Railway Lunch

Coonoor Station - Nilgiri Mountain Railway

"Would you like to share our lunch?"

We were sitting in an ageing carriage being slowly pulled by a wheezing steam train up the Nilgiri Mountain Railway in southern India. In the time of Empire thousands of colonial families would have used the same railway, and quite possibly the same carriages, to climb from the heat of the Indian Plains, up to the relative coolness of the hill station at Ooty.

We had started our journey from the Plains in a trusty Hindustan Ambassador before joining the train to complete the journey as it would have been done in the past. Our travelling companions were an Indian family escaping the hustle and bustle of city life in Madras to spend a few days in the hills.

The already slow train got slower and slower. After spending many hours on a mainline train before changing to the mountain train, the children were getting restless so their mother announced that it was now lunchtime. We were the only other travellers in the carriage, so the invitation came.

Palm-leaf plates were produced along with rice and an array of home-made pickles and chutneys. "They're not too hot", we were assured.  As the tea plantations slowly passed below the windows we had our first real taste of genuine home-cooked Indian hospitality.

If this scene had appeared in one of Michael Palin travelogues, we'd have been convinced that it was staged. In our travel anecdotes this lunch is now filed under "Palin moments".