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India and Sri Lanka 2017 _Bob Stonehouse 4th March 2017

The Club trip to India took place from Wednesday February 15th to Sunday February 26th organised for the Club by Chris Lewis using the services of Amit Chopra and his company Travel Pals in India. The Club trip included an extension to Sri Lanka in which this writer did not take part. Michael Searle. one of our Australian members, will tell you about that part.

The participants made their own ways to Mumbai. In the writer's case it was the 13.30 Air India flight AI 130 from Heathrow on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, another new experience for your scribe, which left nearly an hour and a half late to touch down in Mumbai only 46 minutes late at 04.46 Indian time

Thursday morning. Entry formalities were minimal and quick and the main party gathered in the Fariyas Hotel lobby in the early afternoon after a short rest. A sight seeing tour of Mumbai then took place with visits to the Gate of India monument, the intensely busy Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station (CST for short), the outdoor launderette and the hanging gardens.

T'was on the Friday morning of 17th February
the party took the 08.45 from CST to Neral to visit the Matheran Railway at Neral, about 55 miles distant. Alas, the narrow gauge line was closed with reopening imminent but with the paperwork yet to be signed off. So we visited the loco shed which was still active and two diesels of classes NDM and NDM 1A were started up and brought out for photography. After tea with the shed master, who showed us pictures of steam working on the line, the party returned to Mumbai on a very crowded 12.17 emu -typically with all the doors open- to CST. A guided tour of the station museum and main station building then followed which was most interesting. This writer noted the very britishness of the 1887 ornate brick-built design, akin to the old Liverpool Street and clearly intended to make a statement of intent, with some very intricate carvings and an impressive dome. Afterwards the party transferred by taxi to Churchgate station and then by emu to Elphinstone Road station for a walk to the Barking Deer brew pub for quality refreshment. The taxi ride back to the hotel for dinner was, shall we say, interesting!

Saturday 18th February saw the group leave Mumbai at a civilized 11.40 from Lokmanya Tilak station, the effective main line terminus of Mumbai, accessed from CST via Tilak Nagar suburban station and a short walk. The train was actually making a lengthy journey to Madgaon for Goa but the LCGB party were breaking the journey at Chiplun, 309 km away. Our very well-patronised train followed the mainly single line following the west coast of India crossing many waterways and passing through many tunnels with crossing points at most of the many stations. Speeds were brisk but modest with the writer recording 66mph maximum. Arrival was at 17.09 for a short bus ride to the excellent Riverview Resort colonial-style hotel and there was time for a swim in the pool before sunset, a beer and a superb buffet dinner.

Sunday 19th February saw the party return to Chiplun station to board the 09.28 to Madgaon for Goa, a former portuguese colony peacefully annexed to India in 1961. Departure was 13 minutes late but arrival in Madgaon at 14.18 was still 13 minutes late after some running at up to 69mph. The transfer to the outstanding Alila Diwa hotel gave time for a relaxed late afternoon with a dip in the pool for those who enjoy such things prior to a typically first rate buffet dinner.

Monday 20th February saw one group leave for a bus tour of the local part of north Goa with visits to Vasco da Gama and Karmali stations and enjoying the tourist sights in Old Goa and Panjim. The writer understands that the group that intended to take the train to Castle Rock were unsuccessful due to late running and had to change their plans and returned via Vasco da Gama. After returning to the hotel, the writer went to the beach nearby for a late afternoon swim in a very warm sea, followed by a beer in the tropical beach bar to watch the sun set. Idyllic!

The following day 21st February saw the group leave early to catch the 07.40 from Madgaon which for no obvious reason departed an hour late at 08.40 for the 431km journey to Mangalore. Time was made up and Mangaluru (aka Mangalore) Junction was reached at a civilized 13.48, only eight minutes down. The Gateway hotel had a pool so you can guess what some of the party did. Others 'did the track' from Junction to Central stations. Someone with a bloodhound-like ability to find a brew pub found one in northern Mangalore and a majority of the party spent the early evening enjoying an excellent pint or more prior to another fine buffet dinner at the hotel. The tuktuk ride to the brew pub there and back for under 1 each way was another, shall we say interesting, indian experience!

22nd February dawned and an easy morning was spent prior to the taking the 11.45 from Mangalore Central for the 406km journey to Coimbatore and on to Mettupalaiyam. Despite generous timings, delays and signal checks caused our train to arrive at Coimbatore 18 minutes late. Two minibuses took us on to Mettapulaiyam where we arrived at the basic but adequate hotel EMS Mayura at 21.11.

Thursday 23rd February saw another early start to catch the Nilgiri Railway steam-propelled departure at 07.10 to Coonor. It is then diesel pushed to Udagamandalam (aka Ootacamund). There is only one steam departure on this line and apparently the management have resisted pressure to run more. The train is propelled to Kallar where the rack section begins. The sight and sound of these magnificent rack fitted tank engines pushing four coaches up the steep gradients through the spectacular Nilgiri Hills will stay with this writer for a long time. At Coonor, arrival was 30 minutes ahead of time which allowed a visit to the adjacent depot to meet the shed master and see the steam locos at close quarters. The party then joined the diesel-propelled 10.40 to Ooty arriving at around midday to glorious late spring-like sunshine. Transfer to the Savoy hotel and a warm welcome gave time for a light lunch, a visit to the botanical gardens and lakeside resort where we rode the miniature railway on its short line through the lakeside trees. The effect of the altitude of over 7500 ft was noticeable. Your scribe then required a brief nap back at the hotel before having the energy to enjoy a pleasant evening with a beer (only Carlsberg!) and conversation over yet another superb buffet dinner.

On Friday 24th February
departure, after a civilized morning at leisure, was at 14.00 for the diesel hauled run to Coonor and steam thence to Mettupalaiyam. After mandatory photographic rituals as the train was disposed of in the fading early evening light, the minibuses took us back to Coimbatore and the excellent The Residency hotel for dinner and overnight. There were celebrations for a Club member who was celebrating his (cough)ty seventh birthday.

On Saturday February 25th , the penultimate full day of the tour, the party boarded the 08.40 for the journey of 426 km to Ernakulum Town and Trivandrum. For the first time this was with electric haulage with locomotive No 22785 on the main line leaving 9 minutes late at 08.54. Delays at Shoranur Junction resulted in arrival at Ernakulum Junction nearly 27 minutes late. Half the party left here for the cruise on the Backwaters while the writer and eight others continued on to Trivandrum. At one point the train was 50 minutes late but thanks to generous recovery time in the schedule and some brisk running Trivandrum was reached only 10 minutes down at 18.30. A quick transfer was made to the Hilton Garden Inn hotel in only 14 minutes after arrival, for the last night of the Indian tour. Dinner was, as expected, first class and there was time to relax and prepare for the next long day's travelling.

On Sunday 26th February we had to leave India and move on to either the Sri Lanka part of the tour or fly back to the UK. The Trivandrum group were up very early for the 06.00 train headed by electric locomotive No.22793 to Ernakulum Junction, reached only 12 minutes behind schedule at 09.32 . There was time for photographs at the station, a visit to the harbour side to view the tourist boats, commercial shipping and old Cochin in the distance before leaving for Cochin airport. Coffee and discussion in an adjacent hotel with the group that did the backwater cruise was a pleasant and relaxing interlude prior to the onward flights.

For the writer it was the 15.30 Oman Air flight back via Muscat to be the first arrival at Heathrow on Monday morning 27th February at 05.37 GMT. Apart from the Matheran Railway being out of use during our visit, everything worked well and it was an excellent and enjoyable tour with a delightful group of people.

If you wished for wall-to-wall and dawn-to-dusk gricing, with linesiding, outstanding photo opportunities, depot and shed visits and no tourism then this was definitely not for you. If you like a strong railway flavour to your Indian holiday with good food and drink then this Club study tour was ideal. Grateful thanks must go to both Chris Lewis for his hard work in organising it for LCGB, in co-operation with Amit Chopra and Travel Pals Ltd based in Delhi. As 1930s band leader Henry Hall said; here's to the next time!

Introduction to Mike Searle by Chris Lewis Mike recently retired from being a driver of freight trains on the Ghan line in Australia
.
He had not been on a LCGB tour before, neither had he been to India or Sri Lanka. However, it was obvious from day one he was going to enjoy the tour, and he did. His enthusiasm for the trains and, indeed, the countries was amazing. Like all those on this tour he accepted the "Indian ways of doing things" and this made the tour much easier to lead. I am not sure how many hours of video he took but it must have been substantial. I asked Mike to write up the Sri Lanka part of the tour to give a new perspective (Australian) to tour descriptions. After he left us he was going back to India for several weeks, including visiting the hill railways, and then to South Africa for the LCGB tour. I hope he enjoys (or enjoyed when this is published) his continued travel as much as he obviously enjoyed India and Sri Lanka.

LCGB Study Trip to Sri Lanka by Mike Searle

Twelve of us arrived at Colombo Airport just before 17.00 on Sunday February 26th where we were met by our guide, Newton Fernando, and our coach that was to accompany us throughout our stay in Sri Lanka. It was 40 kms to our hotel (the Mount Lavinia) and we arrived there just after 19.00. Some of the group members were re-assigned better rooms.

We set off next day at 10.00. First stop was the Railway Workshops at Ratmalana. Thirty minutes elapsed before Chris and our guide emerged successful in negotiating entry. (This had been refused previously.) Starting in the Bogey and Wheel Repair Shop we soon located a narrow gauge Class J1 4-6-4T No. 220 built by Hunslet in 1924 outside with a dis-assembled Grafton and Co. crane. Further looking found a very dis-assembled Class B1a 4-6-0 No. 251 "Sir Thomas Maitland" built by Beyer Peacock 1928 with the boiler detached from its frame. The diesel shop was next where classes of M2a, M4, M6, M8, M9 and M10 were on hand, including the Tsunami recovered diesel (class M2a built in Canada), now renumbered 626. Sightings of the Beyer-Garrett 2-6-2+2-6-2 C1a number 347 built 1946 (has obviously been worked on recently) and rail buses concluded our 90 minute visit. Next door was the Technical Training Centre and entry was again granted. Of particularly interest here was the 1919 Robey Steam Wagon number c6037 fully restored in 2010, plus a rare Sentinel articulated steam wagon awaiting restoration. Some of the apprentices were on show operating lathes and such like. Lunch was partaken before an afternoon wander over the diesel running sheds spread over the two sides of the main line at Dematagoda. Broad gauge steam locomotives Class B1d 4-6-0 No. 340 "Frederick North" built 1944 at R. Stephenson and Class B2b 4-6-0 No. 213TT, built 1922 at Vulcan Foundry, appeared in satisfactory condition unlike the sad state of seven J2 class tank locos. Equally being reclaimed by vegetation was another Beyer-Garrett and a steam rail motor coach.

On Tuesday some of the group met on Mount Lavinia Station at 07.00 to catch the late running service to Galle. Once seated the M10 diesel hauled twelve coaches paralleled the India Ocean for the entire length of the journey. At Galle local sightseeing was undertaken., then a few took the train to the end of the line at Matara. The heavens opened as we arrived at 12.25. The loco ran round and made ready for the 13.10 return to Galle. The sensible few on a later train from Mount Lavinia to Galle rendezvoused with us in our first class coach at Galle for the 14.00 departure arriving Mount Lavinia at 17.50.

The next day we boarded our coach about 08.30 for Colombo Fort station and alighted alongside plinthed steam loco class B9 4-6-0 number 135 built by Hunslet in 1908 . We set off from platform 3 at 09.45 in the Observation Saloon with six coaches bound for Kadugannawa station. Time was taken to visit the railway museum. There was a choice then to make straight for our Kandy hotel or taking the train to the terminus at Matale. A party of five boarded the 13.10 service comprising a W3 class Henschel number 636 and five coaches in tow. Very heavy rain heralded our arrival at 15.30, but we soon sought shelter at a nearby bakery for some grub and drink (non-alcoholic). We had many gazing looks from the locals strongly indicating we were off the tourist routes, as we strolled the streets, prior to our departure at 17.05 for Kandy.

Thursday March 2nd was all about the hill country and tea plantations. Our party transferred by coach to the junction station of Peradeniya. We were unsure whether our booked train leaving Kandy at 09.36 for Bandarawela would stop here so we took a S12 set into Kandy. As the 09.36 was running 48 minutes late I took the opportunity to inspect the marvellous 63 lever, Saxby and Farmer equipped signal box and a concentration of semaphore signals during the wait. Once away, the 3rd class reserved coach with opening windows proved popular to view the waterfalls and endless tea plantations. At Pattipola, the highest station in Sri Lanka, an eerie mist enveloped the train. From there, tight bends and tunnels and slower speeds over short length jointed track became the norm. The summit is 6,226 feet. At Bandarawela where our accommodation was located, some of us stayed aboard and continued to the end of the line at Badulla. This section includes the Demodara loop and a nine arch bridge between Ella and Demodara stations. Our coach met us there on arrival at 16.48 to convey us back to the hotel for dinner.

Next day our coach departed from our hotel at 08.30 for our road journey back to Kandy. We stopped at the Grand Hotel in Nuwara Eliya for refreshments then continuing on, stopping to observe tea pickers at close range and scenic spots, and being amused by the persistent attempts by a roadside flower seller boy to clinch a sale. As we descended the zig-zags he ran straight down the hillside in many attempts to get us to buy before some of us did. Back in Kandy we disembarked our coach for lunch and bid farewell to two couples leaving us there. We walked to the station and boarded the 15.00 service to Colombo. Once again we occupied a block of seats in the rear Observation Car of the 7 coach train pulled by an Henschel class M6. Due to the predictable slow traffic in Colombo itself our excellent guide, Newton, suggested our coach pick us up at Gampaha station to take us direct to our hotel in Negombo. That evening we had a final dinner before I had to fly very early the next morning to continue my travels back in India.

In summary Sri Lanka is certainly a "civilised India" with room to progress. Whilst two years too late for the LCGB steam trip, the standard British semaphores still exist in copious quantities. The locals are extremely friendly and obliging. The country is well worth a visit.