It’s a big day in India, the start of Ganesh Chaturthi, a 10 day Hindu festival. Originally I was going to avoid Mumbai, but when I read about this festival and how huge it is in Mumbai I decided to go there. Everyone warns me it is crazy.
Did I already mention this in a post? Forgive me if I am repeating but I am not going back to check.
Last night was a bit of a build up as they moved shrouded statues of Ganesh onto makeshift platforms. There are loads of these set up, various sizes and level of decoration. Each one is blocking a laneway, so traffic is a little more chaotic if that is possible.
I had decided to head south today and though I might have picked the wrong night to be on a train, night one of GS. But no fear of missing out. Read on.
Booking a train ticket was much easier than booking on the bus. Same app, but this time it connects with India rail and they don’t mind foreign cards.
The only problem was that the train was apparently full and I am on a wait list with 4 other people. I figure that getting to the station very early to sort it out is wise. I know you are thinking “there is going to be a story here” and there is, but there is a happy ending. Well, there goes the chance for some cliff hangers.
I get to Bangalore Cantonment Station and am told that to get myself from wait list to confirmed I need to go to Bangalore City Station (BNC). This is a good train ride test run and despite the ticket only being Rs30 (70c) I could have gotten away without one 🙂 But I will leave it to Americans to be the ugly tourists…speaking of which, where are all the foreigners? I seem to be the only one here.
BNC I line up again and am told to go to DRM ground floor, commercial office for Emergency Quota because there is no Foreign Tourist Quota. Likely because there seem to be no other foreign tourists. I am waved off in a general direction.
Walking generally in that direction, people I ask either waggle their head which I think meant “I don’t want to admit I don’t know” or they continue to wave in a general direction.
In that general direction after some back and forth-ing I eventually spot a sign pointing to District Rail Manager – get it? Up to the front door and although the building is open, all the offices are shut up. I am hoping GS isn’t a holiday.
I should add there are no signs in the building indicating what office is where. A few people, including a police officer with a big rifle, point out different places, none of which are right. I wander around outside and a man walking towards the building knows! In fact he seems to be the Emergency Quota man! It turns out I have to fill out a form, but there are none so a hand written copy is fine.
Instructions are to drop it into a box where I was certain it would languish for days. The dice are cast, time to go with the flow. I drop my back pack in the cloak room and start following my nose.
The whole time I am working on Plan B. Can I get a bus to Kollam? No. How much for a bed for the night? Not much. Since I have spoilered this yarn, you know I didn’t need them.
Street wandering is great fun. Food, stalls, people, things. I am drawn to the sound of some drumming and the day suddenly becomes awesome! In a crowded temple something is going on, not sure what but worth investigating.
This kid was excited and going off. The drumming was loud, people inside the temple we doing puja, the atmosphere was pretty electric.
Then there was some shouting and Ganesh is hoisted into the air and taken out to the street. On the way coconuts are smashed on the ground, laps are done of a central structure, drummers are drumming.
Despite being right in amongst it I didn’t feel like I was I intruding or in the way, people were smiling, it was a joyous occasion. Ganesh went in the back of a truck and was driven off, drums still going, drummers hanging out the back. It was a rare treat to see.
One thing Indian Rail does well is manage bookings. You are given a PNR number – I have no idea what it stands for – and it is the key to your booking. You can even SMS the PNR to 138 and it will respond with your ticket status. 1300hrs and I am still wait listed for a 1715hrs train.
Back to DRM and in a room the size of our bathroom are three guys, the first thing I noticed was the monochrome computer screen. I don’t think I have seen one since last century.
I give them my PNR and am ready to ask if there is a “fee” when he tells me it is all good. I am in car A1, seat 25. And no fee!
And now I am somewhere heading South. I am getting more confident, just need perseverance. Oh, and despite the wait list, the train had plenty of empty beds :o)
I haven’t stopped laughing all day:
- Went to buy a bottle of water, thought the guy said Rs50, had a money malfunction (stand by) and when I sorted it I discovered it was actually Rs15, between my dodgy hearing and his accent..
- When I went to buy Rs50 water all my money apart from about Rs150 was missing from my wallet. About Rs3,000, I hoped someone deserving found it when I dropped it. Went to the ATM got more, was putting the bulk of it in my money belt and found the money I forgot I had put in my money belt.
- I am heading to Kollam to catch a ferry through the Kerala Backwaters to Kochi (Cochin), my fellow compartment sharer was puzzled and it took me a while to figure out that the train goes through Kochi on the way to Kollam. [UPDATE FROM KOLLAM] there is no ferry from Kollam to Kochi – thanks Lonely Planet.
Just another day in India