Where to begin with this ridiculous two days of travelling and pretty much traversing the length of India!?
The first leg of two trains to get us all the way from Jaipur to Goa was a mere 17 hours (sounds a lot but really this is nothing in India!) With our sleeper class tickets in hand, spot on the platform found, names printed on the outside of the train so that we knew we were in the right place, we really did wonder what all the fuss about Indian trains was about! We were lucky enough that the ticket officer had booked all three of us one side of the cabin so we had the freedom to sit or lay down (sometimes you don’t get that privilege) and so we hopped on and made ourselves comfortable! Easy! Whilst 17 hours really is longer to spend on a train than we thought, we luckily had an incredibly friendly family opposite us who fed, watered and entertained us albeit with their broken English and our terrible head wobbles and hand gestures!
After such a great start we were feeling pretty smug and optimistic about the rest of our journey! I guess this is a great time to say that the train system in India can sometimes work in your favour and sometimes not at all and this was definitely to be one of those times! We had arrived in Delhi and got the metro, the train to Agra was only a couple of hours without any drama, as was the train to and from Jaipur and so we thought it would all be plain sailing…wrong! Of course we were wrong, everyone had warned us about the chaos that is the train stations and system in India and this was our first taste of that.
Before leaving Jaipur, we had agreed to skip Mumbai and get straight down to Goa as quickly as posisble. Beth, our good friend from America, had flown to visit us and didnt have long so we wanted some fun beach and beer time! So on arriving in Mumbai, bright and early at 8am, we plodded off happily to the central train station to book a ticket to Goa for that very day. Hmmm, apparently not so easy! Despite there being at least six trains departing from Mumbai to Goa that day, when you’re greeted with a laugh from the ticket clerk I think its safe to assume that what you want to happen, isnt going to happen! Every single train to Goa was fully booked for the next two days – yep, we couldnt quite believe it either! I think at this point we were all ready to leave India instantly, okay not really, but we were sitting in a ticket office in the middle of somewhere in Mumbai with no onward travel and nowhere to stay except one of the extortianate hotels/hostels which we definitely didnt want to do. Enter the BEST man in India…
A quick change of ticket clerk and hay presto solutions were flying at us left right and centre. Its a liberating feeling when you meet incredibly generous, helpful people on the road and this was certainly one of those times. Being still relative newbies to the Indian train system at this point we had no idea what TATKAL was and safe to say we dont want to bore you with the ins and outs here but if youre heading to India you will definitely want to read all about it. After much discussion with the ticket guy we agreed to sit around and wait ANOTHER two hours until the infamous 11am TATKAL opened which would, thank goodness, allow us to book a ticket for the next day to Goa. Great, we thought, a day in Mumbai being tourists and a quick nap in the train station before our 6am train was easily doable. More of that to come…
Our big day out in Mumbai started off amazingly well, bags dropped in the train station cloakroom, ticket fare dodged on the train down south (sorry Indian government, and parents) and we were in the heart of Southern Mumbai, Colaba. If there is one recommendation we can give you here, its not to go to Colaba on a Sunday when the cricket is on. Nothing and I repeat NOTHING was open. Okay, so there was one incredibly western cafe open that was like being in the middle of Clapham, so that’s where we sat – much to the girls satisfaction! We sat for a few hours, watched a girl spew all over the floor, spent faaar too much money on some average pesto baguettes and pondered our next move on the map.
The Gateway of India and the iconic Taj Palace Hotel were pretty nearby so we went for a wander. Turns out this was where everyone in Mumbai was congregated and after a quick explore we pretty much had to run down Marine Drive away from the crowd of people surrounding us asking for selfie after selfie! We had a slow walk around the rest of Colaba taking a short walking tour to look at some impressive buildings and churches.
There we were soaking up the atmosphere, standing in the middle of the street watching a game of ridiculously high standard cricket when something a little bit strange happened. Beth, our lovely American, salt of the earth friend who had travelled across the world, indulged and immersed herself in India…shit herself. In the street. Right there, watching the cricket. Now normally, this wouldn’t be SUCH a terrible thing (you get used to sudden bowel movements whilst travelling – especially in India) – rush back to the hostel, have a shower, change, clean up no harm done apart from feeling a little embarrassed. However, the realisation for Beth really kicked in, as she waddled off to a nearby Starbucks with Charlotte in tow and me on the floor laughing, that we had no place to stay, no shower, and another 16 hour train journey ahead of us! Its hard to really sum up in words the hilarity of the situation and luckily Beth was a great sport finding the whole thing completely hilarious too. Of course there was no camera on hand for this kind of unexpected treat so lets just say she will never live it down and the only thing to do when in Mumbai and when you’ve done the deed in your trousers watching cricket on the street is go and have a much needed beer!
Some beers later (we lost count after 4) and many a round crying laughter at what had happened we were back in the train station picking up our bags and setting up camp in the middle of the, actually quite clean station, floor readying ourselves for a tough 5 hours before our train….If only it was that simple! No sooner than two minutes after Charlotte and Beth had fallen asleep there were police officers coming through the station hitting, sorry no, smashing people with wooden sticks getting everyone out! Luckily, the stick took pity on us, the stupid tourists sleeping in a train station, and they politely asked us the leave. We headed upstairs to where there was apparently a waiting room we could sleep in – even better we thought! That’s until we gave them our tickers and they told us that our train wasn’t actually leaving from this station! What. The. Hell! Bleary eyed and a pretty drunk we started to regret our decision to hit a bar but hey, you live and learn. So, it turns out in Mumbai there are two stations with the exact same abbreviations (CST) which is great fun. The one we were not yet at but where we needed to be, let me tell you, was by no means a nice as the first.
Fast forward a short taxi ride and we made it to where we actually needed to be – all feeling quite relieved that we had found out now rather than ten minutes before our train was due to leave. Beth fell fast asleep in the middle of the concourse, Charlotte laid flicking cockroaches off her bag looking scared for her life and me wide awake flip flops in hand ready to bat away the ginormous rats that were scurrying around the bins and homeless people less than 2 metres away. Let me tell you all now, if anyone, anywhere, ever tells you that sleeping in a train station in Mumbai is a good idea…ITS NOT! 5 hours it went on like this for. 5. Not a short hour before our train, a whole 5 hours! Charlotte and Beth managed to sleep for 4 of them (lucky them) and me coming face to face with dinosaur rats every 2 minutes having to retrieve my flips flops from another errant throw!
5.30am finally came round and I looked like something from A Clockwork Orange with my eyes pinned open by matchsticks…I am exaggerating but it was absolutely woeful!
6am. We survived. Barely.
I’m not going to talk about this train journey because I don’t really remember it. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t sit, couldn’t really talk; after over 30 hours with no sleep my mind went to mush and I went a bit crazy…
The saving grace of this whole ridiculous story is that very kindly Beth’s amazing, incredible father had booked us a treat to stay 3 nights in the 5* Goa Marriott for when we arrived. We rocked up looking completely frightful and we are surprised that they actually let us in. But man, were we happy to be there – especially Beth who raced straight to the shower and stayed there for the next hour.
From rags to riches in the space of 48 hours. Come 5pm that day we were lounging in the club bar with a free cocktail in hand reminiscing…WHAT a story!