Pune to Mumbai
The train from Pune to Mumbai was a little over four hours in the second seating compartment of a crowded Indian train. Second seating was the cheapest (yet still safest) choice we could make for transportation; our trip to Mumbai and back cost only 6 USD!
We took our assigned seats in Pune station and the train set off, away from the stench of the central station in Pune past the rolling hills of the Indian countryside. Every so often the train would stop to pick up more passengers and hoards of people would push and shove their way onboard the train. Because we were sitting in second seating, everyone was allowed into the compartment–with or without a ticket–which meant huge crowds of people squished into a tiny space. On the ride there we managed to hold our seats, but the image of hundreds of Indian men pushing past each other to get onboard is not one I’ll soon forget.
From among the crowds, vendors would pass through the train compartments carrying various sweets and street food selections. And occasionally a beggar would follow behind, often singing nasal tunes and holding out their palms to passengers.
On the ride to Mumbai, two blind women passed by our compartment singing a somewhat eerie melody, palms outstretched, canes clicking against the ground.
We didn’t sleep a wink on the ride there. Riding a crowded train in India is an incredibly sensory experience and we couldn’t miss a moment of it–even if we wanted to.
Four hours later, we arrived at the station in Mumbai.
Tea at the Taj
On our first full day in Mumbai we visited the Gateway to India along the southern coast of the city, bargained for trinkets and clothing at the market along the street to our hotel and strolled the city trying to soak everything in.
Around 4 o’clock we decided to splurge a little and stop for tea at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
Inside the palace the temperature dropped precipitously as we were flooded with air conditioning and we rode the elevators up to the first story of the building where the tea lounge was located.
Stepping into the restaurant we saw mostly foreigners seated at the table and realized just how under dressed we were. In the front corner of the restaurant a pianist played classic hits from The Beatles and musical theater as we were led to a table with a view of the bay and an angle on the rest of the restaurant.
We sat there drinking tea and wine for at least an hour and a half, watching as the red sun set over the Mumbai coast from the extravagance and stillness of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.