Yesterday we woke early in order to check out of our hotel and arrive at the train station in good time for our 11:40am train out of Mumbai. We were headed to Margao in Goa and by this point I was desperate to leave Mumbai. The close mugginess, the constant noise and the permeating smell which defines the city had taken its toll and I began to feel anxious about having to spend any more time there. In fact the idea of spending my days lounging on a beach in the coastal community further South seemed like just the medicine I needed to remedy my mental agitation, so as the alarms we set sounded in the morning we bounced out of bed and settled up our tab. The manager of our hotel called us an auto-rickshaw (which is essentially a motorcycle with a carriage built around it) to come pick us up. These vehicles run much more cheaply than standard cabs and our journey of 2.4km to Lokmanyatilak Terminus cost us a mere 39 rupees (effectively 39 pence). We tipped the driver the remainder of our 50 rupee note and ascended to the platform where our train was already waiting over an hour before departure.
Our transport for the day, the Netravati Express was a monster of a train which stretched as far as the eye could see down the curved platform. We found our carriage about halfway up and located our names on the passenger manifest which had been pasted to the outside of the door of the carriage. As we had reserved a ticket and were travelling in 2nd class air conditioned our carriage was locked; presumably to keep out any chancers, so we headed into the terminus to find some refreshments.
On our way we met two girls, Karla and Hannah, both travelling to Goa, originally from Germany. They had like us spent the last few days in Mumbai and like us were looking forward to heading south. Finally the train doors opened and we boarded the train. Our carriage was made up of small blue berths approximately 6 foot long. The layout was such that our berths faced out into the corridor which meant we had a constant stream of hawkers from the platform, staff and passengers moving back and forth in front of us. The hawkers were largely alright to deal with, taking the hint and leaving us alone with the exception of a small group of teenaged lads who once realising that we had no intention of buying their soap stood about trying to convince me to buy them cigarettes. It took me having to hold the door open and telling them in a loud voice to leave for them to finally get the picture and they moved on to harass someone else.
Looking out of our windows I saw that they were double glazed, dirty and included an odd film which gave everything that you could see a yellow caste. Despite my quibbles; as the train pulled away I relaxed into my berth and let out a sigh of relief that I could see mirrored in Nicole’s face.
With Mumbai fading into the distance we studied the countryside which moved by at a slow but steady pace. The train (which could only have averaged about 40 miles an hour during this stretch) ploughed along past a lively landscape with fecund fields and small grass covered hillocks that stood out from the meadows below. Occasionally farmers would be seen holding water buffalo in rivers and dotted along this magical scenery stood small temples no larger than garden sheds though much prettier being sculpted into bulbous cones painted in vivid shades of yellow and blue. There were few roads covering this landscape and you could occasionally see little dirt bikes setup next to small homes which must have been the main method of getting about.
The journey was due to take twelve hours point to point and so after a while of soaking in the scenery we settled in for the long haul and I went off in search of the toilet. There were two located at the end of our carriage, one an Indian style squat loo which I didn’t feel quite ready to attempt yet and opposite a fairly standard western toilet. Upon finishing up I looked about to see how the tap operated. With no valves near the tap itself I traced the pipe back along the inside wall to the top of the toilet cistern where a large button said ‘PUSH’. Feeling vindicated in this action I pressed the large button which produced a worrying gurgling sound followed almost immediately by a horizontal jet of water which sped out of a small rupture in the pipe and splashed all up my leg soaking my shorts. Cursing loudly, I fell out of the small room into the end of the carriage where the docile attendant woke from his slumber. Looking me up and down he broke into a grin, and gave me one of India’s finest head-wobbles (more on these later). Feeling defeated by this simplest of actions, I retreated to my bunk and a few hours sleep.
Dinner was served some point later and we had chapattis with chicken in a sort of gravy. It was fairly filling and revealed an underlying hunger I hadn’t felt whilst in Mumbai. Finally after many hours, we arrived at Margao about an hour later than scheduled; stepping off the train into fresh and invigorating air. As it was about 1am at this point, we took a cool-cab over to our hotel at an extortionate 150 rupee rate.
The hotel Nanutel was a shock to walk into. Well attired boys welcomed us into the plush lobby. Marbled floor reflected our steps as we found our way up to our room on the fifth floor with the inside a sight to behold; being in stark contrast to the basic utilitarian design of our Mumbai hotel. The first thing I did was to have a long soak and rid myself of the smells of the big city before passing out on the fresh white linen provided.