“Madam, your friend does not have a ticket in this coach. So the two of you cannot occupy the same berth here. I have already allowed you to board in one station prior to your reservation without charging you the fine. Now don’t make me angry and please go occupy the second seat you have in the Sleeper Class”.
And with that he was gone. For a second time that night. And my only thought was: Should he return which of our three stories were we going to pitch to him to win his favour?
It was past midnight and the train had just pulled out of Dibrugarh station in faraway Assam. Kanyakumari was 80 odd hours away! We had boarded the Dibrugarh-Kanyakumari Vivek Express because I (and now my friend who’d heard about my seemingly ‘mental’ plan) wanted to experience what it would be like to be on the longest train route of the Indian subcontinent.
Oh and we had a visibly irked Ticket Checker (TC) on our tail!
|Dibrugarh is the farthest one can go into India's north east by train|
Putting the wheels of a mental plan in motion
Rewind to two months prior…
It was the month of May when a seemingly absurd idea to train trip around the country gripped me. I like absurd so I do not mean that with any disdain. [Read: 7 trains. 18 days. So what is your idea of an adventure? | Outlook Traveller] Lo and behold, my first journey would be taking me farthest in the east the Indian Railways can go – to Assam. Our sole reason behind taking the 38 hour Rajdhani from Delhi was just so that we could board the next train from Dibrugarh to Kanyakumari that very night!
That the journey determined the source and destination station would be an accurate way of describing this train adventure. [Read: iExplore | Dibrugarh to Kanyakumari - 4240 Kilometres. 58 Halts. 7 States. 4 days. 1 Train.]
The two day Rajdhani commencing in New Delhi was easy and comfortable – primarily because of the timely supply of food. Though the train would go to Dibrugarh, many of our co-passengers got off at Guwahati. It was the evening before our scheduled arrival in Dibrugarh the next morning but the train already seemed somewhat abandoned. But nothing could beat the surprise in the morning as we watched our remaining co-passengers switch over from being plain clothes civilians to army jawans in uniforms. Nothing about their demeanour until then had even mildly suggested that.
|Glimpses from sitting by the window, courtesy Indian Railways|
|School kids tickled by their curiosity on seeing a Rajdhani on its way to Dibrugarh|
Arriving at the eastern most part of the country
Fun Fact: Dibrugarh has two railway stations – Dibrugarh Town also known as DBRT and Dibrugarh known as DBRG, in railway-speak that is. The former is the oldest railway station in the north east and also the station the Rajdhani had us dropped at somewhere around 6 AM. A thirty minute rickshaw ride is all it took to get us to Dibrugarh station from where we’d be boarding the Vivek Express to Kanyakumari later that night.
Though we were hopping in and out of Dibrugarh in under 15 hours, we thought it worth our time to explore the town a little; without our bags preferably. More importantly we needed a bathroom where we could clean up (after two days on a train and another impending four day journey on the cards). So we approached the station master for accommodation. For the uninitiated, railway stations in India have a provision for accommodation that can be availed of against your reserved ticket!
At the ticket counter, we were asked to wait as the in-charge on duty would come in by 10 AM. When at last he did make an appearance, we were told that a room could not be provided to us as our reservation was from New Tinsukia, the next station after Dibrugarh. He suggested that we undertake the one hour road trip to avail of the rooms at the station there.
Our ticket – well mine for now – was booked online and as bizarre as it had seemed then, it had not allowed me to select ‘Dibrugarh’ as the source station. And so I’d gone ahead and selected New Tinsukia as the next available option. Our friends from across the ticketing window heard us through but were non-committal. ‘Why don’t you go to New Tinsukia?’ was an oft heard statement.
I managed to gingerly evade the question on why when we’d just arrived by the Rajdhani in the morning were we taking the Vivek Express out to Kanyakumari that same night! I wasn’t sure my ‘mental’ plan would seem as exciting to everybody else. But no, thankfully no one thought of us as loony; because we did a great job never disclosing why we were where we were in the first place!
Back to our TC friends from across the ticket window at Dibrugarh Railway station, I’d sensed that they seemed genuinely interested in helping us so I pleaded some more. After some cajoling we were able to win them over. We booked two General tickets from Dibrugarh to New Tinsukia as that was the only option before us to make valid our journey later that night! This ticket provided them with the information required to punch in our details while making the room reservation. We finally had a place to dock our stuff and clean up before the next big leg.
|Modest but clean accommodation within the railway premises at Dibrugarh|
|Exploring Dibrugarh on foot|
Teeth brushed and luggage left behind in the room, we were ready for Dibrugarh. First on the list of things to do was breakfast followed by a glimpse of the mighty Brahmaputra and a little walk around some tea estates. Sourcing a mode of transport was not too difficult. In fact while we were in the waiting room earlier that morning we had a couple of auto-rickshaw drivers come up and enquire whether we needed to be dropped anywhere.
So when it indeed was our turn to haul one, we were pleasantly surprised that our rickshaw was manned by a trio – where the fellow who negotiated the fare with us doubled as the guide while his two companions took to steering the vehicle. They of course were most amused that we wanted to see the tea estates or as one of them pointed out, ‘Chai patti dekhengay aap?’
Breakfast at their recommendation was had at the centre of the town, right next to the market place at a very nominal cost from where we proceeded to see a swollen Brahmaputra. All throughout we were being filled in with tid-bits of information including how an ‘ijtema’ in the region some years ago had seen the three Khans of Bollywood make an appearance.
|The mighty and swollen Brahmaputra in Dibrugarh, Assam|
|Getting lost in the world of tea plantations | Dibrugarh, Assam|
|And then some more tea errrr plantations | Dibrugarh, Assam|
Who takes this 83 hour train you ask?
It turned out that we were not the only ones excited about our next journey to Kanyakumari. At the time of booking the tickets almost two months prior to the journey, the Three Tier AC tickets were all gone and there was just one left in the Two Tier AC – which I immediately grabbed. In fact my ticket to Kanyakumari on the Vivek Express was booked even before I’d booked one on the Dibrugarh Rajdhani! So when my friend booked her ticket it came as no surprise that she was waitlisted at number four. We were hopeful that things would change.
Apparently that wasn’t how it was meant to be. So enter Plan B of B where through the provision of Premium Tatkal suddenly had a confirmed ticket now i.e. a legitimate claim to be on the train. So what if it was a Sleeper Class ticket that came at the cost of almost a Two Tier AC ticket!
After the East, it’s the South, but…
So while the General Class ticket helped us with accommodation, it couldn’t necessarily help us out with everything. Our TC in the train that night on the Vivek Express was visibly irked that we had boarded one station prior. But that wasn’t his only grouse. My friend had a Sleeper Class ticket and he seemed to want to ensure one of us made our way to there.
After he’d disappeared a second time that night – his last words being an ultimatum that at the next stop which would now be around 3 AM one of us should move out. The two of us just sat on the berth swaddled up in the blanket against the sharp AC draft, eyelids heavy!
Truth be told, we were a little afraid to fall off to sleep, lest he’d return to be further offended that we’d dozed off.
But when morning came, we were in Guwahati and while there was a change in the TC on duty no one came by to remind us that we had an empty berth waiting for us at the other end of the train. May be it wasn’t an empty berth anymore. May be it had another occupant who might’ve coughed up an amount to secure a confirmed seat for themselves. And as long as the discomfort of sharing a berth was ours alone, we were content being there.
It had been an amazing start to something that had once seemed like a crazy plan. We had not just made it through the first train journey to the eastern most part of the country but we were now well on our way to the southern-most part of the country – yet again by train.
|The longest train ride in the Indian subcontinent - Dibrugarh-Kanyakumari Vivek Express|
|Passing the world by... Or was it the world that was passing us by?|
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