The fully booked train rolled into Mumbai Central Train Station at four o'clock in the morning but even with nearly all its passengers on-board, it was eerily quiet inside. As the train slowed to a halt, the passengers, only half awake or still sleeping, slowly moved about like zombies, speaking in a mumbled tone and quietly shuffling through the narrow, dimly lit isles collecting their luggage.
I was lucky to be on this train. Sixteen hours earlier, I learned that the last bus to Karwar, the town where the train to Mumbai departed from, had left Gokarna earlier that morning.
After asking a random travel agent, I discovered that my only option was to take a forty-five minute bus ride to Ankola (a bigger town further north) and from there catch a bus to Karwar.
When I arrived in Ankola, I had just under an hour and a half left before the train departed from Karwar. Approaching a random bus driver, I asked which bus was going to Karwar. He looked around and said that none of them were -- I had to wait until one arrived.
After waiting for what felt like an eternity, a bus finally arrived and the ticket attendant confirmed it was going to Karwar. When I inquired how long it will take to get there, he said in a very unsure tone, "Uh, one hour".
Just under one hour goes by and we arrive in Karwar. I look at the time: the train leaves in twenty minutes. I have no idea where the train station is, how far away it is, or if it's even possible to walk to it. I ask a rickshaw driver and he tells me it's 8km away and it will take fifteen minutes to get there. The cost: 90 Rupees. I have no time to bargain, so I jump in and tell him lets go.
We arrive in exactly fifteen minutes and I board the Karwar-Mumbai Express Train with just under five minutes to spare.
This was my first overnight sleeper-class train in India and my first experience sleeping on a train in general. I was glad to have been assigned the upper berth because that meant I didn't have to wait for the other passengers to sleep. There are three berths: lower, middle, and upper. When the lower berth is being used as a three-passenger seat, the middle berth is folded up. The upper berth always remains folded down and available to sleep on.
It was a twelve hour journey to Mumbai. Between the constant vibration, the blaring horns of passing trains that seemed to be going a little faster than they should be, and an already upset stomach from a three-day-old case of travelers diarrhea, I only managed to get about two hours of sleep (a Ciprofloxacin pill has since cured the upset stomach).
I stepped off the train in Mumbai with no hotel reservation and nothing more than a few hotel names in my head -- names that I was struggling to remember due to the lack of sleep. I was literally making up the plan as I went, which probably wasn't a great idea with so little functioning brain capacity.
However, walking around the second most populated city in the world at 4AM looking for a hotel didn't seem like such a great idea, so I decided to hang out in the train station for an hour and pretend that I was waiting for another train. I remembered reading that the taxis charged an extra 25% between midnight and 5AM and I also figured that waiting a little while would ensure that there was a receptionist at whatever hotel I ended up going to.
About an hour later, I decide that I'm going to fall asleep if I stay in one place any longer, so I make my way to the exit. Despite my best efforts at looking like I'm not interested, several several taxi drivers immediately approach me. Even though I know I'm going to take one, I tell them "I'm walking" and pretend I'm using my cell phone.
An older gentleman follows me out. I ask him, "How much to the New Bengal Hotel?", hoping that's actually one of the names I memorized and that my memory hasn't entirely faded. He tells me 90 Rupees. I knew the hotel was close and that 90 Rupees was excessively high, but I didn't much care at that point.
Five minutes later I check into the hotel after paying a lot more for a room than my budget allowed. But the room was clean. The sheets were clean. I was tired. And I knew the hotel was within walking distance to the places I wanted to visit during my three days in Mumbai (or Bombay, as it is formerly called).
Wow. I was in Bombay. In India. Both places that a few months ago were nothing more than an area on Google Maps, a section of my computer screen to explore with my mouse and wonder what it would be like to actually be there. A place so far away and so foreign, full of sights and sounds and smells that I could not even begin to imagine. It felt equally as unreal as it seemed.
In a few days, I will be in New Delhi, another place on Google Maps that has yet to become real. And when it does become real, my perception will expand. My reality will grow. Earth will become a little less unfamiliar. The world will feel a little bit bigger. The places and the people will seem a little less foreign.
The more I travel the more reality itself seems to expand, like I'm painting darkness with a flashlight, opening up new possibility and new perspectives. With each passing day, the abundance that is life continuously seems richer and more diverse than I had previously imagined possible.