Getting Around Mumbai by Train

Since we would be in Mumbai for a week, we decided we should use local transportation right from the start.

 We were staying at a timeshare exchange out near the airport, so the best means were the trains. The first time we took a train into the city, we sampled 2nd class and it provided quite an experience. I'd ridden domestic trains in India from city to city and they were usually reasonably comfortable, with assigned seats and a minimum of crowding. Here in Mumbai it was a different species of train entirely. It was crowded even tough it was Sunday but we did find seats – some guys seem to prefer standing in the doorways, thus making it look more cramped than it really is. Little kids on train come up and stand silently with a hand on your knee, waiting for a coin. They finally give up and move on to next prospect. Getting off the train is reminiscent of the Greek ferries  There are no audible announcements on the train and the stops are short, so you have to be ready to get out. What's worse, is that when the train stops, the crowd outside immediately starts to try to get on. It’s a grand melee trying to get off with all attachments, while new folks are pressing inwards.  Somehow it works.

It took us about   an hour to get into town, less time coming back by express. Once on board, it could be crowded, but people were friendly and pleasant.

The next day we tried first class tix, for about double the 2nd class rate, raising the price to about 25c. The main difference seems to be a slightly better dress code, and somewhat less crowding, but still mostly standees. Got off at Mahalaxmi station, riding in with suburban commuters, tiffin wallahs on the platforms already. This is an amazing enterprise - every day, suburban wives make their husbands lunch, a multi course meal stacked in aluminum tiffins. These are picked up, taken to the train station, then delivered to the workplace. All this is done by mostly illiterate porters using a colored bead coding system. In the afternoon, the used tiffins are picked up and reverse their journey, arriving back in suburbia.

Returning to our hotel, Audrey gets in the Ladies car again. Their car is no less crowded or pushy, though. As the train was already starting to pull away from the main station, I ran and pushed into nearest open door, only to realize it was second class. Luckily it was an express - I counted over 250 people in that one car, with seats for about 50 but with 50 people crammed into the central standing section alone. As usual, several young men were hanging out the door and just grabbing the overhang. I finally squirmed to a place near the seats so I only had 3 people pressing right against me. Couldn't see anything outside. My only hope was I'd remember the proper number of stops. At one station, I just heard “Dadar! Dadar! Dadar!…” but usually I couldn’t see the station signs. As we approached our home station of Andheri, I started to make my move back through the press – no way anyone could have fallen. At the station it was a rugby scrum. The first wave surged off the train; I almost made it, but then got hit with the counterattack from incoming patrons. A few more pushes and I squirted onto the platform, totally soaked with sweat, arms flailing behind me, camera case still attached and floating behind me, but safe on the platform as the train continued on its way. Millions of people use these commuter lines, and despite the first appearance, they really do work.

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