Vestibule between ages going out of view

The 110-year-old Aryankavu viaduct is being jacketed with concrete to allow broad-gauge trains to thunder past the massive structure

Beauty can be transient. Here in Aryankavu, a lady whose charm has only grown over the years is going to wear a veil.

Just two weeks more to marvel at the majestic 110-year-old viaduct across a valley in Aryankavu on the Shengottai-Kollam railway route, designed and built by British engineers.

The landmark 13-arch, 102-metre-long viaduct, which gracefully carried metre-gauge trains, mesmerised everyone all these years. The viaduct requires to be strengthened, jacketed with concrete, to carry broad-gauge trains.

The preliminary work is on. The work will provide the equivalent of an exoskeleton to the rectangular piers of the viaduct built with neatly cut blocks of granite and surkhi (an ancient mix of charcoal, egg white, lime, river sand, tender coconut water and jaggery). But the front portion of the piers will, however, be spared — a peephole, perhaps, for posterity.

Railways allowed it respecting local sentiments that the structure be preserved as a heritage property. Railways cannot afford to leave the structure unused because building a new viaduct through the forested ghat section is a costly, difficult proposition. Hence jacketing is considered economical and practical, lengthening the utility of the structure by half a century more.

The contract for the Rs. 3-crore work has been awarded. Workers, on sliding platforms, are drilling the granite blocks on three sides of the piers, leaving the front portion untouched. The core of the work will begin before Onam and is expected to be completed in five months. When the work is completed, the viaduct will not look the same from any side.

The work on viaduct began in the late 1890s and was completed by 1903. The metre-gauge service was commissioned in November 1904 by the then Maharaja of Travancore, Sree Moolam Tirunal Rama Varma.

Few takers for railway’s dirt cheap ‘janata khana’

‘Janata khana’ of railways is more popular among non-passengers than passengers at Indore railway station, going by buying of so few food packets. Hardly 40 packets are sold from the railway canteen daily. Even out of this measly number, many are not passengers.

The 350-gm food packet, sold at a nominal rate of Rs 15, failed to become popular among passengers and canteen owners are making no profit. Anil Jain, who runs the railway canteen, told they prepare around 60 packets of food each day. Of these, nearly 35-40 are consumed.

Jain told auto-rickshaw and van drivers regularly buy packet-friendly meal and many times they end up distributing packets among destitute in night. “At times we are left with so many unsold packets that we have to give these to beggars outside the station. Despite good quality food being served, passengers do not buy. At the platform number 1, due to metre gauge trains running, we don’t get many buyers,” Jain added.

At platform number 4 and 5 where most express trains arrive also have few takers while on platform number one meter guage. Jain tells most express trains either start journey or arrive here at the station. Given the situation, passengers simply do not buy.

“We are running it on no-profit-no-loss basis and unlike in many other stations, where it is successful, ‘janata food’ has failed to click in Indore. Auto drivers and shopkeepers outside station find it as a best deal for daytime meal.”