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A trip down the coast from Bombay became a possibility only in the last decade or so, after Konkan Railway came into being. One problem here is that food is a bit dicey, because there are very few catering options that have sprung up. One reason is the lack of entrepreneurship among the coastal Maharashtrians and the other is the slow pace of awarding railway platform concessions to food contractors on the Konkan Railway, as this was tied up with compensation for land displacement during construction of the line. That will obviously take much longer than the here-and-now demands of the appetites of train travelers.

There are pantry cars now only on some trains and there are only a few stalls on station platforms, which are in any case some distance away from the main city in most places. The Konkan Kanya is supposedly an overnight train to Goa, but reaches Madgaon after 10 a.m., much to the disgust of the Goans. As partial compensation, it does have a pantry car. This serves breafast on the way out from Bombay and a good dinner on the way in (it leaves Madgaon in the late evening at about 6 p.m.). The veg dinner option is the standard casserole as well as alu parathas made on board, which are worth trying. These are in limited quantities and so not even advertised, sometimes. Worth asking for.

On longer trips, the Netravati for example, offers plenty of food. With a Southern Railway pantry car, it has friendly staff, and since it leaves Kurla terminus too early for lunch at home, business begins almost immediately after the train reaches Thane just before noon.

A friend of ours reports almost a continuous supply of ulundu wadas, through the day. Well before the train reaches Kerala, apart from idli wadas and things, pazamporis (ripe bananas dipped in rice/besan flour and fried) make their appearance. I find them oily but tasty. The friend also reports varied commerce on the train, apart from food, with mp3 CDs, lungis, towels, chinese toys, eucalyptus oil and notebooks being transacted. Malayalis may have an eye for these things. Some of it is no doubt because returning Gulf travellers must be getting a few gifts for the family which they should actually have bought on their trip. The airport duty free shop is the last-but-one resort and this is _the_ last chance. Even with direct Calicut, Cochin and Trivandrum flights to the Gulf, there are still some who need to come in through Bombay and take the train South. One reason is that there is significant travel even to smaller towns and Bombay to Kasargode or Kannur is a nice journey, arriving at home in the early morning.

In recent months, travel on Konkan Railway is slow, because of speed restrictions. So despite the eye-popping scenery, including the engineering stuff of tunnels and viaducts and all that, time, which waits for no one, begins to tell on the appetite. Fortunately, when the train enters Southern Railway territory near Mangalore, platform food becomes more plentifully available. When we travelled to Ernakulam, I was quite ravenous as the morning went past and in between catching a few glimpses of the sea on the right and observing single line working and crossings, I was just waiting for a long enough halt for getting off. Shoranur junction at lunch time was it, and I went for the idli, wada, chatni (the brownish stuff) with a relish. This is not for the daintily inclined, as the man liberally slops the chatni on to the whole deal and if you're not careful, the thing is in danger of becoming one homogenous paste. But good stuff, what with the noontime hunger and the positive vibes of a thousand Malayalis nearing their homes. And for me, the prospect of seeing the tracks of the main line from Palghat and the Bharatapuzha bypass, soon after, was quite appetising in itself.

A trip by the Trivandrum Rajdhani from Calicut some years ago was noteworthy for the following early morning incident. I was travelling with a railway colleague, who had a junior of his at Mangalore who wanted to say hello to him as he was passing by. So at Kankanadi, on the Mangalore bypass, on a rainy morning, during a five minute halt, we were treated to a steaming hot cup of station tea brought on a tray, with some biscuits for company. This was brought by the junior holding an umbrella over the tray and the person carrying it, although the junior himself was getting drenched in the steady drizzle. The sheer affection of the gesture warmed the cockles of our hearts (whatever cockles are). There was much shaking of hands and we made the most of the brief halt.

The Rajdhani catering was sumptuous, but not in the style of the Delhi Rajdhanis, where there is a sit down service in AC 1. This was pre-packed food, but in large quantities.

Platform stalls at Calicut are stacked high with banana chips and a few varieties of glistening and tempting, well packed fruit halwas. Jackfruit, pineapple and a mixed variety are what I remember.

The other platform hawking is cashewnuts, a bit further north, and on our way back from Kerala, there was this lady who was scouting the aisles of the AC coach on the lookout for cashewnut vendors, who have to act nippy these days because of short halts. It was close to 10 p.m., and this lady was keen on getting the stuff, but was particular about buying it in Goa, as she was convinced it was much better value for money. In the dark, in the AC coach, she had no way of verifying when we had crossed Canacona and entered Goa, and she was anxiously enquiring of various folks to make sure we had not gone past Madgaon without her notice. It was quite late, so there was only a solitary vendor at Madgaon. The lady made her purchase and was able to sleep peacefully.