Chasing history, trains and the rains

4th Jul 2014
Photo of Chasing history, trains and the rains 1/9 by Deeptangan Pant
The Murmagao-Hubli Railway Line
Photo of Chasing history, trains and the rains 2/9 by Deeptangan Pant
Carving the Western Ghats with perseverance
Photo of Chasing history, trains and the rains 3/9 by Deeptangan Pant
Engineering that survived the test of time
Photo of Chasing history, trains and the rains 4/9 by Deeptangan Pant
Chasing the trains in the monsoons
Photo of Chasing history, trains and the rains 5/9 by Deeptangan Pant
Trekking from Castle Rock to Kulem
Photo of Chasing history, trains and the rains 6/9 by Deeptangan Pant
The Dudhsagar Falls
Photo of Chasing history, trains and the rains 7/9 by Deeptangan Pant
The remnants of a forgotten era
Photo of Chasing history, trains and the rains 8/9 by Deeptangan Pant
Caranzol Railway station
Photo of Chasing history, trains and the rains 9/9 by Deeptangan Pant
Castle Rock, The gateway to the Ghats

In 1661 the city of Bombay was ceded to England by Portugal as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza when she wed King Charles II. In the next couple of centuries Bombay emerged as a prominent port on the West Coast overshadowing the once glorious province of Goa. To revive the ailing economy of Goa, in 1888, a meter gauge railway track became functional connecting the port town of Murmagao in Portuguese Goa to New Hubli in Dharwar district of British India. The track, owned by the London based Portuguese West of India Guaranteed Railway Company, was born on the sea-shore and threaded the Western Ghats to meet the westwards running connecting line of Southern Mahratta Company. 

For more than a hundred years trains have chugged along the Murmagao railway line and apart from being a valuable avenue of transportation it is endowed with immense natural beauty. A trek from Castle Rock in Karnataka to Kulem in Goa, along the railway track, is a trekker's delight and a truly memorable adventure.

The Dudhsagar Waterfalls, located high up on the Mandovi River’s watershed, remain quiet for most part of the year and spring to life during the rainy season. Beholding the gushing water leap from the edge of towering cliffs and cascade down the slippery worn out slope is a sobering experience. If one is lucky one can witness a train crawl on the viaduct framed against the rising spray of water emanating from the waterfall. A camping site sits a few yards from the viaduct; at night the pitter patter of rain and the thudding of the trains are a lullaby to the tired trekkers.
Photo of Dudhsagar Falls, Sonaulim, Goa, India by Deeptangan Pant
Along the railway track from Castle Rock to Kulem are three stations – Caranzol, Dudhsagar and Sonalium. They are buzzing with several railway staff and workers working tirelessly, often in pouring rain, to ensure that the track is viable for operations and all safety norms are met. From Sonalium one has the option of taking a dirt road through the woods that is also used by motorists coming from Kulem and heading to the fall. Several streams cross this dirt road and crossing them during the monsoons can be a bit tricky.
Photo of Caranzol Railway Station, Caranzol, Goa, India by Deeptangan Pant
Apart from being a useful mode of transportation the Ghat section of the railway line also harks back to olden times. Buildings in varied states of disrepair are all that remains of the government apparatus that once stood here on the border of British India and Portuguese Goa. Moss and lichen have taken over lonely dilapidated structures along the railway track. The ruins at Castle Rock reminisce the days when weary travelers crossing the border lined up in the offices for immigration checks.
Photo of Dudhsagar, South Goa, Goa, India by Deeptangan Pant
The Murmagao railway line never delivered the economic impetus it was designed for and Bombay continued to grow as the most favored port of ships arriving from Europe. But today the route is used extensively for transferring goods over the Ghats and this is evident at Castle Rock railway station where trains loaded with a variety of goods await their turn to indulge in a roller coaster ride over the hills.
Photo of Castle Rock, Karnataka, India by Deeptangan Pant
For more than a hundred years trains have chugged along the Murmagao railway line and with the track now converted to broad gauge the traffic keeps on running. Passenger trains and goods carriages thunder on the clattering rails and the wail of their sirens echoes in the narrow valleys and the wooded hills. Breathing smoke and fire the engines lug the mass of metal up the slopes rushing past sheer drops, milky waterfalls, impatient streams and impenetrable forests.
Photo of Sonalium by Deeptangan Pant
Trekking along the railway track during the monsoons doesn't disappoint anyone seeking the ferocity of the monsoons and the explosion of greenery which accompanies it. Add to this the thrill of playing hide and seek with trains darting in and out of the tunnels and one is assured of a memorable adventure. The fog roams freely on the mountain tops and envelops the dense jungles that give birth to thundering streams tempting the onlooker for a quick dip. The main attraction of the trek is the Dudhsagar Waterfall accessible by a 14 km walk from Castle Rock or alternatively an 11km trek from Kulem.
Photo of Kulem, Goa, India by Deeptangan Pant
Tackling the steep slopes, dense jungles, unbearable heat, incessant rains, diseases, landslides and wild animals that define the Western Ghats was an ambitious endeavor. The railway track was achieved by an amalgamation of the best of engineering expertise, machinery and skilled labourers toiling under inhospitable conditions. The majority of the workforce consisted of mainly South Asians who were involved in the daunting task of digging and moving earth and rock. At the peak of its construction there were around 16000 people, hailing from Afghanistan to Ceylon, employed in the Ghats.
Photo of Carving the Western Ghats by Deeptangan Pant
The railway track was dotted with fourteen dark tunnels, seven lean bridges and five sturdy viaducts. The tunnels have been dug into the granite and schist hills and one can imagine the struggles of the workers labouring in the hot and rotten air of the claustrophobic tunnels fraught with the danger of collapsing. The viaducts over the Sanguem and Paroda rivers and the Dudhsagar Waterfalls are mentionable. The longest tunnel is the Tunnel No 2 (traveling from Castle Rock in Karnataka to Kulem in Goa) measuring 409.95m.
Photo of Engineering that survived the test of time by Deeptangan Pant