Mumbai Outside In: Train Spotting And People Watching On The Western Line Local

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Hanging from the door in the Mumbai local Photo by Ellen
Nice and cosy in the womens' compartment, Photo by Ellen
Nice and cosy in the womens’ compartment, Photo by Ellen

It took a while after arriving in Mumbai to persuade our hosts to let us on the Mumbai local train. Many friends that were a little older said they gave that up long ago… why would we want to be squashed to within an inch of our life, our little toes barely touching the floor, our lungs clinging onto their last breath of air. Why would you want to be sweating, staring into the armpit of a man you don’t know, whilst half the carriage are eyeing up the white women in the general compartment, and a seller is thrusting some earrings in your face.  My answer to all this is why wouldn’t you. I can sit in an AC car anywhere in the world. But I can only travel on Mumbai’s local trains in Mumbai!

Despite our hosts initial lack of enthusiasm, it wasn’t too long before we were on a local train, and at rush hour. I had come prepared with sensible shoes (nothing that could slip off) and an even more sensible bag – tough leather (so no one can cut a knife through it) and small so I could cling it to me and never let go. I absolutely loved every minute of it.

Mumbai local station Photo by Ellen
Mumbai local station Photo by Ellen

The stations themselves are such a hub of activity inside and out. Getting on and off the trains are an experience in themselves, not dissimilar to a British rugby scrum. Inside the train it’s a mixing pot of Mumbai life; the teens on their way to college, businessmen on their way to work, young families, old fish sellers, the modern and the traditional Indian all squished in together.

And then there is the view out of the window; no I can’t promise any beautiful mountain ranges, or stunning architecture, but it feels like you have cut through the middle of Mumbai with a knife – and you get to see her from the inside. The amount you see and experience on a local train is really a visitors Mumbai experience not to be missed.

Hanging from the door in the Mumbai local Photo by Ellen
Hanging from the door in the Mumbai local Photo by Ellen

It is for this reason that whenever we have visitors we get them on the local trains as soon as possible. And they love it too, even my 71 year old dad was swinging out of the doors with the young lads (much to the distress of the lady sitting next to me who tried to persuade him to sit down and behave himself).

How does this compare to trains in my chilly, home city of Sheffield, England. Well firstly we don’t have local trains like here, but we do have trams. These trams have doors that close, and closed windows (you wouldn’t what the windows open – you’d freeze), they also have soft padded seats.

Like Mumbai local trains they are not unaccustomed to a woman on woman fight because one woman shoved the other or leaned on them the wrong way – that is a phenomenon the world over. They are more comfortable, but a lot more expensive –  the cheapest single ticket costs you £1.50, which is approx. 130 Rs. Probably a lot quieter – but to me that means much more boring too!

Lots of leg room on a British tram Photo by trams.co.uk
Lots of leg room on a British tram Photo by trams.co.uk

I’ve had a fair share of interesting encounters whilst at the station or on the train. I’ve seen a man lay flat asleep under a train seat with only his head poking out, I’ve seen a full on fight in the ladies carriage, I’ve dared get on a Virar train at rush hour and get down at Borivali, I’ve seen a man take off his shoe and use it to slap another man around the face, I’ve seen a group of monkeys on leashes and I’ve probably not seen the half of it.

The trains in Mumbai are something the locals should be very proud of. Getting millions of people around and just for Rs. 10 for a trip is a great feat. Next time you have visitors the first stop should be your local station! And next time you are on the western line (or central or harbour for that matter) put your mobile phone down, do some people watching and enjoy the view.

Post By Guest Writer, Ellen Lee (5 Posts)

A student in India, an outsider looking in on Mumbai. Can be found exploring the city and observing its inhabitants. Loves shopping, dancing and tea.

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Guest Writer, Ellen Lee

Guest Writer, Ellen Lee
A student in India, an outsider looking in on Mumbai. Can be found exploring the city and observing its inhabitants. Loves shopping, dancing and tea.