Today we depart via train from Karmali train station in North Goa to Mumbai CST (previously known as Victoria Terminus). Again we are grateful to our Indian friend Dr Moses for being able to book and purchase the train tickets via his account and bank. Unless you pay cash at the train station when buying the tickets, there is no other way to get hold of rail tickets unless through a travel agent (who of course take their own commission). We leave the Portuguese state of Goa, with all its amazing Portuguese style homes painted in all shades of colours – bright blue, green, red, orange, yellow and with the memory of the enormity of the Christmas decorations of lit up stars and snowmen, and Santas with some trepidation about being in a city like mighty Mumbai –my perception of visiting this city for the first time is one of it being large, busy, polluted, overwhelming. The thought of being swallowed up whole by it permeates.
We had a couple of hours up our sleeve before we had to board our train in north Goa, so we hired the same taxi and driver as yesterday and organised to drive us to north Goa and stop off and visit St Francis Xavier’s church/tomb and an Italian Basilica. I couldn’t enter St Xavier’s church as I was wearing shorts (doh…needed to be covered up) but the girls and Steve took turns in using a scarf to cover their shoulders and arms and walk through it.
There, St Francis Xavier’s still-not-completely-decomposed body lay in a glass coffin up high in the church. Our taxi driver, a devout Christian, described the elated feeling he and his family experience when kissing the half decomposed body of St Francis Xavier when the coffin is lowered and opened up to the public once every 4 years. The girls just don’t understand his “elation” and neither do I, but each to their own practices of religion and spirituality. Apparently the queue is long and takes all day to reach the body.
The north Goan train station, Karmali was like a small country town station – only 2 platforms and a pop up canteen selling chips, samosas, and ice-cream (interesting combo), a waiting room and an old fashioned board outlining the train’s carriage numbers with allocated passenger seats printed out on stapled together papers. All a bit confusing when they write the train number on the board with the correct numbers but in the incorrect order! I always get jittery at Indian train stations where no English is spoken, and where crowded platforms and trains come and go without much notice for us to respond and move easily. So I checked the printed out papers pinned to the board that were flapping in the gentle breeze again. All our names were there and a sleeper bed allocated to each name – so that was a very good start! We had arrived early, but needn’t have done so.
We walked over the bridge to platform 2. The platform on the other side was long and there stood shelters for people to wait under for rain and sun protection. Crowds of people accumulated under these shelters sitting and standing and just waiting. A couple of trains passed in the opposite direction, and then one train stopped at platform 1 for a long time. I checked my iPhone compass – which way were we headed? The stationary train on Platform 1 was waiting for our train, coming in the opposite direction, to arrive as there was only one track for the trains to use. Each waited for the other to pass before moving on. No wonder there are serious train delays here!
Our train was scheduled to depart at 12:20pm. I think we departed about 1.5 hours later. Our expected arrival time to CST Mumbai was 10:30pm but we arrived an hour later or more later. It was a long train ride during the day – I had the expectation that we would sit at the window watching the changing landscape our window (like in all those touristy travel commercials) while playing a fun game of cards with the kids or writing my journal. But instead we shared the lower bench seat with 2 Indian men who occupied the window side – I sat in the middle and Steve on the aisle. Let’s just say we sat upright for most of the long stop-start journey to Mumbai. Charlie and Ash had seats parallel to the aisle, where the bottom seat had a large window to view out of. I sat there for a bit, reading Shantaram on the Kindle.
Steve and I did get to watch 2 more episodes of Game of Thrones, my Mac screen still broken (from Dacey pre-departure) so had the broken screen lap top as well as the AOC portable screen up on our laps. Quite uncomfortable, but only way it works for viewing. Billie and Dacey climbed up the steel ladders on either side of the compartment to the upper beds and lay down where Billie had a sleep. Lucky girl.
The girls took turns in sharing my broken screen computer and add on screen and watched a movie to help pass the time on the forever jerky train journey. I think next time we embark on a long train journey, the overnight sleeper, rather than day time, is a better option for the six of us even if we don’t get a proper night’s sleep. Lying down and dozing in and out of sleep is better than sitting all day.
We chatted to an elderly man (well I think he was elderly – it’s so hard to judge here) sharing the lower bench seat with us. He shared with Steve that he was a banker and spoke further about the Indian rupee demonetisation and his family. He has three children – 23, 19 and a younger one, I think 14. Can’t recall the exact age. He said he no longer travelled with his children as it was too crazy to do so with them when they were younger and preferred to travel on his own! He was a nice enough man, very upright and spoke his words carefully. He seemed to have a good heart and pulled out his briefcase and handed Steve a 2017 diary with his card in it.
We were some the very last passengers to depart the train at the final destination Mumbai CST. It was dark and late. It had been a long day of travel. The side train doors, where the squat toilets are located on the train carriages, swung open with the sideways movement of the carriage. I peered out the door, holding tightly onto the internal steel rail while the train hurtled at full speed towards the station. Apparently 1 person is killed on the Indian train network each day. Looking out onto the soiled tracks with the breeze in my hair, I could imagine this statistic. These trains stop for no one at this speed.
We pulled our luggage out from under the lower sleeper beds, and hauled them onto our stiff from sitting all day backs and stepped down from train carriage to platform (which can be quite a large gap and height difference). It was the longest, darkest and most crowded platform. We walked towards the right direction, hoping to find our way out. The six of us forced to form a single line following due to the platform being overcrowded with people, dogs, bags and large parcels and packages. The Indians take anything and everything on the trains.
Arrived at a steep stair case, asked a group of policemen where the exit was, and we had to continue walking further along the platform. Then I saw the sign – pre-paid taxis. Just the sign we were longing to see. Excellent. We were on the right path. Indian people wrapped up in a blanket covering head to toe slept on thin pieces of cardboard, or simply on a thin cloth placed on the concrete floor as layer between body and concrete and lay there to sleep and wait for their, assumed, delayed train. A sea of wrapped up bodies, appearing more dead than alive just slept. And waited.
We pre-booked 2 taxis and hauled the #onepinksuitcase onto the top wire rack attached to the cars little black roof. We wondered if it would stay there, but they told us not to worry and motioned us to get in the car. They knew what they were doing. The pull up and down handle on the #onepinksuitcase was broken (it wouldn’t go completely down) and was causing some disharmony amongst the cab drivers! Steve had repeated over and over to the taxi drivers – “YMCA Central in Colaba, yes COLABA?” “Yes yes sir, we go take you there.” I thought they got it, but apparently not!
As we drove out of the railway station, still bodies lined corners and footpaths – any place they could find and fit. It was amazing to see the kinds of places these people thought were somewhat comfortable. Bodies twisted and wrapped around poles covered with a blanket.
It was too dark to see the sight on the Mumbai streets, but we got a feeling for the place from the look of some of the buildings – dark and decrepit. Exterior building walls blackened from pollution, decay. It was mysterious, and looked like a gothic city. We arrived at YMCA – it was a very attractive looking building, almost too clean and fancy actually, and when we walked into the front office area to check in, we discovered our details were not on their register. I tried my name, Dr Moses’ name. But no. We discovered that we were driven to the wrong YMCA location in Mumbai. The word “central” had the taxi drivers take us to the central YMCA location, but we needed Colaba central location.
By this time, it was nearing 1am. We got the reception desk to hail another two taxis to take us back over now familiar ground – over the bridge and into Colaba and finally we had arrived at the right YMCA. This one not as flash, but nice enough. We discovered it was more difficult getting into the YMCA than into the bloody country. The amount of paperwork, photos, passport and visa applications to fill out just to get into bed – multiplied by friggin’ 6! Steve was getting agitated and annoyed with the little organised night clerk sitting behind the reception desk (and he knew it); the girls restless and complaining. All they wanted was to get wifi passcode, but they had to sign in for them in a large old-fashioned book and receive a 24-hour code.
We were led up three flights of stairs, and then some more, right up to the top (I think 6 flights of concrete stairs) to our two booked rooms. We then collapsed into our beds at 1:30am. Welcome to Mumbai.