August 28, 2009

Tigers on the Bhore ghat



J. N. Sahni's Indian Railways: One Hundred Years, 1853-1953 has a startling picture showing a tiger sprawling across a railway track cuddling with her cubs, while another tiger looks up threateningly towards native workmen who are fleeing the spot in terror. For many years this jungle scene left me feeling doubtful. Was the danger posed by these wild beasts as real as the artist had imagined (the picture was reproduced courtesy of The Illustrated London News) ? And how would tigers dare to trespass on a piece of railway over which those mighty trains thundered each day?

For the uninitiated, the Bhore Ghat is a hilly terrain on the Bombay-Poona route as the railway traverses the Sahyadri mountain range, also known as the Western Ghats (see picture alongside). The area is inhospitable, rains are frequent, and in the days before electrification, a banking engine was attached at Kalyan to enable the train to negotiate gradients as steep as 1 in 37. The danger in those days from wild animals was very real. Mr. Frank Clarke, in his Retrospect on the G. I. P. Railway Under the Original Company's Administration records the following message sent at 8.10 pm on June 8, 1898 by the Signaller-in Charge, Cabin No. 2, Bhore Ghat, to the Station Master, Lonavla, the District Traffic Superintendent, and the Chief Traffic Manager. It read: "Both awfully frightened. Tigers roaring and coming in front of the cabin, arrange more assistance, if not loss of lives." 

Brave cabinmen!