There is something fascinating about train journeys. Trains are much more than just a mode of transport. As the train moves forward smoothly passing through beautiful locations and landscapes, we all fall in love with it. The journey becomes all the more amazing during the monsoon when the fresh rain cleans the surrounding and makes it a journey to remember. Have a glimpse of the lush monsoons in the Western Ghats.
Murmagao to Hubli – A railway line is born In 1888 a meter gauge railway track was inaugurated joining the port town of Murmagao in Portuguese Goa to New Hubli in Dharwar district of British India. Privately owned by the London based Portuguese West of India Guaranteed Railway Company, its purpose was to stimulate the ailing economy of Goa that had suffered a steady decline due to the rise of the port city of Bombay. The railway track ran from the sea-shore, threaded the Western Ghats and met the westwards running connecting line of Southern Mahratta Company.
The challenge of the daunting Ghats One of the major obstacles to the Murmagao track was the possibility of building a line to the port town of Karwar (in present day Karnataka) instead, a few miles to the south of Goa. The other was the inhospitable terrain of the Ghats – the steep slopes, very few gentle passes, dense jungles, heat, incessant rain during the monsoons, diseases, landslides and the presence of tigers posed considerable difficulties to the builders. The project witnessed the best of engineering expertise, skilled labour, suitable machinery and thousands of labourers – mostly South Asians – toiling in dangerous conditions and moving large chunks of earth manually.
Human resolve matches nature’s might Making use of intense manual labour, explosives and drills fourteen tunnels were dug (twelve in Portuguese territory) through the hard granite and schist. The rotten and hot air in the tunnels added to the woes of the workers and the progress was severely hampered by the unforgiving rain which caused the unstable tunnels to collapse. In addition to the tunnels seven bridges and five viaducts (including the ones over the Paroda and Sanguem rivers and the Dudhsagar Waterfalls) were other notable features along the track. The longest tunnel, today, is the Tunnel No 2 (traveling from Castle Rock in Karnataka to Kulem in Goa) measuring 409.95m.
Trekking the rail track from Castle Rock to Kulem The Murmagao railway line is still functional today though it has been converted to broad gauge. The section of the track from Castle Rock to Kulem is a popular trekking route particularly during the monsoon season. The trek entails walking along the railway track, diving into tunnels, shuffling over high bridges connecting the rugged mountains, swift streams and waterfalls, the fickle fog, darkness of the tunnels, the wail of train sirens, pouring rain, occasional leeches and unbridled greenery. The icing on this delicious cake is the Dudhsagar Waterfalls, around 14kms from Castle Rock and if attempted from the Goa side, 11kms from Kulem.
The Dudhsagar Falls Witnessing the DudhSagar Waterfalls cascading down the mountain, shrouded in a veil of fog with a train thundering below on the viaduct is a sobering experience. Located high up on the Mandovi River’s watershed the falls are quiet during the dry season and roar during the monsoons -the volume of water in the falls during the rainy season is intimidating. A camping ground beside the railway track is a stone’s throw away from the base of the falls and spending a night here is eventful with the trains chugging all night long, the pitter-patter of rain and the crashing of water on the worn out rocks.
Monsoon magic along the track The railway track between Castle Rock and Kulem has three small stations – Caranzol, Dudhsagar and Sonalium – where the otherwise single line is doubled. From Sonalium a mud track diverges into the jungle running parallel to the track for quite a distance. This path is motor able and during the non-rainy season vehicles ply from Kulem ferrying tourists to Dudhsagar. However during the monsoons all the streams and rivulets across the path are overflowing though a few motorcycles do undertake this treacherous route. There are small waterfalls tucked away into the forests that are perfect for a therapeutic soak.
The ruins of a bygone era The ruins of railway stations and offices can be seen in Castle Rock and Dudh Sagar. Castle Rock, in the past, served as the frontier between British India and Portuguese Goa where all immigration checks were done for people traveling across borders. Moss and lichen carpet the walls of these relics, an evidence of the insane amount of rainfall received here. A distinct sense of nostalgia infects these abandoned buildings whose prominence has been forgotten with the passing of time.
The wail of a train engine The silence of these wooded hills is constantly broken by the rushing streams, the tall waterfalls and the wails of a train engine. Trekkers scurry off the railway track and hastily cross the dark tunnels in anticipation of the appearance of a great mass of metal rattling the rails and breathing smoke and heat. Trains, passenger and goods, play hide and seek with the mountain curves, appearing and disappearing behind the bends. Due to the incline of the track from Kulem to Castle Rock two engines lead the train up the slope complimented by two other engines pushing it forward from the rear.
Keeping the trains chugging The maintenance of these tracks is a major challenge even today especially during the rains. Groups of workers, in colourful raincoats and gum boots, can be seen along the tracks and in the tunnels ensuring that the conditions are ideal for the trains to pass. The role of technology is not substantial and manual labour is still involved in facilitating the smooth running of the railways.
About the Author & Photographer: An engineer by profession, Deeptangan likes to explore India, meet its people, savour its cuisines, climb its mountains and sail down its rivers. Born and brought up in the shadow of the Great Himalayas, he reveres the mighty mountains as the temples where he has been educated. When not writing code, he is trekking in the Himalayas and the Western Ghats, writing, reading books and enjoying music.