|My train for Mumbai left at 6am and due to concerns about getting a rickshaw so early in the morning I ended up getting to the train station early enough to catch a special service train that came through at 5.15am. The 10 1/2 hour journey was reasonably uneventful except when a group of Indian guys came over and started chatting to me. There was the usual amazement that I was travelling by myself and that I was unmarried at the age of 29. After about 15 minutes of questioning they wandered off again and I settled down to watch the scenery again. As we were pulling into Mumbai I started to see the local trains that only served the city area, which looked crowded beyond belief, mainly because none of the doors on the train ever closed which gave people the option of hanging out of the doors!
My train did not go directly into the heart of Mumbai so I had the option of taking a taxi or trying to negotiate my way into the center on the local trains I had seen earlier. Given that I had been up since 4am and had little sleep the night before due to my now being used to staying up all night drinking in Goa, I decided to take a taxi. The taxi driver screwed me over quite badly and I ended up paying what I suspect was three times the fare - about 7 quid. Then the guesthouses I was looking at were unusually expensive compared to other places in India. When I was first shown a room in the place i ended up staying I was quoted 700 rupees for something that was smaller and less well equipped then what i had in Goa, and I was only paying 200 rupees there! I managed to haggle him down to 450 rupees anyway and vowed to leave the city as soon as possible as it was starting to drain my money.
I was just starting to read a book called "Shantaram" which is a suppousadly true story about an Aussie guy who escaped from prison in Australia in the early 80s and came to Mumbai, lived in the slums for a while as a doctor, joined the local mafia and wound up fighting the Russians in Afghanistan briefly among other things. It was a really good book and in the beginning he mentions a bar called "Leopolds" a lot and seeing as it was just round the corner from where i was staying i went there to have some food and check the place out. It turned out to be really nice, but expensive. A waiter saw me reading the book and showed me a video clip on his mobile of the author visiting the restaurant not long ago. After the meal I got chatting to a couple at the next table who had just started their trip and were also heading north to Nepal. They seemed really nice.
I looked through my guidebook but there was nothing screaming out at me as a must see so I resolved to do the things I needed to and get out. First step involved buying a train ticket and so on waking up early in the morning I jump in a taxi to the main train station. After wandering around for a little while among the crowds of locals I realise that the advance booking office is actually located in the building across the road and when i get there I realise that the tourist advance booking office is actually located round the corner again and up a flight of stairs.
Rail travel is extremely popular in India and although there are many trains, there are many more people still wanting to use them. Travelling in ordinary second class is not really an option for overnight trains as not only would you have no bed, you probably would have no seat due to the tremendous crush of people. Then the sleeper options, especially those in the air conditioned carriages (which are also segregated from the rest of the train due to locked doors) sell out up to a month in advance. In order to enable tourists to still see the country easily the train company reserves two seats from each class on each train for foreigners and to get one of these seats you need to go to the special reservation area, show a passport and pay using foreign currency; or if in Rupees you need to show an ATM receipt due to something complicated with currency restrictions. Anyway i had my passport but had forgotten my ATM receipt which was back at the hotel. After some faffing around however and much apologising on my part the cashier reluctantly agreed to give me the ticket.
After that I jumped into a taxi and told the guy to take me to the main post office which I knew was just up the road. Annoyingly though the guy deliberately took me to a much smaller post office that was further away and so a higher fare. When I realised this and jumped in another taxi to the right post office I then had the difficulty of finding the place that did parcel wrapping as I was sending home some stuff for myself and my Mums birthday present.
The post office consisted of several huge buildings and after wandering around several, through the main sorting hall where towering piles of post were being hand sorted by a small army of people and after asking many people I was eventually pointed to a small stall on the opposite side of the road. It was quite a bizarre sight as 4 men were sat at small tables in the open air by the side of the road wrapping up parcels using large pieces of material that they then hand sowed together. Afterwards some wax was melted on and a stamp was applied to all of the different hand sown seams! My Mum will probably think that I am sending her a package from 200 years ago.
It did not end there however as i wanted to send my stuff by sea mail and my Mums present by airmail, to save some costs. The airmail parcel he could completely wrap up and I could just hand in without any problems. For some reason the sea mail one he could not and one side was left open for customs inspection and I was told to go to the 3 floor of one of the buildings and sort it out there. On arrival at the right place there was another classic example of overemployment in place. First i had to queue up and fill a form out in triplicate. Then the package was inspected by customs, then someone else looked at my completed forms and for some reason entered my passport details onto them in the top corner, then the parcel went back to the customs guy who signed it (why did he not do that when looking at it?), then it went to someone else who sewed up the last remaining side, then it went to someone else who put loads more wax seals onto it, then it went to the counter where I finally got to hand it in.
Just buying a train ticket and sending 2 parcels to Ireland had taken most of the day and I only had time for a meal and a quick walk down by the seafront and see the archway (covered in scaffolding naturally) which the last British troops walked through when leaving India on its becomming independent (well I had to try and see something), before it was time for me to go and take my train north.
This turned out to be a mission and a half as well; truely nothing in Mumbai seemed to be easy for some reason. The train was going from Bandra station about 30km outside of central Mumbai and so I left myself 2 hours to try and get the train. The taxi to the train station was fine. I managed to queue up ok and bought a first class ticket for the local train (about 75p), which rapidly became just as full as the trains I had seen coming into Mumbai the previous day. The main different between first and second class seemed to be that the crowds of people were mainly businessmen. I was sweating heavily and becoming worried about getting my stuff off the train as at each station there was no waiting for people to get off before the new people tried to board - there always seemed to be a scramble with many people jumping off the train just before it completely stopped to avoid it.
I managed to force my way off the train only to realise that i had stupidly got off at the wrong stop and then had to board another train, which was just as full and then fight my way off again three stops later. It many ways it reminded me of rush hour London, but I was out of the habit of dealing with large pushy crowds and I was painfully aware that I was mostly speaking English instead of Hindi and that I had relatively large amount of stuff with me to try and push my way onto and off trains. Anyway I arrived at Bandra station which turned out to be a huge, hectic local station with hundreds if not thousands of people milling around on its various platforms. There seemed to be little of no information and no-one official around to ask, with big queues of people at the ticket windows and I really could see nothing like my train around. I eventually found what I think was a train police guy, but he spoke very little English and just told me to go over the footbridge and keep going. This just brought me out onto a street though and after loads of running round, faffing and sweating with all of my stuff I eventually realised that I needed to go to Bandra Terminal which was a seperate station about 1km away. Anyway I got into a rickshaw on the side of a street that was jammed solidly with cars and rickshaws but he would not take me for some reason and then someone who could speak English came up and helpfully explained that I needed to take a rickshaw if I wanted to go anywhere. I looked around and i was definitely in a rickshaw so was very confused, but then some kid came up and the girl said to go with him to a rickshaw and by this point nearing the point of mental collaspe from the amount of stress this was causing, I followed him, got into another rickshaw and joined the traffic jam for 20 minutes. Thankfully I made the train and quickly bought another liter of water which I quickly gulped down and went to the loo to change out of my sweat sodden t-shirt into a clean one. Just before the train started moving an Israeli guy came onboard and mentioned being stuck in traffic. When I asked him if he had difficulties finding the right station he looked at me like I was slightly crazy. Oh well.
I would be lying to say that I had enjoyed Mumbai, but then I havent really been fair on the place either. I was only there for a day and a half and did not really have the money to experience the nightlife or to stay in its hotels for a long time.