Queen of the Sahyadri: Ride like the wind
She waits majestically on platform no 8 at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Station, her forehead decorated with a red symbol of the swastika and a tattoo that reads Shubh Labh wishing a blessed journey.
She is dressed in blue with amber yellow and red stripes running through her body, it feels like a long scarf gladly wrapped around her neck. Amidst a crowd of passengers hurrying through the busy corridors at CST, she stands out like a real queen.
The Deccan Queen Express turns 83 today, but age seems to have no effect either on her iron wheels or on her staff as she sets off for another majestic ride from the CST station. Started in 1930 as a weekend train to ferry British fans of horse races from Mumbai to Pune and vice versa, the Deccan Queen Express soon became popular, forcing the Indian Railways to ply it daily, and till today, the Deccan Queen Express remains the most favourite train among travellers plying between the two cities.
“She leaves at sharp 5.10 pm. The Queen has set this reputation since the beginning,” says Ganesh Pol, who travels everyday on the Queen from Mumbai to Pune, and then back. “With only three stops between Mumbai to Pune -- Karjat (where she adds a bank engine to climb the mountainous route), Lonavala and Shivajinagar -- and only two halts from Pune to Mumbai -- Lonavala and Dadar -- it runs on the tracks like the wind, covering the 192 kms distance in less than 3.5 hours,” he adds.
While travelling is never a problem for reserved passengers, the unreserved ticket holders don’t mind the distance either. “Lots of people get down at Lonavala, so from there onwards it’s always a comfortable journey,” says Bala Thakur, adding, “Besides there’s no other train between Mumbai and Pune that runs faster than the Queen.”
Bite into the nostalgia
In fact, the Queen was India’s first superfast train; she was also the first to have a ladies’ only car, and amongst the first on India’s rails to feature a diner car. And even today, the diner remains the most magnificent part of the Queen. The menu hasn’t changed much whether with the Queen’s kitchen offering something for everyone. “Many choose the Queen, because of the food,” admits 38-year-old Shyam Gulwani, a garment business owner from Pune, who travels to Pune at least eight times a month. “And it’s always the Deccan Queen for me,” he adds.
In fact, the Queen’s kitchen is believed to be doing a daily business of over R30,000 per day per trip. The baked beans and omelette bread that we had were simply delicious. We wanted to try the most popular Pomfret Fry and Vegetable Cutlets but our journey had to end abruptly. After about two hours, we had to get down at Lonavala to take a ride back to Mumbai, but the one-and half hours spent on the Deccan Queen flew like minutes. We bid the train goodbye, with a hope to finish the rest of the journey soon.
Food, fanfare and memories