The International Steam Pages

Case Notes - India, 1982-5, Round 2
Part 3 - Bhopal and Gwalior

Terry Case writes about his travels for steam. Further tales will follow from time to time covering more of Australia, India, South Africa, Indonesia and Pakistan.

Click here for the Case Notes Index, which includes many earlier Indian tales.


On 1st January 1983, the northbound Sabarmati Express awaits departure from Bhopal behind CR WG 9769.

I spent the early morning at the huge three domed mosque with its tall minarets. Inside students and teachers were clustered in groups under the domes, the interiors of which had been colonised by bees, their large hives hung above the heads of the worshippers.

At the station the announcer was busily reading arrival and departure information in three languages. She also was wishing travellers “Happy New Year” and reminding them it was “a social evil to travel without tickets.” My memories of this happy and busy scene were later shattered by the many dead and injured in the disaster that was afflict this station and city. 

My plan was to ride out and back to the village of Sanchi some 50km away to the north  using the Sabarmati Expresses which were still steam hauled. At this time few tourists visited Sanchi, it is now a well-known early Buddhist site. 

Once underway from Bhopal trains climbed a steep grade which had the WG working hard on this lengthy train. Not far out a WP was seen arriving on 17 Janata (the Delhi – Madras train), I was pleased to see it was still steam hauled. The lineside was strikingly English looking with flowers growing alongside, manicured level crossings and neat gatekeepers’ huts with gardens. 

One of the unusual Buddhist temples at Sanchi.

Even small stations like Sanchi had loops to ease the congestion on this busy double track mainline. Sanchi was a delightful quiet station, one platform was adjacent to farm land and the other even had two furnished 'Retiring Rooms' (Raj style) which could be booked for accommodation.

There was a small village outside the station from where a track led uphill to the Buddhist temples. It was one of the few times in India I was aware of no noise from vendors, no hassles from beggars or con artists. I was the only person visiting the site, there was no bureaucracy, no guides just peace!

WG 8847 arrives at Sanchi with the southbound Sabarmati Express on 1st January 1983

The return working of the Sabarmati Express pulled in behind WG 8487 as the sun was setting; having taken a photo it was a scramble to reach the sole first class coach prior to departure. Not being able to get a seat I found an open doorway where I could listen to some spirited running. 

There was a fierce climb through the hills, with frequent stops for woodcutters and their pathetic sacks of twigs as they flagged the express to stop. The distances these villagers were travelling to collect wood did not argue well for India’s attempts to prevent deforestation. In the dark all was confusion as they sought to open doors and throw in their sacks and then scramble in after them. 

As we neared Bhopal the locals kept pulling the cord turning the 'express' into a 'tram'. Outside Bhopal we had a prolonged stop and whilst waiting I saw a further WG hauled freight departing together with a WG banker to assist. Reaching the station all was dark as the town electricity had failed. I found a restaurant with its own generator and spent up on food and beer, celebrating the New Year.

Next morning I found WP 7128 allocated to 35 Bina Express, scheduled departure was 07.25. As we sat waiting a clear line another WP on 18 Janata express from Madras pulled into an adjacent platform; it was running a mere 90 minutes late.

The Bina Express departed 30 minutes late and our progress came to a halt three stations out. A diesel hauled express overtook us. The signals went to danger and were rapidly cleared, I was chatting with passengers expecting another diesel hauled train to be given the road ahead of us; instead I heard the throaty roar of a steam locomotive at speed with frenzied whistling as it approached the station and a super clean CR WP hurled through on 18 Janata. The young Ticket Inspector confidently told me the WP was doing 90kmph on this section; it was certainly at full stretch. 

Prior to Vidvsha I was had the unusual opportunity to be able to see three WPs at work on different trains. I could see our own engine as it rounded a curve and in the distance 18 Janata was re-starting following a signal check. Coming towards us was 17 Janata from Delhi; this train had limited passenger accommodation as parcels and a postal coaches had been added.


On 11th January 1983. The steam hauled Delhi Janata Express pauses at Gwalior. 

My first visit was in 1982, I had enough money to stay at the Usha Kiran (Palace) hotel, a year later Palace Hotels were priced at exorbitant levels to attract wealthy tourists and keep travellers like myself at bay. The Maharajah of Scindia had a two foot gauge narrow railway built that served principal towns in his state. A spur line was used to bring his guests to the Palace in his private saloons. I saw the engine that was used for his train, now preserved outside the palace. Inside one of the many rooms was an enormous banquet table with a silver model train which brought condiments and cigars to the diners. In 1982 the Maharajah’s family were out of favour, but they were shortly to rise again, the latest ruler becoming Minister for Railways, which allowed him to extend the Taj Express to Gwalior.

I spent my first afternoon at the hilltop Fort taking views of the town below. The most impressive part of the long walk to the top were the giant Buddhist figures carved out of the cliff face.

I took time to check Ghosipura the town below the fort for photo positions. The train would have made a fine sight blasting through the pass carved out of the cliffs, crossing the road and running through the town. Instead a couple of locals warned me to leave as dacoits (armed robbers) were in the town. It may have been a ploy to get me to hire an auto rickshaw that happened to be near. It did not matter in the end as the train did not depart Gwalior till after sunset. 

Check out Rob’s photos of Ghosipura, eastbound and westbound, on his 'Raj Steam' feature on this site.

Back at the station a Bhind departure left behind NH3 2-8-2 755 (Kerr Stuart 1928) and a NH5 Mikado, (Nippon 1959); which reflected American design practices. The NH3 was a pure bred British locomotive, with a copper capped chimney and dome, they made a strange combination. There were certainly security problems at Bhind. The locals thought it a great joke that there was a push for the line to be broad gauged, they said it was led by dacoits who wanted more victims to plunder! 

On 12th January 1982 I left early for the station in the hotel taxi, not far out I saw Hudson ND 744 (Kerr Stuart 1928) slugging uphill on a passenger. towards Ghosipura.

I got the taxi to stop and saw the train re start from a halt. I worked out this was the 05.45 scheduled departure running about 07.05 ex Gwalior, the system was renowned for late trains. I encouraged the driver to turn round and follow the train; he did not understand any of my rantings and deposited a frenzied foreigner at Gwalior station as he had been originally instructed!

There was some consolation here as another couple of engines were in steam in the yard area, the first engine I inspected was an NM class pacific, which had lost its cylinder cover and had a spark arrester fitted. The engine had a far more modern appearance than the Hudson I had just seen, but had only been built three years later by Bagnall in 1931. 


I enjoyed watching the NH3 on pilot a lovely engine, it was a thrill that these old engines had not succumbed to the threat of dieselisation. Later the NH3 combined with the NM pacific to double-head the Bhind train which left approximately one hour late. I do not know why the Bhind trains were all double-headed that year, yet a year later were single headed. Here NH/3 754 prepares the stock for a train to Bhind on 12th January 1982.


Finally NH/3 752 going to the shed is protected by some fragile gates, the driver of the ox cart appears in no hurry.

Other Round 2 Indian Tales:

Rob Dickinson