Why are so many trains cancelled during winter?

Winter in North India is quite severe, resulting in dense fog and drop in visibility. Visibility in most major cities of India falls to less than 50 metres. This results in transportation problems, causing delay in trains and buses. Trains and buses can not pick up pace owing to limited visibility, and has to travel at a much lower maximum speed than required. Hence, most of the long-distance transportations reach their destination very late. In this article, let us limit our discussions to trains.

Train drivers face difficulty in spotting what is in front of them. Most importantly they have a high chance of missing the signals which they require to prevent train accidents. Though this occurs for trains only during early morning, the rest of the trains throughout the day get piled up as many busy routes run 150-200% of their maximum capacity. One delayed train leads to delays in several trains following it. This is not the case with buses and the roads are not that congested, and hence, this fog problem causes a major lag in trains.

This cumulative late arrival results in delay along the entire winter season. Hence, we see many trains being cancelled throughout the winter. This occurs mainly in routes following the northern fog belt in India, the southern routes have less impact. Hence, we also see many north-bound trains being short-terminated to restrict them to south or central India. Also, premium category trains, like rajdhani and satabdi makes other trains less priority, resulting in further delay of passenger and mail/express trains.

However, during the Covid-19 pandemic, as fewer trains were running, only a handful of trains got delayed owing to fog. As the gap between trains was large, delay of one train did not affect the trains following. This shows that if we can decrease the congestion in rail traffic, we can significantly reduce the delays owing to fog. Also, as the DFC is progressing swiftly, and some sections have been opened for public, fewer delays have been seen on Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Howrah lines. Operation of the entire Western and Eastern DFC may result in significant loss in train delays in winter.

Also, the signal system in Indian Railways needs upgradation. Automatic Train Controlling Systems need to replace manual signals. European Train Controlling System (ECTS), Automatic Train Protection System (ATPS), GPS based fog safety devices, or similar indigenous technologies are required along most of the fog-prone areas. Similarly, we need to increase inland shipping along the Ganga-Hooghly and Brahmaputra rivers for cargo transport. At least the busiest routes like Delhi-Mumbai, Delhi-Howrah and Delhi-Chennai are required to see advanced technology in controlling the operation of trains so that fog delays are minimized.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Winter Fairs in West Bengal

Winter fairs are an important part of Bengali cultural cum religious meet. The months of Poush and Magh fall in December and January, the winter-time in West Bengal. During winter, the climate of southern parts of West Bengal remains cool and pleasant, with almost no rain. That is why, this is the best time for fairs, called mela in Bengali in various districts in West Bengal. Uncountable small fairs are held in almost all parts of West Bengal at the peak of winter. In this article, we have listed 5 fairs that have special mention throughout the world for their cultural and religious importance.

1)Gangasagar Mela

Gangasagar Mela is the world’s second-largest congregation of mankind in the whole world after Kumbha Mela. The fair and the pilgrimage site is located on an island in the southernmost part of West Bengal, where the river Ganga meets the sea. Every year on the occasion of Makar Sankranti, the last day of Poush falling on 14th January, lakhs of pilgrims visit Gangasagar island to take a bath at the river-sea confluence. The pilgrims pray at Kapil Muni ashram on the island and a large fair is held for the visitors.

2)Poush Mela

Shantiniketan in Birbhum district is widely known for the residence of Rabindranath Tagore. It is also equally famous for seasonal festivals like the Poush Mela and Holi. Poush Mela is a cultural meet for all villagers around Shantiniketan where a huge fair is held every year. The practice was started by Rabindranath Tagore’s father, Devendranath Tagore to mark the harvest season. Starting from the 7th day of Poush and continuing for 3 days, this fair attracts visitors from all over Bengal and India.

3)Joydev Kenduli Mela

Joydev was a renowned poet from Bengal, who was born in Kenduli village of Birbhum district. An annual cultural fair is held every year in Kenduli, called Kenduli fair, starting from Makar Sankranti and continuing up to 3 days. The Kenduli fair is especially known for the largest congregation of bauls, a group of mystic minstrels. The baul songs with ektara, a musical instrument with one string attracts visitors from far cities and villages across the country.

4)Teesta Tea and Tourism Festival

This festival is celebrated in the northern parts of West Bengal in Darjeeling, hosted by West Bengal tourism. Darjeeling is renowned for its tea, having a unique flavour of its own. Tourists throng Darjeeling in late November or early December to take part in this festival, get accustomed to the music, dance and culture presented by the local tribes of Darjeeling hills.

5)Kolkata Book Fair

The international book fair in Kolkata is a non-trade book fair in Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal. It is the largest non-trade fair in the world, where books are sold for public sale rather than wholesale. All small and big publishing companies, as well as international book publishers, turn up at Kolkata every winter in the latter half of January. Since its inception in 1976, the Kolkata book fair not only proved successful but also paved way for future book fairs and handicraft fairs across the whole country.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Fall Colours in Asia

Fall colours have been associated mostly with the Americas and Europe. Almost all countries celebrate a spring festival or blossom festival when flowers bloom all at once at the advent of spring or autumn. However, some countries in Asia do exhibit fall colours as magnificently as the fall colours of the USA, Canada, UK or Germany. Local cultures have their own festival regarding the advent of winter. So, do check them out if you plan a visit this autumn.

Autumn Colours in Lahaul, India

1)India :
The fall colours of India are absent in most parts of the country except the northern Himalayas. But during autumn, the vast gardens of the Kashmir valley, filled with fallen brown leaves from the chinar trees, present an enchanting view for travellers. Ladakh and Lahaul-Spiti area gets dotted with golden yellow blossoms of Himalayan poplars, marking the advent of a 6-month-long harsh winter. Elsewhere, India’s biggest festival Diwali, the festival of lights, marks the time when fallen leaves are burnt to light bonfires.

Autumn Colours in Hunza, Pakistan

2)Pakistan :
Pakistan exhibits a wide range of sudden bursts of colours during autumn in its northern areas. Skardu, Khaplu, Shigar, Ghizer, Gilgit are all covered in a mix of golden, red, yellow, brown, with a little number of green colours. Hunza and Nagar valleys in the lap of the Karakoram are some of the most spectacular places on earth in the fall season.

Autumn Colours in Kyoto, Japan

3)Japan :
Like its cherry flower viewing festival, sakura, Japan also has a maple hunting festival, called momijigari. After the US, Japan is one of the most sought-after countries in the world for fall colours. Temples, lakes, parks, and valleys are adorned with a variety of red, orange, yellow colours from falling leaves from maple, beech and ginkgo trees. The temple town of Kyoto adorns a bright red hue attracting tourists from all over the world.

Autumn Colours in Seoul, South Korea

4)South Korea :
Most parts of South Korea exhibit fall colours at the peak of autumn. The most famous places are in Seoraksan mountains and Odaesan mountains in the north-west corner of the country, though fall colours from ginkgo and maple trees. Seoul and Nami Island also exhibit parks where fall foliage can be seen. North Korea too has its own share of autumn colours, though it is forbidden for visitors.

Autumn Colours in Great Wall of China, China

5)China :
China, being a very large country, has a wide variety of landscapes. Viewing fall colours is most common in and around Beijing, especially around the Great Wall of China. Other places where nature is at its best during autumn are Jiuzhaigou nature reserve in northern Sichuan, around Kanas Lake in Xinjiang, and the red leaves valley in Shandong provinces. This is also the time for the Mid-Autumn festival in Chinese traditions.

Have you visited any of these places in autumn? Do let us know in the comment section below.

Written by – Himadri Paul

All-Weather Connectivity to Remote Parts of India

All-weather connectivity applies to remote villages all over India. Many small villages and isolated houses in India become inaccessible during the monsoon. Due to the scope of limitation of this article, we will discuss large regions that are cut off from the rest of the country at least for a month. This mainly includes regions around the northern border of India. As India moves towards a developed nation, developing road and rail connectivity to these parts becomes necessary. Also, the defense sector will be immensely benefited to position troops precisely at target locations quickly.

1)Kashmir :

Dal Lake in Kashmir

One of the most hostile regions in the country, Kashmir, is a remote, picturesque valley tucked away in the lap of the Himalayas. Pakistan has also claimed Kashmir since 1947, for which India and Pakistan have fought at least 3 wars in 1947, 1965, and 1971. The Kashmir valley is not as easily accessible to India as it is to Pakistan. At present, only two roads connect Kashmir with the rest of India. One is through the Banihal pass, covering Patnitop, Banihal, and Qazigund. Two big tunnels, Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee tunnel at Chenani below the Patnitop hill station and the Banihal-Qazigund road tunnel below the Banihal pass, have made the road an all-weather one. The former was inaugurated in April 2016, while the latter was completed in August 2021. The Banihal-Qazigund road tunnel now awaits a formal inauguration, after which we can say that all-weather connectivity with Kashmir has been established. The other road is the old Mughal road via Akhnoor, Poonch, Shopian, which is inaccessible for 6 months in winter. The Udhampur-Baramulla railway line is partially complete between Udhampur and Katra stations and Banihal to Baramulla stations. The missing gap of around 111 Km between Katra and Banihal is expected to be completed by 2022.

2)Ladakh :

Pangong Tso Lake in Ladakh

Ladakh is one of the most remote places in entire India, which is cut off for 6 months in winter from the rest of India. At present, Ladakh is connected to India through only two roads, one via Zojila pass and another via Baralacha La pass. Both the passes are covered in a thick blanket of snow from early winter up to mid-summer. This makes Ladakh totally inaccessible except for emergency supplies via Leh airport. Currently, two tunnels, Z-Morh tunnel and Zojila tunnel are under construction in the Zojila pass route. These two tunnels will provide all-weather connectivity to Kargil, though the same cannot be said for Leh as more passes are needed to be covered. The other route through Himachal Pradesh requires tunnels at Baralacha La, Lachulung La, and Taglang La passes to make it an all-weather route. There is no rail route at present between Ladakh and the rest of India. A third road is under construction via Shingo La pass, which will connect the Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh with the Zanskar region of Ladakh.

3)Lahaul and Spiti :

Key Monastery in Lahaul and Spiti

Lahaul and Spiti forms the northern tribal districts of Himachal Pradesh. Lahaul and Spiti forms two different valleys, each connected to the rest of India via two separate roads. The Rohtang pass connects Lahaul while Spiti is connected through a narrow road via Reckong Peo, Nako. Both the roads are prone to heavy snowfall in winter. Lahaul and Spiti forms the gateway to Ladakh via Himachal Pradesh. After the inauguration of the Rohtang tunnel in September 2020, Lahaul is finally connected to the rest of India through an all weather road. Spiti is still too remote to be connected even in the near future. The road between these two valleys is through the high altitude Kunzum Pass, which is closed most of the year due to snow. There is no train connection to either of these two valleys.

4)Tawang :

Sela Pass in Tawang

The Tawang region of Arunachal Pradesh is connected to the rest of India through a single road through the Sela pass. The Sela pass is a high altitude pass, which is often blocked by snowfall in winter. To make an all-weather road to the Tawang district, two tunnels will be dug, one below the Sela pass and another at Nechiphu. These two tunnels will provide winter connectivity to Tawang. The construction of Sela tunnel has been started, while the work on the shorter Nechiphu tunnel will be taken up shortly. No rail connections to Tawang exists though a line via the nearest railhead at Bhalukpong is at the planning stage. Though legally a part of India, China claims the Tawang region for which it fought the 1962 Sino-India War. Defense of Tawang is a must at this hour. Hence an all-weather road and rail connectivity to Tawang is a priority to the Government of India.

5)Sikkim :

Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim

Sikkim is the smallest state of India in terms of population. Parts of Sikkim get road blockages due to heavy snowfall in winter or heavy rainfall followed by landslides during monsoon. Lachen and Lachung villages of the North Sikkim district face blockade during most of the winter period. Yuksom, Tsomgo Lake, and Nathu La pass region of West and East Sikkim, respectively, get blocked due to snow. The state is connected to the rest of India through only one major national highway, which often gets blocked in the monsoon. An all-weather train line is being laid from Sevoke railway station in West Bengal to Rangpo in Sikkim, which will provide transportation of heavy machinery to the fragile roads of the mountainous state. The Theng tunnel between Mangan and Chungthang of North Sikkim also reduced damage to the only road connecting Lachen and Lachung. The road conditions are being improved by the BRO.

Which of these is your favourite destination? Do mention in the comment section below.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Seasonal Dishes for Winter

Seasonal dishes are those which are eaten only during a particular season. Dishes are seasonal, mainly due to seasonal fruits or vegetables in the recipe or due to traditional celebrations. Let us discuss today five unique dishes that are available only during the winter season.

1)Gajar Ka Halwa :

Available all over India, this so-called Mom’s recipe is a must to try out every winter. Gajar ka Halwa is a traditional dish made from grated carrots cooked in sweetened milk. It is simple to make and is very healthy if made with jaggery. It is a bit tiring to grate all the carrots, so traditionally grating is done in the afternoon while basking in the mild rays of the sun. The recipe had its origins in the Mughal period, when traditional red, yellow or purple carrots traditionally available in India were used to prepare Gajar ka Halwa instead of the more-common orange carrots that came from the Netherlands much later

2)Green Peas Kachori :

Green peas are mostly available in the winter which may be shelled, frozen, and stored in the refrigerator till summer. It is best to use fresh peas in the recipe, so winter is the best time to make peas kachoris. Whether green or yellow, peas are actually lentil (dal), available in north India since ancient ages. The use of dal paste filling in kachoris is widespread in India, and when that dal is peas, it is peas kachori. Unlike other dals, peas kachori is eaten only during winters as it uses a massive amount of peas. It is quite tasty and can be a better and healthier substitute for bature or puri

3)Joynogorer Moa :

If you have been to Bengal, especially Kolkata and its suburbs, you should come across this delicious confectionery originating from a place called Jaynagar-Majilpur, a small town south of Kolkata. Made with locally produced kanakchura khoi (a form of rice flakes) and nolen gur, the latter being a speciality of winters, Joynogorer Moa is GI tagged in the town of its name. It is tasty and healthy, which is served to guests in almost every home in every winter season. Nolen gur is date palm jaggery which is very sweet and is available in liquid form. It is very healthy and is used as a substitute for unhealthy white sugar in most Bengali sweets in the winter season

4)Orange Suji Halwa :

Oranges are available only in winter, and hence, this recipe is also a speciality of the winter season. Suji halwa itself has little taste, other than sweetness, due to added sugars in it. Adding oranges adds tanginess to the suji halwa, and makes up an amazing dish which is less sweet, tangier, and even more yummy. Though Nagpur is the orange city of India, the smaller, and tastier oranges are available in the Himalayan region, especially in the north-eastern region of India. A similar food to try out in winter is orange kheer, which is made from milk.

5)Sarson Ka Saag :

An authentic staple from Punjab, sarson ka saag is a popular delicacy eaten only in the winter season. Sarson, or mustard leaf is widely available in the winter season, especially in the region around Punjab, though mustard is widely cultivated elsewhere over northern and eastern India. Sarson ka saag is a paste of mustard leaves, usually topped with ghee (clarified butter) and served with makki ki roti (or corn flatbread). Sarson ka saag is a recipe, which is rooted in every Punjabi home and has gained popularity all over India.

Written by – Himadri Paul