As winter bids farewell to Islamabad, the residents of this beautiful city nestling in the lap of the picturesque Himalayan Foothills begin experiencing a unique weather phenomenon. Days alternate between bright sunshine that give a foretaste of summer and rain laden clouds that bring back the chill (and light woolies).

People around me know that I have a crazy yen for cold weather. I remember standing on a frozen railway platform in Balochistan with the thermometer hanging around minus ten degrees in a bid to unload scanty household assets and later telling my wife that I had thoroughly enjoyed the experience, which had been made more memorable by an awesome meal consisting of some steaming hard boiled eggs that I managed to acquire from a roving vendor on the platform.

Now railway platforms are exciting places – mute and empty one moment and exploding into bustling noisy activity that soon subsides into desolate, chilly silence until the arrival of the next train. A platform is also an excellent place for social psychologists to study human behavior. It is a place where laughter and tears can be seen within a few feet of each other; it is the birthplace of stories that are destined to become best sellers or box office hits. Dotted along these long raised structures sliced by one or more railway tracks, are small kiosks or stalls that provide sustenance (of mind and body) to passengers and railway staff alike - from cheaply priced reading material to food and beverages. These food and beverage stalls have a history as old as the railway in our part of the world. They would have very soon discovered that their survival depended on adapting themselves to the peculiar needs of the train traveler i.e. quick service and takeaway. This meant creating a menu that could be prepared with speed and delivered to a customer on the go. It was therefore no surprise that as soon as the train halted at a station or even slowed down for the stop, it was assailed by an army of shouting and jostling individuals offering tea, cold drinks, hard boiled eggs and Pakoras.

The Pakoras available on the platform were mouthwatering and spicy. They were sold wrapped in old newspapers or magazines, which gave one an option of doing a bit of reading as dessert. Imagine my surprise then, when I was told by a foodie friend that someone with the right mind had launched a Pakora outlet in Islamabad on the railway junction theme and distinguished it by a logo that replaces the steel boiler of a steam engine with a large chili. I am happy to state that my foodie pals have managed to reach the spot in a more than satisfactory manner using google power.

Tea or ‘Karak Chai’ was another favorite of the train travelers. This was served in small glasses, six to eight of which were fitted into a rectangular wire basket like carrier and sold as a tried and tested pick-me-up. How these ‘chotas’ managed to recover their ‘tea cups’ along with the money, before the train moved away, has always been an enigma to me. In summers, ice cold ‘lassi’ was made available at some places, but the competition did not make the slightest of dent in the tea niche.

A large metropolis based railway junction like Lahore now showcases some modern international food chains, but while these names attract a particular brand of customers, the ‘chai pakora’ tradition is alive and well at almost all train stops. So dear readers if next you happen to take a modern train from Rawalpindi to Karachi, do take the trouble to step down at stops along the way and look for the ‘garam aanday wala’, for somewhere close to him you will find the succulently fulfilling ‘pakora’ and its unbeatable companion - ‘karak chai’.