The International Steam Pages

The 10:40 to Bari Sadri (India 1993/94)

Robert Hall reminisces on his first ever trip to India, through the Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, this covers the area south of Delhi. (With Robert's agreement, I have added some images of my own trip to the Udaipur area in April 1995, RD). There are more pictures in Wilson's Lythgoe's report of a 1985 visit.

The metre-gauge and south-of-Delhi part of B.’s and my tour began on Boxing Day 1993 -- commencing the 500 km journey to the Western Railway’s metre-gauge steam system around Udaipur, in the state of Rajasthan; the“Land of the Princes”, and “big medicine” on the conventional tourism scene, including the palace-and-lake-endowed city of Udaipur itself. With our having found to our cost, how long it took to get anywhere in India -- even by road -- we did not attempt the whole journey in a one-day hop, but overnighted near Ajmer.

Evidence here in metre-gauge country too, that the steam position on Indian Railways was worsening pretty much by the month. A morning long-distance local train from Ajmer south along the metric main line to Chittaurgarh junction and beyond, reported by the journals as dependably steam, was observed from the adjacent road, to be diesel-hauled. It was trundling along with a heavy passenger-load inside the coaches, plus scores of people travelling on the coach roofs. This was the only instance we saw, of this reputedly common Indian practice. The steam-hauled local services with which we spent time, were in the main – while not running empty, scorned by potential patrons – relatively lightly-used, to the point that you could be sure of a seat. 

At least once Chittaurgarh was reached – junction for the 110-odd km section westward to Udaipur – steam in the shape and quantity suggested by our learned sources, still obtained. This action basically took place on the Chittaurgarh – Udaipur line and a minor branch off it; and on the line south-west from Udaipur towards Ahmadabad. The Ahmadabad route (a post-Independence creation, by the way) was the principal “golden goal” in this area, for gricers – it ran through impressive hill scenery; and as well as one steam local passenger in each direction daily, it boasted what had become an extreme rarity in India: a steam-worked express, one working each way per day. Steam haulage on this line was handled by locos shedded at Ahamadabad. The steam depot at Ranapratapnagar near Udaipur took care of local passenger between Udaipur and Chittaurgarh; a good deal of the shunting at and around Udaipur; and banking assistance as required, east and west of the city. Ranapratapnagar had YP and YG in about equal numbers, with seemingly a slight predominance of the former on passenger workings. Expresses east of Udaipur, and all line freight, were diesel. We installed ourselves in a hotel at Udaipur – not the town’s super-prestigious Lake Palace establishment – and got down to business. Three full Udaipur-based days, plus “bits of” on the days before and after, more or less delivered what we wished for.

As mentioned, the area’s scenic “big show” was on the Ahmadabad line. The first stretch of the Chittaurgarh line out of Udaipur was worthwhile scenically, including its passing through the city’s outer walls at Debari a couple of stations out; but the majority of the Chittaurgarh route traversed the fairly flat, uninteresting countryside typical of so much of the north of India. We “did” Udaipur’s station and the city’s close environs, for photographic possibilities. After that, different priorities resulted in some amicable parting of the ways for B. and myself. As indicated earlier, he was a passionate steam-scenic photographer; I was lukewarm about photography, and keener just to absorb the Indian rail scene as a whole. “De gustibus…” for B., the exciting Ahmadabad line south-west of Udaipur, was basically what this area was all about. While appreciating this route’s scenery, otherwise it felt, to my taste, something of a pathetic and pallid steam scene. Its only steam doings, were the two daily passenger “pairs” – local (originating, and terminating, at Chittaurgarh), and express. Inconsiderately, the Western Railway had not planned its passenger train movements totally with gricers’ requirements in mind: the express for Ahmadabad departed Udaipur at 1845, after nightfall, so was a write-off for photography unless you were O. Winston Link. The northbound express and the southbound local arrived, and departed, Udaipur in the early morning, if running punctually (a big “if”, in these parts). The best bet for photography was the northbound local, Train 86, which theoretically reached Udaipur in the early evening; so one could drive out from town to intercept it at a good phot-spot in the hill country, with favourable sun conditions. B. did exactly this, three days in a row; accompanying him on the first of these expeditions, was sufficient for me. It was fine to see the long train slogging upgrade through the brown, rather barren hills – on this occasion, headed by YP 2224 and banked by YP 2777 (the banker was more frequently a YG) – but on the other two days, I chose to leave B. to his pursuit of 86, and spend the day otherwise.

A middle-aged British railway enthusiast tends to be rather spoilt by his background in his home country, in which relatively frequent passenger workings throughout the day – even on most country branch lines – were a “given” throughout the railway era. Passenger services are sparse in comparison, in most other parts of the world: to a Brit, their “busy” tends to seem torpid – and so on down the scale… The Indian sub-continent falls into this bracket. Udaipur was a quite active little rail centre; nonetheless, in passenger-workings terms, the city’s station and the quite well-trafficked line running east from it, fell into a total coma from noon to 1700 each day. Presumably there was freight action during this spell; but with all line freight being diesel, that basically did us no good. Going westward into the hills to intercept Train 86 on its way towards Udaipur, was certainly one way of constructively using this “dead period”; but there were other possibilities…

Unlike B., I found greater appeal in the Chittaurgarh line, than in the Ahmadabad one. Different ball games: the latter good for scenery, but in my view feeble as regards quantity of accessible steam action; the former scenically humdrum, but by as-described meagre Indian traffic standards, a mini-main-line comparatively busy with steam local passenger, and linking with a steam-worked branch. So the following day, while B. presumably frequented the station in the morning and then quested Train 86 afresh, I caught Train 222 east from Udaipur at 0600, behind YP 2634. This working was steam, only as far as the four-way junction of Mavli, some 30 km away, where I alighted. 222, bound ultimately for Jodhpur, was taken over by a diesel loco at Mavli, and turned northwards along the line to Marwar – a scenic and steeply-graded route which had unfortunately gone diesel the previous year. At Khemli between Udaipur and Mavli, our train had crossed the YG-hauled Chittaurgarh – Udaipur – Ahmadabad local. Khemli was a location with factories, and consequently a well-filled goods yard, being shunted by YG 4315 as our train passed by; 4315 was subsequently observed arriving light engine, at Mavli (its showing up on a goods from Khemli would have been nice; but as recounted, by 1993 steam line working on freight had become vanishingly rare in India).

The 0830 Udaipur – Chittaurgarh – Ajmer, YP-hauled, paused at Mavli and continued on its way; and YP 2634 departed back towards Udaipur, an hour and a half late on a working from Marwar, Jodhpur and beyond (which had itself reached Mavli seriously late). There was now approaching, the “super-siesta” basically lasting the whole afternoon, which was a feature of this route. A way to fill this gap, was offered by the odd little branch which took off south-eastwards from Mavli. “Little”; things are relative, in India – this was an 82 km line to the terminus of Bari Sadri. The branch’s one passenger working in each direction daily – 1040 ex Mavli, 1425 ex Bari Sadri – was dependably steam: sometimes YP, sometimes YG.

Assuming a reasonable degree of adherence to the timetable, it could have been planned to do a return trip the length of the branch, getting back to Mavli in nice time to catch the early-evening steam-hauled local back to Udaipur. But on this scene, such “assuming” was all too likely, indeed to make an ass of the traveller. Timekeeping on the Udaipur system had seemed, to date, frankly appalling – just too much risk was perceived, of something, somehow, going wrong for the branch train, resulting in an extremely late arrival back at Mavli, and a missed connection and much consequent grief. In the main, we had found the standard of punctuality and efficiency of Indian local trains, execrably low – very easy schedules notwithstanding. Punjab had been different: with some glaring exceptions, timekeeping there had been reasonably good – well, the Sikhs do regard themselves as more on-the-ball than most of their compatriots elsewhere in India. On the whole, though, any touring by rail using the kind of trains that steam might haul, required building in much recovery time vis-à-vis late running. I played safe, and made a plan to travel to the first station out on the Bari Sadri branch, some 10 or 12 km down the line, and walk back from there. In the event, I could have done the whole branch: the 1425 from B.S. made a punctual arrival at Mavli, and the main-line evening local departed more than an hour late – but where’s your friendly neighbourhood astrologer when you need him?

The Bari Sadri branch displayed in 1993, rather charming and intriguing light-railway-ish qualities. (Like a number of lines in these parts, it was a relative newcomer – inaugurated after Independence.) Our first encounter with the branch had been on the day of our arrival in this area. The main road between Chittaurgarh and Udaipur, running a good way south of the rail route, intersected the branch line at a level crossing between stations. Knowing that we would reach this crossing not far off the scheduled time of the afternoon “inbound” branch train, we pulled up there and waited a while, hoping that it might be something like on time. The crossing was ungated – something almost unheard-of in India, in a situation of a railway with a passenger service, crossing a main road on the level: plainly, this was accounted a very minor line indeed. The train showed up fairly punctually – three coaches, in this instance Pacific-hauled, by YP 2682. In a delightful bit of role-reversal, the train timidly halted short of the crossing, to wait for a convenient pause in the busy road traffic before venturing across.

Furthermore, the timetable officially described the once-daily Bari Sadri return working, as a mixed train. On the three separate days on which we witnessed it, the “mixed” did not apply – it was simply loco and three coaches. On my journey on the branch as far as the first station, Vallabhnagar: that station sported an abandoned small goods dock and shed, once served by a siding, which had been lifted. I had no chance for observation of stations further south on the branch; but what was seen, prompted wonderings as to whether freight working on the line had ceased – with the only remaining activity on it the once-daily return passenger, still shown in the timetable as “mixed”, by reason of a clerical error? I have no idea whether this branch might still be running, long-dieselised; would like to think so, but entertain strong doubts. In the 21st century, it would greatly appear to be – in the splendid words of the light-railway chronicler – “an expendable toy”.

My excursion on the 1040 for Bari Sadri, as far as the first station, was behind YG 4315, previously observed that day on the main line. I was indeed fortunate on this whole Indian “bash”, as regards motive power for the relatively few trains travelled on: there was no guarantee that the Bari Sadri train would be Mikado rather than Pacific – but luck was with me, letting me complete a score of “five classes out of five”. B., less keen than me on train travel, and with other fish to fry in metre-gauge-land, abstained from “metric” train-riding. The trip on the branch train brought me into unintended-crime realms. Mid-morning at Mavli Junction, when I was seeking to buy a single ticket to Vallabhnagar, the booking office was tightly closed and unattended. With the branch train’s consist being three coaches with no connection between them: presumably there was a guard, but I found no way of getting access to him; the train’s pause at Vallabhnagar was very brief – no chance of “bearding” the guard – and the station was unstaffed. I thus ended up involuntarily contributing to one of Indian Railways’ great scourges, “ticketless traveller syndrome”. Back home, I thought of writing to I.R. explaining the situation, and enclosing an estimated appropriate remittance to cover my journey – but reckoned ultimately, that that would be “over the top”. I had wanted, and tried, to pay – if this particular sector of the Western Railway couldn’t get their act together… The Bari Sadri train on the day of my brief journey on it, was far from jam-packed, but did carry a fairly respectable sprinkling of passengers – who I trust had found a way of paying their fares. A couple of hours’ walk back along the single track to Mavli, in baking heat, through dull flatness – this experience of India, such as it was, forced me to the conclusion that one does not, mostly, go there for the scenery.

Come early evening, the little system awoke from its torpor and continued its “Goon Show”. YP 2224 rolled into Mavli forty minutes late with my train, 131 Ajmer – Chittaurgarh – Udaipur, and finally left Mavli westwards, an hour and five minutes late. There followed a medium-lengthy wait at Khemli to cross a diesel express and a YG-hauled local, and at long last, arrival at Udaipur an hour and a half late, in pitch darkness. A day full of delight, for one of my strange tastes – but one could not help feeling, “what a way to run a railway”.

The next day, morning was spent frequenting the station; then, while B. went back “up the hill” for another date with Train 86, I spent the afternoon doing ordinary-tourist stuff. Pleasant enough, except for endless pestering from various folk. The swarms of touts were avid to get the visitor to buy what they had to sell. I had reason to look at a generous present for a particular person – a carpet did the job, and purchasing one, kept the pesterers off my back for the length of time necessary to effect the transaction. The ceaselessly importunate (and relatively sleek and prosperous-looking) child beggars, were another irritating aspect of this major tourist venue. Udaipur was the only big conventional tourist-trap which made itself felt to us as such. No comparable “pecked to death by ducks” experiences found elsewhere: we weren’t in Jaipur city long enough to be at much risk of same, and in Amritsar, the spiritual seemed strongly to outweigh the commercial.

An oddity found in Udaipur, was considerable prudery concerning the serving of alcohol. Could ascribe this only to closeness to the border of the neighbouring state of Gujarat – then India’s only legally “dry” state. In allowed-by-law terms, alcohol was O.K. in Rajasthan, wherein we were – but in “custom” terms, there were problems about it in Udaipur. In the restaurant where we got into the habit of taking our evening meal, beer had to be called “special tea”, and be served in a metal teapot – reckoned one of the local weirdnesses, and part of the fun of the whole Indian experience. One could fantasise about Prohibition in the U.S.A. in the 1920s – if only the railway scene had been to match… 

The “beer factor” was for me, one of the small subsidiary pleasures of the tour. Less so for B. -- choosy about his alcoholic refreshment -- who on the whole found Indian beer not very agreeable. It suited me nicely enough – all in the general “lager” category, and pleasantly flavoursome so far as I was concerned. Different makes of same, seemed to predominate in different areas; most of them tasting fairly like each other, but the names were a delight – with an apparent strong ornithological bent. West of Delhi, the tipple of choice was Rosy Pelican; a little further north one encountered Sandpiper; while in Uttar Pradesh, Golden Eagle beer ruled. Thinking also of the universal – and well-known in Britain – Kingfisher; one has to wonder, what is it with India, beer, and birds?

Punjab – like it or hate it – is for sure, a place of strong individual character; and this held good, as regarded beer. The Punjab version was called “Godfather” – a noticeably robust-tasting brew, with the bottle label showing a picture of a bluff, jolly-looking “Sikh-type Falstaff” gentleman. The title struck us as having odd and incongruous Christian associations; but, who knows? -- the Sikh religion may have godparent equivalents, “close enough for government work”.

Overall on our tour, “dealings with the locals” were harmonious. Indians are on the whole benign and warm-hearted types – we did encounter the odd rude and surly official (no railway employee in that category, that I can recall) -- the biggest problem between one culture and the other tending to be, European reserve and wish for respect for “personal space”, being alien and incomprehensible to inhabitants of the sub-continent. B. having done a grice (by rail) of India some ten years previously – and more recent ones in Pakistan -- had come away from same, feeling that the greatest hassle of the whole thing was, endless curiosity and sociability from locals, particularly juvenile ones -- many of whom spoke English (after a fashion), and would just not leave you alone, and addressed to you endless questions, often probing into highly intimate details about your personal life, without being ready to accept answers to same, which did not fit in with their world-view … or to accept just being told, “none of your business”… We had gone so far as to concoct fictitious “spiels” about ourselves, with which to answer our interrogators in terms which they could relate to. This ploy proved largely unnecessary. Most of the time, we were in our car, cocooned from “Mother India” – and in the main, at the times when we were not, we were pleased and surprised at how much we were just left alone. A combination of – seemingly in the past decade, India had done a lot of joining of the modern world; and it so happened that the good-for-steam areas on which we focused, were among the more sophisticated parts of the country – at all events, this was a possible source of grief which we were mostly spared.

We were left with only the metaphorical “couple-or-three” days before our flight home; thus, on New Year’s Eve, we headed north-east from Udaipur, bound for Jaipur with hopes of getting a taste of the metre-gauge steam based on that city. Initially, we followed the railway, and experienced some steam in action, including a brief chase of the 1040 Mavli – Bari Sadri, with YG 4315 once again in charge. Onwards then – with progressively getting the hang of driving in India, B. had gained confidence sufficiently, to undertake road travel by night – something which he would totally have ruled out, earlier in the bash – and we made Jaipur in the mid-evening, and found a hotel – night’s sleep slightly disturbed at midnight, by revellers carolling “New Year ! New Year !” (in English).

We were rather taken with the Western Railway’s metre-gauge steam lines centred on Jaipur, from our brief experience of them. The normal thing – steam on local passenger only – but Jaipur depot’s locos seemed to us, in better shape than any we had seen elsewhere in the country, on either gauge. This appeared to apply both externally – locos were quite well cleaned and polished – and from their perceived smooth functioning (not that we were learned steam locomotive engineers), internally too. The system on which they strutted their stuff, was basically one of secondary lines north of Jaipur – which we explored as best we could, in the first day-and-a-half of 1994. Plentiful pics taken, and I got a ride behind a YP from “one junction to the next” – B. followed in the car and picked me up at alighting point. YP seemed to predominate heavily, though we saw a couple of the 2-8-2s in action also.

Not quite 200 km north-east of Jaipur, is Rewari, division point between the Western and Northern Railways. At the start of 1994, if Jaipur was the most heartening steam venue which we encountered, Rewari was the most depressing. The loco allocation of its metre-gauge steam depot (Northern Ry., if I have things rightly – Western Ry. locos worked into Rewari, but were based elsewhere) seemed to be in most wretched condition – “almost falling apart”. Perhaps a case of demoralisation, with conversion to broad gauge well under way – a broad-gauge line from Delhi had been opened, parallel to the still-functioning metre-gauge, with (diesel-hauled) broad-gauge trains running on it; and the long metric line northward was about to be converted – but dare I suggest, perhaps such an explanation would make too much sense for India. Our sojourn at Rewari, on our way from Jaipur to Delhi, was brief, and not very cheery. A few doleful doings with YP and YG, seen – then we had to head for the capital and our plane.

B., a more resourceful and enterprising character than me, mobilised us for the morning of Jan. 4th (departure by air for London, later that day), to do a session at the railways’ Yamuna Bridge in Delhi, watching and photting broad-gauge steam passenger workings coming and going “under the wires” – to and from the Saharanpur area, and Moradabad due east. A “stolen feast” of WP and WG action – my thanks, B., for that – something I’d never have thought of. Well – regular broad-gauge steam in this area had considerably less than a year to run; and not quite two years on from then, it was finished nationwide; and the same went for the narrower gauges, not many years later. However, it requires highly-drastic messing with people’s heads, to take away from them the experiences which they’ve had.


Click here for Part 1.

With Robert's agreement, I have added some images of my own trip to the Udaipur area in April 1995, RD

Ranapratapnagar Shed

Leaving Udaipur and approaching the Debari gate

Threading the Debari gate

Arriving at Mavli Junction from Udaipur, the Bari Sadri branch curves off to the left in the background:

Mavli station with a train for Udaipur.

The terminus at Bari Sadri with the train ready to start its return journey:

A stop in the middle of nowhere on the return:

Train 9644 around Ord - this ran in good daylight in April!

Train 9644 above Umra  

This was train 86 in the middle of nowhere:

Train 85 ready to depart for Ahmadabad

Rob Dickinson