TODAY -

The Naliya Queen

Kamal Baruah *



The drink India can’t live without tea. So do me. To start a day, chai is more than just a cup of tea. The thick sweet drink tea with ginger at train journey is an integral part of the rhythm of life. And I utilised it with a full glass of masala chai.

It had been innumerable times of my journey during my combatant days at IAF where we engaged to travel a lot due to service exigencies. We were helicoptering often for evacuation to food dropping for stranded people. Travelling by train is a quintessential Indian experience. It is not just about the journey. It’s a huge dollop of nostalgia.

We always kept our kit bag ready for beyond the call of duty. There were several unforgettable incidents that I came across but the journey on the Jewel of Western India was considered it an atypical one. I was on TD (Temporary Duty) to Naliya in 90s. It was a Diesel Locomotive Engine on peculiar Meter Gauged Track originating from Gandhidam. The entire westernmost railway has a special place in the life and heart of extreme point’s people.

The train was unassuming because the travellers used to carry water tankers for home. Also I saw milk containers hanging from the entire windows of the passenger train. Unlike the other route, the train was not very crowded and it was hawker-free. There were few tea sellers serving more for the passengers at the station. After the overnight journey, I was waiting for the morning train at Bhuj.

The drink India can’t live without tea. So do me. To start a day, chai is more than just a cup of tea. The thick sweet drink tea with ginger at train journey is an integral part of the rhythm of life. And I utilised it with a full glass of masala chai.

There were wooden benches inside the coaches. I occupied a window seat for an ideal place for relaxation. Rini Rini, the ankle bells rang at the distant. The Queen accompanied by a crowd of Gujaratis arrived.

The male were wearing traditional white Kediyu (kurta) and Chorno (dhoti) and the Queen (Meghwal women) wore beautiful bandhani handicrafts on saree (chaniya, choli) with embroidery. The metallic silver/gold bangles, earrings, necklaces, nose pins and rings were heavy, artistic and intricately crafted. She seemed to be shy and did not speak and looked downward with churni. It is a symbol of modesty indeed.

The steam engine slowly left the station. The hot wind was blowing towards the compartment. The air was dry and full of dust. It runs only once a day and stops in the mid of the desert when the wind is strong. It also stops if you come shouting and waving to the driver, and he recognizes you.

The train had to stop before the trespassers on the tracks since some level crossing of the route was unmanned. The train was passing through Sukhpar, Deshalpar and Sukhpar Roha. They did not look like a station rather a level crossing gate.

I had noticed that the Asst Loco Pilot jumped down to activate the signals and gates manually. The train guards are trained in operational safety and have route knowledge. At the end, the guard released the signal phases from red to green by opening the gate to allow traffic before leaving. It was such magical journey hitherto harrowing experience in discomfort. The searing summer heat made things worst.

The speed of the train was appallingly slow. It stopped at another barrier. I shook my head in disbelief. All the passengers had quickly left the coach for the daily bazaar leaving bag and baggage. I was surprised what went wrong. It was the Naliya Queen for a tea break at Mothala Halt. Milk Tea and tasty Dhokla appeased my hunger. I took to napping shortly after the refreshment.

Blowing continuous horn of a train whistle is to be a mournful sound at night. It gives the joy of meeting our loved ones and also the sadness of getting drifted away from them. I had woken up by one long horn and a shorter one after a short nap. All passengers returned and the train begun moving.

The train was heading towards a desert. As it drew closer to the enemy border, the landscape started taking on a new appearance. After Dhanvala Wada, and Kothara it finally reached Naliya Cantt. The border village Naliya of Patan district has a population of only a few hundreds. I jumped into the tailgate of the Jeep with my heavy kitbag for Air Force Station Naliya. A siren in the evening was a signal to turn off the lights at that forward base of fighter squadron. Well as the saying goes ‘you come to Naliya crying and leave the place crying’.

The heritage train The Naliya Queen connecting Bhuj-Naliya was constructed in 1980’s due to proximity to border but soon isolated for less traffic and finally abandoned in 2001. Gandhidham-Bhuj section already got converted to BG and now Bhuj-Naliya gauge conversion has been started.

I hope to travel again on that dusty stretch of sand route. I just could not forget that doodh wali masala chai along with staple snacks like papdi, gathiya, jalebi, dhokla and muthiya. Gujrati often invite each other by saying, “ghare chah piva to aavo” (Come home, if you want to drink tea) and I’m lovin’ it.


* Kamal Baruah wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is a former Air Warrior and currently working for SBI Dispur. He can be reached at kamal(DOT)baruah(AT)yahoo(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on March 31, 2019.



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