A Mesmerising Rail Journey Through The Lion's Abode
The Delvada railway station is a hidden gem
The railways in India have many gems to offer to those who have time and inclination to experience them. These experiences are often hidden from the mainstream, and little has been done to bring them to the public notice. Even though there is a lot of clamour and noise around modernisation, there is an inheritance from the past that needs to be preserved.
One such gem is a railway station situated almost at the land's end in Gujarat's Saurashtra area. The Delvada railway station literally stands in a nowhere zone. Located at a distance of just seven kilometers from the town of Una, this station promises to take the traveller on one of the most fascinating journeys that the railways in India have to offer.
This trip brims with nostalgia, relaxation, lots of colour and actual vibrancy of India that has somehow got lost in the world of mobile phones, laptops and ordering food online. This is the journey on 09531 Delvada-Junagadh MG Passenger Special. The station is one of the few that remain on metre gauge lines in India. It sees the arrival and departure of just three trains in a day.
Before coming to the journey of the train mentioned above it is pertinent to talk about Delvada station. Delvada is a small village and the station stands in isolation at a distance of about half a kilometre from the main road. There is no building or shop adjoining the station and neither are there autos or any other mode of transport available.
A first glance at the station building reminds one of the stations that were perhaps shown in the television serials like the iconic 'Malgudi Days'. It is only at the time of departure of the trains that an odd Chhakda, a passenger vehicle which is basically an old motorcycle with a cart behind it, arrives depositing the travellers. The station does not even have a tea shop and neither does it have an elevated platform to board and alight from a train.
So what does it have to offer to a visitor who happens to arrive a bit early to the trains' departure time? Well, it gives one solitude and peace with an opportunity to introspect and ponder over anything of consequence or even otherwise. The staff is very friendly and the washrooms are neat and clean.
One can get a glimpse of the past as one spends some time there. After all, the station dates back to a century before when it was a part of the State Railways developed by the Princely State of Junagadh. This princely state has an important place in the contemporary political history of India.
Apart from the well known facts around the Nawab Mahabat Khan's move to accede to Pakistan immediately after independence and the subsequent action ordered by Sardar Patel that brought it into India, there are also tales about his fascination for dogs. The Junagadh State Railways was started in 1911 and was owned by Junagadh royalty till 1948 when it became a part of Saurashtra Railways.
One of the antiques still lying at the station is the British era weighing machine probably manufactured in the first decade of the last century by W & T Avery Ltd. The machines by this British manufacturer from Birmingham used to dot stations across India till some years ago and were used to weigh many things that used to be transported by trains. One can also see an ancient point lever that is to be operated manually.
Coming to the journey, the best part is that this train passes through the villages and towns that are part of the abode of the Asiatic lion. The area is also home to several varieties of birds, reptiles and amphibians.
The journey is picturesque as the train chugs through fields and forests overlooking water bodies. The timing is such that one gets to see enough before the sun sets and it falls dark. There are 17 stations on the route and many of them are those one gets to read about whenever there is some news about lions in places like Gir Gadhada, Talala, Hadmatiya etc. Except for Talala, the stoppage time at the stations does not go beyond a couple of minutes.
It is while travelling on this route that one understands the symbiotic relationship between music and trains in India. The moment the train moves out of Delvada, one's memory goes back to the lilting score from the old Bollywood film 'Kitaab' to which the music was given by RD Burman who also sang the number 'Dhanno ki aankhon mein raat ka surma'.
One is even forced to recall the famous poem 'Trains' by Humayun Kabir where he writes:
Even the crows doze and forget to caw,
The dog lies in the shade with hanging tongue.
I watch for hours and still the tireless trains,
March on and on along their iron road.
Since it is a small three bogey passenger train, there are no air conditioned or reserved coaches. It makes one enjoy something which was the hallmark of train travel till the mobiles descended on every palm, the company of a co-traveler.
Here you have a colourful lot accompanying you coming from various walks of life and from all communities. There can be a fisherwoman sitting next to you or a farmer or a woman returning to her village with her pots and pans after selling some snacks somewhere. There is a non-stop chatter where people are just sharing their sorrows and joys even with unknown fellow travellers.
This reporter had an engaging discussion with an old lady despite his passable knowledge of Gujrati over the lions visiting the villages. "They come at night when they head to the water bodies in search of water. They are our pride. We have so many tales and songs about them that have been narrated orally from generation to generation," she said in her native tongue laced with a heavy Kathiawadi accent. This reporter was compelled to recall the iconic number 'The lion sleeps tonight' by The Tokens as the conversation went on.
On the entire route of this approximately six hour journey, the traditional Saurashtrian 'Penda' (sweet) is sold with one seller or the other always available in the coach which is not interconnected with another. And there are people also willing to narrate tales and idioms about this delicacy. The human interaction while the train travels through some bewitching locales remains the most beautiful part of this journey as one oscillates between the modern day train travel and the travel of the past.
The people want this train to continue and the metre gauge track to be conserved. They fear that this would be gobbled up by the fast commercialisation and gauge conversion. The slow paced delightful travel will then be a thing of the past.