Sunday, May 15, 2011

Aboard the Kangra Seven-to-Seven

"I'll tell you a riddle. You're waiting for a train, a train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you, but you don't know for sure. But it doesn't matter. How can it not matter to you where that train will take you?"

Mal in Inception (2010)

Kangra Valley
The Dauladhar mountains, as seen from the Kangra Valley.

Little birds on the internet told me that one of the best ways to see the entire span of the Kangra Valley in a day is through a window of a train on the Kangra Rail. There are only two mountain lines which run in Himachal Pradesh: this and the Kalka-Shimla Toy Train - which I rode three years ago and declared to be the Best Train Ride Ever™. While the Kalka-Shimla Railway make a boast of its 864 bridges and 102 tunnels, the Kangra rail claims to be an entirely different marvel of architecture. Through the sage planning of its engineers, it deftly avoided most obstacles on its way. In its hundred miles, it only bores through the hills twice, allowing an almost ever-present, unimpeded view of snowy, glaciated peaks and golden-green fields as far as the eye can feast.

On a whim (of which I have many), I decided to ride it from end to end so I made my way from Bir to Joginder Nagar, a nowhere municipality of no particular note, and stayed a night there just so I could catch the early morning seven-twenty bound for Pathankot. As expected, Joginder Nagar features zero sightseeing value but by a freak stroke of fate, something actually interesting happened on the evening I rode into town - but that, my dear readers, is a story for another time.

Metaphorical mathematics states that a picture equals a thousand words, so I'll just shut up for a sec and let you see for yourself what I saw on my day-long train ride.

Kangra Rail Terraces
This picture was taken literally minutes after the train left Joginder Nagar.
Kangra Rail Shot from Moving Train
No words I say can add anything to this.
Kangra Rail Singh, Train and Mountains
I can, however, throw in a turbaned dude if you're into that sort of thing.

Kangra Rail Snow Mountain and Stream
Ah, alpine mountains and snow-fed streams!

Kangra Rail Wheat Field
There's something warm, fuzzy and wholesome about richly golden wheatfields under a big blue sky.

Getting access to these stirringly beautiful countryside scenery is not without its sacrifices. While the initial stretch of tracks between Joginder Nagar and Baijnath Paprola gathers few travellers (so few that I could freely change seats from one side of the train to the other as I please), the majority of the subsequent leg of the ride came straight out of a National Geographic special where the immensity of India's fecund population introduces itself to me and packed my carriage far beyond the point of safe capacity. About half of the passengers on board was physically extruded outside the train through the doors and windows. The laws of Physics dictate that solid objects like human beings cannot occupy the same space at the same time are absolute and cannot be broken, but I can tell you that it's not for the lack of trying.

I shall show it to you through sepia-coloured glasses, if only to soften the deplorable violation of the human right to personal space you are about to witness with false nostalgia.

Kangra Rail Overflow
With sepia.

Kangra Rail Clown Car
Without sepia.

For the blokes who were clinging precariously to the train's chassis like copepods do to the eyes of Greenland sharks, the ride must have been quite a thrill, particularly when the vehicular beast rumbles across chasms on skeleton bridges.

Kangra Rail Danger Ride
I'm just glad I didn't have to do this with my ten-kilogramme backpack strapped to me.

Kangra Rail Long Way Down
This guy was clinging to my window. Check out how far his ass is from the hard, unforgiving ground below.

Kangra Rail Bridge
Bridge over a mostly dry riverbed.

I remained seated by a window for the entire second half of the journey, but not by choice. I was boxed in and wedged in place by an Indian family comprising of four generations of women. For more than six hours, I could not get up to go to the loo or stand up to stretch my leg. There were times when I found myself chanting mentally, 'Stay sane, man, and keep it all together now,' over and over again like a madness mantra.

A plump Tibetan teenage girl seemed to have lost it, and started weeping piteously. I assumed that she was bemoaning the inhumane conditions she found herself trapped in, but I could be wrong. Considering how familiar I was with the Tibetan language (i.e. not even a little), she could very well be grieving her puppy which just got eaten by a wildcat earlier that morning. The trans-generational gaggle of ladies around me tried to do the motherly thing and comfort her, but she proved to be obstinately inconsolable.

Kangra Rail Packed Train 

With sepia.

Kangra Rail Girl
Without sepia.

I seem to get stuck with little girls on trains more frequently than it is statistically probable. This kid couldn't speak any English at all so I amused myself by pretending that everything she said was a Hindi variant of 'Are we there yet?'

Alright, I admit that I didn't actually had as bad a time as I have led you to believe. It was a novel experience, and for me, that overrides any discomfort I have to endure to live it. Most of the passengers on my train were a fun lot. They whooped every time we cross a bridge, and those who hung out at of the doorways happily helped those trapped inside to refill water and buy snacks when we make stops at stations. In the two tunnels the locomotive wormed through, everyone just misplaced their excrement and howled wildly in unison as if we were on a roller-coaster. Little girls, grown men, and housewives; they were all doing it. It it was a strangely heartwarming slice of life and I am to have been there to see it.

Even so, I can't say I was feeling too sorry when the train pulled into Pathankot at half past six. Novelties do wear out after all.

Kangra Rail Mynah
A myna I saw at the Baijnath Paprola station.

Kangra Rail Mynah Stretch
It can also do this.

P.S. If you're going in an easterly direction, from Pathankot to Joginder Nagar, you should sit on the right side of the train in the first half of the journey. In the second half, the scenery is on the left side.

k0k s3n w4i


玮灵WeiLing said...

nice post.

Anonymous said...

The sepia made all the difference in the world. :)

nicoletta said...

False nostalgia always has startling effects on snapshots of people. Those snow-capped mountains and fields remind me of the South island in New Zealand; it's quite as beautiful.

Kelly said...

Gorgeous view! It's worth to go there!

~*caryn*~ said...

T.T it wasn't like that at all when i was there :(

the heat was too much and the rivers have dried up and even though my friends said it was beautiful i gotta be honest and say it didn't really work for me.

but it's okay, because mcleod ganj was worth everything in the end :D

k0k s3n w4i said...

玮灵WeiLing: your appreciation is noted.

lovealynna: everything in the past is better, even when they aren't really.

nicoletta: even though i have only ever seen new zealand through photographs, i've already decided that it's going to be one of my favourite places in the world. all i need to do now is to actually go there xD

Kelly: thanks for telling me that :P

~*caryn*~: that's because you rode the train from pathankot to kangra. pretty much all of the most stirring scenery could only be seen in the subsequent half of the ride from kangra to joginder nagar. i did warn you against taking the train to mcleod ganj, didn't i? :P

~*caryn*~ said...

sigh, yes yoda you did. but one of the girls was so excited about the train that i didn't have the heart to go against it. but it's ok, next year i'm just gonna fly into dharamsala :P