However, my dream was shattered looking at state of Achalpur station. Such dreams require visionaries which sorely are lacking in this part of the world, that is why the region is anyway backward. Probably they are happy in the bare essential existence. The station again like Yavatmal had a passenger reservation system which brought in some footfalls. There was some business activity like ice-cream seller and a nicknack seller. I went around the station and it was similar to Yavatmal, a water tank, a separate line close to water tank with a pit with blackish soil. All signs of steam operation which stopped long back. I went up to the end of line which was just before the road with bushes covering the ground. The train arrived soon and the friendly drivers were happy to see me. The benevolent driver immediately gave me an acu-pressure therapy to my hands and shoulders. I clicked pictures of the train and other artifacts around like levers.

Just like Yavatmal I found a sign of British era with a point lever where "Worcester, England" was etched.

The folks suggested that there is an old bridge just 10 minutes from the station which could be a good subject but I did not have energy to walk that much in heat. The friendly drivers went for their refreshment and I bade them goodbye. My objective of traveling on this line was fulfilled and handsomely covering the two terminals.

I soon came back to Paratwada station where luckily a bus was ready to depart to Nagpur via the route I wanted. The bus started soon and went via Morshi, Warud, Katol. There is a new railway line being laid from Amravati to Narkher which would be a direct short route. We crossed the line at many places but regular operations are yet to start on it. This region is a little blessed in terms of productive soil, water. This region is the Orange county whose produce is traded at Nagpur which gives it the name of Orange city. I saw several orange fields on the route. There is a huge Nal-Damayanti sagar in this region and we skirted around it. The Satpura hills were visible at a distance. How I wish I would be able to visit this region in my own vehicle someday without any plan and savoring this entire region. At Katol, we crossed the main Delhi-Chennai line while sun was setting. After that it was run to Nagpur. The road was dotted with lot of farmhouses. Lucky folks.

That brought down an end to my Vidarbha sojourn.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Meter Gauge Travel in Central India

Trains in India are ubiquitous which everyone can relate to it and mostly would have traveled in it. However very few people look at it more than as a utility. The railways were one of the path breaking invention and brought in Industrial Revolution. Steel wheels on steel rails reduced friction and provided great way of transporting men and material. Very few people would know much about history of railways in India. It started on 16th April 1853 by running between Bombay VT (now Mumbai CST) and Thane. British rulers for their own sake of administration and trade built railways across length & breadth of India. Earlier Railways were in private hands and each princely state would cater to only their needs. Along with the whims the variation in terrain also led to variation in gauges suitable for train operation.
India became a country with four various gauges, Broad Gauge, Meter Gauge, Narrow Gauge (2 feet 6 inches) & Narrow Gauge (2 feet). Note that we never had Standard gauge in India which is so common in European countries. After independence Railways were nationalized. With growth in economy movement of men and material increased and transferring things from one gauge to another (trans-shipment) became inefficient. To remove this bottleneck railways adopted project Unigauge i.e. converting all gauges narrower than Broad Gauge into Broad. Meter Gauge has been quite common in India with dense networks in North, North-East and South. However, there was no North-South link at the time of independence. Then a line was constructed from Purna to Akola in the 60s decade which connected these two islands. Now it was possible to travel all the way from Rameshwaram to New Delhi on Meter Gauge. However, with project Unigauge the meter gauge is slowly getting converted to broad gauge. The link between North and South was again broken when Akola – Purna section was converted to Broad Gauge. Earlier there used to be passenger trains all the way from Kacheguda (Hyderabad) to Jaipur traversing the heart of India. The line further from Ratlam is already converted to broad gauge. So now there is a section of meter gauge which is left out there isolated from Akola to Ratlam and a spur to Ujjain. This is one of the longest section left with meter gauge in India. For all rail enthusiast who are witnessing sad demise of meter gauge in India, traveling on this section is like experiencing something which will never be like that and there would only be memories to relish. The section passes through one of the remote or not in mainstream areas of this country. There are no major towns once we leave Akola all the way till Indore. The line crosses over Gavilgarh range of hills and then Choral valley which has its namesake river and thick forest. There is one unique thing on this line which is nowhere in India. There is a spiral on this line i.e. the line curves around and goes over itself to gain height (around 80 meters). The loops in Darjeeling are a different thing. There the line doesn’t go over itself.
I along with one friend from Bangalore decided to do this line and date decided was 1st January. The train leaves at 6:00 AM in the morning from Akola. So I had to be at Akola station before that. I booked myself in a bus going to Nagpur which reaches Akola by 4-5 AM. It was a semi-sleeper Volvo bus so slept comfortably. Akola is on the main line from Mumbai to Howrah. The station was abuzz with activity due to constant train traffic. After freshening up at station, we decided to move to the platform which had our train. We had reservations in same coach but different seats. We asked TTE to shift our seats closer. The TTE obliged heartily after hearing that we have come all the way from Bangalore and Pune to travel on this line. It was still dark at 6:00 AM. We left on time and train chugged its way out of Akola.

Akola station in the morning
We kept the window shade open even as it was cold so that we could look outside. The headlight piercing the dark was cool. After 7AM there was some twilight and slowly out of haze and cloud on horizon we witnessed the first sunrise of 2011. Our new year started on good note. The warmth of sun was welcoming in this cold weather.

First Sunrise of 2011
The seat on which we were sitting had an emergency window. These windows are meant for evacuation in case of emergency, so does not have fixed grills on the outside. There is a grill which could be pulled up. This was fortune for us as we could stick our neck out as much as we can and take photographs. A similar window was there on the other side. The train was going at steady pace of around 30 kmph as my companion showed me in his GPS.

Akola - Ratlam Fast passenger
At Akot, we had hot samosas for breakfast which were great in this weather. After Akot at Adgaon Buzurg, a family joined in the same cabin going to Indore. They obliged by giving us the berth with emergency window and went off to sleep. We shifted back and forth from this window to that window and door. The train initially passed through fields of cotton, jowar, wheat which were still under haze due to early morning and crop was glowing in morning sunshine.

Fields along the tracks
We were going parallel to the Gavilgarh Hill range (part of Satpura range) but later took it head on and climbed over it. There were gradients up to 1 in 100 and few tunnels which we passed. The vegetation became thick and train was making tight curves gaining height. We were in fourth coach from rear and could hardly see the engine.

Window to the world

Train passing through thick vegetation
We came to station called Wan Road after which the spiral would come up. The station scene was simple. Rural folks hurrying up & down the platform to get into the coaches exacerbated due to some reserved coaches in the middle. Elderly, men and women carrying kids, sacks, wicker basket and potlis. It was a typical small town chaos but still quite peaceful as compared to cities.

Wan Road station
After Wan Road we were ready with our cameras in anticipation of the spiral. On this way first we pass over the line on a bridge and then come down to pass underneath. We were able to capture the signs of spiral very well.

The line underneath

Board depicting the spiral
After that it was leisurely pace all the way to Khandwa. The train was a “Fast” passenger but stopped at every station. The villages on the route were so small & quaint that it seemed that this train was their only lifeline. The train had significant people traveling, alighting or embarking. I noticed that villages are just a settlement of few houses, not very big, no signs of commercialization like shops, STD/PCO or market. These villages were living in a different reference of time or probably we city dwellers have moved onto another planet. These people may not have seen a computer or an ATM may be only heard about it. The stations had hardly anything to eat, no biscuits, chips or mineral water. Everyone would be out of their homes and watching the train as that is the only visitor in their still life. The weather remained perfect being bright sunny day but chill was in the air.
For some time we passed gingerly through a thickly wooded forest of Sal trees and crossed Tapti river which drains the southern slope of Satpura range.

Semaphore signals

Passing through forest

Tapti river
We passed through stations which make some of the 7 Lakh plus villages and small towns which are there in India. All different but still alike. There is nothing alike in sight but all the same at superficial level. At one such station Tukaithad witnessed sibling brotherhood of three puppies, clinging together to remain warm in cold breeze.

Puppies keeping warmth
Noticed that even though there have been few months since monsoon ended still there was water in streams, rivers and ponds. This was evident in some lush green plantations which we witnessed.

Banana plantation

We soon reached Khandwa which is a major junction in MP. The train stopped here for a long time possibly for a crossing. We searched around for some decent lunch but could not get any packed lunch even on the Broad Gauge side and this being lunch time. We settled for some puri subzi which was ok. Our companions had offered us their food which we refused as an etiquette but now I regretted it. They had plenty and it was home cooked food. After Khandwa the speed increased considerably and train started doing 75 kmph which is a normal speed on Meter Gauge. One of the station enroute is Omkareshwar road where the line crosses Narmada river. The bridge is immediately after the station. We readied ourselves and clicked. The river had green-blue water and an old-style road bridge. The river was really wide and shallow. From here onwards we could see people going up on the coaches to sit there.

Narmada River near Omkareshwar

Rooftop traveling
Now we waited for the climax of the day which is Kalakund-Patalpani section which is a ghat section with 1 in 30 gradient. Here a banker engine gets attached at the rear which pushes the train up the gradient.

Train with Banker attached
This region is valley of Choral river. There is a quaint temple on the other side of Choral river at Kalakund station to which drivers at this section pray for safe journey up the ghat.

Temple at Kalakund
Apart from the train phenomena Kalakund is also famous in a small way for its Kalakand which are milk cakes. Not sure whether the name of the place came first or the sweet. It was being sold on the station and we had a taste of it. There were two varieties one too sweet and one mild.
This was evening time and valley was glowing with orange sunlight. The valley was really wonderful with trees, fields and river. We were sticking to the edge of mountain and passed through many twists and turns and tunnels and witnessed the choral valley.

Choral river valley

Train trudging along the section
There is a point from where famous Patalpani falls are visible. The point comes in a flash and goes away. I could not get a good view of that though water too was very less. However, I saw that there was a mela like situation at the top of the falls and many people had walked across the railway line to get a good view of the falls. Soon we reached Patalpani station where all the Sunday revelers who might have come to visit the falls attacked the train. The train was jam packed now. The banker engine was detached and we proceeded to Mau.

Train packed leaving Patalpani
Mau is a small town important because of its cantonment. In English it is spelled as MHOW which translates to Military Headquarters of War. It is also a major Meter Gauge station and has regular services to Indore, Ujjain, Ratlam. It has shed for maintenance of meter gauge locos and other rolling stock. We were tired by now and hoped that train reaches Indore on time. However, it took its time to reach Indore just like a river when it meets the sea. My companion decided to go up to Mau and catch the train back all the way to Akola as he had to reach Hyderabad next day. I decided to stay over in Indore for the night and start next day. I inquired about the retiring room. The lady and gent attendant doubly made sure that I was alone and there is no one with me and I was not in a hanky-panky business. There were only double rooms over there for price of 300 with 24-hours checkout. I asked at the enquiry and to the caretaker about hot water for a bath but did not give any clear answer. The housekeeper who opened the room said that there is a 24-hrs hot water supply. Once I checked into the room I was delighted. The room was huge with high ceiling, clean room and linen and bathrooms and yes there was really hot running water. Where else do you get all this for 300?

Retiring room at Indore MG station
After freshening up I went to bus-stand to checkout bus timings. There was a wedding reception of one of my colleague which I could attend on Sunday the next day at Aurangabad where people from our office were expected. I thought it would be very easy to reach Aurangabad it being a big town. There were not many buses in the day still I made a mental plan to take a bus and go upto Dhule and from there to Aurangabad and reach there by 6-7 PM. In the morning I took a round of the station. The housekeeper came to provide tea and newspaper. What a royal service!
After leisurely checking out I went to bus-stand. The MP Road Transport seem to be compromised. There were only private buses visible and agents hawking to the passengers and there was even a report in local newspaper about how govt is unable to control transport mafia. I steered clear of them and walked towards Maharashtra buses which I thought would be familiar and faster. As I was walking towards it, a person came to me and said the MP transport bus is leaving early. I guessed that since its a state transport bus so it would go swiftly to Dhule but it did not turn out that way. As soon as bus started moving I regretted the decision. The crew was collecting passengers like local bus and stuffing them inside. My companion too turned out to be a student heading for Pune coming from Kota. I just grinded my teeth and kept humoring myself that such misadventures happen and one has to take such things in stride. The bus soon came to NH-3 Agra – Mumbai highway. The road is a pleasure and bus also did not disappoint and kept good speed. After some 70 odd km it got off and went inside a town called Dhamnod. I soon realized that Dhamnod, Sendhwa and Shirpur are towns enroute where it is going to stop. I just gave into it and focussed on the terrain and passengers. The passengers were from rural background. The towns were crowded and filthy. Even Indore did not impress me much. The place where I had dinner had a number of restaurants. There was crowd but no management. The road was cobbled stones and passing vehicles had to manouvere through the street, no policeman in sight to control. The bus-stand itself was shabby and did not look like serving a big city. We stopped at all three towns but did not get time enough to have food. I thought of having food at Dhule if we reach in reasonable time. The road as it was good earlier turned out to be bad later on. The construction or maintenance work was going on and mostly it was blocked to be made a single lane. This led to reduction in speed and jams. This was the situation all the way to Dhule. Once we reached Dhule I enquired about bus to Aurangabad. There was one ready coming from Nandurbar. It already had people sitting. The next bus was an hour away so without wasting time and skipping having any food I decided to take the bus. Till Chalisgaon we proceeded well and was hoping to reach Aurangabad by 8:15 PM. However at Chalisgaon there was huge crowd waiting for the bus. As the bus came to halt there were handkerchiefs, bags, shawls being put in from the window to occupy the seats. I managed to get a seat in front. The bus got jampacked. Soon it left and while passing through the town was intercepted by a procession. Intially it looked like a marriage procession but turned out to be a religious one. Our bus was simply stuck and the procession refused to subside. After half and hour the driver reversed the bus and took it through another route. With my plan evaporating in thin air I turned caustic and cursed the state of affairs in our country. Anyways, after the town there was a big ghat road which was full with trucks and it took lot of time to cross that. After becoming numb from constant travel and losing hope of making it to some comfort of the wedding reception I just sat still. We finally reached Aurangabad bus station at 9:15 PM which was too late. I called up a colleague who had come to reception and consulted with him and agreed that I will not come now and it was too late. So, first thing I did was have dinner at a hotel. Since I was hungry since morning I treated myself to local delicacy of Mutton thali which tasted amazing. After filling my stomach I enquired about buses to Pune. There was one semi-delux bus ready to leave at 10:30PM. I simply got into it for another 5 hour journey. I managed some sleep in the bus and woke up only near Pune and was comfortably dropped on the highway point near by house which is 10 minutes walking distance. I considered this to be fortune as getting an auto at 3 in the morning would not have been easy. I walked back home, had hot water bath and crashed in the bed. I had started from Indore at 9 in the morning and reached only at 3 AM to Pune traveling in three different buses for 18 hours. What a journey it had been.