With the Monsoon in full vigour all over the country, one always remembers the enchanting romantic train journey’s during the rain. The drenched people, the overflowing rivulets, the green water-filled fields, the ever-present “chai-wala” all add up to mystique of the journey.
When one searches images of trains in the rains, one comes across the paintings of Bijay Biswal.
Scrolling down, one notices a picture in which you can see the ‘President’ of Darjeeling Hill Railway Society, Adrian Shooter. He is presenting a book to a writer David Churchill. Furthermore, I noticed that DHRS is registered in England. Quite amazing.
Adrain Shooter & Loco No 778
Now, I had to find out who were these enthusiasts of Darjeeling Hill Railway in England running an active society. Some research on the internet and I found out that Adrian Shooter joined British Rail in 1970 as a management trainee. During the privatisation of British Rail, he led a consortium for a management buyout of a railway that later became known as Chiltern Railway. He headed Chiltern Railway as the Chairman till 2011.
The interesting story is that Shooter is an owner of an original Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Class ‘B’ steam locomotive 778 (originally No. 19). This locomotive has travelled across the globe before it landed with Shooter.
This Class ‘B’ 778 steam locomotive was manufactured Glasgow in 1889 by Sharp Steward and served the DHR until 1960 to 1962. Thereafter, Elliott Donnelley, a train enthusiast from the US bought this engine. After Donnelley passed away, the engine was shifted to a local museum, Hesston Steam Museum, LaPorte County, Indiana. A $2.5 million fire on May 26, 1985, destroyed or damaged most of the large railroad equipment including the DHR Locomotive from India.
The Beeches Light Railway
Shooter came to know of this incident and offered to buy the damaged piece. In 2002 he transported the engine to his home in Oxfordshire. He set up a joy train ride company called the Beeches Light Railway which operated on a specially constructed a one-mile narrow gauge railway track in his 3-acre garden estate. The figure of ‘8’ track has one station named Ringkingpong, which is named after a road in Darjeeling. The loco shed located at the back of his house is a replica of Kurseong’s DHR loco shed. Two original carriages and two modern replicas of the carriages used on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway are occasionally used to transport invited guests. (Source – Wikipedia)
Although the railway is private, and not subject to rail regulations, it is run professionally by Shooter and some volunteers with railway rulebooks and regulations, and the steam engine has to be certified each year.
Unfortunately, Adrian Shooter decided to sell his estate. The Beeches Light Railway closed down in May 2019. The good news is that it is going to become bigger and better at a sight that Shooter has already identified. The new site was supposed to get back into operations but there is a significant delay now due to the COVID pandemic.
Lastly, you may also visit the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society website dhrs.org. Memberships are open. I saw an interesting book which is listed for sale on their website – The incredible Darjeeling ‘B’ Class. Looks quite tempting to buy for train buffs.
Darjeeling Hill Railway was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999 which saved the railway from being shut down. Today DHR runs the services despite making annual losses.
Maybe its time Indians too gave some attention to this marvellous cultural heritage and engineering marvel of its time.
James Wide worked as a signalman for the Cape Town–Port Elizabeth Railway service in South Africa. He was popularly known as James “Jumper” since he used to jump across moving trains running on adjacent tracks. One day, during the stunt, James miscalculated his jump and fell under a moving carriage. Though he survived the accident, he lost both of his legs.
Though James got wooden legs fitted but was unable to perform his official duties, he found it challenging to move around without assistance. He was worried that he would now lose his job.
One day James was at the local market. As luck would have it, he met with a farmer who has a trained monkey driving his bullock cart. James thought if he could have the monkey, he could train him as an assistant and thereby he would be able to retain his job.
James asked the farmer to sell the baboon to him. The farmer was initially reluctant, but on seeing the condition of James, the farmer agreed to sell the baboon to him. The baboon was named Jack.
Jack turned out to be a very intelligent baboon and turned out to be great help and partner to James. The baboon would help James in commuting from his home to the railway station as well as run small errands. Jack would always remain at the side of James and would observe him very keenly. Slowly Jack learnt to operate the signal levers. He started to recognise the trains and would manage the signals and tracks accordingly.
The news spread to the neighbouring villages that a monkey operates the signals at the railway station. People started coming to the station to see Jack. But some people thought that it was too risky for a baboon to operate the critical signals and complained to the authorities. On knowing the situation, the railway immediately terminated the services of James.
James was not to take this lying down as he had full confidence and faith in the abilities of his baboon Jack. He wrote back to higher-ups that they can come and take a test of the baboon. Surprisingly the authorities agreed and sent an engineer to take a detailed examination of Jack. Jack passed all tests in flying colours.
The railway authorities were so much impressed with Jack that they appointed him as the official signalman at that station. He started getting a salary of 20 cents per week and half a bottle of beer every day. Now it was James’s turn to assist Jack.
Jack worked for nine years as a signalman. During these nine years, he did not make even a single mistake. He died in 1890 due to tuberculosis. Jack’s skull has been preserved at the Albany Museum, Grahamstown, South Africa.
Its a while since trains went through this station due to the lockdown. Nature has reclaimed this space while showcasing its enchanting beauty.
The Shoranur-Nilambur railway line was laid by the British in 1921 to transport teak wood and rosewood from Ooty in Tamil Nadu. The English felled hundreds of teak trees during World War II and took away portions of the line when they had a shortage of steel. The line was restored by Indian Railways in 1954.
Melattur railway station is a minor railway station serving the town of Melattur in the Malappuram District of Kerala. It lies on scenic Nilambur – Shoranur Line of Palakkad Division, Southern Railways, Indian railways. The Nilambur–Shoranur railway line is a branch line of the Southern Railway Zone in Kerala state and one of the shortest broad gauge railway lines in India. It is a single line with 66 kilometres length running from Shoranur Junction (in Palakkad district) to Nilambur Railway Station (in Malappuram district). This station is 4 km from the town of Nilambur on the Kozhikode–Ooty highway. – Source – Wikipedia.
The station has a thick population of Gulmohar (Royal Poinciana) trees which are popular for its dark green foliage and scarlet red flowers. These trees bloom in summer and they shed flowers during the subsequent pre-monsoon season. What a treat to see these flowers spread all over the station, amidst olive green foliage and cloudy skies. Here are some of the photographs taken by Indiarailinfo.
Till 2016, a train going by name of Shakuntalal Express ran between the stations of Yavatmal and Achalpur in the cotton growing areas of Maharasthtra, India. This was India’s last operational private train.
Killick, Nixon and Company, set up in 1857, created the Central Provinces Railway Company (CPRC) to act as its agents. The company built the 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) narrow-gauge line in 1903. The company built this narrow-gauge line in 1903 to carry cotton from cotton-rich interior areas of Vidarbha to the Murtajapur Junction on main broad gauge line to Mumbai from where it was shipped to Manchester, England. In 1920 line from Darwha-Pusad was dismantled. Though, working autonomously, the CPRC was grouped in 1952 under the Central Railways. A ZD-steam engine, built in 1921 in Manchester, pulled the train for more than 70 long years after being put in service in 1923. It was withdrawn on 15 April 1994, and replaced by a diesel engine. (Source Wikipedia) The steam locomotive now rests in a shed in Pune, in north-western Maharashtra.
In 2016, Indian Railways cleared a proposal to take over the narrow gauge line and convert it into broad gauge at an estimated cost of Rs 1,500 crore. However, no progress has been made on this project. There are also a string of legal wrangles that need to be sorted out with CRPC.
London-based train enthusiast David Breaker formed a Shakuntala Railway Society and Shakuntala Protection Committee in 2002.
With the help of rail enthusiasts and historians in India, the committee aims to save the Shakuntala Express. The committee is toying with the idea of running daily diesel trains for local people, and weekend “steam specials” to restore the vintage steam train to its former glory.
So for now, Shakuntala Railways is all but forgotton.
I am sure you remember the journey’s when you were sitting by the window in a train and it was raining outside. The greenery was mesmerizing, the rivelets overflowing and the smell of hot ‘chai’ tempting you to buy not one – but a couple of cups.
While travelling on a train in western ghats of India during peak monsoon season is the most captivating and bewitching experience. Here is one my favourite videos taken of the Dhudsagar falls. I am unable to quote the source of this video as it was forwarded to me on a social media platform.
Dudhsagar Falls (literally Sea of Milk) is a four-tiered waterfall located on the Mandovi river in the Indian state of Goa. It is 60 km from Panaji by road and is located on the Madgaon-Belagavi rail route about 46 km east of Madagaon and 80 km south of Belgaum. Dudhsagar Falls is amongst India’s tallest waterfalls with a height of 310 m (1017 feet) and an average width of 30 metres (100 feet) – Wikipedia.
Poster image courtesy By Csyogi. Photo taken by Srividya. – Own work