Notes from Rajpura

Getting into the city where you have work on the previous evening is always an advantage. You are up fresh and are not strained by travel when you reach work. But what if the distance between where you are and where you want to be is such that it will make you arrive very late at night. I am an early sleeper, so am not happy with that prospect either. How about breaking the journey so that you arrive at an intermediate location and reduce your morning journey.

I had to reach Patiala from Yamunanagar – about 125 km. I decided to stop over at Rajpura – about 25 km short of Patiala, because I got a direct train from Jagadhri to Rajpura. I knew that the train was running late. So I decided to halt the night at Rajpura. When you are in a new city, finding and getting to an appropriate hotel is a pain. And even a 25 km journey has to include buffer times in it. In the morning, roads and buses are both packed. Conclusion: better to sleep late than to get into a jugaad intermediate halts.

At Rajpura station, in the night at around 9 pm, I got down from the New Delhi Jalandhar Express. I had to stay at Gagan Chowk on the NH. I kind of assumed that it would be on the Platform number 1 side of the railway station, Was wrong it was on the other side. Lesson learnt – when in doubt, ask. Started the hunt for autos, found one who wanted to charge 100 – negotiated it to 50 for Gagan Chowk. But to drop me to the hotel from there, the rate increased to 70. Decided to leave the auto there, in spite of that being the only one available outside the station. Found a cycle rickshaw, who said he would charge 40 to take me to the hotel, whose location he himself was not sure of. Agreed. Usually avoid cycle rickshaws – logic being that if there is a choice on who should be exercising, then it would rather be me. Late at night, unknown city – so the rule found an exception. To get to the other side there was a railway overbridge. As a cyclist, I would look at any shortcut to make life simple – first look if I can just carry the cycle over the railway line, else a little bit of wrong side travel to get to the bridge faster. But our cycle rickshaw-wallah was a stickler for rules – even with very little traffic on the road. He went under the over bridge all the way till the divider. Took a U turn and walked the whole way up. On another occasion where we overshot about 10 m, he went ahead for another 50 m to a break in the divider, took a U turn and came back. When I asked him why this penchant for following the rules, he had a simple answer: Life is precious.

There are distinct advantages of starting a multiple-week business trip on Sunday evenings / Mondays. You end up getting fewer Sundays in the middle of your trip. You end up being more popular with your family – and also your co-workers who are not too keen to see you on a Sunday.

Afternoons in Ludhiana are not the best time to disturb auto-drivers. Met with 3 of them who preferred their siestas in comparison to a drive down to the railway station. Had started with a 45 minute buffer to reach the station, and it was already down to 30 without any cooperative auto in sight.

After walking for a km, found an old sardarji who agreed to drop me to an auto which would probably be ready to go to the railway station. He dropped me to Ferozpur Road, bang in front of a newly launched Ludhiana Public Transport Bus, assuring me that it was the cheapest way to get to the station. It was a nice bus – the same low floor design used by DTC in Delhi. But the concept of public transport buses, bus-stops and adherence to running times is new to Ludhiana. Buses stop the same way you hail an auto – say hi to the driver and he stops. Also he likes to wait at the rare formal bus stops till the passengers have no further room to stand. 1.5 km into the journey I realized that at this pace and with possible jams in Chauda Bazaar, I might just not reach in time.

Time for next transport mode switch. Got down and hailed a cycle rickshaw. No jams and reached with 2 minutes to spare! Found a Jammu bound train – Malwa Express – waiting on platform no. 2. Durg Jammu express, which on was running right time – had suddenly found itself late by 2 hours. So what do you do when you have a reserved ticket in a train that is running late by 2 hours – threatening to be more than that and your journey time is only 4 hours? Farmers had decided to shift their households onto the railway tracks in an attempt to force the government to start the paddy purchase. Unfortunately no space in godowns, so it would be interesting to see the effects of this rasta roko.

The Malwa express had been waiting for clearance for the last 2 hours. I asked a policeman, who thought that the situation could improve in a couple of hours time. Now even if you have a reservation on a train on the same day that you want to journey, the rule is that you still need to buy an un-reserved ticket. Reached the counter to find people mostly standing for refunds. The idea of a bus journey to Jammu was not very appealing, so I decided to risk catching the Malwa express. After about 30 minutes of queuing I got the ticket and reached platform 1, to see Malwa express just inching out at platform 2. Jumped over the tracks and handed over my bag to a friendly soul standing on the door and jumped in.

Found a place to sit and at Mukeria railway station found good company also. The gentleman who got in was a retired railway mechanic, who had been super-annuated just a week ago from Jammu. 2 interesting snippets he shared with me. Track electrification work was going on in the Pathankot Jammu route. Every evening the part that was completed is energized? Why? Because if they don’t the wires get stolen. About 20 km of cable was stolen a few months ago..

By the time we crossed Lakhanpur it was dusk – and my friend kept on pointing out to lights in the distance. That he said is Pakistan. In fact the entire Indo-Pak border is lit up at night – by the Indian side of course. The border is just 4 km away from the railway line at a station called Samba. You could see the lights very clearly there.