Friday, August 10, 2012 “Hey, wake-up? Get up.”, Shashank pulled me out of my slumber at 4 AM. “Can’t we do it tomorrow?

We don't have the utensil yet. How the hell do you suppose we will cook? Let's put it out for tomorrow.”, I tried to bargain out and returned to my sleep. “No way, we're going today. Vivek is already up and the weather is cool. Let's pack up and move.”, I had to surrender this time. We were making plans to move through the Nangal Canal all the week-long and now it was time to put our thoughts into action. It was time to begin the expedition. All three of us got ready, packed our stuff and assembled near the main gate. After signing series of entry/exit registers, we were out on the canal.

All three of us are engineering students at IIT Ropar (Punjab) located 50 kilometers from the Nangal Dam. It’s also the point of origination of this lovely canal which we today are set to explore. We began walking at 5 AM. The sun didn't arise yet and everything was dark. However, after walking a few strides our eyes adapted to the lighting conditions and we could see the outlines clearly. After walking on the canal side road for an hour, we crossed the point till which we had ventured earlier. Everything which is about to come will be a completely new experience to us and we look forward to it. The main aim of this expedition is to see the new.

Contrary to what we believed, this new territory was highly inhabited and alive. There were many houses alongside the canal and from the distance we can see a highway crossing ahead! We heard about this from the earlier explorers. Next up, was a railway crossing. This region marked the beginning of the Guru Gobind Singh Super Thermal Power Plant (we had made an industrial visit here as part of our course curriculum).

An incident occurred at the railway crossing which was going to affect our expedition in critical fashion. A railway track bridge across the canal was the subject of our next venture. We were crossing when we saw a passenger train coming by, fast. We rushed back to our earlier sport but unknown to us a dog was following the whole way and it was still on the track walking calmly. The train siren was going hoot and this dog wasn’t in the mood of moving. All the people at the crossing were gazing at the dog, some thinking that it's about to get cut. The train came rushing and soon both the train and the top where on the bridge at the same time. Finally, the dog came to its senses and ran like hell, just evading the train. It was really a daredevil dog. On top of that, this dog accompanied us throughout our journey. We named her “Queenie”.

We continued walking through the road, passing warehouses and groups of monkeys trying to scare us away. The canal was never changing, always the same flow of water, calm in the bulk and turbulent near the bridges.

Passing five bridges, we found a measurement location. This construction indicated the water level in the canal.

As of now, the mark stands at about 18 feet’s and that's how the canal is. Another interesting sight was to see a mounted boat on the canal waters. The bridges make it impossible for the board to move as the height clearance is not enough. This boat must have been used by people earlier when there were no bridge and it was a good idea to use the boat for transportation from bank to bank or through the canal. Whatever may the idea be, it rests now as an antique piece.

After walking a few more miles, we reached the Sirsa River. With four bridge constructions over the river, it was a sight to behold. Starting from the left, the first bridge acts as a large grain to carry the canal water across the river, the second one is for railway, the third one is for general traffic and the fourth one is under construction(also for general traffic). The first bridge is a highly secure area and marked by various police posts. Photography wasn’t allowed and hence I can’t show to you this marvel of engineering. 127 cusecs of water flow and the gigantic drain still standing unmoved. We went below the bridges to check the dried out the Sirsa River up close.

The river had mostly dried out but a narrow channel was the evidence that something flows here. Exploring the region provided more evidence: The fertile lands which were once covered with water, the rounded pebbles which are a result of erosion by flowing water and finally the sands of time.

The stream was muddy but that didn't stop Queenie from making the most out of it.

This inspired us to carry out our own fun activity. The only such a thing possible there was playing skipping stones.

After checking out the place for some more time, we moved on. About a mile after, seeing Queenie not around the thought that she had left but to our surprise we saw her running towards us from large distance and finally she tracked us down.

After passing some more vegetation and habitation with a close to another engineering marvel“The Arch Bridge”. One of the awesome features about this bridge is that it's a self-supporting structure. There are no pillars holding it above the water, the only contacts it has with the ground are the starting and ending points. The arch structure provides all the strength for this bridge to stand tall.

I had read about this kind of bridge earlier but this is the first time I am seeing a model, a working one. There are other types of bridges which employ a hybrid of this and other models which I had seen earlier but this one explains the basic principles that none did.

Kudos to Shashank for performing this incredible gymnastic feat. We also tried our hands at chin-ups on the bridge frame. Shashank also went for a special pose. We went too much I guess! Vivek – bridge chin-ups

Me - bridge push-ups

Shashank – Usian Bolt modified pose

Arch Bridge brotherhood

Leaving the bridge behind, our walk continued until the unknown destination. There was no plan whatsoever. We were hoping to find some bus stand or a railway station but till then we had to move on and on and on. The place was beginning to get more remote and the natural beauty was more vivid now. Fields were visible reaching up to several kilometers followed by mountings.

We were amazed to see this water body.

Soon, there was another bridge with lots of Naina – Devi pilgrims on it. We asked them about the directions and they pointed out there was a bus stand nearby but my mates wanted more. We were also informed of another railway station which lies at about 5 km along the canal. This was our pick. Wherever we went, Queenie followed with no resistance.

This is the canal barricade that we found on our way. I don't know the exact motives behind its construction. To me, it just seems like an overflow safety drain.

The journey continued.

After about a mile, we found a small stream flowing alongside the canal. My mates inspected the stream up close while I was on the top making war cry.

Meanwhile, Vivek got very comfortable with Queenie.

Marching forward, we met the divide. An exact replication of the scenario in the poem “The Road not taken”. Who knows what would have happened if we took the left road?

Walking, talking, jogging, eating biscuits were reached the next stage of our journey. Passing through a few houses, we could see that the final destination was close.

The railway track was up ahead and was marked by this bridge.

Up from a distance, it seemed that the bridge was supported by underwater columns but on close inspection we found that it was supported similar to the Arch Bridge, beginning and ending only.

The columns may have been created keeping in mind the construction of a normal bridge but technological advancements meant otherwise. On second thought, these columns may have been constructed for safety. Assuming that the bridge may collapse, these columns would save the train from going underwater to some extent. Until then, they serve as ancient battleships under the bridge.

One should never underestimate the small beauties of nature. This one was playing in the rain. At the railway crossing, we were informed that the nearest station was 2 km ahead and we need to walk along the tracks to reach this final destination. After seven hours of walk, it was time to say goodbye to the canal and hello to the tracks.

Walking on the tracks is a fishy business. Everything is rough, rocks are all under your feet and the only smooth spots are the rails and the bars. Further, you have to keep track of any incoming train. After about a minute's walk, we saw train coming. Everybody moved aside onto the narrow corners except Queenie. She was standing in the middle of the rails. Seconds before the train to pass by, Vivek pulled Queenie out of the tracks and she was afraid like hell.

After encountering another near safe, Queenie proved to be really a lucky girl. The railway tracks seemed infinite but so was our determination to cross over.

We got motivated from the farmers working tirelessly at the nearby fields.

Marching forward like anything. Shashank was trying to balance on the rails, at least for hundred steps. Soon came a bend.

And the view just changed for better.

Finally, after eight hours of walking over 25 km we reached Bharat Garh Station. There were hardly any people around and the ticket counter had been moved back. At this point of time we were tired and hungry as hell. We had just bought Maggie packets with us with no utensils. We enquired about any place to eat from. The ticket seller directed us towards a distantly visible highway. The train to home (Ropar) was scheduled at 2:40 p.m... We had enough time to try our luck finding a high way dhaba. After reaching the highway we could see a dhaba at some distance but upon approaching our hopes of preparing Maggie were diminished because we couldn't see any oven. The owner came out and we presented him with our problem. This guy didn't knew how to make Maggie, so we had to do self-service. Shashank took care of the Maggie making while the rest of us took care of the drinks. The Maggie was another blessing for us in addition to Queenie and the wonderful cloudy/rainy weather. I call it “meri expedition wali maggie”.

After this wonderful light, we were on the train back to home. It was very difficult to leave Queenie back but it was for her own good. Pets are not allowed inside the IIT Campus. We thought that while leaving, she would resist however she didn’t cause any trouble. Maybe she knows by earlier experience that it’s time to leave at the station. We may not meet Queenie anytime soon but she will always be in our heart. Viewing the outside scenery from the train door bought back all the memories that we have collected today. The train ride summarized our whole expedition. Every railway crossing now bears its own story. We were back at our college hostel at around 3:30 p.m.. The open expedition finally comes to an end. The experiences gained will come in handy on our next expedition.

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