The following is a trip report for a journey I took in October 2015.
It was time for me to leave Mumbai for Delhi, but my train wasn’t due to depart until mid afternoon. After checking out of my hotel, I took my bags to Mumbai Central station and left them in the cloak room. On my way out of the station, I found a train with double deck carriages I had not seen before. older, non AC second class cars. They were completely different from the modern double deck AC chair cars I had traveled on, and looked like a standard second class car had been stacked on top of another, then squashed.
From Mumbai Central, I caught a Western Line train to Churchgate, where I walked through the city centre to the Gateway Of India. The Gateway of India is a 26m tall stone monument built on the waterfront, overlooking the Arabian Sea. It was built during British Rule to commemorate the landing of King George V and Queen Mary when they visited India in 1911. It was completed in 1924. The Gateway is situated next to the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, which was attacked by terrorists in 2008.
From The Gateway of India, I decided to catch a bus the short distance to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST). Mumbai’s bus fleet would be museum pieces in most other countries; ancient Ashok Leyland and Tata buses (both single and double deck) still in regular service and maintained in excellent condition. They proudly wear the handsome red livery of BEST (Brihanmumbai Electric Supply & Transport) as they rumble through the city streets.
In all other Indian cities I visited, the buses had destination indicators in English script and route numbers in Arabic numerals. In Mumbai, the destination and route numbers were in Devanagari (Hindi script). I looked for the bus stop, which both Google Maps and the M-Indicator mobile app assured me was mere meters away. I saw no bus shelter, nor anything that resembled a bus stop sign. I asked a well dressed security guard outside a car park where the bus stop was. He rolled his eyes and pointed to a sign directly behind me. The sign was written in Devanagari and looked like a parking sign, but sure enough, a bus rolled up a few minutes later to take me to CST.
Once I reached CST, I caught a Central Line train to Wadala Road station. Thankfully it was late morning on a weekday, and the train was lightly loaded. I had used the M-Indicator app on my phone to work out that I could take either route 45 or 59 from near Wadala Road station to Bhakti Park monorail station so I walked up to the Wadala Flyover bus stop, which is perched on top of a highway flyover running over the railway line. The footpath on the flyover had been taken over by slum housing, so I was forced to walk along the road amidst the cars, buses trucks and dust. The sun was beating down and the day was humid, by the time I had made the short walk to the bus stop I was dripping in sweat.
The bus stop was a busy one, and as the buses stopped I soon found a problem; these buses were BEST buses and as with the city centre, the destination and route numbers were in Devanagari (I can’t read Devanagari). Feeling a little lost, I looked at the side as one departed and found that there was a small destination indicator near the rear door with English script and route numbers in Arabic numerals. This made things a little easier, but it meant that I didn’t know where a bus was going until it stopped (which they didn’t do for long).
I waited for what seemed hours in the swirling dust and baking sun (but was probably only about 10 minutes) when a crowded route 59 bus pulled up. Not expecting it, I jumped on at the rear door just as it pulling away, a number of my fellow passengers reaching out and hauling me up the steps. I received a few friendly stares (I don’t think they saw many foreigners on the number 59 bus). The conductor came around and raised his eyebrows when he saw me. I told him “Bhakti Park”, he shrugged and said “fourteen rupees”. I handed over the 14 rupees (about A$0.30) and was issued a paper ticket torn from of a book in a leather bag around the conductor’s neck.
The crowded bus was not air conditioned, but the doors and windows were kept open, which gave a pleasant, cooling breeze as we dashed along the crowded streets. I tracked my progress on Google Maps, and we were soon running on a road beneath the Monorail line. I wasn’t sure of the protocol for alighting (there didn’t appear to be a bell cord), so I forced my way to the front and told the Driver. He seemed surprised, but pulled over at the next stop. He slowed to walking pace and as I stepped off, the bus accelerated away, leaving me in a cloud of dust and diesel fumes.
The area was mostly overgrown wasteland with some light industrial sites and a few apartment blocks under construction. The traffic was light on the two lane divided Sewri-Chembur Rd and the area had a slightly deserted feel to it, as if everyone was just passing through. The monorail station was above the bus stop and was deserted apart from the customer service and security staff. I bought a return token to Wadala Depot, and after multiple warnings that I must exit the station before completing my return journey, I climbed the stairs to the platform.
The journey to Wadala Depot was short, but interesting. The line runs around the perimeter of the monorail depot, with good views from the train. As with most other metros in India, the photography policy seems to be that cameras are not allowed, but you can freely take photos with your mobile phone. After arriving the at Wadala Depot, I took some photos of the train before leaving the station into the slum that I had seen a couple of nights earlier. Some locals watched me with interest as I walked away from the station. Cows lounged on the road in the shade beneath the monorail station; their sacred status rendering them immune from being moooved on.
The monorail track ran above the road and around the corner. I found a small stone fence that would make a good vantage point for photographs, so I climbed up, much to the bemusement of the locals; a westerner in a stockmans’ hat, standing on a stone fence with a camera on a seemingly insignificant street corner. After a few minutes, my target came into view; the little 4 car monorail whirring along the concrete track. After waiting in the hot sun for the monorail to return from the terminus, I decided that was enough and made my way back to the station.
At Bhakti Park, I waited at the bus stop for the bus back towards Wadala Rd, watching the parade of brightly coloured and decorated trucks roaring past. Before too long, a number 59 bus approached. I flagged it down and climbed aboard as it slowed. A familiar looking conductor smiled at me; it was same bus that I had caught earlier.
I caught the bus to its terminus at Dadar station, then a “fast” Western Line train to Mumbai Central station, where I had about an hour until my train to Delhi departed… at least I thought I had an hour. My ticket said 16:35, but the departures screen showed 17:00. I went to ask at the information counter, and showed the man standing there my ticket; “does this train depart at 16:35 or 17:00”? “Yeah, yeah, 16:35. Just like your ticket.” “But the departure screen shows 17:00”. “Yeah, it’s 17:00, just read the screen”. Feeling more confused than ever, I decided just to go to the platform and board the train when it arrived. I collected my luggage, and made my way to platform 1, where my train was already waiting. I boarded and waited… and waited. We departed promptly… at 17:00.
The train was a Rahjdani Express; a premium express train with all AC Sleeping accommodation in newer coaches with red and silver livery (instead of the two tone blue). Meals were complimentary and served to the sleeping berths. In my 4 berth cabin was a businessman from Kashmir and a whole family (mother, father and 2 young daughters) from Delhi. On leaving Mumbai Central, we were served Indian Railways’ version of “high tea”; sandwiches, veg patties, sweet tea and Gulabjamun (a small doughnut ball, soaked in syrup). I was surprised that such a large “snack” was served so close to dinner time, but didn’t complain as I savored my Gulabjamun while we sped through the northern suburbs of Mumbai.
The afternoon passed into evening and darkness fell outside the window. The two children became restless, and arguments broke out over who would sleep in which bed. I had been allocated a lower berth and offered to switch with the mother, who gladly accepted. I was happier on the upper berth as it meant I could sleep earlier or later without impacting on people who might want to sit on my bunk.
The reason for the late high tea became apparent when dinner was not served until after 22:00. When it did arrive, it was delicious and plentiful; rich veg curries with fluffy rice and soft roti bread. The stewards brought more and more food to our tables until we had to refuse. Due to the late dinner, it was time for sleep as soon as our plates had been cleared. I had been concerned about the two young children’s’ ability to fall asleep, but due to the excitement of the rail journey, the late hour and full tummies, they were quickly asleep.
I awoke the next morning to find bright daylight outside the thick curtains of my sleeping compartment. The other 5 passengers in my 4 berth compartment were still fast asleep as we moved slowly through the countryside. I found that the stewards were serving breakfast. I sat on my bunk, and was quietly served cornflakes (served with warm milk; a little strange), toast and a vegetable patty.
Throughout the morning, we stopped and started, crawling towards Delhi, finally arriving at New Delhi station just over 3 hours late. I exited the station and walked in the direction of my hotel. Touts came from all sides telling me how they could get me a better, cheaper room closer to the station. I ignored them and found my comfortable hotel just 5 minutes walk from the station.