The heritage train on the ‘Pune – Mumbai’ route covers approx 200 KMs in just over 3 hours. It has a rich legacy and has been in service for over 84 years now – the line has been an electrical one since inception. I came across a lovely photograph of the train somewhere around 1930 and it has truly transformed with the passage of time.
What remains constant is that 100s of passengers use it every day for their commute to office – quite an ideal life to work in the bustling megapolis Mumbai but to live in the cultural capital Pune.
The earliest memories I have of the train is when we got opportunities to make trips to Mumbai while attending school. Be it appearing for a competitive entrance exam like the NDA entrance exam or for a quick 1 day visit to Mumbai, the preferred choice of travel was to catch the Deccan Queen in the morning.
The Deccan Queen had top priority while it was en route – we would see all kinds of trains – passenger trains, goods train, suburban local EMUs waiting on the sidings while the regal train streamed across in full tempo.The train was known for its timeliness wherein a little delay was always accepted by everyone without demur. And the final touchdown of it coasting into the heritage CSTM terminus (VT for the oldies) would be a sign off of a journey well made.
It was a unique train in some ways – all the coaches were interconnected and that was not so very common in those days. It was one of the rare trains to a ‘Dining Car’ wherein you could order snacks and get served while coursing the Ghats. An early halt would be at Lonavala where you could grab some local delights in terms of Chikki and Jelly bean candies. The ghats between Lonavala and Karjat would be navigated slowly as the train passed to the mountainous region and during the monsoons one would be lucky to spot the gushing waterfalls. Karjat was famous for its spicy ‘Vada Pavs’ with the spicy dry chutney made of red chilli and groundnut.
The ‘Monthly Season Ticket’ (MST) coaches, also known as the Pass bogies which were patronized by commuters who has travelled for decades using the train. They used to form popular teams and usually would be found playing a round of cards. Their enthusiasm for the train knew little bounds and they would even celebrate festivals on the train.
I did spend a couple of years managing my routine between the ‘Pune-Mumbai’ circuit – though I could not afford to do a daily commute. I used to spend my weekends in Pune and then return to Office on Monday mornings. The ‘MST’ a/c chair car coach was very convenient – I could work for most of the journey on my laptop powered by battery and usually the broadband connectivity was also available except for the intervening stretch in the mountains.
It has been nearly a decade now since I have been away from the city, but the memories do linger on. I do visit Pune every year and often continue my trip to visit Mumbai as well. On one such occasion I plan to relive the magic of the old journey by doing a trip on the Deccan Queen again.