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North and north east

Trip to the East and North East

The Bombay Howrah Mail via Allahabad is a historic train and well worth a leisurely sojourn. The trip itself was a landmark for me and the extent of anticipation and a post trip report can be seen here.

The food part was leisurely and cultured, as befits an old train rich with association. We were travelling in the acme of luxury in Indian travel (for me), namely 1st AC. We had a Railwayman for company the first night and the second night, we had our own two berther. We guessed that we were with a railway man because the morning tea tray for him came with a curved china cup instead of the sturdy and serviceable mugs that we got in our tray. Not that I minded the mug, but the differential treatment did rankle somewhere.

Breakfast was the usual cutlet which always is a bit startling when they use what appears to be beetroot in the filling because of the rich maroon colour which results. Another thing about the recipe for railway cutlets is that they have saunf in them, which I do not recall having in restaurant cutlets.

Lunch was noteworthy for the solo gulab jamun. We also stashed away some of the chapatis and the pickle pack for later use. We were carrying a some food ourselves, fruit (peaches) and biscuits and some curd rice. So dinner was all that.
The Railway man in the compartment we were travelling in the previous night, turned out to be a big cheese in the RPF and from Manikpur onwards, there was a steady stream of sturdy policemen meekly trying to anticipate the big man's beverage needs. Manikpur, Naini and Allahabad, all in the space of one hour or so, saw him being offered Coke, tea and more tea and more out of politeness (he would have got to his bungalow in Allahabad in a short while anyway), he had a cup or two. But, to make the whole exercise worthwhile, he even sent back something and asked for something else, from what we could see.

Morning breakfast at Dhanbad was just BBT (which in railway parlance is the message sent ahead to catering units for Bread Butter and Tea, and not Baked Beans on Toast, as I had optimistically guessed when I first heard about it). But this was enhanced by some special bakery biscuits, i.e. not packed, but from gleaming glass jars, at Dhanbad station. Dhanbad had a low level platform, surprising for such an important division for coal loading revenue for the railways. I also bought a fancy tooth-brush combo, in two sizes, one nestling inside the crook of the other, in a hangable plastic case, on the platform.

Asansol, like many other stations before (Gomoh etc.) fulfiled long standing ambitions - by just being there for me to observe it, nothing spectacular, just the thrill of seeing black letters on yellow boards of station names long read avidly only in timetables. We got off at Barddhaman a bit later, and spent most of an hour on the pleasant foot overbridge watching trains lazily go by. The Kathgodam Howrah Bagh express with its logo of the fast vanishing tiger, the Poorva from Howrah to Delhi, and a couple of locals to Howrah via Bandel and via the Chord. Like an idiot, I missed the chance to go to the northern end of Barddhaman station to check out the narrow gauge line to Katwa. Clean forgot about it, if you can believe that.

Then our train, the Santiniketan Express to Bolpur and in the AC coach, we had some jhal muri which hit the spot. The coach was cold and littered with paper (newspapers and also the packets of this jhal muri which previous occupants had eaten), but we had a good ride with much anticipation of a good lunch ahead. This indeed happened in due course.
We were carrying mangoes from Mumbai for our hosts in Santiniketan and later, Guwahati, at various stages of ripening and barring one or two, most of the mangoes made it in good shape.