Getting around Mumbai is an adventures. Traffic is always a bit crazy and so getting anywhere takes forever. One of the few saving graces is the train. The train is it’s own form of crazy, but is also amazing.

 

You walk into a packed train station and try to figure out where to punch your tickets (assuming you have bought a book) or stand in the huge line to buy a ticket. Once your ticket(s) is punched, you look at the boards as they flip between Hindi and English to try to figure out where the train you want is going to show up. You have to pay attention to both direction (or line if you are at one of the bigger stations) as well as speed. There are both fast – that only stop at major stations – and slow trains – that stop at every station.

 

Once you figure out where you are going, you take the catwalk over to the correct platform. The platforms are generally packed with waiting people. The train compartments are separated between mens and womens, and first and second class, but it is hard to figure out where to stand on the platform to be near the correct car when it shows up. Women can ride in the men’s compartment with a man they are traveling with, but men don’t really travel in the women’s compartments.

 

The trains all have open doors and are generally packed to the gills. As the train pulls into the station, people (especially men) start jumping off even before it comes to a complete stop. Once the train finally stops, the rest of the people who are ready to get off the train burst out of the doors into the pile of waiting people. As soon as people finish getting off, the crowd surges on to fill every available space. Often people are running to jump on as the train pulls out with outstretched hands reaching to help them aboard.

 

The cars are often (though not always packed). People fill every available space. There are benches, which people fill to the point of perching. The area between the benches fills with as many people as necessary. The entire ceiling is filled with hanging handles. I haven’t yet noticed much difference between first and second class other than that first class tends to be a bit less crowded and the hand holds seem to be a bit shorter (which I don’t like because I hit my head). When the train is really crowded, there is a repeating discussion of what station you need to get off so that the compartment can stack itself in order of departure. Finally at your station it is your turn to get birthed and on you way.

 

There are definitely problems that come with the trains. Many of the more protective of our Indian staff members were very nervous of the fact we wanted to ride the trains at all. You have to be careful (though everyone has seemed more than helpful) to not get pushed off at the wrong station. Also, trains are no good at all if you have a personal space bubble since they often don’t exist on the train. The main problem are the many deaths that happen on the train. These are generally due to people crossing/walking on the tracks, or people who are hanging too far out of the doors when a particularly close post comes by or by trying to ride on top of the train.

 

Overall, the benefits greatly out way the concerns. It is soooo much faster than any other way of getting around the city. It can easily cut the commute time in half or more and that is in comparison to traffic that is moving. It is cheap. The most expensive trip I have taken so far was to downtown and my ticket each way cost Rs 8 (they are priced by distance) which is about 16 cents /way– you can’t get much cheaper than that. Now if I rode first class it is significantly more, but still probably only a little over a dollar.

 

But mostly it is often just an amazing experience to be on the train. Sometimes the women are singing in Hindi. Even though I have no idea what they are singing the beautiful songs create an experience amazing and unique. As you stand in a pack of women riding the lurch of the train feeling all the pressing bodies rock and shift almost like a rolling ocean wave, it is such a feeling of oneness and community that I find so rarely in a world where I normally get into a hired car to get driven to work.

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