A serpentine excursion to Pune!

Yet another trip to Pune! Already I’ve been asked quite a few times why I travel to Pune only and not other places. Indeed, you all must be under the impression that Pune is my second home! Well, my good friend and ex-colleague does happen to reside in Pune. Besides, I’d wanted to visit the Katraj Snake Park (part of the Rajiv Gandhi Zoological Park) there for a long time; yes, I am highly fascinated by snakes; though they are a bit scary! 😀 The obsession started many months ago; when I had a weird dream involving a lot of snakes in Thiruvanmiyur, Chennai. Moving on, the plan was to take 12127 Mumbai Pune Intercity express on Sunday November 3rd and return by 22106 Pune Mumbai Indrayani express – after visiting the park along with my friend. On the day of the journey; I got up at 05 20, had bath and coffee and took an auto to Vikhroli. From there I took a local to Dadar.

There was a fair bit of early morning railfanning action. 12164 Chennai Dadar ‘Super’ express arrived behind a DLW-made Ajni WAP7i 37166 at 06 45; 45 minutes late. 17058 SC-CSMT Devagiri express then pulled into Platform 6 with an offlink GOC WDP4D 40115 at 06 54, 17 mins late. It departed after a halt of 5 mins. Hot on its heels, 10112 MAO-CSMT Konkan Kanya express soon arrived on the same platform at 07 04; 1 hour 47 mins late. After it left, 11007 Mumbai Pune Deccan express came on PF5 behind KYN WCAM3 21944 at 07 16, 5 mins late. Finally my train 12127 pulled into PF4 some 20 mins late; with another DLW-made Ajni WAP7 (later, at Karjat; I was to find out that there was no rear loco, i.e. the train was not under Push-Pull operations that day; for some reason).

We departed at 07 21, 21 mins late, with an almighty LHB jerk. Poor Deccan express was thus overtaken by us for no fault of its own! 😛 I had a trackside window seat, though facing against the direction of the journey. After crawling through Matunga, we quickly accelerated to MPS and blasted through Sion and Kurla; crossing two express trains (the first one was an Utkrisht rake hauled by a WAP7) in the process – the action on the UP fast line was indeed frenetic! 😉

Later I spotted a more than 1 hr late-running 12620 MAQ-LTT Matsyagandha express crawling towards LTT. My ticket was checked after Vikhroli. By the way, I must mention that there were a lot of LHB jerks and they were really irritating. We entered Thane at 07 41, 24 mins late. A lot of people boarded here. I noticed 12290 Nagpur Mumbai Duronto (led by yet another DLW-made WAP7 3702X) departing from Thane after an apparent unscheduled stop. We left after a halt of 2 mins. By now, the AC was making me feel sleepy; besides I didn’t have a great sleep the previous night – I have some sleep issues; especially when it involves waking up early the next morning, though thankfully I don’t oversleep and thus end up missing the train! 😛 So, I had a power nap of close to an hour.

By the time I woke up, we were crawling into PF1 of Karjat. I had anticipated a slow skip, but unfortunately this was not to be; we had a stop of 5 mins; thus I was sure that there was no Push-Pull that day – otherwise we would have skipped Karjat; there being no need to attach bankers for the climb up the Bhor Ghats. As we departed, I observed a close to 3 hours late 22944 Indore-Pune superfast arriving on PF2; behind offlink ET WAP4 22927. In the yard, we crossed a stationary BCNA freight headed by Pune WDG4D 70552. As we began the climb up the Ghats, 12124 Pune Mumbai Deccan Queen crossed us with another DLW-made WAP7 370XX. The greenery had sadly faded away somewhat:

By the way, I had an opportunity to observe our rear when we were on a really sharp curve – the two bankers confirmed my assumption that the Push-Pull operations were not in place. We crossed a BOXN rake hauled by a WDG4D and WDG4 and braked by triple WAG7s after Thakurwadi. Here are two more pictures of the Ghats:

We reached Lonavala at 09 19, 42 mins late; having lost 18 mins more due to the extremely tight schedule, imposed as part of the Push-Pull trial. Left after a halt of 2 mins; with a very strong jerk and a HT whine. There was a Pune WDG4D 70553 with a flatbed wagon in the distant right. Then we crossed 17221 COA-LTT express hauled by twin EMDs! After accelerating very quickly to MPS, we slowed down abruptly; as cars on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway overtook us. After Malavli, we accelerated to MPS again; only to start crawling once more – predictably leading to vehicles on the Expressway overtaking us. However, the WAP7 was to show us its prowess yet again, swiftly accelerating to MPS with the puny 16-coach rake. We ripped through Kamshet, crossing a stationary ACC Cement led by twin WDG4s in the process:

As we continued to zip through scenery, I spotted some cattle grazing near Begdewadi. Then 17032 HYB-CSMT express crossed us behind an ALCO; there were many Utkrisht coaches in the rake. In the far right, a lot of boys were playing football. By now, the combined effect of the AC and the lack of sleep the previous night was enough to induce me to take a nap, yet again! 😛 By the time I woke up, we were pulling to SVJR at 10 06, 51 mins late. Though we had covered the last 61 km from Lonavala in 45 mins (at an average speed of 81.33 kmph); we had nevertheless ended up losing 8 more mins – reflecting the rather unrealistic Push-Pull schedule! 😛  As expected, quite a few people got down here.

We departed after a stop of just a minute. I observed many locos outside the Pune ETS on the left – BSL WAP4 22633, DMW-made BRC WAP7i 39065, NKJ WAG7 27607, DMW-made Ajni WAP7i 39046 and BSL WAP4E 22297. Then we crossed an EMD-headed tanker train. I noticed DLW-made ET WAP7i 37230 in the distant left and KJM WDP4D 40492 on the right, as we arrived on PF4 of Pune at 10 18, 48 mins late. Whether we would have seen a similar delay had the Push-Pull operations been in place that day; remains to be seen. At any rate, given the congestion on the entire route; the Push-Pull trials don’t seem to have made more than a marginal impact at best.

Anyway, then came the main purpose of the trip – the visit to Katraj Snake Park. I first had breakfast at Sagar Veg Restaurant near the station, before taking an Ola auto to Rajiv Gandhi Zoological Park; the Snake Park was inside this zoo. The first spotting was that of a Common Tortoise (since this “park” housed other reptiles and some amphibians too besides snakes! 😀 ):

Then came the Monitor Lizard.

We were next treated to a royal sight, in the form of a ‘Spectacled Cobra’ – India’s most common venomous snake; also known as ‘Indian Cobra’ or simply ‘Common Cobra’.

Then came the Checkered Keelback Water Snake; which is non-venomous but can bite for the sake of self-defence!

Though primarily a water snake, it is quite capable on land; including on low tree branches! 🙂

The next sight was that of an Indian Star-backed Tortoise.

Then we saw a Reticulated Python; unfortunately it was sleeping inside its cage! 😦

Our next spotting was that of a Russell’s Viper, one of the most dangerous snakes in the world; due to its extremely aggressive nature – combined of course with its venom! 😛 Here you can see it slithering swiftly along the water:

The park staff carefully handling the Viper with a hook..a highly risky job indeed!!

There were 2 more Vipers on the low tree branches.

Next on the list was an Exhibition Hall; where various reptiles were kept in glass enclosures. We first spotted an Iguana trying to climb the wall; it unfortunately failed in its attempt and ended up fallling!

It ultimately decided that it was better off on the ground! 😛

The next sight was that of 2-3 Montane Trinket Snakes (non-venomous) sleeping on a tree branch.

There were also venomous snakes like the deadly King Cobra, the ‘Common Krait’ (also known as ‘Indian Krait’ and the most venomous snake in India!) and the ‘Bamboo Pit Viper’ (also known as ‘Green Pit Viper’); but unfortunately I couldn’t get good shots of them. As I came out, I spotted a Gharial:

The next sighting was that of a ‘Rock Python’ (also known as ‘Black-tailed Python’ or simply ‘Indian Python’), but that also was sleeping inside the cage – that too in a secluded corner! 😦 

Next up was a close-up of a sleeping Marsh Crocodile (there was one more; but I couldn’t cover it well 😦 ).

The final sighting was that of a Flapshell Turtle; but again I couldn’t get a decent shot 😦 . I then met my friend outside the Zoo; we didn’t go back since by then a massive queue had formed and it was very hot, being the afternoon. Instead, we had some flavoured milk at the Katraj Dairy opposite the Park and spent some time chatting. Then he went to meet another friend at his home and have lunch there; while I headed back to the station. Had lunch at the Rail Dhaba inside the station and then went to the waiting room to kill time; since I had about 3 hours left to catch Indrayani. Spent some time taking intermittent naps; since it was almost impossible to get proper sleep in a sitting position 😛 . Then I spent some time reading the book “The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” lent to me by my sister – a crime fiction novel by Alexander McCall Smith; involving a famous private detective lady from Botswana.

Eventually I left the waiting room when there was about 40-45 minutes left for Indrayani’s departure. To my surprise, 12157 Pune Solapur Hutatma express was waiting on Platform 1 with an ICF rake! I thought all the rakes of Hutatma had been converted to LHB!! 11041 Mumbai Chennai express was on PF6. Indrayani was to depart from PF5. As I headed towards PF4/5; I was met by total chaos – a massive crowd, no doubt waiting to head back home (by 12128 Intercity/Indrayani) after the weekend! The unseasonal rains made matters worse! Anyway, on PF4 was the ICE; hauled by DLW-made Ajni WAP7i 37001. The loco for Indrayani was Pune WDP4D 40585. My coach D8 was of a 2004 make, and 2nd from the engine. My seat was 54; a trackside window seat, but facing against the direction of the journey. However, I would soon be forced to exchange this seat; more on this later.

Before this journey, I was not sure if food would be available in Indrayani; since the train does not have a Pantry car and also the duration of the journey is short (less than 3.5 hours as per schedule); additionally, my aforementioned friend had once had a bad experience by the same train a year ago – its departure had been delayed by more than an hour and thus no vendors had boarded!! :O Thus, I had made an online order (through RailYatri) of Dal Khichdi with curd; to be delivered at Pune at the time of the departure of Indrayani. Meanwhile, a lady requested me to exchange my seat with that of her son; who had been allotted seat 81 – quite a few rows away.

I was quite reluctant to change my seat at all; since the food order from RailYatri was to be delivered soon at my existing seat. But that was not an issue to the lady; since she said the seat could be exchanged once the food was delivered. I asked the lady if 81 was a window seat; to which she said it was most probably not. I then decided to refuse; since I didn’t want to lose out on a window seat which I had booked and obtained. But the lady pleaded with me to exchange my seat; since she could not at any rate afford to let her son (he was just a kid, after all!) sit alone far away. Meanwhile, it was nearly time for departure; and I was getting increasingly tense – since it didn’t look like the order would be delivered on time. I agreed, rather reluctantly, to move to seat 81 for the sake of the poor boy; but only once the food was delivered.

As I had feared; the train soon departed with a long horn of the pure EMD variety – albeit at 18 38, 3 minutes late. I called up RailYatri and apprised them of what had happened; and the Food Adviser put my call on hold after a while. The minutes trickled by slowly, but no one came on the line. I hung up in frustration and tried the number again but now Vodafone had decided to join the party; the network connectivity was becoming increasingly hopeless. I cut the call and tried one more time before deciding to give up. Then I decided to finally move to 81 as per my agreement with the lady. There I unfortunately had barely enough room to sit; the train was jam-packed. I realized that it was a mistake to return to Mumbai by Indrayani on a Sunday; the crowd (including a lot of General 2nd class passengers) being the fullest then.  

Meanwhile, the train made rather lukewarm progress towards Lonavala; as fast runs were interspersed with unscheduled halts, including a long one at Lonavala home signal. My fears about food vendors not being present proved to be quite unfounded; as there were quite a few on board. I had 2 plates of Bread Cutlets for dinner; not nearly as tasty as a Dal Khichdi, but no less filling in the end! 😛 At Lonavala, quite a few people boarded; thus I was forced to exchange my seat once more for the sake of a girl, this time to the adjacent 82. However, this seat proved to be more comfortable; since there was only a kid and a young man to give me company. I vented my feelings against RailYatri by writing a poem. On the whole, though; there was little to enjoy in the journey – because I had an aisle seat, it was dark outside and I couldn’t stand near the door and watch due to the crowd.

We crawled through the Bhor Ghats; with really long brake testing stops, especially the one at Khandala. At that time, with all the usual excitement of a train journey having fizzled out completely; I was fed up of what I felt was a ride by a “fast passenger masquerading as a superfast”! The LP perhaps sensed my emotions 😀 ; for we had a really fast run from Karjat to Kalyan, except for a brief halt at Kalyan home. Pulled into PF7 of Kalyan at 21 43, 53 mins late nonetheless. Predictably, the coach became somewhat empty! Taking advantage of this, I moved to a now-unoccupied window seat on the right; since anyway no one would board the train at these suburban stations! 😛  On PF4 was 12809 Mumbai Howrah Mail (Via Nagpur). We left after a stop of 2 mins. After another brisk run, we reached Thane at 22 03, 55 mins late.

I got down here and boarded a local to Vikhroli. Then I took an auto to reach home by 22 40. Thus ended a mixed bag of a trip; with a decent journey by 12127 Intercity to start with, followed by the much anticipated visit to Katraj Snake Park (as well as meeting my friend!); finishing with a rather disappointing return journey by 22106 Indrayani express. Thank you in advance for reading patiently till here! 😉

LEGEND

Technical Abbreviations

  • DLW – Diesel Locomotive Works, Varanasi (largest diesel engine manufacturer in India; now manufactures electrics as well!)
  • LHB – Linke-Hofmann-Busch (a modern Swiss company which manufactures coaches with high speed capability and anti-climb safety features; used in Rajdhanis, Shatabdis , and many Durontos and AC expresses)
  • MPS – Maximum Permissible Speed
  • HT – High Tone
  • LP – Loco Pilot
  • ALCO – American Locomotive Company (and an old class of diesel engines of the 1960s)
  • EMD – Electro-motive Diesel (and a modern class of diesel locos)
  • ETS – Electric Loco Trip Shed
  • DMW – Diesel Locomotive Modernization Works, Patiala (serves to extend the service life of Diesel engines and significantly raise the level of their availability; now also produces WAP7s!)
  • ICF – Integral Coach Factory, Perambur (Chennai) [manufactures most of the coaches in Indian Railways]

Station Codes

SC – Secunderabad

CSMT – Mumbai CST

GOC – Golden Rock (Ponmalai)

MAO – Madgaon

KYN – Kalyan

MAQ – Mangalore Central

LTT – Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (Kurla Terminus)

ET – Itarsi

COA – Kakinada Port

HYB – Hyderabad

SVJR – Shivajinagar

BSL – Bhusaval

BRC – Vadodara

NKJ – New Katni Junction

KJM – Krishnarajapuram (or KR Puram)

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