Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Choo Choo (as in train not Jimmy)

Me, maybe reconsidering my activity for the day!
Last week Paul’s best bud Chad came over from the UK to pay us a visit, which was amazing! As Paul had to work on the Thursday it was up to me to come up with an exciting outing, which wasn’t already on Captain Hanley’s itinerary for the following days. This wasn’t going to be easy, as Paul had made me promise I wouldn’t take him to the Fish Prison (aka Taraporewala Aquarium) and that was my number one option.  After minutes hours of wracking my brain it hit me, we were going to do the number one thing that every Indian person I have met has told me not to do, the thing that apparently would put me off India for the rest of my life (their words not mine), the thing that hundreds of Indians die doing every single year… we were going to catch a public train! Yes, you read correctly, I, Sophie Hanley got on an Indian public train! Chad, so impressed with the impending adventure, quickly changed into his brightest pink T-shirt to ensure I could spot him if we got separated, I thought the fact that he was, white, blonde and 6 ft 4 was enough, but no, he insisted. We hotfooted it over to Churchgate station, which is only a short walk from our place. As we entered we were overwhelmed by the stench of a men’s urinal, I started heaving uncontrollably, desperately looking for the nearest bin to puke up in, it was so awful, I could see everyone looking at me as if to say ‘typical’. I felt so bad as I even wore jeans to try and blend in, but to be fair I often heave if I go past a public toilet anywhere in the world! Who doesn’t?
Chad clearly embarrassed walked a few paces ahead trying to figure out where to buy a ticket (with that T-shirt I should have been the one walking a few steps ahead, not him! Just kidding Chadders) after my episode I joined him in the queue. Five people in total pushed in infont of us, but after realising that queue jumping, although rude is perfectly acceptable practise in India, I did the same and pushed my way to the front and ordered two returns to Bandra, as this was the only station I recognised. We continued to the platforms, which were actually very clean and presentable, a lot better than what I am used to in the UK. ‘What was all the fuss about’ I thought to myself? After talking slowly and clearly to around 30 security guards we were finally pointed into the direction of the correct platform and boarded the train, ‘This is ok,’ I thought, not crowded at all, maybe the Indians want to keep the trains all to themselves, that’s why I was told not to get on to one under any circumstances!  We showed our tickets, ‘Sorry this is first class Madame’ the conductor said, Daym! We had the cheap tickets!! (45 rupees for two returns) We walked sheepishly down the platform to the cargo cabins where we entered what looked like a giant, yellow tin can, everyone was staring; although busy it was not crowded and we managed to get a seat. The first thing to catch our eye was the lack of women on the train, we put this down to the fact that they must be at home in the day, the second were the men who defy death buy hanging out of the train entrance, I know the air-conditioning is below par but Jeez, I genuinely feared for them! As we made our way to our destination the train became busier and busier, we were sat on a two-seater metal bench alone next to the window, the same bench opposite us had six men crammed on to it and you couldn’t see the floor for people. Various individuals rammed through the cabin selling items such as train pass covers and Indian Cricket flags. The most intriguing person to pass through was a transvestite man (known locally as Hijra or unisomething), I was actually quite scared as she was clapping her hands then asking for money, and if the person didn’t give her money, she was stroking their faces and performing strange hand movements over their heads! It’s said that if you don’t give the Hijra money they will embarrass you until you do or curse you, but if you do they will bless you with good luck. As she was making her way through I was concerned about how she would react to Chad and I, but she just ignored us and carried on.  After around an hour of sweating like a pig on a treadmill, we arrived at our destination. I had heard a lot about Bandra, it is the home of Bollywood and there are some amazing places to eat and drink etc, but as we stepped outside all we could see were people, Tuk Tuks and rubble! We decided to walk down what looked like a side street hoping it would take us to the centre, as we continued the streets were getting dirtier, the stares we getting more intense (they were probably staring at Chads T-shirt not me for a change) and the smell was getting stronger, it was a slum! Once again we walked awkwardly back to where we started and jumped into a Tuk Tuk. ‘The centre please’ I asked, no answer, Chad stepped up ‘Restaurant?’, no answer, my turn ‘Olives? Centre? Busy?’ no answer Chad ‘Beer?’ nothing, we got out and took another short walk along a busy road, hoping to see a nice restaurant where we could buy a well deserved alcoholic beverage, but no. After 20 minutes of walking around aimlessly we decided to catch the train all the way back home.
A sea of Tuk Tuks
The journey back was busier and the staring severe, as I was getting on the train a man starting feeling up my arms, (rather my arms than anywhere else though!) I managed to move away from him and join Chad. Despite my previous concerns Chad decided to have a go of hanging out of the train like a local, me trying to take a photo of him in 4 inch heels, on a crammed, bumpy train was pretty comical, I fell twice but luckily just landed on other people.  As we started to pull in to Churchgate Station, people started jumping out of the train as it was still moving, which I thought was odd and extremely dangerous but shortly realised why, within minutes the platform was rammed, this is when I noticed an influx of women; turns out there are actually separate carriages for females! I was not aware of this! We disembarked the train last and headed for the exit, after another episode of heaving whilst passing the urinal, we discussed our adventure and plan next time to go at rush hour!! I think we are ready!
Below par air con
Chad defying death!
Spot the lady? oh no you can't because they are all in the lady cabin!


  1. Love it, they were feeling your beautiful, soft exposed arms! Must've been like treasure to them. You really must round off your experience by taking a trip in the ladies' (err... women's, cos there aint anything ladylike about em!) compartment. They push and shriek... and I witnessed a bitch fight one day where one woman scratched and pinched another until she bled because she took her seat! Most uncivilised.

  2. Lol.I completely understand.I never travel by train myself.It is horrendous to say the least.And next time you are in Bandra ask them to take you to Linking Road.Lots of places to eat around there but then again you will have to do some exploring.I prefer Colaba and if you haven't been there I suggest you go there first.I hope this helps.:D

  3. O Fearless One!
    I fear for Paul's thick growth of hair on his admirable head after a few years in Mumbai!

    Can't you go one single day in Mumbai without causing worry for your blog readers? :-P

    First of all I wish to congratulate you in successfully managing to thoroughly 'entertain' your friend (and yourself!).

    And it seems that you have managed to catch one of the older model trains that are much more dingy, smelly and crowded.... that too second-class! :-o

    Travelling by the local trains (in and top of them) is fastest and most popular mode of travel, used by nearly 10 million people each day!

    And for a 9-coach or 12-coach train, the rush is quite scary, let it be 12:00 a. m. or 6:00 a. m.!

    I use it to reach my college/hospital each day (and have been using it since I was in school).
    And travelling over the footboard, hanging by just the pole, with two fellows in front, two fellows behind you, all five of us clinging by the same pole (as illustrated excellently by Mr. Chad in the third pic from below) as it climbs a 50-foot bridge, feeling the wind rush past through your face as another local train rushes in the opposite direction, at nearly 70 kms./hr (same speed as the train I am travelling in)less than a foot away, dodging the signal poles almost 100 mts. apart, less than half a feet away, with rest stops of only 15 seconds, as the train stops at each station, is my favourite way to travel while going for work/college and returning home since the past 10 years.

    Earlier, people used to find hanging out of the train, the best place 'inside' a coach for their mobile reception.
    However, what with thieves now attaching themselves, like monkeys, to the signal posts mentioned above and snatching the cell phones/wallets/purses of any silly sod who keeps them in their hand while hanging by the pole, the passengers have learnt to keep their hands empty.

    Of course, there is always a risk that your grip may become loose while hanging out, but you can always trust the people behind you to grab your shirt....
    And of course, there are certain stretches where anti-social elements are known to throw rocks at those hanging out, just for the simple pleasure of improving their aim....

    And if you wish to implant yourself inside the coach seat, you need to know which seat to capture.
    The best seats, of course, are the seats at the window where no direct sunlight falls (eg. the window to the west-end of a train in the morning and the east-end in the afternoon/evening), that too the seat facing the direction your train is going, to get the full impact of fresh ventilation on your face, to wash out the smell of sweaty, cramped bodies (esp. in the evening). If you manage one with the overhead fan in the working status, you are the king of the ride and the envy of your fellow passengers.
    To catch this much demanded seat, you need to embark a train while its still slowing down and while its still busy belching out its share of passengers for the final station (which becomes your first station.)
    eg. Imagine you are at Churchgate station. A train bound for, say Churchgate, and coming from say, Borivali, has its 'final' hault for Churchgate; 20 minutes later the same train may reverse for the last station at the other end of the line (Borivali, in this case.), any station in that line being your destination, say Bandra for a Borivali-bound train, leaving from Churchgate, which, like I just told you, has arrived from Borivali, just 20-minutes ago.
    To capture the most coveted seat, you push yourself against the disembarking tide, pushing past that water-fall of humanity to claim your prize.... only to see that another bloke has successfully placed his scrawny buttocks there.
    Whence that fellow usurped your throne?
    Why, he had climbed at Marine Lines, the penultimate station (or even an earlier one) for a train-bound for Churchgate, while his destination may be Borivali or Bandra....

  4. conti....

    So, you take the seat right NEXT to him, however he may be smirking at you.
    'cause that's the next-best seat!

    This entire calculation takes place within seconds, in the brains of an average Mumbaikar.

    And if you are in an unfortunate position, where your home and office are neither at Borivali nor Churchgate, but two stations in between.... chances are you may never get a chance to sit at the seat that you may so covet for years, together and end up staring at that seat wistfully (like me.... but hey, I don't sit at all, remember, I hang out! ;-) )

    Chances are, you may not get to sit at all and standing in that crowded compartment, supporting your entire body by the hand that, after a successful struggle against your neighbour, have managed to claim support from the handle bars that are hanging (shown in the pic above Mr. Chad risking his Life) for one to two hours straight, twice a day and lucky if you get a chance to sit as someone gets up.

    The rush, which is minimal at the earlier stations, picks up by the fifth station and then your lungs are in overdrive and your olfactory sensations pick up the most unflattering of human odours....

    And if you are safely enconced in a corner seat (i. e. beside the windows), chances are you may be able to get off the train only when the train reaches its final destination! Since, wading your way through the sea of humanity and reach the doors is something you have to achieve right on time. For this, you have to begin by getting up at a station before yours and start pushing and you may then manage to safely disembark at your correct station and within the 15 seconds it halts there for the fresh wave of humanity to disembark and embark the train....

    And of course, you have to be careful about pick-pockets, thieves and learn to keep a poker face and look disinterested when any beggars/hijras/sellers enter the coach....

  5. Some pointers and tips:-

    1.) For tourists, please for the Love of God, travel by the First Class!
    The General First-Class Coach of a train has Orange Stripes and at an approximate area where it usually arrives on the platform, the pole/walls on the platform also are painted with Orange Stripes, so stand there at the platform.

    2.) The Ladies First-Class has green stripes, the Ladies Second-Class having blue stripes with the same marked on the platform.

    3.) Ladies travelling during rush hour can look up the train time-table for Ladies-special trains.

    4.) The main Western, Central and Harbour Lines have trains every three to five minutes, while the Harbour Line joining the Western to the Central Line has every fifteen minutes.
    The trains, this being India, may be late by 15 to even thirty minutes....

    5.) The Roman Numerals (see the first pic) show the class:- Its obiviously an unmarked second-class coach.

    6.) Un-escorted and even escorted ladies would do better by travelling by the Ladies coach. Since the fair sex is a bit better at planning, I came to know that the Ladies have a specific seating arrangement, arranged for themselves.

    7.) Don't be adventurous/daft enough to travel on top of the train. The electrical wires, if you accidentally touch them, will fry you.

    8.) Don't travel by the First Class is all you have is a Second Class ticket (or no ticket at all) as there actually ARE Ticket Checkers in the trains and the platforms and they appear suddenly at the most unfortunate moment, say when your season pass of three months expired yesterday and you remember you haven't renewed it when the T. C. demands your ticket/pass....

    9.) For newbies, try to catch the newer trains.
    They have better seating arrangements, are broader, more ventilated, cleaner and the destination as well as the next station announcements are heard and even shown on the monitors.

    10.) Listen to the railway announcements made periodically in Marathi, Hindi and English, especially on Sundays, as many train services are cancelled due to maintenance.

    11.) Learn to differentiate 'slow' from 'fast' trains. 'Slow' trains halt at all stations while 'Fast' trains halt at specific stations only. Usually, they have separate platforms for 'Up' and 'Down' 'Fast' trains to halt.

    My sleepy brain can't think of any more tips.... but please feel free to share and ask more....

    P. S.:- The 'tuk-tuks' are called as auto-rickshaws or autos or rickshaws, in Mumbai. I have only heard foreigners call them such and I guess that's because their larger counterparts, found more commonly in rural India, are commonly called as 'tuk-tuks.'

    P. P. S.:- Standing in a line in India means crowding in the line. With such a huge population, crowding is inevitable.

  6. Oh yeah, Wikipedia to the rescue:-

  7. Wow@ Jayesh, all that useful info certainly trumps my actual post! Thanks for the advice!

    @Sharell- Welcome! Ou yes, you are really selling the trip in the ladies carriage idea! I think i'd prefer to be felt up rather than be bitten until I bleed! ha ha- love it!

    @Seja, thanks for the advice, I actually went to Bandra yesterday and discovered this Linking Road, wish I would have known the place of it last week though, it was great. I live on Marine Drive, so really close to Colaba so have been there many times, its bustling to say the least! : )

  8. hmmm... so the train journey!!! it might sound like nightmare to you, but its our daily routine... it's called the life-line of Mumbai!!! n yes, it is!!! i travel 3 to 3 n half hours each day... so its like fun for me :)

  9. I know, I salute you Manali! x


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