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Madgaon on the Konkan Kanya. We were going to visit a Konkan Railway facility, so we were greeted as we entered the coach and the pantry was told about us, so they took good care of us, or so we thought. But on the way back, we were just ordinary passengers huffing and puffing a little at just having made it to Thivim and we were still treated just as well. Of the three rakes running on the Konkan Kanya Mandovi rake link from Mumbai to Madgaon, this catering contractor operates two of them. He has printed menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner, both set meals and a-la-carte and delivers good stuff. He has recently shifted to eco-friendly thick, leaf plates from supari trees, made at Kumta and supplied to all his operations. Thick enough to support hot masala dosa and chatni.

The KK leaves Mumbai too late at night for any real dinner. But some of us ate some khichdi brought from home, just in case. We had some rounds of tea, accompanied by soft music with harmonium accompaniment, courtesy some enthusiastic members of our group. This went on till past midnight, somewhat to my chagrin, but I was told that it was barely audible even in the next compartment. Well, I hope so.

Morning breakfast for me was upma sheera. Both in about equal quantities, much to the surprise of a friend, who takes the point of view that the sheera as just a contrastor. But the combo was good, with kaju in the upma and we washed it down with very reasonable coffee. Plenty of other choices for those who wanted it, including batatawadas. Standard railway omelette bread also available.

Lunch was at Madgaon station, a specially catered affair. The highlight was a finely chopped cabbage veg, Madras style, with a thick layer of fresh coconut. Lots of other things were nice, but we were too busy ogling the sky-bus prototype at Madgaon station to take note of everything. I skipped the sweet, for instance.

On our return the next day, we ordered dinner en masse. An earlier trip had earned a recommendation that alu parathas were good, and they formed a convenient one step meal order for all ten of us. Two parathas, with moong and onion as part of the filling, some curd, slightly sour and a standard pickle. Overall, a good meal for Rs 15. Pre and post the meal were cups of elaichi tea and coffee. We passed on the tomato soup (served with croutons), but later at night, several of us tried the masala milk, with real pista and badam. Pretty darn good, if I may say so.

The catering on Konkan Railway is above average. The contractor invited us to visit the pantry car, which I thought was pretty bold of him. He said they make close to seventy different items in the various routes they service. Catering cleanliness is also significantly above the norm. The tea canister had a spout that leaked only minimally (I said above the norm, I didn't say perfect), and the coach was pretty carefully swabbed and swept, which I must admit makes quite a difference. One starts noticing these things in otherwise boring AC surroundings. The amount of plastic waste one compartment load of people (and moderate eaters at that) generates is frightening. The pantry car attendant keeps up a constant tour with a trash bag into which we all dutifully put in our cups and so on. Where it all goes, god alone knows. Especially on the Konkan route, the relatively verdant surroundings bring to sharp contrast the sight of waste (mostly food packaging) dumped along the tracks.

Platform food on Konkan Railway is scarce, although stalls are now slowly coming up. Mostly packaged stuff. Got some standard kajus at Thivim station, just as the train pulled in.