The journey itself is part of the destination

Embarking on the Siddeshwar Express from Mumbai to Pune

Even a routine task comes with a multitude of surprises in India and taking a train is a journey through Indian culture in itself.

We took the train in sleeper class from Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to the city of Pune, Maharashtra only a 3 hour journey away. The train journey passed through some beautiful and diverse scenery and gave us our first glimpse of dusty but rubbish strewn rural villages through the bars of the open windows.

A lovely, friendly Indian family who were sat opposite us on the train journey practically force fed us their food and sweet coffee and we talked using a combination of broken English, hand gestures and photographs.

The old, blue carriages of the Indian trains trundle along slowly through the dusty countryside but it’s impossible to get bored as every couple of minutes someone comes through the train selling all sorts of food, coffee, chai, books, newspapers, saris, handbags and other tat like jingly key chains,toys, hair accessories, bindis and colouring books. Beggars and singing children worked their way through the train and even a man dressed in a sari came up to us clapping his/her hands together, stroking my head and demanding money which was a bit unnerving.

As the train climbed up high into the hills, it passed through dark tunnels and then delighted us with brief snapshots of amazing views over the valleys. Throughout the dusty countryside were muddled huts and villages, people herding animals and walking through the fields. Swarms of brightly dressed people, buzzing rickshaws and decorated trucks gathered impatiently at each crossing waiting for the train to pass.  I sat back entranced, observing the whole scene as passengers chattered excitedly, drank copious amounts of sweet chai in little paper cups and purchased food and jangly key chains.

Pune is a city of over 3 million people; I was surprised at how different it was despite being only 3 hours journey from Mumbai. The city didn’t have the old colonial charms of Mumbai. It was more modern with new malls, offices and call centres and many, many motorbikes. Most westerners visit Pune for the Osho meditation resort. It is a large commercial ashram where a mandatory HIV test is required for registration! It’s infamous for being established by Bhagwhan Shree Rajneesh otherwise known as the “sex guru” for his advocacy of sex as a path to spiritual enlightenment.

Anyway, my reason for visiting Pune wasn’t for any spiritual sex! I came to visit my friend from university, Hayley, who lives here with her new husband Sam, who I was looking forward to meeting. I was really excited as I hadn’t seen Hayley for a few years and was intrigued to find out more about her life in India.

Hayley and Sam’s Wedding Day

Hayley and Sam met us at the station and we embarked on the first of many crazy, hair-raising motorbike journeys. Dressed only in shorts and t-shirts, with our 80 litre rucksacks on our backs, we zipped around on the back of the motorbikes through the chaotic, noisy traffic. The ride was so hectic that I clung on so tightly that my fingers hurt and I spent most of the time screaming and cursing into poor Hayley’s ear. 

Exploring Pune on the back of a moped was, at first a terrifying experience.

There seemed to be no rules or lanes to the traffic chaos. Cars, motorbikes, rickshaws, lorries and buses would honk loudly behind us and swerve across the road filling every available space until eventually all the traffic became stuck. Then the honking would turn up to a deafening level, the dust and fumes got in your eyes and lungs. The decrepit condition of the antiquated, rust bucket public buses was shocking. They careered around the roads daring everyone to get out of their way. When we were stationary they drew up way to close to us for comfort as they belched out hot, smoggy fumes onto my bare shins.

Being in the middle of this madness on the back of a motorbike without a helmet I felt incredibly exposed. I feared for my life the whole way, especially as I had my huge rucksack on that threatened to tip me off the back of the bike if I leaned back. My legs were still shaking when I finally dismounted.

Hayley’s apartment is in a lovely, gated development full of character and surrounded by trees in Koregan Park. It has large, airy rooms and a sunny, spacious balcony looking over gardens. It felt a relief to get there, escape the chaotic streets and refresh ourselves after the sticky train journey. 

As we relaxed on the balcony with some drinks I watched in disbelief as men without any safety gear climbed up bendy bamboo scaffolding and worked precariously on top of the building. This made for intriguing viewing.

Hayley’s husband Sam did a very good job of answering my multitude of questions on Indian culture and etiquette as I struggled to understand Indian culture. Sam said some really valuable things that would help me to relax, enjoy and understand my Indian experience more. With Sam’s sound words of advice I tried to get some sleep to recharge for another day of new, bamboozling, chaotic Indian experiences to follow. 

4 Comments

  • Paro says:

    lol Pune is a mix of people not only cos of the osho resort but also cos the city has a lot of colleges and IT companies.. enjoyed reading your blog! 🙂

  • Anna says:

    Thanks for your comment. Sorry I didn’t mean to generalise, a lot of westerners work in Pune too, the friend I visited is one of them. I saw a lot of westerners wandering around in those maroon robes, I meant that the Osho resort is probably the most famous tourist attraction in Pune. Thanks for reading.

  • Ruby says:

    I enjoyed reading your blog, it was almost like being there! I live in a largish city but it sounds positively sleepy to what you describe. England is so obedient and ordered in comparison. 🙂
    ..

    • Anna says:

      Thanks for your comment and glad you enjoyed reading. Yes India is pretty mad there are so many people doing so many different things all of the time. It can be crowded and frustrating but full of life and certainly never boring. I hope you can get to experience India for yourself one day.

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