100 Days in India Project

Lunch aboard the Shatabdi Express in India

47/ 100 Delicious Indian Train Food

Although the last few stories have all been about the woes of travelling on the Marudhar Express I should say that not all Indian trains are equal by any means. After our eventful ride on the slowest sleeper train in the world on our first trip to India I decided to do some more research and upgrade the rest of our journey if possible, an upgrade that would enable us to be blessed with some delicious Indian train food.

After asking the staff in our hotel in Agra, and doing a bit more digging on the government rail booking website that is almost impossible to use, I realised that there was a whole class of train called the Shatabdi Express. These trains are called Superfast in India but, to us at least, they just seemed like they travelled at a pretty regular speed.

One look at the reliability scores showed that they were remarkably punctual, a fact that we were later told is largely because they are always given priority over the other trains. The government has invested heavily in these Superfast trains with the intention of selling seats to tourists and, as a result, they seem to have made them the king over all of the other rail creatures. The reason our Marudhar Express was so delayed was quite possibly because it had to keep pulling into railway sidings to let the faster trains past.

Today’s photograph is a quick iPhone shot of one of the smaller lunches we were provided with on a trip from Agra to Jaipur. Oftentimes the catering on the trains was so over the top that even I couldn’t eat everything. On one of our many train trips we felt like we were going to drown under a relentless onslaught of stainless steel trays of chapatis, yoghurts, icecream, more chapatis, lentils and unidentifiable but tasty stuff.

Each time I picked up my book to restart the same chapter I’d been trying to complete for the past 2 hours, one of the waiters would appear with something else to stuff into our faces. All of this was included in the price too. A price that was very affordable for us as foreigners.

However, lurking even here, on the tourist-oriented carriages where the staff were in uniforms and obviously trained to be as professional as possible, there were scams to be found. When dinner service was (mercifully) finished the staff would walk up and down the aisles with yet another tray. In the centre would be a bowl of mukhwas – sugar coated fennel and anise seeds – to freshen your breath. Tucked visibly beneath the bowl, in a beautiful flower-like arrangement would be large denomination Rupee notes whose purpose was to make you think that other passengers had left a hefty tip.

The very first time we saw this we saw the money, assumed it was the proper thing to do and and added some money to the tray. Only later did I see that none of the Indian passengers on our carriage were even shown the tray, only us Westerners. When we arrived in Jaipur at our wonderful AirBnB the host, Amita, asked how our trip had been. When we told her everything about it, including the tipping, she was completely enraged. Apparently it is strictly forbidden and there are laws to prevent it. We didn’t do it again after that.