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kk Passenger Train It was partly serendipity and partly our search for a journey where travelling is as much fun as arriving that led us to board the KK passenger train that leaves daily from Visakhapatnam railway station. Although, neither the unobtrusive train standing at a lonely platform nor its Spartan second class compartment seemed like an exciting beginning to the journey, the fact that each of us was able to secure a window seat gladdened our hearts for the moment.

Around 7.30 am, the train pulled out of the station like a sluggish insect and we settled back to await the untold surprises that previous travelers had hinted at. Hurtling through 72 tunnels, trundling over 82 bridges and riding up to Similiguda, the highest broad gauge station in India, were a few of the attractions on this route. The train would also take us to the doorstep of the scenic Chitrakote waterfalls, dubbed the Niagara of India.

In 1966, the Kottavalsa - Kirandul Railway Line (KK line) was introduced to carry the iron ore from the Bailadila mines near Kirandul to the port - city of Visakhapatnam. An engineering marvel , cutting across rocky terrain, forests and valleys , the 470 km long rail route traversed the three states of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Chhattisgarh - and in the process opening up a heretofore, almost unknown part of the country.

The rail route meandered through the forested Anantagiri hills, the picturesque Araku valley, tribal townships like Koraput and Jeypore, the forests of Bastar, ultimately entering the Dandakaranya plateau. However, the mineral driven economic gain was so profound that only a solo Passenger train, mostly for the benefit of the work force, was allowed to run daily between Visakhapatnam and Kirandul. The goods trains, however, retained the right of way - a time - honoured practice followed even today. Hence not many people travel this slow moving passenger train.

Full of surprises
the cadence of the slow motion had almost lulled us to a reverie when a loud hoot issued from the engine, and we were startled to see a dramatic change in the scenery. Some unseen hand transposed us to a world of greenery. The train was laboring uphill, hugging the densely vegetated Anantagiri hillside. Tall trees, burdened with a heavy canopy and dense undergrowth, covered the hillside. The monsoon rain had just retreated and there was a pungent, moist smell arising from the forest.

Even before we had time to recover from our initial excitement, the train was hurtling thr4ough the first tunnel. It was not a very long tunnel and soon we were basking in daylight. The longest tunnel on the rout was nearly 800 feet long. A squeal from passed beneath a torrent coming down the hillside and the foaming spray had wet them.

Sometime, we could see the entire train from tip to tail, curving like a giant slug across the hillside Unscheduled stops alternated with the scheduled ones, giving us an opportunity to soak in the beauty of the countryside. The stop at Similiguda station called for a photo opportunity. Perched at (3,268feet), the station was the highest on the broad gauge sector of the highest on the broad gauge sector of the Indian Railway. Sometimes, the regular stop were quaint places too.

We are stopped at Shivlingapuram railway station, where the temple courtyard had been converted to a platform. Much to our surprise, a few passenger got off the train to offer prayers while the engine driver waited patiently for them to return and resume their journey. The more adventurous can also request a ride in the engine for this is the vantage seat enjoy the serpentine route dotted with tunnels, gores and hilly cascades, at least till the red rock valley of Araku. If you have time to spare, you can get off the train to enjoy some of the pretty hamlets before resuming your journey a few days later.

Araku Valley We broke journey at Araku railway station for a two nights' stay at the Mayuri Tourism. Located on a hillock within the Araku valley, the precincts o the lodge commanded a sweeping view of the countryside. The place was shaped like a huge open - air tribal museum with giant sculptures dotting the landscape. Far below , we would spot the occasional good strains moving like giant caterpillars trough the red earth valley.

By road, we backtracked to Boraguhalu. It is a network of subterranean caverns, 40 m below the earth, dating back to prehistoric days. Earlier we had passed the Boraguhalu station on our way to Araku by train but avoided it because we did not want t to lug around with our baggage. From Araku, we traveled by road to the towns of Koraput and Jeypore in Orissa. From Jeypore, we again resumed our journey by the KK Rail.

Among the tribals
At Koraput and Jeypore, we also realized how closely the KK Line has grooved with the lifestyle of the local tribal people. Just before the arrival of the train (be prepared to make huge allowances between the expected time of arrival and the actual arrival), we found tribal women gathering at the drinking water taps at the station. To prevent misuse of water (potable water is pretty scarce in the region), the taps go live only half an hour before the actual arrival of the train and remain so till half an hour after the departure of the train.

So this is the time for the local women to queue up for water at the station. Sometime before the train arrived, we found local villagers and sellers bringing in their produce for transporting them up and down the line. Impromptu markets would spring up near the station, where brisk business would place before the transporters arrived by the train.

Boarding the train once again for the final leg of the journey, we arrived at Jagadalpur. This part of the journey was not that spectacular, but it allowed us a deeper insight into the tribal land of Bastar. Jagdalpur was the capital of the former princely state of Bastar and an important commercial town of the area today.

There are some very good private hotels here and we put up at one in the heart of the town. We hired a =car and visited the Tirathgarh Waterfalls and the Kanger Valley National Park in the pre-lunch session, while Chitrakote was reserved for the post - lunch hour. This helped us to catch both the cascades in their sunlit glory. Thirty -eight km west of Jagdalpur, the mighty Indravati River takes an almost 100 feet plunge down sheer cliff and is known as the Chitrakote waterfalls. The best time to see the pristine waterfalls. Are just after the monsoon, when the rain - fed river swells into a rage and then cascades past a kilometer long horseshoe - shaped time. The foaming water catches the sunlight and throws up a million rainbows. We returned to town as daylight began to fade.

Owing to constraints of time, we refrained from taking the passenger train to Visakhapatnam. We took a faster us to Raipur , 300 km away and then took the Kolkata bound Bombay Mail home. But the memory of the journey always lingers in our mind Even today, no effort has been made to promote this beautiful stretch as a tourist attraction. Perhaps, that has preserved the romance and the unspolit beauty of this little known corner of the wild country.