A Curious Army Wife

I joined this crazy tribe when I married into the Indian Army

Archive for the category “Travel Tales”

Army Train Journey Part 1: ‘Expected Time Of Departure’ is moh maya!

Heard of the special Army train?
No, no, not the NDA special.
I am talking about the one in which female presence is allowed! ūüėõ
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I first heard about this special Army train from many army wives, who had accompanied their husband’s battalion (or Unit) in such¬†trains while shifting from one positing location to another, and decided it was high time for me, the ‘Curious Army Wife’, to experience the journey.
Hashtag Travel Goals
Hashtag Life mein ek baar. 
Hashtag Rahul Gandhi Pappu Hai. 
So, when it was time for Major Sa’ab’s unit to move from a field location to a peace station, I came to know the famous special Army train will be used for this movement.
Major Sa’ab told me officers are allowed to bring their families on this special Army train. I think it’s only legit that I have a minor listicle-attack to explain some things about this train before I tell you my story.
Salient features of special train (yaad kar lo bhiya)
1. Moving an entire battalion from one location to another is a massive task and an ENTIRE train is needed to shift it. Some Units need 2-3 trains!
2. On routes where there are no railway tracks (like the remote mountainous regions), army trucks do the work.
3. Men, machines, files, furniture, all the troops’ luggage and even the flower pots (bole toh gamle) are transported via this train.
4. The train is green in colour, not the usual brown/blue/duronto colour. Coaches have Indian Army written on it. Jhanki hai boss!
5. The train travels at a leisurely pace. It takes its own sweet time in reaching its destination. So a journey that takes, say 12 hours by a normal train, will take at least 36 hours in the special Army train.
6. No civilians are allowed to board it. The train is so exclusive that not even other faujis (as in those who do not belong to the battalion that is moving) are allowed to step in.
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Getting back to my story. 
“Chalegi kya Special Train mein?” Major Sa’ab asked me.
“Jaisa aap kahein,” I replied.
“Aa hi ja. Bahut kam logon ko mauka milta hai. Baad mein pata hai aa paye ya nahin,” he said.
“Aapki iccha ko na bolne wali mein kaun hoti hoon. Aa jaungi,” replied the obedient me.
Hashtag True Story. 
Major Sa’ab’s Unit was in a very volatile location in the valley. It was scheduled to move to the same city where I was working (very very convenient for me).
Two months before the expected journey date, he advised that I should ask for leave of absence from¬†my office. I said,”Give me the dates first.”
I should have changed the name of this blog to The NAIVE Army Wife right there!
Major Sa’ab patiently explained that these dates are not fixed two months in advance and gave me a tentative moving¬†date.
Let’s, for the sake of easy calculations, assume the date was April 1 (quite¬†symbolic).
I was to take connecting flights to reach the station where from where the Unit would move in train.
This was the date I had with me when I approached my boss seeking leave. Once I got the green signal, Major Sa’ab said they have received communication from Delhi that their unit is to move on April 5.
Chalo koi na, I thought, since my office was pretty flexible when it came to leaves.
With a fortnight to go, Major Sa’ab told me the revised date is April 12-16. “Book your flight tickets,” he said!
“HOW?” I asked in my politest voice. “I need ONE date to book it.”
Days passed as I anxiously waited for that. Everyday, I heard a new departure date. When the date was finalised on April 18, I decided to book my flight ticket.
Last minute flight fares are sometimes insane. Thankfully, the only portal that could give me some discount was UdChalo.com.
If you haven’t heard of UdChalo.com, then you are probably spending a lot on flight tickets. This start-up (completly run by fauji kids and Ex-servicemen) provides discounted airfare to Armed Forces personnel and their family members.
Hashtag Plugged. 
Hashtag Travel Hacks For Faujis
Now here’s Major Sa’ab’s official statement about the special train departure.”The train will come to the station on April 18. It will take roughly 4-5 hours for us to load it. Once that is done, we will leave by April 18 night, or maximum by 19th afternoon. Normal train takes 2 days in reaching our destination, we will take not more than 4 days.”
I decided to reach the station of departure on April 19th morning ‚ÄĒ I had full faith that the train won’t leave before that.
I reached the airport and saw Major Sa’ab there after almost 5 months! Oh! How I loved my man!
In the jeep, he tells me, ” Accha listen, you were right and made the correct decision.”
Hashtag What’s The Fuck Up NOW?¬†
“That train hasn’t come here yet.”
Ein?
“There’s been a slight delay. But it will come tomorrow,” he gave me aashwasan like Modi.
“This is so unfair. I’ll waste one day of my leave for nothing” I did kadi ninda like Rajnath.
He was silent. Like Manmohan.
The Unit had to travel to this railway station ‚ÄĒ located at the nearest city ‚ÄĒ by loading all their stuff in those army trucks. It took the trucks an entire day to cover this distance, and three journey’s to-fro.
Our Commanding Officer’s (CO) wife and the new bride of another officer were there in the transit camp to keep me company.
For the next five… no no, I need some more drama here… FOR THE NEXT FIVE FREAKING DAYS, the train didn’t come.
Some stupid cargo train carrying coal had derailed somewhere, blocking the route from where our empty special Army train was to come.
The ladies shopped, cribbed, slept throughout the day, cribbed some more and then topped it off with some more cribbing.
We went to a mall in the evening, saw that toy train in which kids ride, and decided that we are going to sit in this train for a joy ride. Three grown-up women trying to fit themselves in that small coach was a testimony of how badly we wanted to sit in a TRAIN… ANY TRAIN.
“Train ki koi khabar,” we would ask everytime we saw each other in those five days and then burst out laughing.
Hashtag How Sad Are We. 
Hashtag Panjon Panjon Panjon Panjon
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On April 24th, Major Sa’ab was getting ready in the guest room to go to the railway station. Today, like the previous five days, the train was “definitely” going to come.
I accompanied Major Sa’ab to the station.
I wasn’t prepared for this.
The entire length of the platform at the other end of the station was covered with Unit property. From this side, it looked like a miniature model of the New York skyline. It was covered in green tent cloth to protect from rain and dust.
Breaking the monotony of black boxes and trunks were some flowerpots (as promised), furniture covered in gunny bag, personal belongings of the Jawans, classified stuff and a net box full of pigeons.
YES… PIGEONS!
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These were pet birds who kept the jawans company¬†in the hills and were¬†looked after very well by the fauj. When the time came for the Unit to leave that location and move to a big city, the CO decided to take these birds along! Isn’t that just… I don’t know.. I have never heard of people moving¬†with lock stock barrel and pigeons!
And all this, I didn’t think would fit in a train.
And then the unthinkable happened!
I heard a nice long whistle and the rhythmic sound of the train pulling up at the station from one end!
200w_d
Show some love to inspire me enough to write Part 2 of this blog(coming soon) to read about how I realised there were 3 four-legged friends with us on the train and why I couldn’t complete this journey (no, wasn’t thrown off it)¬†

Army Heritage Museum

On a recent trip to Shimla, I convinced Captain Sa’ab to take me to the Army Heritage Museum and he was justifiably shocked. I always keep harping that any vacation we take should be free of faujiness. There are times when an Army wife also needs a break from Army and I am no different (being a civilian at heart). Officers have this inbred tendency of booking Army guest houses or using the hospitality of a friendly unit whenever they go holidaying and I wanted none of that.

The Army Heritage Museum in Shimla

The Army Heritage Museum in Shimla

So Capt Sa’ab double-checked with me whether that was what I wanted … visiting a museum (which is not my favourite place in the world) and that too about the Army (the less I say the better).

But somehow this time, I wanted to see the history of this establishment for myself. It is one thing to hear about it’s past and present structure from people, and another thing to see all the data compiled at one place.¬† And so, I found the place extremely informative and enthralling. Capt Sa’ab proved an able guide as there was none there at that time.

There is a¬† separate little cottage which houses the history of Infantry. Overall, it was a pretty neat effort by the Army to showcase its glory. I wonder why they didn’t charge any entry fee. Since we had reached a few minutes before closing time, maybe that’s why we didn’t see anyone around, so I am not sure if they have guides there.

The different uniforms used in Army for different occasions.

The different uniforms used in Army for different occasions.

A beautiful display of Armoured insignias in the garden.

A beautiful display of Armoured insignias in the garden.

The Infantry House.

The Infantry House.

Description and history of each infantry regiment.

Description and history of each infantry regiment.

 

 

 

 

IMA, where gentlemen become officers

IMA, where gentlemen become officers!

My friend’s brother had survived 18 months at the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun and so it was indeed time to celebrate. She was going to come all the way to Dehradun to attend the Passing-out-parade, and since I was living in that city, I couldn’t have been happier (because it is quite far from all other cities and no one ever comes here).

Her brother, a skinny and dark GC (Gentleman Cadet, what all trainees at the IMA are called) was allowed to invite four guests to the passing-out-parade (POP) — a ceremonial culmination of their rigorous training. He ended up being swamped by 11 relatives and friends, all wanting to see him stomp the parade ground in front of the Chetwode Building like a crazy guy before he became an officer in the Indian Army.

Now this POP is a pretty sought-after function in and around Dehradun, with civilians and faujis clamouring for entry passes, which is really unusual for a military event. Parents, friends, relatives, distant relatives, would-be in-laws… everyone wants to be there when their boy gets his stars.

So my friend’s brother, lets call him GC Bub, somehow managed to get passes for everyone, and so, at 0600 hours, all 11 of them were seated in the battalion enclosure in front of the Chetwode Building.

Though the POP doesn’t start before 0900 hours, the three hour early arrival was because of limited seating, which is allotted on first-come-first-serve basis. I had passes to a special seating enclosure right behind the chief guest, but I preferred to sit with my friend along with other family members. A shudh-desi civilian like me would never let go of any opportunity to have some civilian-chhap fun.

And what fun it was! Lets not forget the impressive parade which the GCs put up after getting grilled for the drill for the past 3 weeks. Yes, it takes that long to get the moves right and in sync with¬†600 other GCs. Now while the GCs were standing in attention while the emcee was ranting about the academy’s history, we decided to take up this impossible task of finding GC Bub among all those lookalikes. He had given us a vague idea about where he would be standing, so a super-zoom camera came to our rescue and after about 10 minutes, we found him! Nothing short of a Christmas miracle.

A man cleaning the Adjutant's horse's poop!

A man cleaning the Adjutant’s horse’s poop!

And what else do we see in the view-finder? Some GC in the back row would comment on something the emcee said and a bunch of other GCs around him would try as hard as possible to control their laughter! Men will be men ūüôā .

Then there was one time when the Adjutant of the academy, sitting on a handsome mare on at the right end of the parade, moves to the left end before the¬†march-past. As soon as he left his position to move, a man, probably hiding¬†behind one of¬†Chetwode’s¬†pillars,¬†¬†ran out with a dustpan in hand. In a matter of 30 seconds, he swept the horse’s poop, and ran back to disappear behind the Chetwode! As my husband later told me, he is the man “whose only job is to watch the horse’s ass”. ūüėÄ

After the parade, families were to move to the Somnath Stadium for the pipping and oath taking ceremony. It is pretty hard to handle to group of 11 grown-ups and so GC Bub…. sorry, Lt Bub was fuming at the stadium since only half of his relatives had turned up. “I had time to run back to my room, shower, change into a different uniform and come to the stadium, and you guys can’t walk 300 metres in that time?”

Aah, that’s your Army man speaking. My friend exchanged an all too familiar look with me, which said, “Oh boy, that used to be my brother.”

Now the stadium was full of people high on emotions. It was like a Karan Johar movie unfolding right in front of my eyes, as teary eyed mothers embraced their sons in uniform and fathers were proudly introducing them to others. Sisters just couldn’t stop taking pictures as parents uncovered the stars on their brother’s shoulder.

Time to celebrate!

Time to celebrate!

The oath-taking ceremony, where the new officers vowed to serve the country, was a moment right out of another Bollywood movie — Lakshya. There were hundreds of Hrithik Roshans in front of me and in typical filmy fashion, my head was full of “Lakshya ko har haal me pana hai” music. No hats were thrown in the air (we kept waiting for that to happen but I later came to know that’s not allowed in IMA anymore), but the dancing, hugging and push-ups (yes our fauj is full of weird traditions) continued for a long time.

These officers are now bonded for life. They may not meet again for months or years, but their “course-mate” would always be the first person they help when the need comes.

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