Train travel in India is certainly an experience. We are armed with the correct apps for booking our tickets and feel we are pretty easy going and able to overcome most obstacles put in our way but even so you have to retain a sense of humour and some patience when travelling by train in India. The first hurdle is just the sheer number of people travelling by train and even with 20 carriages and several trains running a day they are often all booked up. Which is why we were a little surprised to find 700 spare seats for our train from Aurangabad to Mumbai. We booked our seats only to find out that the computer hadn’t issued us seats next to each other even with 700 empty places!
Sure enough all the seats had been booked by the time our train was due to depart and there was even a waitlist. These waitlists entitle some people to travel and others to take the place of last minute cancellations. I will be honest I really don’t understand the waitlist system and we haven’t been brave enough to rely on it so far. What we have encountered on almost every trip is that the computer booking system has ensured that no one is sitting next to each other so as soon as you get onto a train there is a complex negotiation of swapping seats but to be fair everyone sincerely tries to ensure that everyone is happy. You also have to throw into the mix that people don’t seem to book seats for children so they also have to be accommodated for too!
Today we had a new factor to consider as a man approached my seat (that is to say the seat that I had reserved but had obviously swapped it with someone who had swapped with someone else) to tell me that he was on a waitlist but according to the seat allocation chart posted on the outside of the train he also had my seat. I was confused and surprised and didn’t really know what to do so decided to wait for the conductor. We couldn’t consult the list as it was posted on the outside of the train and the train was now moving. Everyone else on the train was telling me not to worry and just to sit where I was…so I did. By the time the conductor came there were a few spare seats so the man had found a seat and everyone was happy anyway.
On top of all of this there are people jammed into the ends of the carriages and a constant stream of people selling everything from water to food to toys to socks squeezing their way up and down the carriages. There is honestly no need for a book as there is so much going on we are constantly entertained.
This journey was busier and we noticed that as we neared Mumbai there were quite a few beggars, shoe shiners and sellers who obviously hadn’t washed in a long time yet were all somehow getting on the train. It was pretty amazing that by the time we arrived in Mumbai we were actually feeling fairly well rested and thought that we had had a pretty good journey.
However we still had 10 km to go across the centre of town to our hotel.
As we stepped off the train and onto the platform the first thing we noticed was the number of people. It was like a rush hour we have never seen before expect it wasn’t rush hour! Our first thought was to catch an Uber but we couldn’t see anywhere where it was quiet enough to be able to stand and wait for a car so we decided to catch another short train to the centre of town. I queued up for our tickets in the 40 degree heat (the humidity had returned too) for about 15 minutes and eventually bought our tickets for 5 rupees (10 cents) each!!
Tickets in hand we found our platform and along with hundreds of other people waited for the train. When the train arrived we both thought it was full to overflowing and with our backpacks thought there was no way we were getting on. Luckily a man saw our dilemma and helped by laughing and shoving us both onto the train where we were met with smiles and laughter by everyone wedged into the carriage who explained that this is what it was like everyday! Wow what an arrival in a city!
Sometimes I wonder where we get the energy from but we were both excited more than tired so set out to try and find some sustenance and see what was what. Sustenance was easily found in the form of a restaurant serving fantastic curries just down the road from the hotel and being full of energy we set out to walk down to the main sights of Mumbai.
It’s difficult to describe Mumbai in just the 5km or so we walked. There were sky scrapers, old colonial buildings, grandly built train stations as well as ramshackle market stalls. There were people and cars everywhere and so much going on that once again we were both looking everywhere around us while also trying not to get run over! It was very strange to see these huge buildings which wouldn’t have looked out of place in a European city and we noticed that they were all the government buildings and certainly were a unique sight for us so far in India. I couldn’t describe Mumbai by sight only, there is also a smell. While it’s not constant there are points where we are suddenly overwhelmed by usually either an incredibly strong stench of urine or sewerage. While we have learned to identify those two it has to be said that often we just encounter “bad smells”. These can be quite overpowering and while we are building up an immunity I don’t think we will ever get used to them. In spite of this I would have to say that Mumbai was on first impressions nowhere near as dirty as I thought it would be. Yes it’s dusty but there is obviously a garbage disposal system in place as the streets are not lined with rubbish.
After wandering through a few streets we arrived at The Gateway of India, which is a huge archway built to celebrate the 1911 visit of King George V and next door was the Taj Mahal Palace hotel which is an icon of India. It was the first place to employ women and the first to have electricity and we joined the other Indian tourists outside sitting on the harbour wall gazing at its beautiful facade.
By this time we felt that we had well and truly earned ourselves a beer so stopped in at Leopold Cafe, a travellers institution since 1871. There was air conditioning and the beer was cold so we were happy. It has to be noted though that while cold the beer was also pretty expensive at 500 rupees a bottle!
On our wander home we passed through an area called “Fort”. The streets were narrower than others and while there was the occasional car and motorbike most of the streets were filled with people walking along. The pavements were lined with market stalls and there were a few selling street food. We have been pretty careful with street food in India as hygiene standards are often variable but this place had a queue of people so we stopped. We ended up having Dabeli, a mixture of potatoes, spices, peanuts and pomegranate served in a sandwich which was delicious and a perfect way to end a great day! T
The outskirts of Mumbai from the window of our train.
Turned out that this wasn’t even a busy train.
A snapshot of the eclectic variety of buildings in Mumbai. These were all within a few hundred metres of each other.
The Gates of India.
The Taj Mahal Palace.