Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
My train reservation for Agra didn’t leave Mumbai until 8pm, so I checked out early from the hotel, and got them to store my bags until 6pm, then went for my last stroll by an ocean and some breakfast at Chowpatty beach (the wallahs were getting to recognize me, and pulled out a really nice carpet under a big palm tree for me).
I asked one of the women, who’s English was rather good, where I should spend my afternoon that’s not too tourist oriented. She told me about the Central Bombay area where there are some good bazaars and restaurants frequented by the middle class Mumbaites.
My iPad told me that there was a suburban train (or subway) that had a major stop called Bombay Central, so I decided to suck it up and experience the Western Railway local trains.
There are three railway terminus in South Mumbai, but only two take passengers on local trains. The South Central line which terminates at CST, and the Western line that terminates at Churchgate which is all of 500 meters from my hotel. Because I was at Chowpatty, I was actually closer to the next station, Marine Lines, so I headed over to it, making sure to ask if it was a train station and not a hospital.
I walked into the station, past the hawkers that were selling genuine Rolax watches and Hillyfinger trousers, and up to the ticket booth.
“Central Bombay” I said to the very small woman with the very old computer, and pulled out a 100 rupee bill.
The woman became fairly agitated and started yelling at me in… well I’m not actually sure what language it was, but it didn’t sound like Hindi, waving her arms in the air and bobbing her head in a very animated manner.
She left the booth and the people behind me in line snickered. I had obviously done something wrong, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. A different woman appeared at the counter and said “Four rupee. We don’t have change for this one”.
I dug around my pockets, and pulled out enough coins to pay the 8 cent ticket, and headed for the platform.
The Western Railway runs trains that are 20 cars long that fit 200 people a car (although at rush hour, they pack twice that many in a car) and trains run every three minutes between 7am and 7pm, otherwise you have to wait an entire five minutes for a train. You do have to pay attention though because not every train stops at every stop.
Rush hour was over, so the Marine Lines stop wasn’t very busy. A train came by, slowing down while people hopped into the open doors of the cars. I waited for the train to stop so I could board… and watched the train leave the station.
OK… I guess you have to hop on while the train is moving… This should be interesting…
I watched a couple more trains go by, to watch the technique, and then gave it a shot. It looked like this.
I looked out the open door, smug with the fact that I got on a moving train, in India, and survived. While I was feeling superior about myself, I watched some people exit the train at the next station. It kind of looked like Navy Seals exiting an aircraft on a high altitude mission. They jumped into mid-air, and then WHOOSH… they were gone. I suddenly didn’t feel so smug.
I arrived at the Central Bombay station and exited the moving train with a ninja barrel roll… well actually I exited with a dignified hop… ok, ok, I leapt like a crazy man, waving my arms in the air, screaming “God, I’ll be a good boy if you get me out of this”… but I screamed it in Hindi!
Downtown Mumbai really resembles a North American downtown, with high rise office towers, shopping malls, and boatloads of construction. The lack of English signs in the area told me that it wasn’t geared towards tourists, so I looked for a clean restaurant to have lunch in. This sign jumped out at me for some reason.
So in I went, with my phrasebook in hand, to test out my Hindi and sample the food that the office workers of Mumbai ate.
“kshama kijiye” I said to the pink and blue uniformed gentleman behind the counter, “Krpaya bataye, meh kab khane chahate haiN?”
The man blinked and said “Although I appreciate you trying to speak Hindi, this is Mumbai, and almost all of us speak English. I will be better able to serve you in English. Besides, what you said doesn’t make sense”
“What did I say?”
“Forgive my farts. Please tell me when I want to eat.”
“Now, welcome to Baskin Robbins, how may I serve you?”
I strolled down the streets of downtown with my double scoop of Gold Medal Ribbon waffle cone and looked into some shop windows, and found a half decent Indian restaurant and had a yummy yellow dal curry with some rice and a mango lassi.
I continued to wander, looking at a city that is desperately trying to hold on to its Indian roots while westernization is taking over. McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Baskin Robbins, these are the joints that the downtown office people are eating at and not the curry lunch counters or samosa stands. It’s a little sad, and I hope it doesn’t spread to much.
I bade farewell to downtown Mumbai and headed back to the trains. Leaping back onto a subway to take me back to Churchgate Station, I was able to experience what it was like trying to get off a train while a rush hour crowd is trying to get on. It’s like walking against an open fire hose, you just lean into it until someone turns off the pressure. I actually think that some kind soul helped me out by physically throwing me out of the car, but I can’t be sure.
I got out of Churchgate station, went back to my hotel to grab my things, and headed over to the CST train station to catch The Punjab Mail to Agra.