September 10, 2015

Where have all those Tourist Cars gone...


YOU WILL AGREE you don't actually have to go on a long train journey to feel the excitement of the track . I love to spend long hours at railway stations, usually all by myself. And I have done this quite a few times when moving around in the Delhi area in the early 1980s. I have spent long hours on Tilak Bridge station, whole days in Old Delhi station, New Delhi station, Hazrat Nizamuddin, I have spent lots of time at Itarsi, Jabalpur, and other places too.

Sitting in an empty railway carriage all by myself was a favourite pastime with me. And it remains still a pastime to this day. While travelling of course you have to remain within a carriage perforce, but the fun is going to a yard and take a seat in a coach parked in the siding.  And if you have a packet of sandwiches, having this in the lonely carriage can be great fun.  I have been able to sit in a coach thus on many occasions.   

Like I said, I have moved around in Delhi yard lots of time, and at the west side, close to Morigate Bridge, I found two Tourist Cars parked, coupled with each other. That was a long time ago, nearly forty years back. These tourist cars were the most exciting carriages for me. They were painted the usual brick red livery common in those days. Red is best I would say; for me no train looks like a train unless it is painted red.  

One day I was spending the night at Old Delhi station in the great hall. There were a good many families with luggage spread out who were there to spend the night like me. These people were in groups , but I was alone, and so I wasn’t getting good sleep on the floor. You can’t sleep well when half your mind is worried if someone around may pick your pocket! It was very tiresome, even boring.

Within this hall there is a charmless self-service cafeteria where you get insipid coffee, and Britannia cakes and vadas and idlis. I had my dinner in this place, and stretched myself out for the night. 

If you spend a night alone on a station, each hour seems like one full day. So at about midnight I decided to go out and try my luck with those tourist cars which I knew were stabled in the sidings. I put my bag in the cloak room, keeping with me only a water bottle, and my handy plastic box carrying a comb, a towel, a tiny soap, handkerchiefs, my platform ticket, an orange and a packet of biscuits. I was careful enough to have all my money and my journey ticket on my person.  Having thus prepared, I ambled down the platform towards its end. As soon as you begin to walk along , the boredom vanishes. Late night passengers hurried by, for Delhi Junction is a busy place all throughout the day and night.

Finally I found myself at the platform’s end, and slowly went down the ramp. I looked this way and that way. Safety always comes first when crossing rail tracks. Tiny red lights peeped at me from the darkness beyond. I crossed a maze of tracks. When I reached the carriages, my joy knew no bounds.  The tourist cars were there all right, and I found a door from the backside open. I climbed within. It was dark inside, but not pitch dark, for there was enough light streaming in through the windows coming from the nearby platform. After some time when I got used to the inside of the car, I could see it was a spacious interior. Longish windows, like you had in first class earlier. And each door had an oval shaped glass window, a feature which I found very attractive. There was ample room inside to walk about, like a big hall, with seats lengthwise along the windows. Just two rows of seats, spacious luggage racks, and at one end some kind of enclosure which looked like a kitchen or shower bath.

These tourist cars offer nearly every facility a travelling group may need. Once when I was returning to Delhi by the Amritsar Dadar Express, there was one such vehicle attached to our train.  When I got off the train at Bhopal to move around a bit, I saw this car a few carriages away. I asked an attendant what this carriage was for and he said : “Yeh dibba bilkul ghar ke mafiq hai—yahaan apko sab kuchh milega”.  

That night in Delhi Junction, I had the actual chance to see what the inside of such a Tourist Car was actually like. The seats were padded with coir, like the berths in Sleeper coaches, and I pulled down the glass shutters of the windows, and stretched myself on the long bench.  It was quite comfortable, far better than having to sleep on the floor of the platform. And I also felt safe—safe from people who might come and pick my pocket. But somehow sleep did not come easily. I kept lying, half drowsy, half awake. The night dragged on, trains came and trains went. Sometime midway during my stay in the Car, a steam train arrived on a platform nearby.  The engine could be seen against the platform lights in silhouette. For some reason, steam engine headlights always seem a dull yellow when the engine is in a station, but I am told that this is done deliberately; the driver switches on the full electric voltage to the lamp only during the run. So here was this train standing close by, but I was in no mood to go out to get a closer look. I kept within the safety of the Car, and watched the engine from within the safety of my hideout.    

It must have been around around 5 a.m. in the morning when I finally decided to leave the Car and return to the station. No particular reason, just felt it was better to return. So I got up and said a final goodbye to the Car. As I prepared to leave, the door of the car opened and a man begin to climb up the steps. I looked at him and was worried. I thought it was someone from the railways who was sure to question me. But when I looked at the man, in the early morning light I found that there was fear on his face too. He too was fearful of me, thinking I was a railway official who would question him. This look of fear in his eyes put my mind at rest at once, for I knew he wasn’t an official. As I climbed down the steps of the tourist car, I discovered who he was. He was nothing more than a grown up tramp staying nearby who had entered the car early in the morning to use the loo. So this is what happens when a vehicle with water in its tanks is kept stabled in the yard at night. Our people feel it is for their use.

The night was quite tiresome with very little sleep, but I had enjoyed myself.  The recollection of that night are often sweeter than the experience itself. Sadly, these days you won’t find these tourist cars around ; they have been gradually allowed to deteriorate, and were phased out, if my information is correct. I read about the rules for hiring such a car in an old timetable. Even if you are just a group of only four or five fellows, you have to pay the railways the charge for the full carrying capacity of the car.

Where will ever come across such a tourist car today? I have no idea, although I did come across one last year in Nagpur being shunted into the yard. Usual blue livery, not the classic red stuff. Oh, how I long for those glorious cars painted a gleaming red...