Back to Bombay

Indian trains are cheap and a great way to met local people while gazing out at the surrounding countryside but they are also painfully slow, dirty, crowded and uncomfortable.

The train  to Bombay trundled slowly across the Rajasthani desert through the night and as I awoke the scenery outside had changed significantly. I could sense that we were out of the North Indian desert, the heat became more humid and enveloping, the scenery was lush, green and tropical.

Aware that it was the last few hours I would spend aboard the Indian railways that I both loved and loathed, I gazed out of the window trying to take it all in before it was too late. Still, after nearly 2 months, desperately trying to understand the crazy, magical, confusing, exasperating country of India.  

“Will this train journey ever end!?”

I took in all the sights and smells of the train as hawkers pass through selling food that I still can’t identify and the crys of “chai, chai, chai.”

I tried to commit to memory the high bridges that the train crossed over partially dried up rivers, the palm trees and fields, the small villages of mud huts and the bigger settlements of muddled buildings with swarms of brightly dressed people, buzzing rickshaws and decorated trucks that gather impatiently at each crossing as the train passes. 

As I looked at the dusty, desert villages of Rajasthan give way to the palm trees and more lush foliage of Maharashtra I wondered how I would feel about Mumbai (formerly called Bombay) as we returned to the city that had overwhelmed me so much at the start of our Indian adventures

The grand, colonial architecture of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Station)

About an hour before we pulled into Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai the buildings started to get denser and the complex contradiction of the new skyscrapers and posh offices towering over the slums of makeshift houses made of sticks, corrugated iron and blue tarpaulin sheets starts. 

As we got closer shacks edged ever nearer to the railway tracks, brightly coloured clothes were laid out to dry between the tracks as people walked along them, living out their lives in shacks in the shadow of the railway as fancy new apartments towered over them.

Mumbai is home to more than 2000 slums, this is part of the largest Dharavi where over 1 million live

At first India, and Mumbai, had been overwhelming, but by now I had seen enough poverty in India to break my heart a thousand times although I had also seen enough spirit and colour to fall in love with this confusing yet mesmerising place.

 Despite the poverty we had seen throughout India it was still shocking and unsettling to see, again, the extreme contrasts of rich and poor in Bombay. The unfairness of how so many people have so little while a few have so much in India is disconcerting and, despite new developments showing progress and giving hope, these contrasts still upset me once again. 

On Chaupati Beach people live in shacks or old boats and shift through rubbish trying to make a living in the shadow of Mumbai’s new rich elite

India is a country so rich in culture and colour that never fails to captivate and I am in awe of the Indian people’s ingenuity, spirit and resilience, who’s faces still show so much joy, hope and love despite the considerable hardship they face.

On this return trip I also grew to love the city of Mumbai because amongst the slums, the grand colonial architecture, the new high rises, along the congested roads and overcrowded railways is a city bursting, not just with people, but with the exciting mixture of energy, drive, ambition and aspiration of modern India.

Millions of people come from the countryside to Mumbai’s slums looking for a better life. There hope and ambition despite the poverty they face is truly inspiring. For more about Dharavi see Slumdog Entrepreneur

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