Monday, December 14, 2009

Yet another interesting journey...

The journeys are always as exciting and the beautiful as the destinations themselves. This has proved to be true in my case unfalteringly.

I dunno why that happens to me but my plans for a tour have failed in the past two years with an accuracy of close to 100%, the only success being “Rivers Meet” (OK that WAS the only success, so it IS counted even if it was just a 30 mins drive). As usual, with every failed plan, it brought me anguish of not being able to go but also importantly, of planning again for Plan B!!! So this time when the north-east trip did not happen, I was left to plan for my journey back home.

Now, the journey back home is no easy task for me. I need to travel close to 2,000 kms across India (from Tatanagar to Toranagallu) to reach home. And that is going almost by the shortest route there is. I do have longer routes with more travelling time which I frequent due to higher frequency and faster speed. I figured the earliest I was getting there irrespective of the costs is Monday morning. There is one train going from Howrah to my place, Toranagallu (Henceforth, TNGL) but that plies on Saturday but not Sunday. So as it happened, if I missed the Saturday train, I had two options – first being taking the flight to Bangalore (Henceforth, SBC) early next morning (8,000/-) and then the night train (500/-) to TNGL or waiting for Monday’s train and reach on Wednesday. Given my short term-break, the second was almost a non-option as it’d give me a home stay of 4 days with travel of 3 days and every day counts when you are going home for 5 days.

So I checked for all possible routes which would make me reach TNGL by Monday morning. Trains going westward – I checked trains connecting my place to any place on route from TATA to Mumbai. Trains to Nagpur, Daund; I even considered going to Pune and taking a night bus but again – reaching Pune was gonna be trouble as tickets were not available at this time of the year. Then I decided going to my normal route but on trains which would drop me somewhere I could catch a train to TNGL. So I checked up trains going to Vijaywada (henceforth BZA), Guntur, Guntakal and even decided travelling to Kharagpur (Henceforth, KGP) to catch a train to Hyderabad from where I could catch an overnight train to TNGL. But again, I’d be reaching on Tuesday morning. So it was finally decided, if I had to travel by train, it had to be this train leaving Howrah at 2330 hrs on the Saturday.

So I decided to book everything possible in this train till I got a confirmed reservation and got myself booked in 3-tier ac, 2-tier ac and the same in the Tatkal quota. I figured, the second class was too full to even have a glimpse of a reservation. And as fate would have it, all of my tickets were wait-listed.

Now India has a peculiar system of getting reservations where the train ticket examiner (famously called TT but is actually TTE) has the complete power over who he allots seats after the chart is prepared (which is approx. 6 hrs prior to departure of a train). I decided, one TTE was gonna be rich tonight and started from Jamshedpur with double the fare in cash and the all my tickets – giving him all the options for a conversion. What happened If the TTE was an honest man or he actually couldn’t do anything despite all my generous offers, I’d spend the night on the platform buying myself lots of coffee/tea to keep warm (I had given my gloves and warm blanket to a Chennai friend who really hates cold but was travelling by the second class due to lack of tickets) and spend 8,000/- and take the morning flight to SBC and then again try to get a TTE to give me a seat from SBC to TNGL. Both ways, I’d be reaching home by Monday morning.

I used the GPRS to keep checking just in case something got cleared. Somehow, a ticket in 3-tier ac was confirmed when I reached KGP. I was very happy. One TTE just missed his share of fortune. Then just for the heck of it, I asked my dad to check again in half an hour (GPRS was too slow) and as luck would have it, all my tickets were confirmed!!! In a matter of hours, I went from having no ticket in my hand to having multiple confirmed ac tickets. And what was more, the chart had been prepared. So regardless of other passengers, I knew there would be four ‘Puneet Aggarwal’s onboard 8047 Amravati Express. I knew Tatkal quota cannot be cancelled. So I decided to maximise return on investment and travel by 2-tier ac though i geenrally prefer 3-tier ac due to the larger number of people to talk to. The non-Tatkal tickets I got cancelled but being less than 6 hrs prior to the departure, I got only 50% of the fare charge as refund. The other tickets, I let go. The TTE would realise by KGP that there was no Puneet Aggarwal coming on the seats and finally get his share of fortune, though not through me...

The journey was very beautiful. India is very beautiful in the winters. The train passes through the heart of Lake Chilka, the biggest backwater lake in the country. And on a foggy morning, all one needs to do is hang the curtains of the double glassed, tinted ac window on the sides and savour the sunshine and the panoramic views of the lake. Soon after, the aroma of biryani being served in lunch tells Andhra (yet undivided) is here as Anakapalle (terminus for SCR) passes by. Then you cross the mighty Godavari and Krishna in quick succession as the mighty rivers and the long bridges make you wonder why there ever is a water shortage in this country. All through the journey, paddy fields abound. From BZA (where you are served another round of Biryani), the train turns westward and deviates from the Howrah-Chennai trunk route. By this time it is late evening and I decided to sleep early to get up early (8047 reaches TNGL at 5:30) and just as Guntur passed, I was fast asleep dreaming off all the goodies I’d savour in the next 5 days at home.