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Old 31st July 2011, 07:25   #1
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Smile Romancing the British Raj Legacies - Punalur - Shenkottai Meter Gauge Rail Trail

There are certain things which are beyond the realms of time, some things which could be built only once and intended to stay forever with an inexplicable charm..How does it feel to travel through a rail line through the forest, falling into the symphony of crickets, birds, streams, rain and the clickety clack of meter gauge rail lines, to travel atop the 13 pillar 'Kannara Bridge' parallel to the river and road, how does it feel to be entering a tunnel under a mountain in Kerala and emerge seeing the endless paddy fields in Tamilnadu stretched across the horizon.

That 'WAS' the erstwhile Punalur - Shenkottai meter gauge rail line for you, built by British in early 19th Century, transported many known and unknown people, transported history in the process and now, being mindlessly shut down for conversion into broad gauge. This is not a train journey, but a travel undertaken through parallel road to find out the remains of erstwhile British legacy which ought to have been preserved.

Bit by 'history-bug', we decided to undertake the Punalur-Ottakkal-Thenmala-Kazhuthuruty-Edappalayam-Aryankavu- Bhagavathipuram-Shenkottai road trip on the road running parallel to the meter gauge track, exploring the erstwhile stations and places. Unfortunately,some stations like Punalur, Shenkottai etc were out of bonds since they prohibited us from taking pictures for some reason. Yet the drive was an unforgettable one, drawing us back to the black & white era of the steam engines, token-ring exchanges and the melodious 'ting ting' bells controlling the trains.


If the parallel road can be beautiful, would the rail lines be behind
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The hanging bridge at Punalur was a good start to the trip and off we went, driving on a relatively cool day. The first station, we could enter to was Thenmala Station. This was right across the vast timber auction depot. From the Highway, the entrance is barely visible as unwanted plants and grass have grown all over the path. We parked the car by the side of the Timber Merchants Club which was constructed in 1928, was used as divisional forest office in later years and lying abandoned now. Pity that such old structures are being left to mercy of 'someone'.

As we walked up the path leading to the station, it took some time for me for the realization to sink in. In front of me was one of the final legacies of the erstwhile 'British Raj', a colonial era station in which nothing much had changed except that it was electrified. The good old slits in wall for lighting & ventilation, wooden fences, corridors, the arch windows, the window bars having such a thickness that it would last more than 500 years..everything was different from what a railway station is for me. The other two 'guys' (rather matured gentlemen) with me had many experiences of traveling in the meter gauge line from their childhood days. One of the greatest regrets in my life would be that i never bother to take even a single journey in the meter gauge train. Seeing the station and the wooded routes through which the line went, the sense of 'loss' sunk more into me.

fading into oblivion?? entry to an abandoned station
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Untouched Thenmala railway station, but for how long
Romancing the British Raj Legacies - Punalur - Shenkottai Meter Gauge Rail Trail-dsc_0557.jpg

The station lay totally abandoned except for an old care taker. he was suspicious of us first and questioned us for sometime. Finally, when he felt comfortable, he opened out his mind to us, taking us through heart of an ardent old-timer who still believes that he should be living in the steam engine era. From his childhood he had been associated with the station doing odd jobs, from the steam engine era and he explained the changes over the period. Often staring to the distant horizon to which the rail lines went, he gave us glimpses of the life & time, of the people and events and many more. He would have continued, but we stopped him from as we felt that we were adding to our 'loss' hearing the good ol' stories. We wandered around the station for some time and came across a water tank built in 1901, which looked so solid and remained intact. Imagine such a construction in present days.

After clicking around, we walked back to the care takers shed where he was still sitting with his eyes fixed to the horizon.Beside the shed was a yard in which the ripped off tracks, equipments, devices etc were numbered and stored for auction. Imagine what would be going through the mind of this old man who was standing guard as those assets were lying exposed to the elements waiting for a scrap dealer to pick them up for dirt cheap price. Luckily, we found a signalling bell which was still hanging near the erstwhile Station Master's cabin and it was still not 'numbered'. One of us took the iron stick and rang the bell..it was only the sound of wind and the 'ting ting ting ting' then. That single sound had transported all of us to a distant past when the bell controlled the arrival and departure of trains. It was time to leave and we asked the old man if the new broad gauge line would come any time soon to which he replied - "I don't want it in my lifetime". A dog lay idly in one of the waiting benches, wagging its tail slowly and it gave the feeling of the unmindful 'babus' who killed off this exquisite meter gauge - 'gone to the dogs'.

never again would those slow trains chug through these tracks, never again, the journeys would be sedate and beautiful
Romancing the British Raj Legacies - Punalur - Shenkottai Meter Gauge Rail Trail-dsc_0556.jpg

Driving down few miles from the Thenmala Station, beyond a curve lay one of the most beautiful rail bridges in the world - the '13 Kannara Bridge' with 13 pillars. This stands testimony to the architectural/ engineering wizardry of the British. A walk over the bridge would give heavenly view of the curve in geography where the rail line, the road and the Kazhuthurutty river runs parallel to each other. I've passed through the road many times before, yet, the spot never cease to amaze me. We came to know that during the process of gauge conversion, the pillars of the bridge is proposed to be 'Jacketed'. This is bad news as the beauty of the bridge would be gone forever. We clicked around the bridge and was about to take a steep route to climb the hill and reach the railway track above and suddenly, we were stopped by a booming voice from somewhere which ordered us not to climb. We were taken aback by this sudden voice and looked around and finally, found an old man sitting atop the bridge. He had deep sunk in eyes and aged beard. He said that the path which we were going to take is quite slippery due to early rain and told us not to proceed. We stared him for some time and he stared back at us..he had the look of a 'spirit'.

hidden treasure - the famed 13 pillar Kannara Bridge
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the 'spirit' whom we came across
Romancing the British Raj Legacies - Punalur - Shenkottai Meter Gauge Rail Trail-dsc00946.jpg


We continued our journey and the two elder gentlemen made me envious with their discussion about their travel experience of yesteryear. There were few small stations by the side of the highway, but all were ripped of rails and other assets. We decided to check in at the Aryankavu station and there too, rails were ripped off for auction, numbered and kept in order for auction. An old wooden bench remained, which was besides a huge 'Ilanji' tree which has beautiful white flowers with mild aroma. The ground and bench was covered fully by the fallen flowers and this gave another dimension to the scene. In this part, 'Ilanji' flower and the aroma of the flower is associated to something mystic or mystically romantic. What better than the love for the meter gauge can best be signified by the Ilanji in the station. As we clicked around, officials from the company carrying out the gauge conversion came in. We struck up a conversation with them and found that the new gauge would take around 5 more years to be set in properly..However, they told one thing - the meter gauge shouldn't have been killed off.

We kept driving and entered Tamilnadu enroute to our next destination was Bhagavathipuram, the penultimate station. As soon as we entered tamilnadu, the scenery had changed. Paddy saplings were being planted and it was starting to look like a new lush green carpet on one side and the mountains on other side. We were in the hope that we could see an 'untuoched' station and took the deviation from the highway. The drive to the Bhagavathipuram station was like walking through a typical Bharathiraja movie from 70s amd 80s - paddy fields on either sides, coconut farms, small ponds, culverts, tamarind trees giving shades, pucca village life where time stood still. Our anticipation rose as we drove through such a setting and reached the station. the entry to the station had few local shops and huge shade trees. We saw people sitting idly in the benches under the trees and there was a sense of silence except for the old tamil song coming out from a tea-shop. We could see mountain towering over on one side of the station and we walked into the station with excitement.

enroute to bhagavathipuram station
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But, all that was gone as we saw the station was being demolished from one side and the ripped off tracks left to elements. From the entry of the station , one could see the arrow straight alignment of the track which felt like it was coming from straight under the mountain. The rail track leading to the station had vast fields on either side and from the entry of the station, if you look to the right, the track continued arrow straight and headed for another mountain. We kept imagining how the scene would have been during old days and especially on a rainy day..Now, the station was almost in mud and sand as work was going on and we decided to clear off.

We walked out of the station and sat on a bench under the shade tree, asking to each other what had the meter gauge done to get such a 'punishment'. With the anger brooding inside us, we decided that it was better not to get back to any more stations and we decided to get our-self lost in the 'Bharathiraja' setting around the station..Thereafter, our cams didn't get an interval as one spot was more beautiful than the other. As we were clicking around, an old man came and said "If you want to see even more beautiful places, you should walk through the rail line.". Yes, whatever we saw was beautiful, but whatever we missed out was even more beautiful. It was time to pack up and return to the present.


and our companion in the rail trail resting in front of '1928 Timber Merchants Rest House'
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Old 31st July 2011, 08:54   #2
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Default Re: Romancing the British Raj Legacies - Punalur - Shenkottai Meter Gauge Rail Trail

Thanks for a nostalgic write up on the Kollam-Sengottai railway.
I used to go on it during my childhood days and for those like me from Trivandrum, this was the only direct railway out of Kerala - since TVM was meter gauge and Ernakulam onwards it was broad gauge.
In those days, this line was entirely on steam locomotives, which had a charm of their own (as long as you don't get coal dust in your eyes!)
I have also driven on the road several times. On one occasion, thanks to a derailment, we were even transported by bus from Punalur to Tenmala to catch the train again on the other side.
The old station buildings are classics, pity they will tear them down.
Have they started work on laying the broad gauge lines anywhere?
Any idea if the famous Kannara Bridge will survive?
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Old 31st July 2011, 08:55   #3
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Default Re: Romancing the British Raj Legacies - Punalur - Shenkottai Meter Gauge Rail Trail

Nice one. I would like to read through such wonderful travelogues at one GO. Liked your photographs very much esp the contents of it. Will come back to this after it gets filled up with couple of pages
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Old 31st July 2011, 08:57   #4
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Default Re: Romancing the British Raj Legacies - Punalur - Shenkottai Meter Gauge Rail Trail

Classic one there! What a day for me to start with!
Rating 5 stars for the idea itself!

Waiting for more!
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Old 31st July 2011, 10:27   #5
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Default Re: Romancing the British Raj Legacies - Punalur - Shenkottai Meter Gauge Rail Trail

Quote:
Originally Posted by hvkumar View Post
Thanks for a nostalgic write up on the Kollam-Sengottai railway.
I used to go on it during my childhood days and for those like me from Trivandrum, this was the only direct railway out of Kerala - since TVM was meter gauge and Ernakulam onwards it was broad gauge.
In those days, this line was entirely on steam locomotives, which had a charm of their own (as long as you don't get coal dust in your eyes!)
I have also driven on the road several times. On one occasion, thanks to a derailment, we were even transported by bus from Punalur to Tenmala to catch the train again on the other side.
The old station buildings are classics, pity they will tear them down.
Have they started work on laying the broad gauge lines anywhere?
Any idea if the famous Kannara Bridge will survive?
Great to know you are also from trivandrum. and of late, I've been coming across people like you who keeps reminding me of what I lost out. even my dad rubs into the wound talking about his frequent travels in the steam locomotives

the gauge conversion work started in the TN side first and they reached till Bhagavathipuram and as you know, it would drag in Kerala. Kannara Bridge - the officials told us that the pillars are going to be 'jacketed'. what we gather is that some kind of protective structure would come over the pillars - in effect- taking off the aesthetic beauty

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Originally Posted by Surprise View Post
Nice one. I would like to read through such wonderful travelogues at one GO. Liked your photographs very much esp the contents of it. Will come back to this after it gets filled up with couple of pages
looking forward for your knocks

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Originally Posted by ampere View Post
Classic one there! What a day for me to start with!
Rating 5 stars for the idea itself!

Waiting for more!
thank you ampere

'Last of the Mohicans' - eyes that saw many steam engines chug through, ears that heard whistles of yesteryear and a heart that hold the stories .
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looking forward or backward?
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Old 31st July 2011, 10:43   #6
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Default Re: Romancing the British Raj Legacies - Punalur - Shenkottai Meter Gauge Rail Trail

Mystic eys,

Thanks a lot for this write up. All of us have fond memories of travelling in Metre and Narrow guage trains. Two years back we did Ahmedabad - Udaipur metre guage journey in good old first class coupe! It was memorable. Hopefully this may remain so as it is difficult to do conversion. When we were driving back from Kanha via Seoni we came across another classic narrow guage route which is still functional - the nagpur - Jabalpur railway which I was later reading from well known rail travel writer Bill Aitken that it is one of the beautiful journeys as it winds through tunnels and hills of Satpura ranges!! Few years back, when we were in Coonoor I trekked on the nilgiri train tracks and the railway stations on this track still effuse strong british legacy. Fortunately, we still have the old mysore station - heriatge building - intact. Notice that when you go to Mysore next. (Sent from Blackberry)
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Old 31st July 2011, 11:26   #7
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Default Re: Romancing the British Raj Legacies - Punalur - Shenkottai Meter Gauge Rail Trail

The only time I had travelled on this line when I was too young to remember much about it. I think parts of the tracks and coaches were still visible at the Kollam station, well, at least 3-4 years ago, which was when I had last been on a train in those parts.

Unfortunately, this is one of the lovely memories of the state that won't survive our generation of people from the state as it gets slowly transformed into looking like any other modern city/collection of cities. I'm from Trivandrum and had driven this route in my last year's DEL-TVM-DEL drive, the Thenmala area is still so lovely.

Thanks for posting this and all the other comments by others bringing up little lovely bits of information.
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Old 31st July 2011, 13:03   #8
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Default Re: Romancing the British Raj Legacies - Punalur - Shenkottai Meter Gauge Rail Trail

In case you haven't seen this, here is a moving documentary on the last journey of the train on this track (commentary in Malayalam though)

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Old 31st July 2011, 20:57   #9
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Default Re: Romancing the British Raj Legacies - Punalur - Shenkottai Meter Gauge Rail Trail

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fauji View Post
Mystic eys,

Thanks a lot for this write up. All of us have fond memories of travelling in Metre and Narrow guage trains. Two years back we did Ahmedabad - Udaipur metre guage journey in good old first class coupe! It was memorable. Hopefully this may remain so as it is difficult to do conversion. When we were driving back from Kanha via Seoni we came across another classic narrow guage route which is still functional - the nagpur - Jabalpur railway which I was later reading from well known rail travel writer Bill Aitken that it is one of the beautiful journeys as it winds through tunnels and hills of Satpura ranges!! Few years back, when we were in Coonoor I trekked on the nilgiri train tracks and the railway stations on this track still effuse strong british legacy. Fortunately, we still have the old mysore station - heriatge building - intact. Notice that when you go to Mysore next. (Sent from Blackberry)
thanks for the info fauji bhai. heard theres a book named 'great rail bazaar' or so which describes the exotic train journeys in Asia.

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Originally Posted by codelust View Post
The only time I had travelled on this line when I was too young to remember much about it. I think parts of the tracks and coaches were still visible at the Kollam station, well, at least 3-4 years ago, which was when I had last been on a train in those parts.

Unfortunately, this is one of the lovely memories of the state that won't survive our generation of people from the state as it gets slowly transformed into looking like any other modern city/collection of cities. I'm from Trivandrum and had driven this route in my last year's DEL-TVM-DEL drive, the Thenmala area is still so lovely.

Thanks for posting this and all the other comments by others bringing up little lovely bits of information.
del-tvm-del ride? that must've been quite a drive

Quote:
Originally Posted by hvkumar View Post
In case you haven't seen this, here is a moving documentary on the last journey of the train on this track (commentary in Malayalam though)
amazing documentary, wish it had been in english so that all could follow. after watching the documentary, one can only lament the decision to close off this line the last 4 minutes was really moving. Bhagavathipuram station was the most beautiful, but if you see the present day photos, one would take up arms against the authorities

Bhagavathipuram Station - as seen from outside
Romancing the British Raj Legacies - Punalur - Shenkottai Meter Gauge Rail Trail-dsc_0122.jpg

the long straight run from Kerala - the trains used to emerge out of the magnificent Aryankavu tunnel in Kerala into the fertile plains of TN..and this used to be one dream stretch leading to the Bhagavathipuram station with huge trees lining the track on both sides and paddy fields all around. now, the trees are no more
Romancing the British Raj Legacies - Punalur - Shenkottai Meter Gauge Rail Trail-dsc_0132.jpg

Last edited by benbsb29 : 1st August 2011 at 11:45. Reason: Removed video embed from quote for benefit of mobile users.
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Old 31st July 2011, 22:14   #10
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Default Re: Romancing the British Raj Legacies - Punalur - Shenkottai Meter Gauge Rail Trail

HVK, thanks for posting the short one, it is nicely put together, though I wonder why they have worked hard at making it like a dirge in the end. Good things, even when they end, need to be celebrated.

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del-tvm-del ride? that must've been quite a drive
Had driven it solo, going down was easier, broke they journey for a few days in Goa, but coming back up did it in 4-days (TVM-BLR-PUNE-UDAIPUR-DEL). It was fun, but quite crazy too.
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Old 31st July 2011, 22:36   #11
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Default Re: Romancing the British Raj Legacies - Punalur - Shenkottai Meter Gauge Rail Trail

For all the meter gauge fans out there, here is a book must read:

"Branch Line to Eternity" by Bill Aitken. (I think available in Penguin).
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Old 1st August 2011, 07:38   #12
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Default Re: Romancing the British Raj Legacies - Punalur - Shenkottai Meter Gauge Rail Trail

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Originally Posted by Mysticeyes View Post
thanks for the info fauji bhai. heard theres a book named 'great rail bazaar' or so which describes the exotic train journeys in Asia.
It is "The Great Railway Bazar" by one of the great travel writers Paul Theroux. I have been reading his latest book "Tao of travel" which is an anthology of writings from different travel writers and is very interesting. It has a huge bibiliography of travel writing

Both are available on Flipcart.

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Originally Posted by ampere View Post
For all the meter gauge fans out there, here is a book must read:

"Branch Line to Eternity" by Bill Aitken. (I think available in Penguin).
Yes Sir. Apart from this another classic of his is "Travels by lesser line" on his travels through different states in MG.
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Old 1st August 2011, 10:57   #13
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Default Re: Romancing the British Raj Legacies - Punalur - Shenkottai Meter Gauge Rail Trail

Lovely write up. Nostalgia and proud memories.

I found some very interesting pictures at IRFCA - The Indian Railways Fan Club Photo Gallery - Gallery
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Old 1st August 2011, 14:18   #14
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Default Re: Romancing the British Raj Legacies - Punalur - Shenkottai Meter Gauge Rail Trail

Hi Mysticeyes,
Rarely does one come across such nostalgia dripping write ups these days. Thanks for the walk down the memory lane.
Reminds me of all my train journeys on the medium and narrow gauge trains. Bangalore-Miraj in the days gone by was a medium gauge, the Solapur area had the Barsi Light Railway - Narrow gauge and so on !

Great snaps too.

If you don't mind posting couple of snaps from my collection of disused railway equipment and bearing an abandoned, ghostly look !

Line to Nowhere:
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Controls no life. It did once !
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Guiding light - no more:
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Thanks once again.
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Old 1st August 2011, 14:33   #15
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Default Re: Romancing the British Raj Legacies - Punalur - Shenkottai Meter Gauge Rail Trail

This is such a beautiful thread, really wish i could travel these places, glued onto this one for now. Not to forget amazing pictures.
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