A slice of history: Indian Airlines in 1972 and the Tripura hopper

For those who are interested in old airline timetables, this may be one of the best resources available. It covers most corners of the world:


We pick on Indian Airlines when it was the only domestic airline and covered a number of places which are not served by any other airline today.


Examples being Keshod, Jamshedpur, Cooch Behar, Lilabari and the Tripura trio of Khowai, Kamalpur and Kailashahar. Also note that in those days the flights from Calcutta to Port Blair had a technical halt at Rangoon. Even today few people realize that the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are much closer to Myanmar and Indonesia than to the Indian mainland.

Here is a sample of the timetables on the less important routes. (Of course, you can see the entire timetable through the link given above):

IAC 1972 TT 001

The airport at Keshod was supposed to facilitate visitors to the Gir forest. It has permanently shut down, while in the same general area Diu is now served by one flight a day. The famous Tripura flight (operated by a Dakota) can also be seen.

There are some odd things about the airport at Agartala. I have a small connection with this as the state government acquired the land from my maternal grandfather’s family in the late 1930s. They were probably happy with this as the land was not very suitable for growing tea.

Now take a look at this map showing it as it is today:


You can see that the runway is very close to the India-Bangladesh border. Any flight from Kolkata to Agartala would begin its descent long before it enters Indian territory. (This also happened at Shillong when commercial flights operated there for a short time). The airport is located near a village called Singarbil, and there is a railway station of that name across the border. It started functioning in 1942. Apart from limited civilian traffic, the airport was used by the US military as a base for air-dropping of supplies in Burma and China.

Now, in the period from 1947 to 1952 there was still a lot of travel between India and East Pakistan. As the partition in the East was relatively peaceful (unlike the earlier events in Noakhali and Tippera (Comilla) districts), there were many Hindus as well as Muslims who thought they were all right where they were and did not think of moving immediately.

There was a cutoff date sometime in 1952 by when people had to decide which country they wanted to be citizens of. During this transition period my mother and other members of her family used to regularly travel between Calcutta and a place in Sylhet district.

One could take the land route, but that involved long ferry crossings (around half a day from Goalundo to Narayanganj, still more from Goalundo to Chandpur) and a fairly long journey to the ultimate destination near Kulaura. Then, as now, air fares to Agartala were highly subsidized. They normally flew to Agartala, stepped off the runway and walked a few hundred metres to the border. Sometimes there was a single bored policeman at the border, sometimes not. A little further one would find rickshaws to Akhaura, from where one could get trains to anywhere in the eastern part of East Pakistan.

As one can see from this recent picture from the Hili border between West Bengal and Bangladesh, border security was and probably still is quite lax at several places on the border. The border is marked by those little stone markers, while the cows and humans come and go without hindrance. India is on the left.


We now take a look at the Tripura hopper shown on p.15 above, which must be India’s best example of rural air transport. At that time roads were very limited in Tripura, and some WW2 airfields came in useful to connect Calcutta and Agartala with Khowai, Kamalpur and Kailashahar. These places are so obscure that it is difficult to find them on an average atlas. Here is the route from Agartala onwards:

Tripura map 001

As we see from the timetable, the scheduled time was typically 20 minutes between these airports. From the published coordinates, the straight-line flight distances were:

Agartala-Khowai: 41 km

Khowai-Kamalpur: 23 km

Kamalpur-Kailashahar: 28 Km

This 23-km and 28-km hops would have been the shortest-ever distances on any scheduled flights in India (though there are some in places like the Scottish islands where there are flights of 1 to 2 km).

Anyway, it appears that these three airports have not been used for many years and may now be unusable. In the mean time roads have improved and the railway line connecting Tripura with the rest of India was built at a snails pace over 60 years and finally reached Agartala. It is soon to be converted to broad gauge, and an extension to a place near Akhaura will be opened soon. This will probably involve transhipment of containers from the metre gauge of Bangladesh to broad gauge.

When Indian Airlines phased out their Dakotas soon after this timetable came out, many of these small airports with little traffic lost their connection. Vayudoot may have run their 19-seat Dorniers for a while to some of these places, but the airline itself vanished quite quickly. Thus ended the air age in Tripura.

A related article on Indian Airlines’ operations in the early 1960s can be seen here:


BG link to Silchar is finally ready

In the last two days, the CRS has inspected the BG line from Lumding to Badarpur and Silchar. It is understood that this route will be opened for passenger traffic shortly. It has been a particularly tortuous conversion (even worse than that of Hassan-Mangalore) which has stretched on since 1997.

Various acts of terrorism (including attacks on trains as well as construction sites), heavy monsoon rains as well as apathy from various Central governments did not help either. Here we see the distance tables for the BG and MG lines. Note that there is a completely new alignment in the central portion, bypassing Haflong and its circle round the hill. A total of 16 km has been reduced. Some stations have been left out while new stations have been added. These are marked in bold.

Lumding Silchar route 001

Here you can see the beginning of the diversion from Migrendisa. Of course, if you follow the line right from Lumding you will see quite a difference in alignments. In some cases like Migrendisa the BG and MG stations are at different locations. You can follow the route down to Bandarkhal to see the different alignments clearly: https://www.google.co.in/maps/place/Haflong,+Assam+788819/@25.1799083,93.0555428,15z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x374fa3e329fdadf3:0xe2ff7a660d6272c8

Jatinga is a sort of tourist spot because of the birds which are bent on ending their lives there, though it is not really a mystery: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jatinga

Another odd point is a station with the typical North Indian name of Kalachand, among exotic names more reminiscent of East Asia.

At the time of writing there is no service between Badarpur and Karimganj (which is still under conversion), while one pair of MG passenger trains are running between Karimganj and Agartala.

The Lumding-Badarpur route has a long and not very happy history. (However, the Badarpur-Silchar section is in the plains and does not have any particular problem with the terrain). The former was considered as a major operational bottleneck, with abut 18 km of 1:37 gradient which is now eliminated. It was a major supply route during World War 2, with supplies being shipped from Chittagong port to Upper Assam, where a number of airstrips in the Dibrugarh area were supplying China over the Himalayas. And there were the army operations in what is now Nagaland and Manipur. The Japanese came close to capturing Dimapur, which may have resulted in the fall of much of North-eastern India. Here are a couple of pictures from that time:


The full caption reads: …crossing the Detokcherra Bridge on the Bengal Assam Railway. The pipeline on the near side of the bridge is the Chittagong-Lumding pipeline.


These pictures are from a book “Line of Communication” by John Thomas (1947) which gives a comprehensive picture of railway operations east of Calcutta during the war, when most of the running was taken over by the US armed forces. At that time the old stalwarts the Eastern Bengal Railway and the Assam Bengal Railway had been merged into the Bengal & Assam Railway for the purpose of better coordination in wartime. There was plenty of reorganization again in 1947. I will cover more about the earlier history later.

A study of railway accidents in India and some steps being taken to reduce them

This is a slightly modified version of presentations at a conference on industrial safety at IIT Gandhinagar in 2012 and at an IRFCA conference in 2014, which seeks to give the basic facts behind railway safety and the steps being taken to reduce accidents. PPT version:2015-Safety issues on the Indian railways-Problems and Solutions

It is also on pdf: 2015-Safety issues on the Indian railways-Problems and Solutions

The World Turned Upside Down (Cricket)

This is an old English ballad dating back to their civil war in the 17th century. It is however significant in US history as it was played at the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781, which marked one of the major victories of the Americans in their revolution.http://www.contemplator.com/england/worldtur.html

Cornwallis did not suffer too badly, and went on to be Governor-General and top military commander in India in 1786-1792. Perhaps his victory against Tipu Sultan made up for his losses in the American colonies

This is a famous painting of that occasion named “The World Turned Upside Down”:


Now, cricket fans would appreciate this ballad after the events on June 18:

1) Bangladesh beat India in an ODI.

2) Scotland beat Ireland in a T-20

3) and Papua New Guinea beat Netherlands in a first-class match (in the Intercontinental Cup).

There have been great upsets in cricket before, but perhaps never this many on a single day.

How to live to be 250

Humans are among the longest-lived animals, but there are some species which live considerably longer. Though elephants have a similar lifespan to humans, the longest lived animal appears to be the giant tortoise, which have a few varieties such as the Aldabra tortoise from the Seychelles and its distant relative from the Galapagos islands in the Pacific off Ecuador.

These tortoises are known for their size as well as their longetivity:


In particular, one of the Aldabra tortoises lived to an estimated age of 255 until he died in the Alipore Zoo in 2006:


Although his date of birth is not documented properly, it is known that he was part of Robert Clive’s household and moved to the zoo around 1875 at an estimated age of 124.

At this point you may ask,”What is so special about these animals that they live that long?”. Here is the standard zoological explanation:


or, in more detail;


However, one should also look at this paragraph about Adwaita once more:

“Weighing 250 kg (551 lb), Adwaita was a solitary animal with no records of his progeny. He lived on a diet of wheat bran, carrots, lettuce, soaked gram (chickpea), bread, grass and salt.”

So there you have it, the secret of leading an exceptionally long life.

But it is incorrect to say that giant tortoises have no interest in reproduction. In fact the males get rather annoyed when humans disturb them in the act, and the result is the chase shown below by one of Adwaita’s relatives in the Seychelles.What they lack in speed they make up in determination:

Here are more pictures of Adwaita:



Here is another one who presently lives at the Alipore Zoo. We neglected to get its details, though it may be of the Galapagos variety:


Ads which have stood the test of time

Every adman dreams of an advertising slogan or visual which would be remembered for generations-and preferably simple. Here is one about Maytag products (one of many from the company with the same theme):


Then there was this public service ad of the US government (1987) which had become a catch-phrase by the late 80s, with its bare minimum dialogue:


It unconsciously inspires PJs even today:


A later version of the 1987 ad from 1997 is more elaborate but probably not so well-known:


Escaping from the impregnable prisons of the US

The US media has really gone to town with the escape of two long-term criminals from the Clinton Correctional Center near Dannemora in northern New York state. This is said to be first successful escape from the facility since it started functioning in 1865. This NY Times article sums up what is known today:


(Tail piece: see how small errors in the report have been corrected in the end. This is quite rare in the Indian print media)

In case you are wondering, the facility is named after George Clinton, the first Governor of New York State (and later Vice-President of the US) and NOT Bill and Hillary.


Anyway, there have been other impregnable prisons in the US, the best known being Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay.


At the time it was closed in 1963, this was its “scorecard”:

During its 29 years of operation, the penitentiary claimed that no prisoner successfully escaped. A total of 36 prisoners made 14 escape attempts, two men trying twice; 23 were caught, six were shot and killed during their escape, two drowned, and five are listed as “missing and presumed drowned”.

There is some belief that one of the last attempts in 1962 might have been successful but this has never been proved conclusively. For more on this:


Today, of course, it is on the main tourist circuit at San Francisco. It has figured in a number of well-known movies, including




It remains to be seen if the recent CCC escape is successful. The facility is not too far from the Canadian border which might make things more complicated.