In 1870, His Highness the Maharajah of Indore, Sawai Tukojirao Holkar the Second, offered a loan of £10 million sterling for the construction of a railway line to his capital city of Indore. A quick survey was made and Khandwa on the Great Indian Peninsula Railway main line was chosen as the junction point. The alignment was to pass through Sanawad and Kheree Ghat on the Narmada and then by way of the Choral Valley up the slopes of the Vindhayas to Indore.
An extensive photo gallery can be viewed here …..
Below is a video on the line…..
Mhow is an ideal place to start our explorations of the line as it is the northern terminus of the meter gauge route from Mhow to Akola. The route stands isolated today as the lines around it have all been converted to Broad gauge.
The section between Patalpani and Kalakund runs along the Choral river and with it’s numerous bridges, viaducts and tunnels, forms a fascinating backdrop in which to view the operations of this one hundred and fifty years old railway line.
Mhow was once a busy station along the meter gauge route from Ajmer to Akola and it’s three platforms catered to the many trains serving the line.
Today a single platform caters to the remaining traffic whilst the other platforms are undergoing re-construction, waiting for the imminent arrival of the broad gauge trains from Indore.
To the south of the station is an extensive carriage yard as well as a diesel loco shed which is home to 18 YDM4 locomotives. Since this is an isolated meter gauge line, the shed is expected to carry out running repairs as well as periodic overhauls on the locomotives.
In it’s heyday, the shed had an allocation of over 100 steam locomotives before steam services were withdrawn in 1998.
Three rusting YP locomotives can still be seen lying abandoned in the shed, a standing testimony to the glorious days of steam .
The next station on the line after Mhow is Patalapani, significant in its importance as it is the start of the descent through the choral valley.
Even though we see some flat cars and tankers stabled here, barring some departmental trains freight no longer runs on the line and the only traffic the route sees, are the six passenger trains in each direction.
Tourists visiting the nearby patalpani waterfalls also disembark here and the falls are only a short walk from the station.
Ravine Viaduct no 2 is 120 mtrs long and rises about 50 mtrs from the valley floor making it the highest bridge on the line.
It was built in 1876 as a viaduct with 2 stone pillars, the demolished remains of which can still be seen here. In 1974 the alignment was changed and in its place stands today a five span steel structure .
Due to the sharp curves and steep 2.5% grade it is mandatory for all trains to conduct brake tests while descending from Patalpani to Kalakund. Brake tests are conducted at 4 designated locations along the line.
A red and white board along with a “T.P” – test point sign marks the spot where the brake tests are conducted. This is a simple procedure which involves bringing the train to a complete stop and then checking the brake pressure before proceeding again.
The 100 meter long Ravine Viaduct number 1 built in 1876 still stands today on its original stone pillars, a testimony to the skill and durability of the railway builders of their time. Trains are not double headed in this section and the other locomotive seen here Is actually a banker attached behind the lead loco. The banker will be shunted out at Kalakund and will later help train no 52964 uphill to Patalpani.
The route does not see the heavy passenger loads as on most of the other sections of Indian Railways but is sufficient enough to require the six pairs of daily trains.
The railway runs through the densely forested areas of the Choral valley and in the absence of any roads the line serves as a roadway of sorts for the locals.
Constant maintenance of the line is required to keep it running smoothly and a sizable workforce is employed by the railways for it’s upkeep.
The permanent way inspector conducts routine inspections on his trolley and makes sure that there are no unauthorized or unsavory characters about the line.
Two bridges span the Choral river, aptly named Choral bridge no.1 and Choral bridge no.2.
Bridge no.2 is numbered 666, the devils number but has thankfully not witnessed any untoward incident…
The sleepy station of Kalakund lies at the bottom of the gradient of the choral valley.
It is an important station on the line due to the fact that bankers are attached here to all up hill trains heading for Patalpani and Mhow.
Bankers are mandatory for all uphill trains and protect trains from rolling back downhill in case of a coupler failure.
Back in the days of steam, an uphill train to Mhow banked by another steam locomotive must have been a treat for the senses ….
At a maximum permissible speed of 25 kmph, Train 52992 from Khandwa finally conquers the 1 in 40 grade from Kalakund. The train has taken 30 minutes to cover the 10 kms between Kalakund and Patalpani.
Bankers are sometimes attached to downhill trains and this is done to save time if another Mhow bound train was already at Kalakund. If one would have waited to release the banker after a train had left Patalpani, it would have resulted in a delay for the train already waiting at Kalakund, for the banker could only proceed from Patalpani once the single block between Patalpani and Kalakund was cleared.
Upon arriving at Kalakund, the double header detaches itself from its rake and the locos head out to the southern throat of the station…
…where they decouple and then reverse back on to their respective trains.
Soon it is time to depart and train no 52988 heads uphill to Mhow while train no 52975 departs for Akola.
We now head south east towards the Narmada, and the holy town of Omkareshwar. Omkareshwar is home to one of the 12 jyotirling shrines holy to the Hindus.
But that is not what draws us here as spanning the Narmada at Omkareshwar is also an 850 meter long railway bridge which has been around since the last 140 years.
Driving further south, we head towards Dhulghat. Dhulghat lies in the Melghat Tiger Reserve in Amravati District of Maharashtra. About 2 kms south east of the station lies a spiral which the locals refer to as Char ka Aankda or the figure of 4. This because the track plan of the spiral roughly represents the figure of 4 when written in Hindi or the devnagri script.
The spiral consists of a 16–span 193 meter long steel viaduct which spans a shallow valley.
Trains coming from Akola cross the viaduct and after completing a near 270 degree turn in about four minutes passes below the first span of the viaduct before going on to Dhulghat.
With broad gauge conversion around the corner one resigns themselves to the fact that the Char ka Aankda spiral will soon be abandoned altogether, becoming just another chapter in a history book. The ghat section between Patalpani and Kalakund with its 150 year old history would also form a prominent part of that chapter.
The spiral brought to end a most memorable rail fan trip for Shashanka, Rajit and myself and we hope other railfans would visit the line before it’s imminent demise….