I spent the morning of the 28th looking up some travel details of my upcoming trip to Mumbai. My buddy Josh was scheduled to arrive on the morning of the 31st to Mumbai, and I was stoked on meeting him there. My seat on the Gitanjali Express was scheduled to roll into to at nearly 10pm in Mumbai on the 29th. Using Wikitravel.org and a bunch of other online resources, I found phone numbers to guest houses in Mumbai. Most were full and and accepted no reservations. Mumbai is a city of over 20 million. With a nighttime arrival, no maps or guidebooks, no hotel reservation, I planned on sleeping in the train station rather than braving the night time streets. The train station often has a "retiring room" which you can rent per hour. 
My journey began by traversing the blazing mid day asphalt and chaos of the Esplanade district in Kolkata looking for a bus ride to the train station in Howrah across the Hoogly river. I found an over packed bus and jumped on while the conductor graciously slowed down to 3 or 4 miles per hour for me to jump on. Welcome to India! 
Although it is a mere 4km as the crow flies from Esplanade to Howrah, the ride took a sweaty 30 minutes. To prepare for the 32 hour ride to Mumbai CentralI I packed my things carefully. Important things: camera, passport, computer, etc. in my backpack. In my left hand I had my books, clothes, and snacks packed into a used rice sack I bought the day before for five Rupees. In my right hand I had a fat jug of five liters of purified (I hope) water (10lbs). With this awkward setup, I got off the bus and began plowing my way through the crowds of thousands of travelers at Howrah station. 
I had a nice vegetarian Thali for lunch a a restaurant (Air Conditioned) on second floor of railway station. From the same establishment I bought a rice meal to go (dinner) and some deluxe chocolate cake treats (mental stimulus). 
After my lunch I began searching for the platform, which after asking the female security guards, I found out was 15 platforms away. Both of my arms are carrying what feels like dumbbells and I realize all of a sudden how little excersize my arms have gotten in a long, long time. The air temperature was nearly 40C (100F) and I'm walking again in the sun, pumping out my deltoids and biceps with the train-rallying-kit. This is India! 
I find the platform and there are thousands of people waiting to get on the train. I find my carriage and find my seat. There are two bearded Muslims sitting in the seat next to me. By the time I sit down on the train, (130PM) I'm sweating bullets and I begin pounding my now warm water. Vendors swaggering under the loads of heavy steel buckets with sodas and ice chunks the size of grapefruits pass up and down the aisle of the train touting "pani (water), ice cold drinks, pani, ice cold drinks!" I resisted the purchase, I had enough water to hold me off, albeit warm. 
I start reading some travel stories in my book and for most of the afternoon I keep to myself. Before the sun sets I give way to my fellow travelers who need the extra space on the bench to make their thanks to Allah. The last ride I took from Delhi to Kolkata I also shared the berth with Muslims, so when I sat down and saw the long gray beards, I expected to give way during the evening call to prayer. 
After the sunset I began getting ready to climb up to my upper berth and pass out when loud noises of rocks hitting the carriage caught my attention. Was it coming from below (uneven ground on the tracks?), or from people throwing rocks at the moving train? Either way, people made a rush to close all the windows, luckily, no one was injured in my carriage. A few moments later we passed through an epic cloud of dust followed by an even more respiratory challenging cloud of what smelled like burning tires. 
Since I was sweating most of the afternoon the dust and smoke stuck to my skin in a disgusting film that made my sleep restless. I didn't help that I have started developing my standard "what the hell is that" rash that I get often in the tropics on my arms and legs. 
I eventually passed out with sweat dripping down my chin. My important bag under my head, and my not so important rice sack of goodies under my feet. Water bottle port side. I got up in the middle of the night and left a piss in the bathroom (taking it with me didn't seem like a good idea anymore) which splashed directly on the railroad ties below. The rest of the night I slept relatively well. There were many interjections into my sleep cycle from loud passengers on mobile phones and late night card game shenanigans. 
In the morning I climbed down my ladder to find my shoes were missing. I looked around, but saw nothing. As I was likely dehydrated and low on blood sugar, I began to get very angry. I imagined arriving in Mumbai at night, stepping on some broken glass then into piles of human shit (that are everywhere on the sub-continent), getting Tetanus, etc. One thing is certain, you do not want to be walking around barefoot in India, even though millions of people do. 
I had my shoes stolen once before outside a guesthouse in Malaysia in 2008. As per Muslim custom, shoes are to be left outside of the buildings. I had left my shoes out front and when I returned they were gone. 
In my head the early morning mix of thoughts were swirling around: "Tetanus would really suck...is my vaccine current?" "Ice cold water would be nice right now...as would a shower." "Man that was a bummer when I lost those red Vasques in Malaysia." Right at that moment, one of my fellow berth mates came walking back in wearing my shoes. He had borrowed them to visit the water fountain as the train was stopped at a platform. I laughed, and said out loud..."no problem" the standard Indian mantra. 
After the near-miss with my shoes, the omelet vendor came around. I'll take one please, thank you. Smearing my fast-food like package of ketchup all over the omelet between two slices of white bread, it is the best train breakfast for 30INR, about 60cents. 
During small talk over some shared chai (tea) I find out the family across from me are Muslims from Bangladesh. The young man is taking his mother and father to a hospital in Mumbai where the medical facility is better than in their home town of Dhaka. The man next to me is a international jewels salesmen from Sri Lanka. I enjoy talking to them and sharing my snacks with them along the ride. 
Before I left Kolkata I looked to see that one of the stops the train made was in a town called Nasik where I had visited back in 2010, about 5 hours before Mumbai. I remember that the hotel I stayed in was one of the nicest I stayed in India during my first visit in 2010. 
As the afternoon progressed, we approached Nasik and the temperatures began to soar. Out the window were vast fields of grapes. I had ridden this section of track before, and I remembered that it had reminded me of the vineyards near my home in central New York. I began thinking that a clean bed and shower and friendly people (Nasik) sounded a lot better than dealing with touts, transport and hotel owners in Mumbai at midnight. 
Just before the sunset I got off the train in Nasik and plowed through the hundreds of rickshaw drivers and walked for about 10 minutes. First I got on the wrong bus to get to town, but a helpful man and bus conductor helped me find the correct bus. On the bus I talked to a young engineering student who said he was going to try to do his MBA in Oxford...that's ambition bro! I got off the bus and rolled into the lobby of the Abhishek Hotel. The man at the desk remembered me and I felt a huge relief. I took a nice shower, washed a huge amount of dust out of my pants and shirt I wore on the train. The water in bucket I was washing turned a sickening black. A spotless bathroom, clean towel and sheets, a jet-airplane sounding ceiling fan is a good recipe for a good nights rest. 
After the washing, I hit the familiar streets and ate some Pav Baji, a bread and saucy dish that I had eaten per the recommendation of the hotel staff in 2010. Pav Baji is a local specialty and obsession. Oddly, after the past day's events, I felt at home in Nasik. 
Was getting off in Nasik a bit of a cop-out? Probably, but it felt good. I knew forfeiting my passage from Nasik to Mumbai would cost me time and energy later on: re booking of tickets, bus ride back to the train station, etc. However, Megalopolises like Mumbai don't have the most stellar night time safety record and after a long journey one's awareness is often spotty at best. 
In Maharashtra state, the scene, food, language and people all seem different to me after coming from Bengal. The beauty of rail travel in India is you can wake up in an different part of the country. Every night if you really wanted to :) For me, I had traveled 1800km in 27 hours. That was enough for one week. 

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