“Incredible India“—so goes the Asian subcontinent’s slogan, and it’s certainly well-chosen from the perspective of a tourist. Even when initially passing through customs, already we were saying it. “That’s incredible India!“ Our vacation rendered us speechless many times, but still we would whisper: “India, incredible India.“
Occasionally we said it when experiencing the many forms of transportation throughout the nation. Upon arriving in Mumbai, our taxi driver stowed our luggage on the car roof, without bothering to tie it down. How would that work? We trusted him, still deathly afraid of losing our bags as the car honked and raced its way down potholed roads.
On that drive, we spotted the rickshaws out the window and quickly resolved to try one as soon as possible.
We did, and it wasn’t all we expected. Wind in our hair and dust in our lungs, we had to promise our 3- and 5-year-old daughters to go by train next time. We had some trouble explaining to such young children that trains in India are entirely different from trains in Europe—no AC, no private doors, no restaurants complete with complimentary food.
The trip to the station itself was already an adventure. As we tried to wait through the traffic, vendors relentlessly tried to sell us fruits, cigarettes, fabrics and whatever else they had in stock. We were something of a novelty due to our skin color, as Vile Parle, a Mumbai suburb, doesn’t see many tourists and thus doesn’t have translated signs. After waiting patiently through a near-endless line, we paid less than 2€ for four adults and two kids for the trip to the Mumbai city center.
We were lucky to find a friendly man who gave us directions to the correct platform, since the schedule seemed to be changing every minute or more. We rejoiced when the train finally arrived. We hopped on, undettered by the open doors and barred windows, and continued our surprisingly complex journey. We sat in a wagon surrounded by pleasant Indian women. We chatted amongst ourselves, ignoring the other people who all seemed to be talking about us, figuring it was because we were the only tourists in the whole station. I’m still not sure why tourists seem to avoid the train. Let me know in the comments if you can!
Eventually, one brave woman told us what the hubbub was really about. “Sorry,“ she said, “as you’re not from India you might not know, but this is the women’s wagon!“
The fifty-some women had quite a laugh at the expense of my husband and grandfather, but they apologized and promised to get off at the next stop. They did so and stepped into the next wagon back, but the women laughed once more. What was wrong this time? This was the wagon for the disabled, they informed me, where those without disability would quickly get a heavy fine.
So again we said it, “Incredible India!“