I have heard somewhere "the best things in life are free". I don't know how true this statement is, but we definitely experienced it when we visited the Puffing Billy Railway in Melbourne, Australia. It is a heritage railway in Melbourne just like Shimla-Kalka railway and the Kangra Valley railway (my experience) in Himachal Pradesh, India.
After getting up late in the morning after a hectic trip to the Great Ocean Road the previous day, it was pretty difficult to decide what to do that day. There were a lot of options including penguin viewing tour at Philip Island and roaming in Melbourne City CBD. While we were trying to decide, didi's neighbours came and invited all of us for breakfast at their house.
Now that was a task in itself to get ready and be present there on time for breakfast keeping in view the graciousness of the host. Slowly but steadily we made ourselves presentable for the breakfast and went there well on time. Indeed the hosts were very gracious and we were presented with a typical Punjabi breakfast consisting of Chhole Bhature, Gobhi Sabzi, Dahi Raita and Kheer as a dessert.
We enjoyed the meal equally as we did talking to the folks. I literally believed that I was in Punjab while having a fluent chit chat with all of them in Punjabi. That was indeed a great start to the day and charged us up for the whole unexpected exertion we were about to undergo later in the day. To put it very straightly, our day started with a FREE delicious breakfast. I would call it FREEBIE # 1.
We finally got moving towards the Puffing Billy Railway (Belgrave Station). On reaching there I felt that the station and the locales had a striking similarity with the Shimla narrow gauge railway station. We saw a queue to the ticket window there and joined the queue. The whole staff was dressed in traditional railway uniforms with all the English style gear and caps etc.
A guy from the staff was moving with the queue and answering the queries. We asked him about the earliest train and learned that the nearest departure was at 12:30 PM and it was already full. So we were suggested to wait for the next train at 2:30 PM. Meanwhile, the guy gave us 'Queue tickets' which was a token of our number in the queue.
|A beautiful house uphill near the railway track|
While we were idling around, Yogi called us and told to come back to the queue. We started for the queue and saw everyone was coming in for the platform. On asking them, we were told that we all had been asked to get into the train and the tickets shall be given inside the train itself. We were quite happy to hear that as it would directly save us 2 hours.
We got into a coach as instructed by one of the driving staff. When we sat into the coach, I felt it completely like the Kangra Valley rail coaches but with highly open window grills. They were so wide and big that we could get our legs outside while sitting in the window and resting our hands on the window grill bars. I immediately sat in that way.
|Menzies Creek Railway Station|
I thought that I had done an innovative thing by sitting in that way but when I saw outside, everyone in the other coaches was sitting in the same manner. I laughed at myself and showed others that we should be sitting that manner to enjoy the way. Everyone left the seats and flocked to the windows. People were so cheerful and excited that they were singing and shouting in joy. Kids were in the seventh heaven already.
The whole locomotive was painted green and looked like the Harry Potter or any other fantasy movie railway locomotive. Suddenly we heard the engine make a big toot. I recognised that it was an old style steam engine and used coal to power itself. We experienced a thud and the train started moving. Everyone screamed in joy.
The train had started moving and slowly it was catching pace. We passed through the coal warehouse kind of an area just ahead of the platform. Then I positioned myself in a way with my camera to get maximum pics and enjoy the route too. In moments we crossed a bridge and saw vehicles on the road underneath the bridge. It was Monbulk bridge and was an important feature of this more than 100-year-old railway system. We shouted in thrill and joy.
We started singing songs and how could we forget the famous Dil Se song Chaiyya Chaiyya, filmed on the famous Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. We crossed a road railway crossing and waved at the vehicles like children. They also honked joyously at us. That reminded me of my childhood days when I used to honk at anyone while sitting ahead on the fuel tank of my father's motorcycle. :)
|Puffing Billy history mentioned on the locomotive wall|
I was sitting on the side of the coach where I could see the uphill slopes of the whole area. Others were sitting to the other side and they could see the whole Melbourne suburban area as it was the downhill side. I thought I missed the view on the other side but thought that I could do that while coming back. But later we would do something more exciting.
After travelling for some half an hour and clicking pics while swinging my legs outside of the coach, we reached the Menzies Creek Railway station. The train stopped for around 10 minutes, people got out and new people got in. We again started moving. The route was a picturesque one with some of the most beautiful houses made on the uphill side of the track. I was wishing when I would have a house like that.
|The Emerald Lake|
The train now reached Emerald train station and without stopping more than a minute there, moved ahead. The rail staff was selling small flags marked with the railway insignia and children were quite enthusiastic about it. Yogi's niece also got a set of them and started waving it as the train started. The stations were small and clean as I have seen on the Kangra Valley railway.
The next station was Lakeside named after Emerald Lake. We had planned to get out there. The train reached at around 1:35 there and we got out of the coach. I hurriedly got a pic clicked with the locomotive before the technician shouted on the people standing nearby to get away from the locomotive. On getting out we saw the place and decided what was to be seen there. There were a small lake, a rail museum and a wishing well.
We went around the lake clicking pics and joking around. The lake was indeed beautiful and green in colour which justified its name Emerald Lake. There we also got to know that people also used the lake and the train as a wedding venue. I laughed at the idea of getting married in an Indian Railway train. We saw the lake and its map and thought we could easily walk to the wishing well and maybe make a wish, which might mistakenly come true.
We strolled towards the wishing well and reached there after 15 minutes of the laziest stroll. We thought it would something grand but it was a small well with stone walls. Still, it was very beautiful given the green and forest surroundings. We all again did a photo session there and made some wishes and started back to the lake. Somehow I asked everyone how much did we spend for the tickets and what was the return time of the train back to Belgrave.
We learned after a big confusion among ourselves that we hadn't been given tickets by the rail staff. I was wondering and when we saw we had those queue tickets with us. We laughed to the core and realised that we had made an illegal train journey without a ticket. On thinking about going back to Belgrave where our cars were parked we might have to pay for the tickets. It was FREEBIE # 2 for the day.
So insanity prevailed and we decided not to go back by train, in spite of the fact that we did not know the way to Belgrave on the road. Anyway, we decided not to think about it until we were planning to go back and went to the cafe for some refreshment. After some coffee and sandwiches etc. we thought of going to the nearby rail museum.
We went there and learned that it had some small entry fees. We were double minded to keep the day completely free or pay for something. Now here, sanity prevailed and we thought of paying. But still, we thought of bargaining and got some 20-25% discount for the entry fees for 8 people. We had thought of it as a museum but it was not. Instead, it was a working miniature model of a railway system.
|The massive miniature railway model|
I was awestruck when I first saw it. The word miniature would become an understatement. The model was so huge that it contained a whole city, numerous working railway lines, every kind of small models of the vehicles found in the city, small mountain trolley and other such things. Some of the parts were allowed to be operated by pushing buttons while walking around the model.
Just to mention, it was a 20-25 meter walk around the whole model. That's how big the model was. We took around 40-45 minutes to understand and digest what an awesome structure it was. We were especially awestruck because of being engineers and understanding how much effort this model would have required. I personally saw each and every fine detail of the whole model and also sometimes followed the miniature trains which would go into a tunnel and would come out of the tunnel on the other side of the room.
|Rugged terrains on the railway model|
The lady at the cafe guided us and told that we would have to walk some 2-3 km for the nearest bus stop. We thought we should do that although Poonam bhabhi and Yogi's sister Guddu were a bit tired of walking. I was always game for such a kind of adventure and as usual, I was given the responsibility to understand the route, given my uncanny ability to remember and understand the routes and maps quickly.
We started walking and after some time we found ourselves on the right track to the bus stop. Although we went in a wrong direction for some 100 meters but I quickly put myself on the right way again. After some another 15 minutes of walking across the locality and some beautiful houses, I saw the road and further ahead I saw the bus stop. We were all very relieved to see that.
We sat at the bus stop and got to know that it was a major bus stop on the Belgrave Gembrook road. We learned that the next bus was after half an hour and decided to idle around. Saurabh and Yogi started playing pranks and tried to get a lift from the passersby. They would make funny poses and the passersby would honk cheerfully at them but no one would give them a lift. Eventually, we waited for the bus.
The bus came and we felt a big sigh of relief. As we got into the bus we took out money to pay for the tickets. To our utter disbelief, we were told by the driver that it was a FREE bus. He told the reason to be his malfunctioning ticket vending machine. We were pleasantly shocked to learn that and concluded cheerfully that it was the FREEBIE # 3 for the day.
Meanwhile, Yogi's niece told us that she was enjoying with us as it was the first time that she had travelled in a bus. We were again mildly shocked on hearing that and compared ourselves at age 6 with her. I personally had travelled a lot in buses by that age, obviously with my parents but with some naughty moments and pranks on the fellow travellers.
We reached the Belgrave station parking in about 15 minutes and as we started walking away from the bus after thanking the driver, Saurabh realised that he had lost the car keys. There was instant panic and he ran to the bus driver to have a look in the bus. Thankfully he found them on the bus seat and again thanked the driver and came back.
We got our cars and moved back towards home. On reaching home we told everyone about this awesome FREE day we had. As usual, everyone suggested me to write a blog about it as I write about these things quite often. I agreed instantly and here I am finalising this blog entry, although after more than 2 months of the adventure. But someone has said better later than never.
Just to add to freebies list, the car rides, the cheerful people, great food and fun were big FREEBIEs for us all, throughout our stay in Melbourne, courtesy Yogi's sister Guddu and her husband Navdeep. :)