Train to the Lore of the Coast

13 Mar

My NRI friends insist that 200 Rupees is peanuts for a coolie (porter). I remind them gently that the cost of a ticket for the 451 km journey is only 116! They finally concede, and the economist amongst them concludes – the railways have clearly not kept up with inflation!

It is 7:30 AM at Yesvantpur Junction, a satellite rail terminus in a namesake Bangalore suburb, and we are about to board train #6515 to Mangalore, some 10 hours away, in second class ordinary accommodation! Not long ago, I had fetched my NRI friends from the very posh Taj West End hotel, where they had stayed the night, on arrival from Egypt the previous day!

NRI = Non Resident Indians, and at the risk of inviting the wrath of many a reader, I shall desist from using that term here forth ๐Ÿ˜‰

There’s a nip in the air as we make our way out of Bangalore, and once clear of its industrial burbs, cleaner air, distinctly better views and the promise of a spectacular journey await!
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We begin the day’s proceedings with over-sweetened Almond Milk and no sooner have we downed that, does the Idli (steamed rice cake) vendor show up! Jhaal Muri (spicy puffed rice) is next and we chase it all down with some filter Coffee – again, over-sweetened and served in an Espresso sized paper container, which does well to burn our hands. Theย Idlis have definitely saved the morning!

Meanwhile, the landscape has changed quite dramatically, and with paddy and palm filling our frames, it is typical of what one would expect in the southern reaches of India.
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Closer to 11 AM, we roll into charming Arsikere Jn. We will reverse directions here, and to enable the locomotive to run around our train, a 20-minute halt has been provided.

I take a stroll along its platform, which still bears remnants from a simpler era of travel, when daintier Metre Gauge trains plied these parts. The unconventional platform shelter, the graceful old footbridge, and this now marooned refreshment stall stand as testament to those times..
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The ‘main line’ continues north from Arsikere into the Karnataka hinterland, whereas our recent direction reversal now puts us on a south western path, headed for the coast.

Leaving the main line has its own joys and we experience the simplest of these at the quaint little wayside station of Bageshpura, where we stop for a crossing.

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There is no official Pantry service on train 6515, but in India, that almost never translates into an absence of food supply on a journey! A constant parade of food and beverage vendors has ensued ever since our departure from Yesvantpur, and somewhere between Arsikere and Hasan, the Dosawallah (savoury crepe vendor) appears!

We dig in, and halfway through the first bite, the foodie in me declares, “This is the best Dosa I have eaten, outside of a formal eatery, ever!”
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Between Hasan and Sakleshpur, the changes in land form are rapid – palm and paddy have retreated, giving way to terraced farming, rolling countryside and Coffee plantations. And yet, there is no sign of the Coffee vendor, just when we need him!

Instead, I am left wondering what it must be like to sit out on the terrace of this Estate Manager’s bungalow, sipping a hot – or cold – brew, and watching trains roll by!
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Sakleshpur brings up the half way point in our journey, and a rather significant one at that – the ghat or mountain pass, the raison d’etre for this journey, begins here!

Over the next 3 hours, we will descend the Deccan plateau through the Subramanya Range, covering no more than 55 km, at a leisurely average of 18.3 km/h!

Not long after we have departed Sakleshpur, the descent begins in full earnest!
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The town of Sakleshpur stands 3100 ft above sea level – the approximate altitude we will lose on our way down to the coast. The Subramanya Hills, within which the town is located, rise even higher, to a height of 5700 ft!

Our initial descent is through a thickly wooded section, where a dense green cover leaves us in awe of our surroundings but does little to disclose the elevation we’re at.

Every once in a while, however, it let’s up, and reveals some rather dramatic vistas!
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It is the month of January, and other than Assam, nowhere else in India have I witnessed this kind of lushness in the drier months. It is, to be perfectly honest, astounding!

Not only is the area exceptionally green for this time of year but also rather well hydrated! Waterfalls abound, and looking down from a tall viaduct invariably reveals a babbling brook like this..
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Over 50 tunnels and more than a 100 bridges – some over 200 feet tall! – make up this highly under rated ghat section. Every tunnel we emerge from, every viaduct we cross, and every curve we round, presents another mesmerizing view – ensuring that we remain transfixed at the doors and windows of our humble second class abode.

And with that, time passes a lot quicker than we’d like!

Towards the end of our descent, just when the topography has begun to level off and things are looking a tad less enchanting than before, the sun breaks through the cloud cover and spreads its rays across the lush Karnataka countryside. For our last glimpse of the same, it is a rather memorable one!

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Subramanya Road marks the end of the ghat, and train 6515 is relieved of much of its clientele here – the town being an important place of pilgrimage.

As the crowds make their way out, we scour the platform for some eats and return with piping hot Bondas (batter fried spicy potato) and some sort of milk cake, which is deep fried but not particularly tasty! The Bondas, however, are, and go particularly well with our evening quota of over-sweetened Tea!

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We cross the Netravathi River just shy of Bantawala, and the red soil visible to us on a causeway under construction, is evidence that the Konkan Coast isn’t too far away.

Train 6515 is, by now, a few minutes behind its advertised time and the crew, taking advantage of the flat terrain, give it their all. The coastal scape rushes past our windows and soon enough, magic hour descends, forcing the cameras out yet again!
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Mangalore Central is eventually reached at 6 pm, the crew having made up a good part of the delay.

The Taxi driver at the station is a little more reasonable than the porter at Yeswantpur, demanding 100 Rupees for the short drive to our hotel. Considering it is a whole 16 Rupees cheaper than our rail fare to Mangalore, I concede ๐Ÿ˜‰

Postscript – the Pinto – Pereira wedding!

Walking back, later that night, from a sumptuous and spicy Mangalorean seafood dinner, we stumble upon the Mangalore Ladies Club, which is playing host to the Pinto – Pereira wedding.

The formal ceremonies are long over by the time we get there, and the crowd has taken to the floor, their drinks, and often, the wrong partners in hand, loosening their ties and letting their hair down to a live band performing, ‘for he’s a jolly good fellow’ and such..

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It is rather late for a week night, but the Mangaloreans sure know how to live it up, and have unwittingly provided my friends and me, a delightful end to a wonderful trip ๐Ÿ˜‰

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A full set of pictures can be seen here.

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One Response to “Train to the Lore of the Coast”

  1. Deepa Grover March 14, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    Enchanting!
    I have a few questions:
    When did you do this trip?
    Why have I never heard of such a dramatic rail journey in India??
    How do you manage to keep slim (read “thin”) as you devour your way through all those wondrous delights of Indian cuisine???

    Keep travelling…keep writing! ๐Ÿ™‚

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