Category Archives: Mumbai

This comfy couch seems to be attached to a train…


Mumbai, Maharashtra & Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India

CST has a really nice waiting room with departure and arrival screens, chai and chaat sellers, and various toilet apparatus facilities, close to platform 17 where my train was to depart from, so I waited there for an hour and watched the going ons in the station.

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There were many Indian families sitting on shawls and other pieces of fabric on the floor, spread out and eating various food stuffs, some brought and some bought. It was like there were 4000 different picnics going on while the PA system announced train departure and arrivals in Hindi and a very heavy accented English.

People over here travel with anything on the train. The luggage that people were carrying just baffled my mind. I saw a guy with an old 30 inch CRT TV wrapped in a tea towel as luggage, another guy was carrying a satellite dish. One woman had a full sized semi trailer truck tire that she just rolled to her train. It’s really astounding.

Since this was the originating station for the Punjab Mail, I could board early and get settled for the 26 hour train trip. I went to the AC tier 2 car #A1 berth 32 and started to stow my things when a stout man in a sweater vest and tie looked at me and asked if I was sure I was in the right place. I showed him my ticket, and then he showed me his. They were the same except for the name and the PNR number.

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He brought me to the outside of the train to where the passenger reservation confirmation list was pasted to the train, and his name appeared on the sheet and not mine.

The conductor and a very grumpy man with a shiny sub-machine gun came by and looked at our tickets and told me to grab my stuff and go with them.

I was confused and a little frightened at this point as I see signs warning about counterfeit tickets and fines and jail times for those who are caught with them. We walk back to the counter where a heated discussion among three men and the army dude takes place, with pointing at the train, then at me, then at the ticket. One of them enters some stuff into a computer, and the conductor says “Come with me!”

We go to a large bulletin board that is labeled in Hindi with reams and reams of printout attached to it. On one of the boards, on a very very small sign, in English, it says Reservation Confirmation Charts. The conductor goes to one of the charts, and in a Colniel Klink from Hogan’s Heroes gesture, points to a chart and says “UPGRADE!”

There, in a dot matrix printout, among a thousand lines of devanagari, is two words in english. John Bent.

It seems that the upgrade option on an Indian Rail ticket is nothing like an extended warranty. I had been upgraded to AC1 which is the highest class, and was booked in chamber C.

The conductor walked me back to the train and the AC1 car.

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A sleeper class car, the class that the majority of Indian people travel on, takes about two hundred people a car. An AC tier 2 takes about 50 in comfortable little berths in one car (which is how I traveled from Chennai to Puducherry). An AC1 car takes ten. Two chambers of four for families, and one chamber for two for singles.

Chamber C was the chamber for two and it was amazing. A full plush couch that could easily seat 4 people but was reserved for two that folded down into a twin size bed and another twin size bed folded out of the wall. a full set of switches that turned on 8 different lighting combinations including a night light and private reading lights for the beds, a closet, adjustable air conditioning and ceiling fans, bells to call the porters, menus for the food car (because this ticket included 3 meals), full sets of clean linen with blankets and three pillows each, plugs for laptops and phone chargers, a closing and locking door, and even an indicator when the WC and IC were occupied, and those bathrooms were only for the 10 spaces on this car.

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I settled in as the conductor adjusted my ticket and the waiter took my order for dinner. At the next stop, a gentleman from Dubai came and took the top bunk. We talked about travels in India, and when my dinner of veg bryanni came, he shared some home made naan that his mother had made in Mumbai, which was delicious.

By the time we finished eating, it was dark out and there was very little to see out the windows, so we turned down the beds and went to sleep watching the twinkling lights and fires of the India night go by.

I woke up at 5 in the morning and said goodbye to Dubai Guy as he was getting off at Bhopal, and for the next 18 hours I had the chamber all to myself. In fact for the last 6 hours of the ride, I had the entire car to myself.

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The wallahs started walking the halls at about that time and there was chai, coffee, omelettes, vegetable cutlets, bread with butter and dosa available for breakfast and one guy even had cheese. Naturally I had one of everything… Except the chai. I had three of those. I think I’m very popular with the wallah crowd, because all they have to do is call out a food item and I salivate. I’m like Pavlov’s Canuck.

In fact, if anybody wants to make money when I get back to Winnipeg, you could just follow me around saying “chai, chai, chai, chai” and pouring me small cups of tea. I’m not sure where you will be able to change the 5 rupee coins, but you’re sure to get a lot of them.

The rest of the day was spent staring out of the window watching north central India go by.

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I arrived in Agra the next night and went to my hotel to get some rest so I could see some building the next morning at sunrise.

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If your parachute doesn’t deploy, have a waffle cone.


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).

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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.

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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.

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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.”

“Oh”

“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.

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