Along with a few from our group, Tom and I headed into town early in the morning to go for breakfast at a small cafe and it was a relief to enjoy a normal breakfast for once – muesli with yoghurt, fruit and honey.
Checking out of our hotel, we loaded our main rucksacks onto the roof of a minibus and boarded to find that everyone was settled in to their comfortable reclining seats with head rests and the only remaining seat was a bench at the back. Not thinking much of it, Tom and I headed to the back and plonked ourselves down, only to find that the seat was about half the depth of a normal chair, was so high off the ground my feet wouldn’t touch the floor, was spring loaded, had no head rests and was completely out of reach of any air con or fans, and when anyone reclined their seat in front we were left with even less room. Roll on the next 5 hours!
We set off on a bumpy and sweaty ride, hanging on for dear life, and before long we pulled into a lay-by as the driver needed to change the back left tyre as it was flat. Some took the opportunity to get off and find a spot for a wee, while others inspected the driver’s tyre changing skills. The horrified faces that boarded the bus didn’t fill me with confidence… in Tom’s words, the tyre they’d put on was so bad he wouldn’t have used it on a wheelbarrow – zero tread and it was so worn that metal wire was visible the whole way around. With little other options, we set off again and the driver pulled in to a roadside shack to repair the original tyre and pop it back on. He’d have been better off just buying two new tyres but that wasn’t on his agenda.
Stopping off for a quick lunch break at a roadside cafe offered Tom and I a break from the death seat, though I just wanted to get the journey over with. It wasn’t long before the tyre blew again and the horrific tyre was back on… god help us all. Low and behold, whilst on the highway pushing 60mph there was an almighty bang, the bus swerved and the smell of fuel filled the cabin. A quick look out the back and I could see other cars dodging the remnants of our tyre and fuel spilling out across the road. “Oh my god we’re leaking fuel!” I said, and with that everyone was out of their seats and scrabbling for the door, jumping a fence and running to safety at the side of the road. The tyre had delaminated and in the process had completely severed the fuel line. Nobody wanted to get back on the bus and with everyone hanging onto their last shred of patience, we demanded alternative transport.
Our guide informed us that he was arranging taxis to come and meet us, but whether that was true or not we’ll never know. 3 hours later after sitting at the side of the road with no access to food, water or toilets, we were told that the driver had picked up a new tyre and, using a piece of fabric, had mended the fuel line. Not trusting it, one member of the group (an engineer) dipped into his bag and pulled out some cable ties and made an attempt to more securely fasten it in place. Now dark, and missing a planned visit to Ghandi’s former residence, we were back on board and heading straight to a train station so as not to miss our 10pm train to Mumbai. What a ride!
Pulling up to the train station around 9ish, we gladly disembarked the death trap bus and made our way to our platform. Having not eaten, our guide called the nearest Dominos and ordered 19 large pizzas, probably in an effort to calm the situation. The train pulled in and still no sign of any delivery guys… we boarded and found our beds for our overnight journey… still no pizza… and then moments before the whistles blew, a sweaty young guy ran past with a stack of pizza boxes, throwing them down and grabbing our money before jumping off. We gorged on the pizzas and then started making our beds with the sheets, pillows and blankets provided.
Our carriage was air conditioned and would be home for the night to 74 passengers. On one side there were 6 bed berths, 3 bunks high, and on the other side of the aisle were series of 2 bunk beds length-ways down the carriage. I was on the top bunk of 3 in a section with 3 others from our group and an elderly Indian couple, whilst Tom was on the top bunk on the other side of the aisle. I visited the toilet and realised why Tom had previously seen someone weeing out of the door of the moving train, and with that I sanitised my hands multiple times, climbed into bed, padlocked my valuables inside my rucksack and wriggled into a position where I could spoon the bag. With the sound of snoring already resonating around the carriage, I popped my headphones in with some chilled out music and attempted to sleep.
Having seen probably every hour of the night, I decided to get up at 5am and try to beat the rush for the toilet before we were due to pull in to Mumbai just after 6. After waiting a while for a rather large Indian man to leave the toilet and catching a whiff of what had just gone down in there, I took a metaphoric deep breath and turned left into the squat toilet. Other than the floor being a little wet, this was definitely the better option, so, being jolted from side to side and using all the leg strength I could muster, I had my first experience of using a squat loo *internal round of applause*.
Climbing off the train, the humidity of Mumbai became all too apparent. I’d survived the unimaginable heat of Rajasthan, but this additional humidity was something else. We made our way to our hotel via taxi but as we couldn’t check in yet the hotel allowed us to use one room for freshening up – cue 18 people tag teaming to shower, brush teeth and get changed all within an hour. We had no included activities in Mumbai so the whole group opted to pay £15 each to do a taxi tour of the city. I was tired and grouchy by this point so threw a bit of a strop about how pricey it was compared to what we’d paid previously, but after a telling off from Tom I shut up and went along with it.
We started off by viewing the skyline of the city from a small beach and then visited a park, an area where locals leave dead relatives to be eaten by wildlife (weird, and thankfully we didn’t go too near), one of Ghandi’s former residences which is now a museum, Mumbai train station, and the home of the richest man in India. The $1 billion skyscraper, otherwise known as Antilia, is 27 storeys high, has 6 floors of parking, 3 helipads, military grade security complete with a tank, and is home to Mr Ambani and his family (though apparently they no longer live there as it faces the wrong way so they only use it for parties).
It was quite sickening then that after seeing this opulence the next stop on our tour was to one of Mumbai’s slums. It is estimated that 55% of Mumbai’s population live in slums: around 6.5 million people. We arrived and watched from a bridge as young children collected plastic bottles from a rubbish heap below. Entering the slum, we walked through narrow alleys dodging streams of unsanitary water, dead rats and trash and peered into businesses on either side including plastic recycling, clothing manufacture and scrap metal collection. With Ramadan now several days in, many of the men were lying down, overwhelmed by the heat and exertion. I can’t really describe the poverty we saw, and I’m fully aware that this slum was probably one of the better ones. Following this we headed to the largest laundry area in India with washing hanging out to dry as far as the eye can see and were told it featured in Slumdog Millionaire. We even spotted the sheets from the sleeper train we’d been on so it was used by businesses as well as families. After witnessing such poverty it all felt completely wrong then that we decided to stop by a McDonalds and grab some nice cold drinks and snacks (my first McDonalds in India).
Returning to our hotel I had a sleep and a shower before heading to Cafe Leopold for dinner where I had a buffalo steak (tasty but tenderised to a pancake). Next we headed to the Gateway of India which was now illuminated and that ended our tour of Mumbai. I had been slightly nervous about visiting Mumbai and was worried that the sheer amount of people and chaos would overwhelm me and trigger my anxiety, but actually it was fine and I enjoyed our brief stay in the city. Next stop… Goa.
See ya later, Sophie x