I got off the bus, after a rather loud and unpleasant shriek by the conductor. I was in the Konkan railway heartland and “Udipi, Udipi, Udipi” was repeating right in my ear. I got up like the bus was on fire, and quickly swooped down, with my bag and slippers to get out of the bus. The conductor smiled and goaded the driver to move on, while I stood visibly shocked from his way of waking passengers on a sleeper bus. I was lucky that I had my bag all sorted, so I did not leave behind anything in the bus. I stretched my body and looked around the junction. It was morning already. I still had an hour before I boarded the morning passenger train from Mangalore that would stop at Udupi. I proceeded to walk over to the nearby Sri Krishna Temple, and take a walk around the temple town.
The temple had quite a stream of visitors, and the flower sellers were out in full numbers. I was taken in by the old-school throwback to the way place was. I looked around for some small eateries and found none near the temple complex, so walked a bit further back to the bus stand to find some ‘Udupi Restaurant’ that I have seen all along in Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai. I found one, but it was quite costly to find ‘Udupi Food’ in Udupi. After taking a quick parcel, and charging my phone, I took an auto to the Udupi Railway station which was about a couple of kilometres but since there is no real meter system, the auto person charges surge pricing always. 80 rs from the Udupi Bus stand to the Udupi Railway station, which is 60% more than the overall train ticket, I was about to buy that would traverse 200 kilometres across the Konkan Coast. Drat, That’s the thing with local transport in a tourist town!
Once I reached Udupi’s Railway station, I proceeded to wait for the train, that never seemed to come. Then there is always this confusion on which direction I had to go, if the wrong direction train shows up at the right time. I had a train going to Kerala show up on the other platform, and then I realised that its not going towards Mumbai/Goa. I was on a ticket from Udupi to Madgaon, with the freedom of getting off anywhere I chose before Madgaon. That’s the carefree freedom a 50 Rupees ticket buys you.
One thing I noted at Udupi and with other stations on the Konkan Railway was that most stations seem to have a ramp that goes up on both sides, instead of steps. This is inclusive for old people as well as disabled people. I am not sure, if it was designed that way, but I could see these similarities in these small and scenic railway stations on the Konkan coastline.
All of the small stations on this stretch have shelters like the one below. It has a structure that means that each one sits facing each other, and the benches are pretty old school. I find this quite cool over the waiting rooms with power supply. There’s a sense of feeling special in these roofed shelters. Udupi is one of the bigger stations after Mangalore, and is a stop for the Rajdhani express. So planning your holiday works better if you are boarding your train at Mangalore Central/Mangalore Junction/Udipi. For the religiously inclined, the Udupi Sri Krishna Temple and the Kollur Moogambika Temple are your point of calls in this area.
The passenger trains find my fancy, as it slowly cuts across the length of Karnataka, transitioning into Goa amidst the scenic vistas outside the window. This train, that I board is called the Mangaluru-Madgaon Passenger (56640) and is usually very slow between Mangalore and Udupi, lazing its way around the first 70 kilometres. So if you miss the train at Mangalore(6:10 am), you can still catch a fast bus to Udupi and hope to catch the train there, which usually comes at 8:15 am(scheduled at 7:30 though). The train fills up between Udupi and Kundapura, so if you board at any point after Kundapura, your chances of getting a seat is usually dependent on someone getting off in a nearby village. In Udupi, you just have enough time to barge in and find the vacant location. If you do get a window seat, latch on to it like your life depends on it, since that is your passport to fantasy in immersing yourself in this rugged and serene landscape.
This is a relatively new route, and is not frequented much by people, except those travelling from these villages or from Mangalore to go towarsds Goa/Mumbai. The rail track was opened for general public from the 26th of January, 1998 as part of the then newly formed Konkan Railways headquartered at Navi Mumbai, with 738 kilometres of rail connecting Mangalore and Mumbai through Goa. Pre 1998, People n Mangalore had to find a bus to Bangalore, and a train from there connecting to Davenegere-Hubli-Belgaum(Belagavi now)-Pune-Mumbai. Go down to the bottom of the post to see some links/resources talking about the history of the Konkan Railways and some early travellogues maintained.
The train slowly stops at Kundapura. I chuckle knowing that Hyderabad has a place called Kondapur, which is similar in pronunciation but world’s apart when it comes to beauty and peace. The train stops for a couple of minutes, and I walk down to check if there is something I can munch on. I am done with morning Idlis, and its well past 9 am now, and my stomach has its urges every now and then. I only find Lays and aerated drinks, which I dont drink. I would love to have tender coconut available, but I manage with a mango drink for the journey.
The railway stations are small, and have a a sense of memories. With 1 book shop, 1 waiting room, 1 food stall, there are limited places to walk to and you register elements of the railway station better.
Once you are in the train, the greens around the railway track will consume you. The greens in the paddy fields, the greens in the palm trees lining the rivers that flow into the Arabian Sea, the greens of the little hills that the train cuts through. The greens basically talk to you, drawing you to think that keeping your face to the rail window was a full time activity. The real value of the rail ticket is the window seat, from which you will see how similar landscapes are in a place where eating customs and languages change.
If you have not got the window seat, another alternative could be the seat on the door of the compartment, which opens up a wider range of vision. Attempt this only when the train slows down or is going slowly. It is dangerous to sit near the door.
The villages by the Konkan, make you sitback and take notice as the palm trees, besides the greens mesmerize you into wanting to be part of the landscape. You keep building so many postcards in the mind, that at one point, you just want to keep coming back to visit this stretch. A camera helps you recconect to frames of what you saw while on the move, and helps you in planning the next trip. Imagine lagoons, tunnels, mountains, farms, paddy fields, quaint villages just keeping on repeating as the train chugs its way through the rugged landscape.
As the train passes through beautiful lagoons, you look at those little patches of green amidst the blue and marvel at the colour contrast. What if you could own on of these? Would you retire peacefully? I almost feel like saying yes, but my home loan EMI pops up like satan with a spear, and I get back to dreamily looking at the scenes outside the window. There are roads that cut through greenery, there are people walking on stretches where the morning rays of the sun merge with the green of the paddy and give it a golden glow and I wonder should I pull the chain and just wander into these villages and see them.
I am stuck to these blue horizontal bars, with my eyes looking at the villages outside. I keep taking my ‘commercial breaks’ by having conversations with passengers on the train. One thing about these second class compartments, and especially the ones where long distance train tickets cost less than a hundred rupees is that people are bound to speak to you, share their lives, their thoughts and even their food. In my case, after learning that I am a photographer, a couple of people asked me to take the window seats. I am indebted to them, as they parted with their window seats. They were middle aged men from a factory in Erode in Tamil Nadu, and were on a bachelor trip to Goa, and were excited about their first trip to Goa. The added fact that I speak Tamil in an unfamilar terrain across the Konkan, also gave me brownie points.
Every time a lagoon came, I’d freeze. I’d freeze since the frame was stunning. When you encounter a huge waterbody after seeing dense trees all around, all of a sudden your space in front of your eyes increases to take in the enormity of a tiny train trudging through the Konkan railway. The senses freeze and allow you to ‘screenshot’ the image into your mind, in the limited time that the trees get back into the frame. This was like your energy booster in the middle of a long journey. Every now and then, you manage to get back to the window, even though you see nondescript villages pass by, just for the fear of missing out scenery like this.
Villages pass by with orangish Paths, covering whatever is left of the road, being garlanded by tall palm trees. It looks like the tree is the parents and they are chaperoning the village from getting urbanized. They are doing a good job at it. Reddish brown tiles, and Green cover all around makes you feel like stress, urgency and a fast pace don’t really have a standing here. An old man walks along the mud path, like he must have for all these years, with a smile. Somebody in the train is playing ‘Malare’ on their bluetooth speaker, as the train ambles through Kundapura and Senapura. The world seems more beautiful, with a mellifluos song, sung in sync with scenery that is shouting at you to look at it with its wares.
Seeing Trucks piggy bank on Rail wagons, made me google a bit to understand what this was. I found out that this was part of an Indian Railways scheme called ‘Roll-On-Roll-Off’, which was introduced in January 1999, a year after the Konkan Railways was open commercially. This scheme helps decongest roads, as the trucks now travel on the rail network, resulting in a savings of 750 lakh litres of diesel fuel. The RO-RO concept was flagged off earlier this year in Bihar
Soon after crossing the mighty Sharavati river, Honnavar shows up. Its one of the bigger stations on this rail network, but a look at the local villages doesnt suggest that anything is any different. I wonder if the local economies and entertainment revolve around the arrival and departure of the infrequent trains at these stations. Bombay,but not quite Bombay, as latter has people’s life revolving around more frequent trains that is a maddening rush, but these stations along the Konkan, have a pretty laidback approach to life. I spot a little school near the railway track, and each time the train hoots through the treacherous terrain, the kids quite love the attention, and wave out to us. Simple joys and pleasures of life that have been numbed by living in an insecure city life. I question, why the damn life in a city, and why not a life earning enough to be peaceful and be grounded and connected to nature. The Home Loan EMI devil stares at me. I regret even posting the question and get back to engaging my senses with nature.
The names of the stations are in a shade of yellow, against the dusted white walls. It’s like the stations had a uniform. The Konkan railways have numbered portions of the stations, with a white board showing the coach number. Since they have limited trains passing through, the vendors and the TT know exactly which coach stops. Maybe ‘Google Now’ can next tell me, to walk a 127 steps to the general compartment. Maybe in a few years on the Konkan Railway! The picket fences are the identity of the Konkan Railway, in the midst of the little greenery that surrounds it on the station. When I approached Murdeshwar, I could spot the giant Shiva statue right on the beach, from the railway track. This little village also has some Scuba Diving options near the temple complex.
As the train moves on, the paddy fields are swathed over large expanses. There is so much open space, and it mildly manages to open up my constipated mind. Cattle has places to graze, children have places to play, the animals have a localized water body to quench their thirst and this is the normal world, we urban citizens seem to have moved away from. There are workers in the field waving at us, the children are playing cricket by a dilapidated wall for a pavilion, and the train keeps passing through vistas of endless greenery, lagoons and tunnels. Harwada shows up, out of the blue. I thought it was a stop for a signal, it turned out to be a railway station with no sign of a platform or maybe I didnt look harder.
The train passes through Harwada, and goes towards Loliem. Yes, a railway station that starts with LOL, which basically has a beautiful view of the Arabian sea meeting the Talpona River, near Xandrem beach. Once the beach names end with a ‘drem’ you know that the Konkan Railways has stepped into the wonderland called Goa. Loliem is the first station from the southern side.
The train ambles its way to the Cancon district, housing a railway station called Cancona. This railway station is where you get off to see the curvy palm linings of Palolem and the peaceful Agonda, Khola and Gajlibaga beaches in Goa. The railway station is scenic and is surrounded by hills. The station has autos and taxis that schedule their movement based on incoming/outgoing trains.
August-2008, my friend and I vacated our shack at Palolem during the monsoons, as it was dull, and a friend of ours called us to Candolim, so we went to Cancona station at 10 in the night to catch a train to Thivim. As soon as the autorikshaw left us, it started raining cats and dogs, and there was no one at the station, except the person manning the ticket counter. There was no way we could go back even if we wanted, since the station was in the midst of a mini forest amidst the hills. Since we were to only buy an unreserved ticket, my friend and I started to postpone buying our ticket for the midnight train. When we walked up to the ticket counter, we found out to our dismay that the train coming now was going in the opposite direction and our train was scheduled only early in the morning at 7 am. We had nothing to do at the station. We had a couple of hours of laptop battery, so we were watching a movie, sitting uncomfortably on the rocky chairs, while the mosquitoes sucked all the blood from two vegetarian tee-totallers, for a difference given the usual alcohol laced blood it must be used to stocking up on. We woke up groggy eyed, to see patriotic songs being played. It was India’s 61’st Independence day, and the station master was busy with preparations for the Independence day function. We got up, and feltwe had missed that 7 am train, and then we realised that the train was late, owing to the monsoon. We waved to the station master and went back to boarding our train, with memories of spending an independence day at a quaint railway station
The Kadamba bus stand as seen as from the Cancona railway station. Its about a brisk 15 minute walk to get to civilisation to Chaudi market. I liked what I saw, and felt that this was a good time to get off and explore something in these parts of the woods. So as all good things come to an end, my Konkan rail experience ends here.
Important Notes and External Links
- The Konkan Railways have evolved over time. Head here to check Arun Rajagopal’s images on the Konkan in 2006
- Read 24 Coaches talking about the history of how the Konkan Railways was concieved
- Read a first hand report of how the Konkan Railways made its first rail trip from Mumbai to Mangalore
- If you are a Indian Railways fan like me, you shoud try these travellogues maintained here
Getting on this train
From Chennai– Board the Lalbagh express at 1535 hours and reach Krishnarajapuram in Bangalore by 9 pm. Uber your way to Hebbal to board the 22:00 Udupi bound bus, which goes through Mangalore. The train at Mangalore starts at 6:10 am, and arrives in Udupi at 7:30 am. So get off accordingly to go and board the train.
From Bangalore– If possible get on the 2015 KSRTC bus from Majestic Bus stand, and get down in Udupi at 5 in the morning. You would have enough time to refresh and board the train at 7:30 am.
From Hyderabad– Your only real chance is to board the bus from Hyderabad to Gokarna and then catch the train from Gokarna Road railway station, where a significant part of the journey is missed on the Konkan Railway route. Its easier to reach Goa than Gokarna, so that stat is a bummer, but you really dont want to miss this train journey.
Konkan Railway Reference Map- Use this map for planning where to get off in between or just planning your journey. Original Image here, but a short portion of it is shown below for consumption