I hardly slept on the overnight bus from Panjim to Mumbai. I had forgotten to take our sweaters out of the big backpack before putting it in the luggage compartment, and with the open windows it gets chilly on the bus at night. I slept less than 3 hours, and George didn’t fare much better. We hadn’t intended to go to Mumbai, but it is a major transportation hub, and we needed a way to get to Udaipur. So we arrived in the morning in Mumbai expecting the bus to drop us at the main bus station shown in the Lonely Planet book, but instead it dropped us along a road, which we couldn’t find the name of. We hadn’t done our homework and studied the map of Mumbai, so we accidentally stayed on the bus going too far north.
We were walking distance from a train station, so we decided to take a local train to one of the major long distance train stations to book onward tickets. When we got up to the ticket counter at the local train station, the salesperson could barely understand us. The first class tickets were over 100 rupees a piece, which was more than we wanted to pay, so we opted for second class (a bargain at 8 rupees). Now we were being adventurous! Tickets in hand we headed up the stairs towards the platforms. There were LED screens each with a letter and time, but we couldn’t figure out what they meant. There was no way for us to tell which train to get on to head toward the station we wanted. A gentleman saw us looking confused and asked us where we were headed and when we told him he said there was no train right now, but he was taking the same train and would tell us when it was coming. A little while later he led us down to one platform, but when the train arrived it was so jammed full, with people hanging out the doors, that we didn’t attempt to get on. Then he said another train was arriving at a different platform and we ran up the stairs and back down to the other platform. We waited a few minutes for the train to arrive and George commented that people sure like to stare here. I looked around and realized all the men standing around us were staring at us. They must have been wondering what two foreign tourist could possibly be doing there. When the train pulled up it was madness with the rush to the door, but we managed to get on and then someone kept shouting at us to move-in, move-in. We finally squeezed our way into the car and out of the entrance way. Someone else asked where we were going and said the trip would be a while so we should put our bags up. There was no way we could reach the overhead shelf from where we were standing at the end of the seat, but I handed the big backpack towards the shelves and people passed it along until it reached the shelf. We stood for a while with our day packs, until a couple guys got up and gave us their seats. Standing there I realized that not only were we the only foreigners in sight, I was also the only woman in sight. It was a morning train, around 8:20am and the men must have been commuting to work. I don’t know where all the women are, perhaps they are stay-at-home wives. Later we did see an evening train with women, but otherwise, there are hardly any in the stations or on the trains. The gentleman who had assisted us onto the train got off before us, but not before letting us know that our stop was the third station from there. A while later we were pretty sure that the next one was our stop. Someone else asked where we were going and told us it was the next station and that he would tell us when to start moving to the door. Then someone else who knew we had a big bag told us it was time to get the bag and start squeezing toward the door way. So over came our bag, and then with just a little tripping we were able to make it towards the door. The train slowed and off we hopped. I had decided that we should go to the Central Mumbai Station, since the long distance buses depart from near there, and we might have to take a bus if we couldn’t book a train for that day. But oops, it turned out the Central Station didn’t have a tourist booking window.
Church St Station in Mumbai- Foreign Tourist Train Reservations
So off we went in a rickshaw more south to the Reservation Center across from the Church St Station. At the reservation office near Church St Station there is a separate queue for foreign tourists. I asked about a train to Udaipur for that day and the lady helping me said there wasn’t one but instead we could take a train to nearby Abu Rd, which was supposedly an hour bus ride from Udaipur. We were exhausted from the sleepless night and didn’t want to get back on an overnight bus, so we opted for the train to Abu Rd. We wanted to book our other train tickets in advance, before the trains were full, so we asked about the other segments of our trip and filled out the forms one at a time to hand in and get tickets. Except, once we had filled the forms correctly the computer system for the north had crashed. The lady helping me said, “Go eat, come back in two hours, try again.”
We went towards the area with restaurants, but it was hot and muggy and bright and our bags felt like they weighed a ton. I was practically falling asleep walking. We found a restaurant with an AC room (which unfortunately was also the smoking section) and had lunch. Then we made our painful way back to the train station and filled out bunches of forms and managed to book 5 more trains. Some segments we realized would be better by bus, and we didn’t want to book all the way to the end of the trip, in case we decided to change plans again. Having nothing left to do in Mumbai and not wanting to face the heat to walk back towards the restaurant area, we hired a taxi to take us north to the Bandra Terminus Train Station where our 9:00pm train would depart from. The drive was nice, over a bridge out in the water, avoiding the city traffic. We were disappointed when we arrived at the train station to find that there wasn’t much there. We got a cold soda at the cafeteria, but the food slopped on the serving counter made me too skeptical to eat there. Other than the cafeteria there was a hot waiting room of chairs, bathrooms stinking up the whole station, and waiting rooms for first class, but we would only be traveling on non-AC sleeper class. We thought about renting a retiring room, but they were 800 rupees, which is more than we pay for a regular hotel room.
So we sat and waited, and waited for 5 hours. As we waited someone behind us asked where we were from and started a conversation before heading off for his train. Then a couple more people talked with us for a while. Someone came up to us just to introduce himself and ask which country we were from. We even talked to a scholar in his final year of law school who wanted to complete an LLM degree in the UK or US. He wanted to know if Harvard, Yale, and NYU were good schools ;). Then he left and a gentleman and a couple teenagers talked with us a bit. George asked about eating etiquette and if it was okay to tear bread with two hands instead of just your right hand. The things we ask when given the chance to talk to locals ;). He said tearing bread with two hands was fine, but eating should be done with the hands, not a spoon. He claimed it was alright to even eat with both hands, but we weren’t convinced. (It’s tricky for g to remember to only eat with his right hand, since he’s a lefty.) Then the gentleman offered us some of his fried rice dinner to have us try eating it without a spoon. We took a couple bites and it was rather tasty. When he saw we liked it he gave it to us for dinner. Our train arrived soon after and the two teenagers, who spoke just a bit of English showed us to our car. We were going to eat the rice, but then g remembered reading that it’s not good to accept food from strangers, since it could be poisoned in order to steal our belongings. (I was just worried about getting Delhi belly.) The fact that the gentleman had asked exactly which car and berths we were riding in was a bit of a red flag, so we decided not to eat anymore of the rice. And then the guy showed up at the train window with some tiny plastic spoons, for us to use with the rice. I thought that was rather sweet! But to be safe we ended up giving the rice to a beggar who was cleaning the train floor. In the end, I think the gentleman was just very friendly and hospitable, but better safe than sorry. So now we have seen for ourselves that people are very nice and helpful here in India.
It was our first long distance train ride in India, and a good cultural experience. There are many different classes to travel in on the long distance trains, there are ones with seats, and ones with sleeping berths. For sleeping, the lowest class is “Sleeper” which is non-AC and about 1/3 the price of AC. Sleeper cars are arranged so that one side of the isle has two bunks, running parallel with the isle. The other side of the isle has a group of six bunks perpendicular to the isle, three on one side and three on the other side. In AC 1 you have your own cabin with a door and 2-3 berths. AC 3 has cabins with 3 tiers on either side (6 total) and AC 2 has cabins with 2 tiers on either side (4 total). At least I think that’s how it works. We have still only taken sleeper class, so I’m not certain about the other ones. It was an evening train, so many people had brought their dinner with them. I was expecting tea and food to be served on the train, but when we saw samosas go by in a dirty plastic bin, we thought, “no way!” So granola bars for dinner it was. In the sleeper class there are three bunks on either side, but the middle one folds down to make a back rest, so people can sit on the bottom bunk like a bench seat. We had a lower and middle bunk, but decided to wait to make up the middle bunk until the other people in our section put theirs up. I was so tired I fell asleep resting my head on g’s back pack. Unfortunately, we were with a rowdy bunch of friends who invited their other friends over to our section to eat, making us move over from our assigned seats, and talking until 11pm when they finally made up their bunk. I was in and out of sleep, but g didn’t get to sleep until 11pm. I slept much better on the train than the bus, but the mosquitoes kept George awake most of the night.
We arrived at Abu Road at 10am in the morning. We were greeted by many rickshaw drivers offering a ride. Finally, someone told us that the bus station was just 15 minutes away walking. So we headed down the road on foot. We found the station easily and bought tickets for the local bus that were 97 rupees a piece. We thought that was rather expensive for a short distance, but we hadn’t looked closely enough at the map. It wasn’t a one hour bus ride like the lady who sold us the train ticket said, it was 4 hours! We would have arrived in Udaipur much sooner if we had taken a 2pm bus from Mumbai directly to Udaipur. I just didn’t want to get back on a bus after that sleepless night from Panjim to Mumbai. And we really did enjoy watching the various towns go by as we rode the local bus to Udaipur. Shortly after the ride started a herd of goats crossed the road in front of us, and later a herd of sheep, and then we even saw camels walking along the road! The scenery had changed from the tropical southern region where we started, into desert. I started riding at the front of the bus, where there was room for my big bag, and g sat a row back. The girls he sat with shared their tangerines and chikku (a pear like fruit that looks like little potatoes) with him, and the two girls I sat by shared their tangerines and roasted peanuts with me. People really are nice here!
When we finally got to the bus station in Udaipur we took a rickshaw to Nakkud guesthouse, which Mariana had recommended. The rooms were a little pricey, but nice, so we decided to stay. We got a triple room for the two of us, with attached bathroom for 500 rupees for one night. We had finally reached India’s most romantic city, and could take a shower!!! Time to change into clean clothes after two days of traveling!