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Mumbai, India - Heading to Mumbai, an unforgettable train ride :(

Aksar feat. Himesh Reshamiya - Jhalak Dikhlaja (Remix).mp3

What a nightmare, our trip to Bombay was!!!  Must have been by far THE worst experience we’ve had during our entire adventure around the world! 

Because we were really short on time, we chose to take the train to our final destination in India, instead of hitch-hiking; however little did we know that we’d soon regret our choice!!!  Go figure!

So, as I’ve previously mentioned, India is a stunning country, but alas has its negative aspects, particularly in the area of social inequality, a sad reality that’s continuously perpetuated by India’s infamous caste system.

Mumbai, India - Prêts pour 24 heures de galère !

Poverty IS a reality in India, as unfortunately is the case in many developing countries around the world; however I have never felt such sadness when being exposed to it, as I have been here.  The slums, the homeless, the injustice, are all about. 

Truly heartbreaking, but worst yet, I get the impression that the privileged are indifferent to all this, they are unaffected and just walk on by, without a shred of compassion . . . almost as if these folks were part of the surroundings, literally.

When we were in New Delhi, I got my fair-share of exposure to this . . . too much even. 

But it wasn’t until this horrible train ride, that I would come face to face with it.  And still, my experience was nothing really compared to what the less fortunate go through on a daily basis in Indian society.

Mumbai, India - Trying to get comfy

Anyway, as our adventure was nearing its end, so was our budget . . . almost blown! 

So, our options were limited, and we couldn’t afford to do any splurging on means of travel. 

This meant we wouldn’t be traveling in 1st class or any class for that matter; and if in any we’d be in the very last class there was!!!

On top of this, we hadn’t made any reservations on train tickets, so our only option was to ride in the general compartment.  Ok, that shouldn’t be so bad. 

After all we had already experienced something similar to this in China . . . Ha!  Were we in for a HUGE surprise!! 

In China, we did end up having to stand on a couple occasions; or even many a times, the passengers would get up and offer us a seat, just because. 

And when it came time to sleep, we’d just stretch out our inflatable mattresses on the floor space we’d appropriated.

Mumbai, India - Arnaud getting some Zzzzzzzzz's

No one hollered or fussed about it, nothing . . . if anything, the locals would laugh at the crazy foreigners! 

That was ok with us, though, we knew we’d never see them again, so oh well.  At that moment the only thing that mattered was our comfort! 

And let’s not forget a good night’s sleep . . . very essential to us, otherwise we’d constantly be grumpy and at each other’s throats!!!

In India, however, it’s a whole other story!

Once at the train station, we got our tickets and hurried up to the platform, ready to board the train.  One problem though . . . When we arrived, our compartment was already packed to the max!!!

So considering the situation, we didn’t see any harm in getting on the next compartment, which had plenty of space and actually quite empty when we hopped on.

Mumbai, India - Images of Victoria Terminus, aka Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, a masterpiece of architecture

And since there were practically no passengers in this compartment, we sat down on the seats that were still available.

Little by little the train compartment filled up, and we understandably gave up our seats to its rightful owners when we had to. 

Eventually we found ourselves next to the restroom area, quietly sitting on the floor, and not bothering anybody, quite frankly.

As the hours passed, our tickets were checked several times by the various train conductors that had come and gone throughout the train ride. 

And up until that point, none of them told us that we had to leave the compartment for passengers with reserved-tickets.  

We were just told in a condescending manner, that we were in the wrong compartment, but that’s the furthest the discussion would go.

Mumbai, India - Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, formerly Victoria Terminus, and better known by its abbreviation CST or Bombay VT, is a historic railway station in Mumbai which serves as the headquarters of the Central Railways

Honestly, why would they, considering we weren’t stepping on anyone’s toes?!  ;)

Surprisingly though, there was one train conductor who eventually did insist on us paying a supplement just to be able to ride in this compartment!!! 

I huffed and puffed, making my argument as best I could, but to no avail, unfortunately.  This particular train conductor was not going to overlook this, and wouldn’t budge on his stand.

Arnaud, who had just about enough of our Indian friends and tired of the nonsense, was ready to give in and pay up, but me on the other hand . . . NO WAY!!! 

Clearly, I was NOT about to pay extra, especially if we weren’t going to have seats!!! 

For goodness’ sake, we were sitting next to the toilets!!! 

Argh!!!  I was steaming at that moment, because of the stupidity in this man’s logic.

Mumbai, India - Juanny at Bombay's CST
 

What got to me even more, though, was the fact that not a single passenger attempted to take our side or anything!

Instead, the couple other passengers who also found themselves in the same situation as us, in other words, next to the smelly toilets, just complied to this ridiculous demand.  They paid, in order to avoid having to ride with the folks in the general class!!!

Now I understand the looks we were getting from the compartment’s passengers, throughout the train ride.  Complete nonsense!!

Anyway, as we only had a few more hours left to go until reaching Bombay, and since I out-rightfully refused to pay extra, we’d be riding in the general compartment for the remainder of the journey.

God does have his reasons for doing what he does!  Ready for this?

When we went to open the door to the general compartment, it was as if people were going to start flowing out of it, literally! 

What we had considered as packed at the beginning of this train ride was nothing compared to what we were faced with, at that very moment!!  No joke!!!

We literally had to be pulled in and carried over, in order to get on!!!  Every square inch of that train was occupied by a passenger.

Mumbai, India - Gateway of India, a huge archway on the water's edge at Apollo Bunder
 

I may be exaggerating a bit here, but I can’t even recall seeing a bit of the compartment’s floor or walls!!!  There were people EVERYWHERE, and I mean EVERYWHERE!!!! 

Where there should have been one passenger to a seat, there were two or three. 

People, people, everywhere, on the luggage racks, in and around the restroom area, all over the floor, scrunched up on top of one another; every bit of the train was occupied!!  UNBELIEVABLE!!!

What was even more unbelievable and humbling was these folks’ humanity . . . despite the fact that our arrival to the compartment was made after theirs, not to mention much later, the passengers of the general class, squeezed together even more so that Arnaud and I could have a spot to ourselves.  Wow!!! 

I was left in awe at their consideration and selflessness!!  That’s what it’s all about!  Genuine kindness does exist!!  There is goodness all over the world, and we had gotten a perfect example of it during this train ride.

Mumbai, India - Hotel Taj
 

I’m so glad we had the chance to experience kindheartedness at its best here; and especially when we did because it took away any negative opinions I had developed about India and its society. 

Granted I continue to be against its caste system, but hey nothing and no one is perfect, and India still has so much more to offer!

Now, moving along to happier moments during our time at our final destination in India . . .

Yes!!!  We’ve finally made it to Mumbai, or as it’s still frequently referred to – Bombay. 

Before reaching Bombay, I didn’t know much about it besides it being the seat of the Hindi film industry, aka, Bollywood. 

Did you know that it produces the largest number of films in the world?  I didn’t!

Yeah so, it’s THE place to be if you love Bollywood films, so naturally it was a must-see attraction high up on my sightseeing list here!

I was so hoping to be able to watch in on the making of one of those never-ending movies; however that would prove to be very difficult, if not impossible!  :( 

Silly me, why did I automatically assume that that’d be likely?  Unless I had the right connections, my sitting in on one would not be happening this time around!  Oh well, maybe another time!

I’d just have to content myself with some of the many other sights here.

Mumbai, India - Arnaud devant l'Hôtel Taj

Actually, Mumbai is considered to be the most modern city in India, capturing the spirit of the changing pace set by liberalization and modernisation.  I could see that, ok.

The architecture of Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus was absolutely breathtaking.  

And our visit to the Gateway of India and Hotel Taj would prove to be unforgettable, considering our incredible luck when visiting this tourist hotspot (A week later a terrorist attack would occur at this very location, killing many foreign tourists!). 

So we took in all the touristy sights as planned, which were nice, but I think the highlight of our visit to this vibrant city was our time spent with our CS friends. 

We had the pleasure of being hosted by a charming couple, C.P. & Kusum, living near Juju beach. 

A nice treat for us because not only were we able to get some well-deserved R&R, we were also able to take relaxing strolls along the beach.

Mumbai, India - Aux alentours de la Porte de l'Inde

We also got the chance to meet the lovely Aradhana, with whom we were able to have some interesting discussions. 

And who thankfully showed us another side of her country and even allowed for us to get rid of any misperceptions we may have developed throughout our journey in India.

Contrary to all the running around we usually do when visiting a city, our time in Bombay was pretty chill, particularly because we’ve been feeling pretty tired with all the traveling we’ve done and really ready to get back to France in a way.

Yep we’re really feeling the tiredness of our incredible journey at this point.  And boy could we go for a nice juicy steak right about now!!! 

La belle France is calling us . . . and it’s infamous steack – frites too!!!

In terms of food, our adventure here has been sort of tough.

Mumbai, India - Swami Vivekananda statue, near the Gateway of India
  So much so, we went through a tiny phase of filling our bellies with McD’s, to change up from the curry dishes a bit.

But as you may or may not know, you still can’t have any beef in India’s McDonald’s . . . Being a huge fan of chicken, I would have never thought that I too would eventually get fed up of it.  But I did, here in India!!! 

Don’t get me wrong, Indian food is good, but after a month of vegetarian or other poultry-based specialties, we were really missing some beef!!!

One night, we decided to treat ourselves to a nice steak dinner at this European restaurant, run by Indians . . . Big mistake!! 

FYI, if you’re craving a juicy steak, don’t go have it at a place where it’s cooked by folks who consider the cow a sacred creature.

Mumbai, India - Architecture found in Sahakari Bhandar
 

We had a great time visiting Mumbai, and glad we chose to visit this vibrant city last!  We had a blast!

Alas, our journey in India has reached its end, and although we’re really anxious to get back to France for numerous reasons, it’s with a bit of sadness that we depart from this land bearing many facets.

India is an unbelievable country and deserves to be visited at least once in your life! 

After all, where else can one see cows walking freely on the streets, but beware they’re HOLY, so don’t even think about having them served up on your plate!!!  ;)

India is truly Incredible!!!  But why take my word, come see it for yourself!!!

Avant d’arriver à Bombay, on allait vivre une expérience que l’on n’était pas prêt d’oublier.

Mumbai, India - Mumbai Taxi Cab for Hire!!
Le trajet d’une ville à une autre qui d’habitude était une action des plus faciles à réaliser allait devenir une vraie épreuve de force.

Pourtant, on choisissait une façon parmi les plus pratiques et économiques : voyager en train.

En rapport à ce que je disais précédemment, en Chine on avait passé 3 jours dans un train, ce n’est pas 18 heures en Inde qui allait nous faire peur.

Et bien, ce fut à notre grande surprise, une épreuve forte en émotion, du soulagement à la révolte.

Dans un premier temps, on opta pour le train en rapport à la rapidité des distances parcourues.

Mumbai, India - The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, formerly Prince of Wales Museum
On était séparé par 1200km, dans un second temps le stop.

Cela représentait 3 ou 4 jours de galère. La solution la plus judicieuse était de voyager en train, et vu le prix du billet, on ne réfléchit pas longtemps.

Et justement, pas de chance, le train était complet, mais on pouvait acheter un billet dans un wagon spécial, celui qui ne pose pas trop de questions sur l’éthique et celui du respect d’autrui.

On acheta donc ces billets spéciaux et curieux de voir la suite des événements. Devant le wagon, on comprit rapidement que cela allait être difficile, le wagon était plein.

Je m’explique, pour moi un wagon plein en Inde, c’est un compartiment qui a la capacité de 50 personnes, et à première vue, il en était stocké 250.

Mumbai, India - Bombay's beautiful architecture

Quand on a vu cette incarnation de la bêtise humaine, on dit « bon, bééééééé, on va aller dans l’autre compartiment ».

Au début, les places étaient disponibles mais les gens arrivaient au goute à goute. On espérait avoir de la place et en plus le train commençait à partir.

On commençait à souffler. Nous étions sur 2 places assises, au fil des heures, les contrôleurs de billets avaient toujours un temps de réflexion à la vue de nos billets car ils savaient que l’on n’était pas au bon endroit, mais aucuns d’eux nous firent une réflexion.

Mumbai, India - Boot House, Kamla Nehru Park, Malabar Hill


Par contre au milieu de la nuit, un autre contrôleur n’accepta pas notre situation; à croire qu’il y avait une vingtaine de contrôleurs. Il faut dire aussi que même les passagers s’y mettaient.

Ils se plaignaient et râlaient pour des raisons qui nous sont encore incohérentes. Donc pour calmer le jeu, nous décidâmes de passer dans le couloir histoire de n’embêter personne, à coté des toilettes.

Même ici les gens continuaient !

Quelques heures plus tard, ils nous demandèrent d’aller dans le wagon correspondant à nos billets ou sinon il voulait que l’on paye la différence en sachant qu’il n’y avait plus de place assises.

Mumbai, India - Boot House, Kamla Nehru Park, Malabar Hill
Ils nous demandaient de payer pour finir le trajet debout !!!

Après plusieurs tentatives de blablabla avec cet enfoi... de contrôleur ainsi que certains voyageurs, car la solidarité n’était pas de mise, on finit par craquer et dans le doute le plus total, on changeait de classe.

Par quoi commencer : il a fallu nous pousser pour rentrer, ce n’est pas que l’on ne voulait pas mais il n’y avait plus de place.

C’est comme quand le métro est rempli et que vous voulez entrer ou sortir, eh bien vous poussez !

Ensuite, pour se déplacer, on ne voyait pas la couleur du sol, cela faisait déjà 6 ou 7 heures que le train était parti, les voyageurs étaient fatigués et pour se reposer, ils couchaient par terre.

Mumbai, India - View of Bombay & the Arabian Sea from Ferozeshah Mehta Gardens, Malabar Hill

Ils étaient les uns sur les autres, sur les portes bagages, tout autour de nous, sur le moindre recoin, le moindre rebord, allongé, assis, debout, dessus, dessous, entre 2, à coté.

Je n’avais jamais vu autant de monde dans une si petite surface. Puis ensuite une autre vision m’apparut, celle de la vraie solidarité.

Les gens se serraient un peu plus par ici, un peu plus par là, et voilà une petite place pour Juanita, et hop une autre pour moi et c’est là qu’il y a eu un déclic, on était ensemble, tous dans le même bateau.

Pour une fois depuis quelques mois en Asie, je me sentais accepté.

Mumbai, India - Hanging Gardens, aka Ferozeshah Mehta Gardens, Malabar Hill


Enfin à Bombay, l’ultime destination. On sortait de la gare assez éprouvés. Il fallait trouver un hôtel pour se reposer.

Et comme d’habitude, Juanita qui pouvait se faire passer pour une Indienne allait négocier une belle chambre pour un bon prix.

Il fallait bien choisir car on allait y rester quelques jours, nos amis du couchsurfing, deux retraités allaient être disponibles pour nous dans 3 ou 4 jours.

L’hôtel était à deux pas de la gare, qui est le point central de la ville. On avait donc l’opportunité de visiter le cœur de la ville.

Le site de Bollywood figurait sur la liste des endroits à ne pas louper.

Mumbai, India - Les Jardins Accrochants de Mumbai (Jardins de Ferozeshah Mehta), sont les jardins en terrasse perchés au-dessus de la Colline de Malabar
C’était malheureusement trop loin de la ville, tant pis pour les films de 3 à 4 heures.

J’ai pu voir à quoi ressemble un film hindou, 2h30h d’histoire et 1h30 de clip et tout cela dans un même film. C’est un mélange entre une comédie musicale et une pièce de théâtre version hindi.

Je ne suis jamais arrivé à voir un film jusqu’au bout, c’est trop long.

On visitait donc les différents sites, l’hôtel Taj, la gare, la porte des esclaves, des temples Hindous et profitait de la plage bien sûr.

Pour la première fois, je ressentais un regard vis a vis de la population, et pas forcement un regard agréable.

Mumbai, India - Hanging Gardens, aka Ferozeshah Mehta Gardens, Malabar Hill
Comme un blanc qui est avec une afro-américaine aux Etats-Unis.

Je sentais un malaise, la voyant comme une des leurs et moi comme le mal incarné. Ce ne fut pas très agréable à vivre, même si j’étais le seul à ressentir cela car Juanita elle, ne s’en apercevait pas.

Voilà, le départ s’approchait, pour moi le voyage allait se terminer définitivement à Villeneuve sur lot. On va dire que l’on était dans la dernière descente.

Il y avait encore quelques avions à prendre de Bombay à Colombo au Sri Lanka et celui ensuite jusqu’à Paris. Une belle brochette de stress en perspective.

Mumbai, India - Hanging Gardens, aka Ferozeshah Mehta Gardens, Malabar Hill
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