The Felicitous Rajdhani Journey

by Shirish B Paranjape

This article first appeared in Indian Railways, June 1997, and is reproduced here by generous permission of the author.

At the first leg of our journey to the scenic hills of Himachal Pradesh, we arrive at the platform at Mumbai Central Railway Station, where the 2951 Rajdhani Express bound for New Delhi is standing, shining in its colourful glory. As we locate our first class air-conditioned coach, H1, a solitary red rose kept in a shiny brass vase seems to welcome us into the train. The interior of the compartment -- carpeted and with exquisite berth covers -- is immaculately clean and brightly colourful. My young daughters Neha and Shreya cannot hide the joy and thrill at this first encounter.

On the platform, we notice that hectic preparations by the railway personnel are on! Crates of mineral water, soft drinks, ice, bundles of bed-linen etc. are being loaded onto the train, among several other things required for use during the journey. I wonder at the mammoth effort put in by the railwaymen to ensure that everything goes right for the passengers on board this prestigious superfast hotel-train.

Just before the departure time, the voice on the public address system inside the train formally welcomes the passengers, and gives details of the ensuing journey for the benefit of the travellers. Our cabin attendant welcomes us personally with offerings of sweets. He also brings in the complimentary afternoon newspapers and bottles of mineral water (provided by Railways in the interest of well-being of the passengers).

At exactly 4.55 p.m., the powerful WCAM-2 Ac/DC locomotive pulls the 19-coach long Rajdhani out of Mumbai Central station and gains speed quickly -- as we see the stations on the Mumbai suburban section pass by. Very soon, we are served chilled pineapple juice in a cute little glass. Thereafter, the attendant brings in hot and delicious veg. patties, alongwith biscuits, and tea/coffee -- all of it in gleaming exquisite "La Opala" cutlery. As we enjoy the snack and sip the hot drink, we have old Hindi film songs entertaining us, while the "Rajdhani" is speeding towards its first halt, Vadodara -- 400 kilometres away -- through the plains of Gujarat. The cabin attendant very courteously enquires whether any of my kids would prefer to have milk instead of tea/coffee.

I look out of the window, lost in my own thoughts, and muse over the many strides the Rajdhani has made over the years. More comfortable 3-tier air-conditioned sleeper coaches have replaced the AC chair car coaches, electric traction has replaced the erstwhile diesel traction, and the operating frequency of the service has been gradually increased. All these improvements, coupled with the comfort, speed, punctuality and convenience this train offers, have made this train so immensely popular with the travelling public that the Indian Railways have also introduced its twin -- named August Kranti Rajdhani Express -- between the cities of Mumbai and Delhi, thus providing even more convenience, and additional capacity between these two important cities of our country.

As we relax in the cosy air-conditioned comfort of this Super- Express, the adjoining bogie -- the pantry car -- is all buzzing with hectic activity, preparing dinner for the travellers. We spend the evening reading newspapers, listening to the piped music, and just relaxing. The dinner service starts exactly on schedule -- at 8:30 p.m. -- with piping hot soup. This is followed by the sumptuous main course comprising vegetables, dat, pulao, rumali roti, salad etc., which were all very well prepared, tasty and delicious. And all this is not the usual casserole or thali dinner which we generally have on the trains..., this is a "eat-as-much-as-you-like" dinner, served with rich cutlery on folding tables arranged inside the compartment, complete with table mats, spoons, fork, knife etc.

Our cabin attendant makes our dinner even more memorable by his friendly, efficient personalised service, which makes us, particularly the kids, feel very much at home. As we complete the main course, the train is entering Vadodara, and the attendant asks our choice of whether we would like the dessert immediately, or after the train leaves Vadodara. We opt for the latter, and come out on the Vadodara platform for a short stroll -- definitely welcome (and required!) after such a wholesome meal.

We notice a change of locomotive here. From now and upto New Delhi, the Rajdhani is going to be hauled by an even faster WAP locomotive -- capable of working the train up to 130 kmph.

Back in our compartment when the train departs from Vadodara, we relish the ice-cream brought in by the attendant. And while we were downing all these goodies, little had we realised that the best part of the dinner service was yet to come. There it was now! ... small sweetened pieces of ginger (adrak) served in a cute bowl. What a fitting end to the best meal we have ever had on wheels ... or in air, for that matter!!!!

As the train speeds towards its destination through the night, we enjoy a very comfortable sleep on the broad berths of our compartment, nestled in the bed-linen and blanket provided by the Railways to all the passengers of this train. The bed-tea is brought in at 6.30 am., exactly as per our request, along with some biscuits. We complete the morning chores, and then sit back and relax, looking out as the morning sunshine is spreading down on the plains of north India, and notice the cattle trek out in the fields, Once again, the adjoining pantry car bustling with activity -- preparing breakfast for over 1000 passengers of this train. My kids (and I too) watch in amazement the speed at which the pantry car staff dishes out the various preparations. The breakfast is served at 8.30 am to the accompaniment of soothing piped music; and as we finish savouring the servings, served hot and delicious, the train is nearing New Delhi. Our attendant caringly packs some fruits and biscuits for the kids (for use later...).

The train enters the New Delhi railway station exactly on the scheduled time of 9.55 a.m. For us, it marks the end of an extremely enjoyable and comfortable journey, memories of which we are sure to carry for a long time to come. As we step out of the train, we and the staff of Rajdhani (catering as also housekeeping) bid good-bye to each other, hoping to meet one another on another of such memorable journeys by another Rajdhani Express operated by the Indian Railways.