Mumbai Day 2: Tickets to Goa!
Trip Start Feb 19, 2006
90Trip End Oct 01, 2006
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Already I know that I do not want to stay too long here, there is an almost tangible vibration of karma here, and not all that good at that. This morning I met Tejas, my non-existent airport driver, and he is all apologies, though I tell him "no problem" as Indians are fond of saying.
Tejas is quite nice and helpful in giving me information on getting my tickets, apparently a foreign tourist must go the the "Foreign Tourist Quota Agency" to get train tickets. Great. More paperwork. These people are big on their beauraucracy, that is sure. I am directed to take a taxi to Church Gate Station, and the office is on the second floor across the street. Tejas tells me it should cost a fare of about 400 Rs. One should always ask what things should cost to avoid being "taken for a ride" especially in India. The learning curve for me is more like a 90 degree angle straight up. Sometimes before one can walk on one's own, one must get taken for a ride a few times. At least in this country when you get taken, it is only for a dollar or so.
The taxi ride through Bombay in my more awake and aware state was interesting, to say the least. Having studied a map the hotel staff had loaned me before sleeping and this morning, I had at least some idea of where I was going and how far.
People in India dress well, light trousers and collared shirts mostly, even the laborers hauling stones and dirt in the oppressive humid heat. The only ones who wore anything shorter than long pants were untouchables, who were everywhere, digging in the mud and trash, begging and sleeping in the street, dirty and hungry, many with leprous looking skin and horrible disfigurements. Well, Auntie Em, we most certainly are not in Kansas anymore.
The taxis are everywhere, motor rickshaws, motorcycles, bicycles, carts, dogs, people, all out in the street. Taxi drivers seem to know just exactly how big their vehicles are, for they weave in and out of the traffic, honking the horn at every movement. Horns are more of a way of saying "I am here!" than anything else. Passing into oncoming traffic at 50 km happens every couple of seconds, and is considered normal.
Mumbai is in a constant state of being torn down and rebuilt all at the same time, even new construction is dirty and unmaintained, everything is used and used up, and then picked apart until nothing can be used anymore. After that it is all picked over again by the pariahs, and the rubbish thrown anywhere with abandon. Signs and adverts are everywhere, many cartoonishly hand painted, many with strange quasi-western wording, sometimes humourous, though surely this is unintended.
There are no emissions controls here, cars and rickshaws smoke, most are of sketchy safety, though meticulously cleaned and waxed. Appearance is very important here, though it is becoming apparent that maintenance is by far secondary.
Arriving at Church Gate, I pry my white knuckles apart and pay the driver 40 rupees. We have had a good ride, his english was alright, he even understood a bit of my humor.
I see the sign for the tourist quota and go up the steps inside. To my relief, there were some westerners at the far end of the room, filling out forms and looking just as confused as I felt. Filling out the forms was the easy part, actually getting the tickets was another thing altogether.
As we completed the forms, the staff stepped out for lunch hour, leaving all the windows unattended, and us waiting. At last they returned and we queue up at the window.
Just as the couple before me in line was about to get their tickets, of a sudden the helpful woman behind the counter informed them that the computer was "down." We wait some more. At length she comes out and says that the computer will be down at least an hour, maybe more. Good thing they are open until, well, 4:30 or some such.
The couple, a British chap and a German girl in their early twenties and I decide that there might be safety in numbers if the three of us ventured out to find something to eat. I'm feeling a little light, being that I haven't eaten since the plane, over 24 hours ago.
Fortunately the neighborhood is a little easier to understand than mine, it is at the edge of the tourist area, and so many restaurants cater to such. After a couple of blocks and a very daring street-crossing, we settle on a "Chinese" restaurant that looks a little upscale from the rest, and go in. There is a buffet for 250 rupees, and though it goes against the advice of my "healthy travel" book, we three opt for it. The food is fresh, and good. Slightly pricey, but by that time I would have paid almost anything for a good meal.
Feeling much better after lunch and good and informative conversation, the three of us head back to wait. As a solo traveler, and in my case, without any travel guidebooks for India, I need to learn by getting other peoples' experience. Information is gold when one is going solo.
Tickets, by the way, can only be purchased at the foreign tourist quota agency, or one can pay a travel agent a reasonable commission to do the legwork. They must be paid for in foreign money such as British pounds, American Dollars, or Euros, for which the conversion rate is posted and calculated by hand when paying. Rupees are acceptable only if one has kept the receipt from the exchange bureau, and even then they may not like it. Fine thing that I had kept a twenty out of my money belt for just such a possibility. The poor sap who does not have either can pay by credit card, but that requires waiting in another queue at another window, then going back to the ticket window after being approved there.
Finally, at about 3 pm and wishing luck to my newfound friends, I get my ticket. There are two trains from Mumbai to Goa per day, one at 6:55 am, and another at 11:55 pm. The train takes around 12 hours, and there are three classes. Third class is a chair car, and has no AC, people cram into the aisles, the men hang out of the doors, and for windows it has just barred holes with children and women looking out of them into the dusty heat.
Second class sleeper is not air conditioned, though there are private cabins with beds and the same type of windows.
The Air Con coach has bunks, six at a time on one side, and two on the other. The bottom bunks fold up into bench seats on the one side, and two chair seats on the other.
Of course I did not know this at the time, all I knew is that I wanted wonderful air conditioning. It is going to take a bit to get acclimated to this heat, and a week and a half on the beach under a palm tree sure sounds like a good way to soften the process.
I opted for the early morning train, 6:55, as I can not wait to get the heck out of this chaotic and tragic city.
On the way out I caught up to an American guy and the two Israelis he was travelling with and asked them if they wanted to get a beer. After a short walk we found a place upstairs from a shop, a "Permit house" restaurant that serves beer, and sat in a booth drinking Foster's, trading stories and eating delicious free snacks that the attentive staff served us with a smile.
I am beginning to feel a bit less overwhelmed by Mumbai, a little more confident, but there is not much to do here, pubs are very rare, and the sadness of the diseased children in the streets begging is hard to bear. I can hope the best for them, but in the end I know that they will not have a life with hope, and will live and die in conditions we cannot even imagine.
I go back to my hotel after two beers, retire to my room, set up a wake-up call for 5:30, and watch a movie on HBO. I feel for the Untouchables, a profound sadness, heavy and deep. There is nothing that can be done here for them short of a massive social restructuring. The Caste system, the way of life that has endured here for so long still goes on. For 50 years it has been outlawed, but a thousand years' indoctrination does not change so quickly.
I bid the lizard on the wall in my room goodnight, and so slip off to sleep at about 9:30. I cannot believe I have been here only 36 hours or so. It feels like weeks. Boston seems so far away. I am out of contact, I cannot check e-mail or call, I can only write and look at a picture, and try to open myself to this strange new world I have so abrubtly been tossed into. I am excited, and most of the apprehension and fear I felt has dissapated.