The International Steam Pages
Steam in India and Nepal, November 2006
Alexandre Gillieron reports on his successful search for charter steam.
This one week-tour was booked by myself for a 12-people party and all arrangements were made through Ashok Sharma of Special Tours of India. It included three days around Siliguri using the availability of three different steam locomotives on all three gauges. The tour continued then with one and a half day with charter trains on the fantastic 'Janakpur Railway' in Nepal.
1) Steam on three gauges in Siliguri
All charters ran surprisingly well with plenty of runpasts. The surprise was to find both Siliguri to Chalsa (BG) and Bagdogra (MG) sections especially photogenic and interesting. A real effort was made by railway officials to promote and organise this 'three gauge event'. The MAWD is now shedded at Siliguri (ex Guwahati) and the WP is expected to stay available until 2008 before returning to Rewari. Here is the day-by-day report of the tour:
19.11 WP 7161 + 3 ICF brown coaches Siliguri - Chalsa and back
The departure was booked for 8:00 AM and indeed, smart-looking WP 7161 made an impressive departure at 8:00 sharp after taking water at a newly installed water column on the BG platform. The Pacific is normally stored at NJP diesel shed but it came the day before to Siliguri for coaling at the DHR shed.
The former metre gauge line to Chalsa was once part of the Guwahati - Katihar MG trunk line. The section between Pashwashraya (first station after Siliguri) and Bagrakot is very scenic with nice bridges, deep forests, two short tunnels and mountain backdrop. After Bagrakot, the line is rather flat but some very nice scenery is offered: more bridges, tea plantation and rural life. Unfortunately, the crew was at first not too co-operative about running photo-stops on the scenic section, as two mail trains had to be crossed after Sivok. Another problem is the 'elephant-section' around Sivok: this should be taken seriously as just after we emerged the second tunnel, a dead elephant body on the track-side was receiving a funeral ceremony (with flowers and songs!) by the locals. At Bagrakot, water was taken at another newly installed water column before continuing to New Mal with 4-5 runpasts on the way. At New Mal we where then overtaken and crossed by freight trains. Chalsa was eventually reached at 12:45 after some more runpasts in the best tradition. Here the WP ran round its train (no turning facilities, Chalsa is a small station in the middle of nowhere) and took again water at the now usual new water column. The return was made tender-first without any photo-stops (and the elephant was now in the process of being chopped into small pieces - an awful spectacle!).
What can be said about this BG charter: due to the crossings with the two mail trains, a better schedule should be found in order to run photo-stops on the scenic section, maybe wait at Sivok for both crossings. Another problem is that the 3-coaches train was rather short for the huge Pacific, additional coaches should be made available for future charters.
The WP didn't sport any decoration as it was requested from us in advance. A 'touristic' panel on the running board was eventually unwelded just before departure, so this shows that 'real-looking' steam locomotives may be organized in India!
Anyway, the charter ran surprisingly well, with no unexpected hitches in the organisation, no technical problems, short waiting time at stations and very friendly staff.
20.11 B 792 + 3 blue coaches Siliguri - Kurseong
This charter ran well and was followed by private bus all the way up to Kurseong, despite the bad weather increasing during the day. Engine was B 792 in very good technical condition.
Some people had chosen to go for the 'school train' from Kurseong to Darjeeling. This proved to have become a real nightmare for the gricer due to impossible road trafic on that section. This road is infected by infamous little buses used as taxis, trucks and jeeps. With the Batasia-loop turned into a touristico-memorial, there is very little interest in my opinion for spending time on the upper section of the DHR...
21.11 MAWD 1798 + 3 ICF brown coaches Siliguri - Bagdogra
This short 10 km MG section of the main line Siliguri - Katihar offers fantastic photographic opportunities for the MAWD-charter. There are 3 nice bridges, tea plantation, small villages and a lot of rural life on the way. Bagdogra station and signals are also good. The 'McArthur' was in a very good shape and made some impressive runpasts with plenty of smoke! Things to be improved would be definitely to have a longer train and some paintwork on the engine in order to remove the rather disturbing 'fluo'-like yellow lettering. Anyway it was a really good ride that earns to be repeated.
We then proceeded towards Nepal and crossed the border at Kakarbhitta border post, just 15 Km from Bagdogra. After the rather bureaucratic custom and visa clearance, we continued to Janakpur, a 270 Km trip on pretty good roads with little traffic compared with neighbouring India. Janakpur was reached well after midnight and we had a late check-out at Rama Hotel.
2) Steam in Nepal
22.11 + 23.11 Charter trains Janakpur Railway (Nepal Railway)
We had chartered 0-6-2T Nr. 7 'SHRI BISHNU' for one-and-a-half day at a rather exhorbitant price (count as much as twice the price of the Indian charters).
The charters ran well with plenty of runpasts on one of the world's most rural and finest ng railways. Railway people are apparently used to the process and no wishes were let unachieved. At Khajuri, the workshop was visited. 4-6-0T 'PASHUPATI' is in very good condition and nearly in working order. According to the shedmaster, some 1500 USD are needed in order to complete some mechanical work. 2-6-2+2-6-2 Garratt 'SITARAM' still lies in good condition inside the shed and it was confirmed that it would take around 8000 USD to make it run again, some parts having to be manufactured in India (any sponsor in Europe ?). Sister engine 'MAHABIR' could also be used as a precious spare parts supply. All other reported engines are lying in various stages of dereliction all around the place. Anyway, chances to see again a steam loco working schedule trains are nil.
On Nov. 23rd we then proceeded by road to Birganj for overnight. On the following day we crossed into India at Raxaul and took the express to Delhi at Sagauli, a rather long return journey. Returning to Bagdogra and then fly back to Delhi would have been wiser.