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Blog Entry# 1058861
Posted: Apr 15 2014 (17:06)

18 Responses
Last Response: Apr 16 2014 (12:03)
★★★  Rail Fanning
Apr 15 2014 (17:06)   74629/Banihal - Baramula DEMU | BAHL/Banihal (3 PFs)

Soumitra Chawathe*^~   30357 blog posts   100956 correct pred (72% accurate)
Entry# 1058861            Tags   Past Edits
The day was 26th June 2013 when Indian Railways carved (or literally dug for itself) a new crown, called the 11 km long PIR PANJAL RAILWAY TUNNEL and linked Qazigund in Kashmir Valley (The Gateway of Kashmir Valley in Anantnag District) with Banihal in Ramban District of Jammu region. Of course, there was the 3 km long JAWAHAR TUNNEL on NH-1A leading from JAMMU to SRINAGAR, but this one was special. This was one masterpiece all RFs wanted to lay their hands
on and get a first-hand experience of “Jannat ka Safar”.
Come 8th April 2014, after two days of continuous rainfall, the Sun God shone brightly upon the entire Kashmir Valley. The lifeline of Kashmir, NH-1A was thrown open to traffic that day. There was a significant traffic on the highway, vehicles stranded in Jammu moving towards Srinagar and vice-versa. We had already began our journey from Jammu to Srinagar early morning, the hills glistened in the early morning sun and Tawi River flowing amidst towering peaks. There was cheer in the air, as our Tempo Traveller made its way towards the VALLEY, with popular Punjabi numbers mainly sung by YOYO HONEY SINGH.
After Lunch halt at Batote, a small town in Doda District in the Chenab Valley of Jammu region, our tour leader gave the most pleasant surprise that would make any railfan dance with joy. Instead of going by road, he announced that we would be taking the train from Banihal to Srinagar!! His words were like a soothing music to my ears!! I was all agog with excitement in anticipation of what was to follow some moments later.
At around 16.15, we reached Banihal Station which to me was one of the most beautiful rail terminals in the world!! Situated in the lap of the snow capped Pir-Panjal ranges, the green capped brick coloured edifice presents a splendor of its own. The last train to Baramulla is the 74629 Banihal-Baramulla DMU which departs at 17.00 hrs.
As we entered the station, we saw a SEA OF HUMANITY. Locals and tourists had literally filled up the entire station and an equal number had made a beeline for tickets. Two factors for the huge rush were the highway being opened after 2 days of rainfall (as I explained earlier) and this being the last train to the Valley. There was tight security all around and every passenger was being frisked before he/she entered the platform. My dreams of a window seat and clicking some HQ pics and vids were shattered and had to keep camera inside to protect it from getting damaged :(
With all eyes on the horizon, at exactly 16.55, the DMU snaked in to Banihal and the quiet atmosphere suddenly turned electric, with people jostling to get in. We all somehow got into the second last coach and heaved a sigh of relief, for being in ONE PIECE. The GRP made sure everyone got inside the coach. At 17.15, the LAST TRAIN TO THE VALLEY started its journey. I was standing in the aisle owing to rush, but the marvel of Kashmir Railways made me forget the tiredness of travelling the entire day. Moments later, 11 km long PIR PANJAL RAILWAY TUNNEL, an engineering marvel arrived and most of the tourists couldn’t hold themselves back from praising the engineers and labourers who toiled hard to make this a reality.
The tunnel has a three-meter wide road has been provided inside the tunnel for maintenance and emergency rescue and relief operations. It has also been equipped with the state-of-the-art air quality monitoring system, ventilation system, communication system, firefighting system and emergency rescue system. At around 17.40, we came out of the tunnel to see the first sights of THE PARADISE. Mustard fields, vast greenery, snowcapped mountains, Chinar and safeda trees all around presented a glorious portrait painted by Nature. At a few places, I even saw Kashmiri boys enjoying a game of cricket and didn’t forget to envy their playground that would put even the best of the stadiums to shame. The sights and sounds was something that cannot be explained in words but has to be experienced by oneself.
Inside the coach, we were mesmerized by a completely different Kashmiri culture and local folk which have their own distinct identity. Kashmiri men and women attired in traditional “pheran”, a long wool coat, smiling faces and friendliness made us feel comfortable. I struck conversation with a couple of guys, a man who was a govt contractor in Srinagar and another young land who had his saffron field in Pampore.
After Anantnag, a significant number of people got down and I got a place to sit. Our DMU was chugging along the greenery and mustard fields nicely countering small streams and brooks in between. At around 18.55, we arrived and got down at a chilly and “naturally Air-conditioned” Srinagar, the outside temperature being 7 degrees!! The starter turned yellow and the DMU chugged along to its next destination Budgam while we waved goodbye coming out of the station, thanking the Almighty for some of the sweetest memories of one of the best rail journeys of my life…
Something about Kashmir Railways:
> Every passenger is frisked thoroughly before he / she enters the platform. There is tight security everywhere.
> There are security personnel standing alongside the tracks as well and at some important vantage points
> The GRP / RPF make sure that everyone gets on the train. They render all possible assistance.
> The moment a train arrives at a station, the policemen whistle and ask the de-boarded passengers to hurry up and leave the station. Loitering around in station premises is strictly prohibited.
> Passengers with a valid journey ticket are allowed on the platform only at the time of train arrival and departure. Other than these times, no person is allowed to enter the platform. So railfans, if you are planning to just “see” the trains (forget railfanning even with a mobile) with a valid PF ticket, choose some other place except the station. You will not be entertained and will be shooed away!!
Pic Index:
Pics 1-4: Banihal: Station overview, waiting for the DMU to arrive
Pics 5-8: Nature along the way
Pic 9: Anantnag
Pic 10: Crossing 74634 Budgam-Banihal DMU at Kakapor
Pic 11: Our DMU after having arrived at Srinagar (sorry for the shake, as a GRP personnel as approaching towards us and I had to take a quick pic. The man shouted at another guy taking pics - "Bandh karo isko, yeh allowed nahi hai" :( )

8 posts - Tue Apr 15, 2014

5 posts - Wed Apr 16, 2014

Apr 16 2014 (09:18)
maheshsunda*^~   4377 blog posts   31516 correct pred (71% accurate)
Re# 1058861-20            Tags   Past Edits
Great trip, great pix, great report, but I can mark only one Great for this, so sad. Just the kind of report it is such that it instantaneously answered the questions one by one that kept raising in my mind as I went through those lovely "Paradise on Earth" pix. It definitely lives up to that sobriquet after having suffered the brunt of foolish human acts. Hey Europeans, are you listening? We have something to boast as well! Sincerely, I felt as if I was traveling in the European countryside. The only thing that is missing is a Kashmiri yak grazing. Did you see one? Are yaks found in this part of Kashmir or only in the Ladakh region?

Finally, my respects to the human resource behind the Banihal magic. Way to go. Keep our flag high.
As usual, looking forward to the sequel.

Apr 16 2014 (09:20)
Soumitra Chawathe*^~   30357 blog posts   100956 correct pred (72% accurate)
Re# 1058861-21            Tags   Past Edits
A fantastic tribute to Kashmir Railways, Sir. Yes, we did spot a yak but in the Kashmir Valley they are very less in number. In Ladakh, one can spot many!! :-)

Apr 16 2014 (09:53)
Vinay Bharadwaj*^~   4907 blog posts   953 correct pred (74% accurate)
Re# 1058861-22            Tags   Past Edits
Fantastic write-up Soumitra and truly awesome pictures as well... One can easily guess that you had a great time.

Apr 16 2014 (11:58)
maheshsunda*^~   4377 blog posts   31516 correct pred (71% accurate)
Re# 1058861-23            Tags   Past Edits
Btw, did you get to meet Nazeer Ji over there?

Apr 16 2014 (12:03)
Soumitra Chawathe*^~   30357 blog posts   100956 correct pred (72% accurate)
Re# 1058861-24            Tags   Past Edits
Nopes :(

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