Saturday, July 25, 2015

Chai in the Dining Car

Train journeys fascinate me. But none quite like the Deccan Queen (DQ). Especially the Mumbai to Pune leg. Years ago, I shifted my loyalties from the Indrayani Express (which leaves for Pune in the morning) to the DQ (which leaves in the evening). And even though Pragati Express leaves a good 50 minutes before- and reaches few minutes sooner than- the DQ, the Queen has her own charm. And I like the C4 coach particularly because it's right next to the Dining Pantry car. By the way, the Queen just got a refurbished dining car, with new lights, new seating, curtains and very swanky. The Dining car has been the DQ's highlight for years. It's half kitchen and half restaurant. The new dining car has two new wash basins as well. They had just introduced it days before my last visit, so the decorations were still on. That's also another reason why I love the DQ. Unlike other Mumbai - Pune trains, this one has a pantry car, so food is freshly prepared. Leaving home in the afternoon and walking into the Mumbai CST station that time- as also reaching Pune late evening and then crashing to bed after a delicious dinner- has its own charm for me, which I can't quite describe it, so let's not bother.

The DQ chugs out at Mumbai CST at sharp 5:10. I think it's the only train where the air-conditioned coaches still have wall clocks in them. And one of the very few trains that don't stop at Dadar. By which time, it picks up good speed, but not quite its top speed I think. The best part of DQ is when the staff from the pantry car starts coming in offering tea / coffee at first, followed sometimes by soup and then they take orders for evening snacks. Bread/butter toast or sandwich (you can order it with cheese), omelette, vegetable cutlets, chicken cutlets, baked beans and perhaps a few other items. My favourite: bread, cheese, butter toast and omelette. I wish they could offer chai along with the toast sandwich, so that I could dip my toast in tea and have it. But since preparation takes time, they serve the beverages first.

I like food that's freshly prepared. Other trains have readymade snacks that are already prepared in their station canteens. I don't like that and prefer to carry sandwiches from home on such trains. Onboard the DQ, the pantry staff is top rate; very courteous, hardworking and they are always running and on their toes to serve. There is this particular charming old man, who's the pantry staff, who I've been seeing on the DQ for years now. Fortunately, he was in charge of C4 this time, so we were well looked after.

I like to follow a pattern when travelling to Pune by train. Apart from my snack and what I must have all the time, I have to alight at Karjat station for some time. Here's where all trains heading to Pune- fast or slow, long or short- get a few electric locomotives attached at the back to push it up the ghats. The engines then detach themselves away at Lonavala (here again, I must step out briefly) and return back to Karjat for the same routine, all over again. Except for a few passenger and freight trains, Karjat is a technical stop for most fast Mumbai - Pune trains. This means that you can't buy tickets for Karjat. But the train stops there for technical / operational reasons. Which is also why, on return, most of these trains don't stop at Karjat because when the train comes down the ghat, it does not need locomotives to push it. Slower trains have a commercial stop here.

Karjat station is also famous for its vadas. I don't care for the vadas but I like the atmosphere of Karjat station. It gives a village station feel as there's quite a lot of greenery that surrounds it. Once the ghat section starts, I ventured into the new Dining car. Now usually, the dining car gets full at the Karjat station itself, as this is the best place any Mumbai - train can has to offer. You have your food, relax and enjoy the view the ghats. Especially in the monsoons, where you get see many waterfalls and beautiful scenery. I don't get a window seat, but since I am determined to get a seat, I wait patiently till I see an empty seat. Since I am full, I order just a cup of tea.

On the other hand, I wish I could have eaten my evening snack here, as they prepare all sorts of eggs (I saw someone eating fried eggs, sunny side up) and also serve us in glass plates and stainless steel cutlery. But I have my chai and enjoy the view as the train meanders its ways up the ghats, through the tunnels, over the bridges, some of them as old as about 50 years I suppose, occasionally honking and trying to speed as much as possible. I could hardly spot any waterfall because it hadn't rained in a long time. But the scenery is still beautiful. In just 30 mins, DQ chugs past Khandala and arrives at Lonavala.

At 8:30, we reach Pune in style. And into familiar surroundings. Past the Vaswani ashram, Dorabjee's shop, Kayani Bakery, Moledina Road, touching MG Road, East Street, the white-washed church and cozy cottages on the Napier Road, Pune Camp


  1. After eating all this, you should run back home to Mumbai from Pune !

  2. :) food gets digested by the time the train reaches Pune


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