Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Dharakhoh

There is a place on this planet which you probably would have never heard of, had you not been reading this post. Chances are, that after reading this post you will forget about it and get on with your lives again. But that is not the point, infact there IS no point. It just so happens that it is there.

You probably won't get see it on National Geographic because there are no big cats around here, neither is it home to any exotic flora or fauna. You probably would never read about it in the Lonely Planet as there is no German Bakery selling cinnamon bread, neither is the place a hit with backpackers looking for cheap drugs, sex and instant nirvana. There is virtually nothing there to see in Dharakhoh and yet I am writing about it ? I would perhaps be the first person to write about this place and I might be the last person to write about it.

So where on earth is Dharakhoh? Let me tell you for starters that you cant get there by road, the only way to get there is by rail or by foot. Take any 18 coach train (yes count the coaches to be sure, any less than 18 and you don't get there... strange isn't it?)from Bhopal going towards Nagpur and get ready to move towards the door after you cross Ghoradongri. Make sure you stay to the left hand doors and all of a sudden the train sweeps across a curve and slows down. You would find an engine or two waiting in the siding as you come to a halt. While you get off, you would see the engine move in slowly behind your train and attach itself to it.

A minute or two later, a loud horn will reverberate through the hills and your train will move on. You will find yourself at DHQ - as the Indian Railways likes calling this place, and still you won't find it. Why? For the simple reason that it isn't there !! Its just a spot on the Indian Railways map from where a Ghat (Hill) Section starts and special rules apply for train working. The name is derived from a brook (Dhara) that flows out of a small cave (Khoh) and down the hills, which as my good friend M informs me, are part of the Mahadeo hills.

As your trains makes its way up the steep incline, a sudden curtain of silence falls on the place. Suddenly, the chirping of crickets is the loudest sound you hear and you find yourself standing on a small ridge surrounded by all sides by thick forests covering virtually every inch in sight. Start walking in the same direction as your train and after about a kilometer or so, you would come across a small hut by the trackside and peering inside you may come across Shyam Saran. Shyam Saran is a keyman, one of the gazillions that the Indian Railways employs. His job, is to keep you alive.

Be it day or night, he walks the tracks from Dharakhoh to Maramjhiri - 13 kilometers uphill checking every nut, bolt and tie. He has been doing that for donkey's years without a promotion. He doesn't know what a multiplex is, nor does he give a damn about the Sensex crossing 10k. He cares two hoots for the Ambani brothers and is the least bit bothered about Sourav being dropped and the Lok Sabha being stalled.

He is happy where he is, because he gets to eat two square meals a day and gets a good night's sleep after a long hard day at work. He is due to retire in a few years and he has no plans. He lives in a small hamlet a few hills away and wants to pass the rest of his days in peace there. And so do I, because there is no internet in Dharakhoh, neither is there any mobile phone signal. Glabal warming is yet to be an issue here and no one seems to know much about Bin Laden or Pravin Togadia.

All that is there in Dharakhoh is an eerie sense of quiet. There are close to 200 train movements here each day and yet not one can manage to spoil the tranquility of this place. There would be a million other places like this one around the world, but none quiet like Dharakhoh. One moonlit night I plan to go back to Dharakhoh and sit on a rock on the hill overlooking the tracks. I plan to smoke some weed and hear the rheostatic brakes of a descending set of bankers scream through the Mahadeo hills. There is no reason for me to do that, for Dharakhoh is virtually in the middle of nowhere, and that's precisely why I want to go there.......

16 comments:

Bharath M said...

Brilliant piece of descriptive writing! And as you say, there ain't another place on this planet like Dharakhoh.

ps: why don't you link to the photos we took. You can be excused for railway geekery this time :-)

chandni said...

well done! its a great post...

Even though u say its in the middle of nowhere...your writing makes one want to visit nevertheless :)

ps: I am coming along next time...

Anonymous said...

Let me know the next time you go.
Q.

Pareshaan said...

Very nice, reminds of Bond's Time Stops at Shamli.

Ravi said...

This is nice.

I have travelled on that route a few times, and I vividly remember Dharakhoh. I guess its because the train stops there, and more so because the strange name of that place. You've given the origin of the name, but I always thought that people usually get lost here, hence the name. I also remember Ghoradongri.

I remember seeing a very old and huge tree on the platform of Dharakhoh. Is it still there? The platform itself is a clearing of land between the track and the dense jungle beyond.

Thanks for refreshing my memory.

Vrij said...

Lovely piece of writing..

Shruthi said...

Beautifully written!

Anonymous said...

what a great post this is...absolutely superb...sort of mystifies the reader about Dharakoh...why don't you put up some pics (if you have some) to go along with this post? like you, i am also a rail enthusiast....there's an unmistakable touch of Ruskin Bond in you....according to Bond, India can be truly discovered not in its giant smelly noisy cities but in the quiet towns and suburbs ..places which are, as you say, in the middle of nowhere. please keep posting such great stuff.

Anonymous said...

Hello Nomad...
I think this piece is brilliant...

what do you do? I couldnt help but notice the way you write about trains...

a sincere request...please post pics! Thanks nad continue writing!

Red Dee said...

Absolutely.



Its one place where time stands still.
Funny contradiction cos we are on a moving train. I've been travelling on the delhi bangalore for seven years and i still childishly lean on the door waiing for Maramjhiri. My train 2628 passes around sunset and everytime its a breathtaking view with a different hue (before sunset,after sunset at sunset.winter,monsoon summer..etc). i pass betul and i am at the door.. Hanging by the door and filling ones lungs with a deep draught of the fresh air....it undescribable. I want to live in one of those tunnels...

Sometimes I wish i get away from the world and then the last materialistic thing I'd do is use some influence and fill that vacancy after shyam sharan retires.

Since I have a guitar, you get some weed when you come along.

Parag Rai said...

Thanks for writing about the good place Dharakhoh. I belong to place Betul, Dharakhoh is part of Dist Betul and just 20 min away. This jorney through this exotic place is really worth. You can find the natures beauty here.

Sidhusaaheb said...

Dharakhoh definitely sounds like a place I would like to visit at some point of time.

Thanks for writing about it.

Swaran said...

Dharakhoh is one really extraordinary of places which even i have noticed a couple of times. I have a very fresh idea of this place infact the entire Ghat section... During rains, its marvelous!!!
I haven't been there like our nomad has, but reading his work i can surely feel my presence made amidst dharakhoh...

subrat dam said...

Well! I had an opportunity to visit this place recently, though I had a desire to walk on the ghat section long ago which was prompted by the mesmerizing & breath taking views, particularly after the monsoons.But I drove to this station from the nearby town of Betul in a Bolero. There is no definitive road, just a dusty muddy passage on the hilly track from the village called Chikhlar to Dharakhoh passing via a village called sirhani on the fringe of the station.The railway track is visible to the naked eye in the north south passage, The track seem to disappear suddenly in both directions. The whole area is like a huge bowl in the midst of dense forests lined by Sagwan trees which typically have large leaves roughly the size of an Indian thali.But I could not trace the enigmatous Shyamsunder. in fact there is no single gangman manning the tracks. A modern well equipped electrical test engine runs along the section between Dharakhoh & Maramjhiri routinely to maintain the overhead electrical installations & the gangman do carry out the manual checks along the route in shifts.The trackers or engines constantly move between the two stations ferrying the trains. The stationmaster at Maramjhiri is busy man shuffling between 12 odd telephones of different makes & the electronic panel & shouts to his team on a walkie talkie every few minutes. I was informed that the panel & movement of trains along this route is so important that it is directly displayed in the headquarters in Bombay.
There is new construction being carried out at Dharakhoh, pavements are being laid & the road is being strengthened with concrete. There is along platform in the middle with a shaded area where the workers rest but there are no passengers as this station is only meant to attach trackers to up & down trains. regarding the beauty or serenity that you had mentioned. it proliferates here undisturbed & one can spend a whole day here provided one carries some foodstuff to energize the belly as there is plenty of silent beauty here to energize the soul. There is no food stall here. How about the locals? do they feel the same? well! not really, as they are more concerned about the tiring work.
The intervening forests are home to tribals. They are not prosperous by modern standards but seem unconcerned & are apparently happy.
More About nature next time.

SUBRAT DAM said...

I visited both dharakhoh & marmajhiri though by the land route after reading your story. I walked a bit on both stations to get a feel of what u said. Beleive me the experience was exhilarating. i stood there on the platform at dharakhoh & was lost in eternity. took a book & read a few pages as if i was a part of that place. had n opartunity to tak to the SM at marmazhiri n was simply flabberghasted by his daily hectic routine. as such the whole of gondwanaland is quiet a place. laid back, quiet, serene n there is no hurrying up.

Anonymous said...

My Father was working in RJ Shah and company which built all the tunnels for the doubling of the Dharakoh-Maramjhiri section in 1966.
Bharath Moro has the pictures of the tunnels with 1966 inscribed on the tunnels. Shri A.R. Raichur was the chief engineer. M.P.Pattani was senior project advisor. They were fantastic days. A junior engineer used to live on a tent at the top of a hill. One day at lunch his parked jeep started to roll down the hill and fell on the main Chennai Delhi line, single line when the tunnel construction was going on for the doubling works. Gangmen carried flares those days on that section. Flares were fired into the air and an approaching train warned and halted. AR Raichur is probably the only one alive and very, very old
and he lives in Matunga. RJ Shah built many more tunnels in India. Kalagarh, Ramganga project near Corbett Park, Giri Bata project, Himachal Pradesh are some of the other projects.