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The Army Train - A True Life Story

This is a true life story which happened in the year 1985. My father was posted in an army unit which was in a remote place called Raiwala which was a small village with only a railway station, but no bus station. The army unit was situated next to the river called Ganga or Ganges which is a holy river of India. We were there for about ten months. Those days I was around eighteen and had just finished my graduation, but was unable to get a seat for my post graduation.

Life was very tough there. One reason was that I have to face my father everyday who out of his frustration about his 18 year old son spending his time mostly sleeping at home. So he would say I must go out and find some work.

The only way to pass time was go get out of home, go to a nearby town called Haridwar south of Raiwala, which is where the Kumbh Mela which is very happens in India or to a place in the opposite direction north which is called Hrishikesh which is also a place of pilgrimage or else head out to a big city called Dehradun, which is about an hour by train to the north west from home.

Just for dousing curiosity, Kumbh Mela happens just once in twelve years in just four places in rotation in India, namely Prayagraj or Allahabad, Haridwar, Nashik-Trimbakeshwar Simhastha and Ujjain Simhastha, on the banks rivers. In Nashik it is on the banks of river Godavari, in Ujjain Kumbh Mela is held at the banks of river Shipra, at Prayagraj Kumbh Mela is held at the banks of river Saraswati.

The main festival of Kumbh Mela is held at Haridwar where two rivers Ganges and Yamuna meet at Sangam. in 2013 it is estimated that over 120 million people visited Maha Kumbh Mela at Prayagraj in a span of two months. Normally, all the army units are raised in a remote jungle and once it is formed as a fighing force, they are mobilised to a bigger base.

The Army Unit Ordered to Shift to Another Base - A True Life Story

Usually, the army has so many vehicles that any army unit can move their entire unit with all the men and equipment, go and fight anywhere utilising only their own army vehicles. But with the families of the entire army unit to be moved along with the unit using just the military vehicles they have, may be asking for too much.

This new army unit was under order to shift it base from Raiwalato Bhatinda. A unit is normally has a few hundred Officers and men. But with the families included, the number may be a couple of thousands. Also, include the luggage each house hold will be moving with. The army vehicles are too less this huge task. So the Army hired a train to move the entire unit with men, women, children, army vehicles, personal vehicles like two wheelers and bicycles those days because cars were too expensive to own.

Raiwala to Bhatinda Google Map Route
This is the google map showing the route from Raiwala to Bhatinda. Just 385 km by road.

We were told that the train has already been positioned at the Raiwala railway station and the unit has to load everything within three days on the train. We all packed up our entire house in to just four wooden boxes. As wood was costly and steel trunks were even more costly and also because the army unit had tailors and carpenters all the army personnel generally gets boxes made out of discarded wooden ammunition boxes.

The Army Ammunition Boxes Become Personal Luggage Box -  A True Life story

These ammunition boxes last a life time because ammunition comes in boxes made of the best wood available in the country due to safety reasons. You can throw those heavy wooden boxes with a full load of ammunition inside and nothing happens to it. Some people would use the boxes without any modification, but just painting their names on those green coloured boxes.

Even 30 years after retirement, my father still owns those four green wooden ammunition boxes as souvenir from his past army life. We all were very happy to board the train with all our luggage of four boxes. But when we reached the raiway station to board, we were told that all the personnel luggages will either be loaded into luggage railway wagons which will be attached to the train in the end or else they can be put inside the army vehicles.

These army vehicles will then be driven and parked on top of open trailer like train bogies which will also be attached to the same train later just before we departed. Thus there were two trains in the station, the first being passenger bogies for Officers, men and all the families travelling with them. The second train parked alongside the second railway line was luggage vans and trailers with army vehicles. It was such a beautiful scene.

Two long trains parked alongside in a completely picture perfect railway station deep inside a jungle. By the evening on the third day the entire men, families and vehicles etc were ready to move by 4 pm. The Indian railways unaware of what is going to happen had managed two railway train diesel engines at Raiwala for departure at 6 pm.

One Engine or Two Engine Train? The Army And Railways Clash - A True Life Story

One engine for the passenger train with all of us onboard and the second one for the luggage and vehicle loaded train. But the Commanding Officer was not ready for that. He wanted that both these trains be combined and these two engines be connected together in front to pull this unusually long hybrid train.

There was a lot of heated discussions between the Army unit bosses and finally the railway station bosses. had to give up to the CO's decision. They connected the luggage and vehicle bogies also behind our passenger train which now had about 35 bogies agains a normal of 23 odd bogies of a passenger train. By the time all these events happened, it was already time for dinner. And here was the two engined train ready to move.

Raiwala Junction
This is the place where we lived in Raiwala Junction. Our house was near the widest point of River Ganga vey close to the Sita Ram Mandir seen in the Google map screenshot. Click on the picture to view the place where we lived in Raiwala way back in 1985. River Ganges has its widest part of about 2.5 km near where we lived. It was a sight to see the river during monsoons flowing 2500 meters wide and cannot be described in words.

Since the bogies given to the Army train were all independent and could not be connected for people to walk from one bogie to another, there was no choice but to stop the train from departing so that everyone can go to the Langar bogie and collect food. Langar is a term used for catering place or the army kitchen in India. We all took an aluminium dinner plate called mess tin in the army and a steel tumbler each and made a long line at the four doors of the langar bogie.

The Railways Stole Army Train Engines -  A True Life Story

One line each for the women, children, Officers and men. By the time the dinner was served and had by everyone, there was another orderly line made in front of the water tank bogie, to wash hands and the utensils. Everything got over by 10 pm almost three hours after it all started. That is when we all realised that the two engines were gone long ago.

The engines were scheduled to pull some scheduled trains elsewhere. This was followed by another braggle between the railway and the army bosses for a second time that day which lasted till well past midnight. Finally it was decided that by morning 8:00 am there will be two engines made available for a slot of just three hours non stop run of the train.

The explanation given was that those engines have scheduled trains to pull aftre three hours and due to traffic on the single railway line it may not be possible to send this long a train through smaller stations. I woke up to a wistle at 5:30 am the next morning. The army had to muster all the men in the morning sharp at 6:00 am and do PT or physical training for maintaining their health.

Even my father got ready and was gone for PT muster at 5:55 am. The weather in the Raiwala jungle was very cold and I went back to sleep for another half an hour when the commotion of PT woke me up. I saw the army do the mass PT on the railway line with a few people on the platform on the other side witnessing all this.

The PT went on for about an hour and then it was time was a bath and then the breakfast for everyone. By the time everyone settled back in their bogies it was well past 10 am because people were standing in queue for everything starting from the toilets, then for PT, then for taking bath and after that for breakfast.

One Long Army Train - The Team Spirit -  A True Life Story

Finally, wer were all settled in our bogies by 10 am. My father was getting his tumbler ready to collect tea for all of us from the Langar, when it was announced that the 10:30 tea time as well as the arms drill practice both has been cancelled for the day, so as to start the train on time at least  that day. Cancelled tea was a demoralising thing for the army, but the cancellation of the one hour arms drill was more than enough to compensate and make the army men happy.

Now all this was giving a feeling of a picnic trip which has started right from home. By the time the train started moving for the first time with a pair of new engines, from the Raiwala railway station, the starting point of the 11 hour journey, to a place called Bhatinda in the state of Punjab in India, it was already 10:15 am. The train barely was running for about 45 minutes, when a medium sized railway platform came to view and the train stopped.

Railways Stole The Army Train Engines Once Again - A True Life Story

And as the promised three hours from 8:00 am to 11:00 am was over, the railways detached the engines and were sent off to pull their own scheduled trains from the next big station. This was not seen as a set back by the army bosses, because they were already high with the accomplishment of having moved the entire unit including women, children, vehicles and luggage in a single train. When they reach their destination doesn't matter at all.

The army life must go on with the changing positions of the clock needles. The lunch was ready and the whole queueing happened again. We all had a good lunch and had a walk on the platform and some even went out of the railway station, because the railways had informed that two engines cannot be given simultaneously to pull the long army train. The railway staff offered one engine immediately from somewhere, but will leave the luggage and vehicles behind, pulling away only the passenger bogies to Bhatinda.

To the army team spirit, this was just not acceptable. The insisted on pulling on as a single train and single team. So the railways said that the army needs to wait for another day at this station for the two engines to be made available. The army never gives up. So the CO agreed to wait till next day and passed orders that there will be an off in the evening from 4 pm till 7 pm when only those people with families may go out to the small town.

Commanding Officer - King Of The Army - A True Life Story

In the army if the CO says it is night now and what you see in the sky is the moon, at 12 in the noon, his Officers and men will all say it is indeed midnight and will suddenly start to act accordingly as if they were really in the night in broad daylight. The CO or the Commanding Officer is the Emperor in his unit. His word is law. This is required because in war, when he says move forward, everyone needs to trust him and move forward well aware that there is enemy in front waiting to kill. But without trust in the CO the army unit cannot win.

Not only that the CO of the regiment, leads the entire unit. He is always walking in the front in the battle field. The first bullet hits the CO being in the front and only when he falls will the next bullet hits his second in command and thereafter in the sequence of seniority. Thus everyone knows that each of his seniors has to be dead first before a bullet hits him. So a soldier blindly obeys and follows his senior.

Thus, there was no need to ask if everyone has come back to their respective bogies they live in, before 7 pm because at 7 pm there was a muster of all men and everyone is accounted for and it is ensured that no one has gone missing from the train. Even otherwise the head count in the morning fallin for PT will reveal if someone has gone missing. The entire army will go searching for him and the train will not move till the missing team mate is found and accounted for.

The Army Men And Families Learn to Live on Train - A True Life Story

Then came the evening dinner time when the same scene was repeated. But this time even the women and children have started behaving themselves and larned to stand patiently in line in front of the Langar, Water bowser bogie and toilets etc. In any case we all had nowhere to go till next morning. We were all a team in less than 24 hours. This time, the dinner took under two hours conpared to three hours the previous day.

We were all learning the art of being desciplined in life like my father and the army he served for the nation. Three days gone by without the army getting perturbed about anything. The Army lived, bathed, ate, did their morning PT, mid day arms drill and continued to work on the train as if they owned the entire railways and that train in particular. The next day two engines were made available by about 2 pm. The train was running smoothly for about an hour and a half.

I always used to sit on the seat near the open window of the train without any grills, enjoying the view of the thick jungle outside. I had spotted all kinds of animals in those jungles as the train sped through it, like black monkeys, peacock which is the national bird of India, multicoloured birds, especially a fleet of parrots often. Then I realised that the train has been slow for about five minutes. As I was thinking about the slow speed, there was sudden brake applied and the train started decelerating and came to a stop.

The Army Train Stopped for Shooting - A True Life Story

I could smell the burning smell coming from the wheels which generated heat due to the sudden brake application. I put my whole body out of the windows to see ahead why the train stopped. There was no railway station in that jungle. So something really wrong must have happened. I craned my neck to see what happened. Far away I could see that the two engines were half way on the bridge. Some people including a couple of ladies were walking alongside the train. I too got out of the train through as did many others. I walked towards the front of the train.    

Yamuna River Bridge
This is the Railway Bridge over the River Yamuna where the ladies wanted to click photos standing on the train engines which were exactly on top of the Haryana and Uttar Pradesh border dividing line seen on the google map.

The train's engines were already half way the long bridge over a huge river called Yamuna.I was a bit scared walking on the open bridge. I took the risk of going up to the engines without fear because this was a private train run by the army. They won't move the train unless everyone is back on board the train. As I reached the engines carefully walking along the bridge, I saw what was happening.

The two ladies of the Commanding Officer and the Second in Command were standing on the front end of the first engine and a an orderly or helper was clicking photographs with a huge magnesium flash camera set up a few yards in front of the train. In fact the boundary of the state of Uttarpradesh and Haryana passes exactly over the center of this bridge over the river Yamuna where the train engines were stopped now.

Probably, that is the reason for all this photoshoot session standing exactly on the Haryana-Uttarpradesh border. That is when I heard the whistle. The whistle indicated tea time. The entire lot of people came out of the train and lined up in a very disciplined manner to collect tea with whatever tumblers they had. Some were outside the train just to enjoy the jungle view. Another 45 minutes went past before everyone settled back in their bogies.

After the photo shoot and the tea time was over, the train started moving. We had wasted over an hour and a half thanks to the desires of two women expressed to their powerful husbands. TAn hour and a half after it stopped when we reached a big station about one hour later. Total running time of the train that day was two and a half hours only excluding the one and a half hour stop over the bridge for the photoshoot.

The Monkeys Rob The Army Train - A True Life Story

When we were all out of our bogies, there came another army. This army was of monkeys, who showed their teeth and screeched to scare the people who were still inside the train and got away with all the fruits we all had bought from the town we were stopped before the train moved. We lost only a bunch of bananas kept outside. The rest of the food articles were inside a steel trunk below the berth survived the monkey army attack and loot of the train. How the hell did the army manage to stop the train right on the bridge?

The Commanding Officer is somewhere in the beginning of the train near the engines in a first class bogie. There were no airconditioned bogies those days. The Adjutant, usually a junior officer, sat in the guard bogie which is a small 5 meter almost open bogie with the railway guard. The railway guard cabin, the Commanding Officer's bogie and the engine driver were connected by a sound powered telephone.

In a sound powered telephone you need to rotate the handle of a small generated inside the telephone a few times and then talk. So no external power or battery were required to run these phones. The CO tells the Adjutant to stop the train on the bridge from his bogie. The Adjutant will tell the rear bogie guard who controls the train drivers and the train stops. As simple as that. The two engines were still attached to our train.

But for next four hours, the train could not move because the railway lines were not free for the army train. Even if the railway staff send the army train off, there was no guarantee that the train will reach the next station in time, thanks to the way the army works. They stop the train for photo shoot or something else again and disrupt the entire Indian railways schedules causing chaos.

The Railways Stole the Army Train Engine at Dinner -  A True Life Story

The army dinner had started at around 8:00 pm and went on for next two hours. During the time dinner was on, the train engines were detached and sent off for pulling their sheduled trains elsewhere. That night we spend on the railway station with a hope of moving the next day. Finding two engines was a herculean task for the railways.

So the army train minus the engines stayed on that railway station for two days. The army did its full routine smoothly and in the evenings of both days the entire family was allowed to go out into the town. It was a nice experience. Two days later we had two engines and the train was put on motion again. So often we were at some remote station for over a day after every one or a maximum two hours of running the train.

The Army Stops Train on Tracks for Morning Exercise -  A True Life Story

The adjutant working from the railway guard's cabin at the rear, will take permission from the CO in the First Class coach on the sound powered telephone and stop the train on the tracks whenever it is, when it is time for morning PT , breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea time, and also anytime the army feels like stopping the train with total disregard to the time of the day and blocking railway traffic as those days most were single lines unlike today.

The Train

Just because they were in a train did not deter the unit from doing PT in the morning. In fact, the army personnel will take a short jog around the city or village where they have stopped the train for PT. And during breakfast, lunch, dinner and tea time, the entire unit's JCO's and Jawans will patiently stand in line as per rank and seniority, at the four doors of the langar bogie for meals and tea. There will be a ton of civilians who come around just to see how an army unit performs its routine even when on the move.

A Train Full of Cows - The Army Train Stops for Milk -  A True Life Story

One day the train stopped because there was a long goods train full of cows in it, at a small station, stopped over for the Army train to pass. The CO saw this and ordered the Adjutant on phone to stop the train and reversed it back to that station, so that everyone can take free fresh milk against the tinned milk used daily. After getting milk, every jawan was now lined up at the langar bogie, to get the milk boiled. That was about four hours gone.

As we were enjoying the fresh milk, the railways decided to detach and send the engines to pull some other trains. The engines were back only after about 36 hours, but no one seemed to be bothered. The Army unit went on with its daily life as if they were in their base unit. The stopping of the train by the army for conducting their routine and durties of the day, the non availability of two engines together to pull the long army train, the adamant army not letting the train to be split into two for faster movement, the desires of the top brass ladies, the tea time, meals time, PT time etc caused unusual delays of the army movement and frustration to the Indian Railways.

The Army Train Travelled 385 KM in Eleven Days - A True Life Story

It was just an eleven hour over night journey from Raiwala to Bhatinda. But thanks to the way of life in the army, the seven hour train journey of just about 385 km, took eleven days to complete at a rate of just 35 km a day. We were now approaching Bhatinda railway station. The train had slowed down to walking pace at least three kilometers before reaching the Bhatinda Railway staton. I felt sad at the thought of getting down from this train we had lived for eleven long days.

We all had started enjoying the life on the train which was now coming to an end. As I looked out of my window, I saw a very long line of tents pitched all along the railway track. There were so many army personnel in uniform and there were women and children too in each of these unlimited number tents. I thought, these people are here waiting for us to get down, so that they can board the train and start their journey to some other location the way my father's unit was moved to this place.

The Army Train Reached its Destination - A True Life Story

And finally the train came to a halt. We were all ordered to alight from the train. As we alighted from the train, these people who were waiting near those tents started coming and helping us with our luggage and very cordially invited us into the tents. That is when I realised that there was an entire army unit waiting over a day in tents to welcome our unit to Bhatinda.

There was one tent for each family. Each army soldier of our unit was welcomed by a soldier of an equivalent rank, from the welcoming unit. It was evening 4 pm when we reached. So there was tea and snacks placed inside the tents for us. We sipped the tea chatted with our hosts as if we knew them for years. The bonding in the army is instant.    

My New House at Bhatinda
The new houses you see here are the ones specifically built brand new at Bhatinda for giving to my father's unit being shifted from Raiwala to Bhatinda. Even the paint smell was still there in the house when we opened and entered the new house.

Then each family man was given the key to his house and a three tonner army vehicle of the welcoming unit, for loading his luggage from the train. We all boarded our three tonner vehicle which was nothing but a truck and sat on top of our own trunks.

A New House for Each Army Family - A True Army Life Story

The three tonned stopped in front of a brand new house built for our unit specifically and taken over a week or ten days back. The smell of Paint in the house was still fresh as we entered our new house. Even today as I am finishing this true life story which happened three decades or more ago, I can still experience that fresh paint smell.

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