Food extremes bug passengers on trains to Northeast - Insipid meals on Rajdhani worse than cacophonous vendors dishing out varieties on others, say commuters

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By NALIN VERMA
  • Published 20.06.12
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Criss-crossing the Northeast in summer holidays is a great idea, but taking the rail route is not.

Be it North East Express or Dibrugarh Rajdhani Express, the agony of train journey would be the only blighted spot in your fond memories of the hills and streams. While hawkers and beggars streaming in at will test your patience on North East Express from dawn to dusk, insipid food can turn sour your experience of travelling on Rajdhani.

Soon after the Anand Vihar (New Delhi)-bound North East Express (12505) rolls out of Guwahati around 9.47am, vendors come calling. From oven fresh food to gadgets like pen drives or cellphones, everything can be bought sitting on berths.

The train ticket examiners vanish after customary checking of tickets soon after the train starts from Guwahati. The compartment attendants also disappear after distributing bedsheets and blankets, giving vendors a free run.

The chorus of vendors has no class distinction. They reach out to every coach — AC or non-AC.

This correspondent was a witness to cacophony of vendors and beggars on board North East Express last month on his way back to Patna after a short and sweet summer holiday in the Northeast. The passengers were spoilt for choice in lunchtime.

From roti sabji to taja (fresh) puri bhaji, and from jhal murhi to veg and non-veg thalis (comprising rice, roti, daal, vegetables, pickles or rice and roti with chicken/ mutton), everything was on hawkers’ menu.

Post-lunch, most of the passengers were in a mood of siesta. But a new set of hawkers advertising their goodies, including pillow, pillow covers, torch and toys, at top of their voice spoilt the plan of the long-distance commuters.

Soon chaiwallahs (tea vendors) eves dropped with lemon and milk tea fresh from Assam tea gardens. Sprouted moong and chana (peas), biscuits and toasts were also up for sale.

Besides the ubiquitous vendors patrolling the corridor of air-conditioned compartments, beggars milling around is common on coaches of North East Express.

By all accounts, vendors and beggars outnumber the passengers. “My husband is posted in Patna and I have to usually take this train from Guwahati. It is a nightmare to travel on this train,” said a young woman from Guwahati.

The scene was similar from Guwahati to Katihar in Bihar, where the train reached around 9.30pm.

A notice near a toilet read: “Ask for complaint book to lodge complaint.” But one can hardly find anybody around to provide it. At times, the Railway Protection Force personnel can be seen negotiating through the melee of vendors and beggars. It was not known what they were checking.

Some passengers on board North East Express argued Patna-Guwahati-Dibrugarh Rajdhani Express was a better bet. Its fare is Rs 300 more per head because meals are served for free. Of course, beggars and vendors do not bother passengers on this train. But the food served is mostly insipid.

This correspondent saw passengers giving thumbs down to the food served on Rajdhani on May 12 on his outward journey. “What sort of paneer preparation is this? The daal tastes stale,” a passenger muttered, as he was served food somewhere near Kishanganj in Bihar.

A couple ordered a veg and a non-veg meal so that they could mix-and-match “tasty” delicacies. But nothing was delicious.

Vijay Kumar, a young engineer posted as principal in a Bihar-based ITI college, said: “This Rajdhani (Guwahati Rajdhani) is worse. The food served is horrible and you do not have the option of vendors.”

Most passengers in the coach echoed Vijay.