On to Goa
Trip Start May 03, 2006
48Trip End Ongoing
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(Summary) Had a big wake up call today. Various factors had pushed me to leave for Goa - the idea of hopping slowly down the coast no longer appealed due to logistics, language problems, heat - and lack of information. I stupidly took a two hour bus jounrney to the nearest rail station at Rohas. The bus journey was fairly interesting due to the nature of people on board, the rural villages, farming communities and in my eyes the appeal of countryside. It was one hell of a bumpy journey though. Arriving at Rohas was a nightmare - folk desparately climbing aboard as we were trying to get off - it was so ridiculous that I barged my way through in the end and felt no remorse for standing on toes and swinging my bag into knees.
After a quick jaunt in a rickshaw I was at the train station and bought a ticket for Margao in South Goa. It was too simple - I was handed a ticket for normal class - cost 118rps - about one pound fifty in sterling for the 10 hr jounrey! It was later, flicking through my RG that I read the advice that 'on no accounts should you buy and unreserved ticket on the Konkan railway' (or words to that affect). This is what I had done - I had an unreserved ticket meaning I'd find myself in one of the cattle carriages at either end with no guaranteed seat and the real prospect of being crammed in like a sardine with only theives for company! I tried my best to sort out the situation at the Reserve Ticket Office - but there was simply no available berths on the train - it was summer holidays in India and the trains heading south from Mumbai were packed with domestic tourists or folk visiting families back home. My only hope was to jump aboard, find a ticket inspector/conductor and make him find me a berth in any class but unreserved.
The thought had crossed my mind to abandon the trip find myself a hotel and book a ticket like one should - to the instruction that I'd spent the last winter familiarising myself -courtesey of Bradt's Rail Guide to India. But it wasn't really an alternative - the trains would be fully booked for at least 4-5 days, Rohas was quite frankly a dump and there was no way I was going back to Murud. Two hours later and after being entertained by scruffy youths trying to work out my combination lock on my bag - the train pulled in. I chased a couple of Indians who were also travelling unreserved and who looked quite decent and hopped on board into a scene that you might expect to see in a film - an exagerrated nightmarish scene of an unbearably hot, packed carriage full of dodgy chappies, hostile looking kids eyeing up some foreigners kit, flies, dust, bags and sacks and everybody shouting. This wasn't a film though - it was a huge error on my behalf - and for a minute or two I very nearly lost my bearings - thankfully a group of chappies took pity on me and bundled me through a doorway into the reserved classes.
After attempts of 'influencing' various ticket officers for any available berth - it became obvious that if there really was one - they'd be more than happy to take my cash - but there was nothing (sadly) they could do. I played dumb to the whole situation saying I had no idea how the trains operated over here - thought you just bought a ticket and jumped on like back home. After a few incredulous looks my ploy worked - I wasn't handed back to be robbed by the masses - instead I was made to suffer the idignity of walking through the entire mid-section of the train - through what felt like luxury of the A/C carriages - eventually to basic sleeper class. No seat/berth - but a place in the hallway at one end! So I stood for around 6 hours and sat on a copy of the Times of India for the remainder of the journney.
Turth be known - it wasn't so bad - at least we were moving and getting closer to Goa and what I thought would be civilisation. There was a definite community to the hallway and the first few berths down the alley. I chatted to various folk, some Indian school-girl talked to me non-stop for about three hours - apparently her father (who was sitting at the open-doorway with her younger brother - a hell of a precarious position if ever you saw one - feet dangling out) was a farmer and she was sent to what I took to be a school run by nuns where they spoke only in English!! Imagine that - some school in the back of beyond speaking the mother-tongue - her father and brother didn't even understand a word she said in english! I chatted to others, one chappie who had done something very similiar to myself (unreserved) was headed for Kerala - he was working in Saudi Arabia and back on holiday - he mentioned it was sometimes 50c out in the sun where he worked!!
I even ended up sharing a meal on the floor with a couple of guys who insisted on sorting me out with a plate and dishing up some excellent Keralan cuisine! Quite a humbling experience in the end - and not as bad as it had first looked. At midnight - as some geezer sitting next to me what asking about the cost of living in Britain and the price of a certain brand of jeans we finally pulled into Margao.
It was like pulling into a European station, I said cheerio to those nice people with whom I'd shared the last ten hours and jumped down to the platform. Goa seemed cooler, more tropical, cleaner - an impression formed within seconds as I walked towards the 24 hr-open information office. I was massively relieved to have made that hop from Maharashtra - and now just needed to complete the equation be sorting out accomodation for the night. The station was brightly lit and alive - it didn't feel like gone midnight! After enquiring about the hotel recommended in my RG the alternative was suggested - spend the night in one of the station's retiring rooms (rooms you could rent out for 24hrs - ranging in quality/availability across the country) - which after a quick inspection I did, without any hesitation. At 1am, showered I sat back in one of the reclining chairs and had to smile as I tucked into an ice-cold Kingfisher. The room on a second level in the station was clean, en-suite, spacious and had A/C. It had been one long day, a real hassle at times but here I was cleaned up, enjoying a beer and nicely tired, ready for a sleep that didn't have to be broken too early - I had this room for 24hrs after all - why not sleep until noon the next day - enjoy a leisurely brunch at the station's restaurant and then taxi it to the beach in the afternoon!