Sadly, it had come time to leave Kolkata for Chennai. My train wasn’t until 14:50, so I went out for a final train and tram ride. After Breakfast, I made my way to the now familiar Ballygunge station, and caught a suburban train to Tollygunge. I exited to the street, and started walking along, waiting for a tram. In the 30 minutes, I walked, I only saw I tram, and that was going in the opposite direction (I did, however, see 3 nervous cows being walked along the road by high spirited teenagers for an upcoming Hindu festival). Time ran out and I had to catch the train back to the Hotel to check out without the farewell tram ride.
From my little ferry ride the previous day, I had worked out that it would be almost as fast (and about 90% cheaper) to catch a train to BBD Bagh then a ferry across the river to Howrah station, than it would be to take a taxi. After checking out, I cheerfully declined the doorman’s offer of a taxi, and walked through the midday heat to the Ballygunge station. At Ballygunge, I asked for a ticket to BBD Bag, only to be told by the matronly booking clerk “I’m sorry sir, there is no train to that station until 15:40”. I heart sank “not even from Majerhat?” “no sir, none at all”. Weighing up my other options (overcrowded bus or train to Tollygunge, then tram, then ferry). Deflated, I walked out the front of the station to catch a taxi.
After another hair raising trip through the Kolkata traffic, my taxi dropped me off at Howrah station. I had about 2 hours before my train departed, so I roamed the platforms photographing the trains, before having lunch in the air conditioned upstairs restaurant. I was glad I still had a lot of time before my train departed, as there was a long, slow moving queue. I finally made it to the front and ordered. The cashier took my order, before asking me for my table number, and I told him that I didn’t have one. I said it wouldn’t be a problem, just tell the waiter to look for the only westerner in the place. The cashier gave a small grin and inclined his head in agreement.
Lunch taken care of, I went to find my train. The 24 car train had mostly second class and sleeper class, with a couple of 3AC sleepers, a couple of 2AC sleepers and a composite 1AC/2AC sleeper. I found my berth in the 1AC section, which already had an older couple inside, who were going to Cuttack, which we would reach before 8pm. We departed only a couple of minutes late, and quickly left Kolkata behind.
I had noticed soldiers on the train, and they walked through the cars patrolling and watchful. We stopped at Bhadrak just after dusk. My carriage was the second last, behind mine was an unreserved second class carriage (the cheap seats). I stepped onto the platform as we had a few minutes here, and saw a soldier keeping a suspicious eye on the second class car, making sure the rabble didn’t go anywhere near the air conditioned cars. The rabble didn’t care, and laughed and joked as they completely ignored the soldier.
The older couple left the train, and were replaced by 3 more people travelling to various locations. It was time to make the cabin up for sleep, and we all retired to our bunks. Shortly after I drifted off to sleep, I was awakened by a loud droning noise; one of my fellow passengers was a snorer, loud enough to be heard over the rumble of the train. The snorer awoke early (at least he had a good sleep), and cheerfully turned on all of the compartment lights at his stop before noisily retrieving his luggage. This wouldn’t have been a problem, had it not been 4:15am. Stop completed and lights extinguished, the rest of the compartment once again went off to sleep.
Later in the morning, I awoke with the sound of the train’s whistle louder than I remembered it. In my half awake fog, I couldn’t quite work out why, until I my head cleared and I realised we were going the other way; somewhere during the night we had reversed direction and the locomotive was now only 1 carriage away from mine. We stopped at Vijayawada and I knew we had a few minutes, so I stepped out to buy some fruit. The passengers in the adjacent second class car, who had been sitting up all night in a cramped, non air-conditioned car were no less boisterous. They were buying food of very questionable quality from the vendors on the platform (cold samosas and rice with curry).
From here, the Coromandel Express lived up to its name, running non-stop for 6 hours and 30 minutes from Vijayawada to Chennai Central; a distance of 432 km. At Chennai Central station, I dodged the taxi drivers and walked the 300m along the busy Walltax Rd to my hotel. Unlike my Kolkata hotel, there were plenty of restaurants near this hotel. I checked in; the shower was hot and the Wi-Fi worked. All was good with the world.