Today is finally the day that I will travel to Monish’s childhood home and spend time in the place where he grew up. But first, we’ve got to take a 5-hour train ride from Mumbai, Maharashtra, India to Vadodara, Gujarat, India. I consider this my very first train ride ever as the 45-minute train ride from New Jersey into New York City wasn’t a “true” train experience in my opinion. ?
We all woke up fairly early as we were exhausted from exploring Mumbai the day before, causing us to go to sleep pretty early. Once all four of us (myself, Monish, Tanvi and her husband, Jigar) were awake, we decided to head out to grab brunch together. Tanvi suggested we go to JamJar Diner, a well-known diner in Mumbai. Upon arriving, I immediately opened the menu and found Eggs Benedict, one of my favorite pre-vegetarian-lifestyle breakfast dishes, which was offered vegetarian-style. I was beyond excited to make this discovery! They used cream spinach in place of ham, which was absolutely delicious! **I later found out that a lot of places are now offering a similar menu item, called Eggs Florentine.
The remainder of the morning was spent packing up our suitcases along with saying “goodbye” to Auntie, Tanvi’s maid, as I won’t be returning to Mumbai this time around. Once we’d completed packing and said temporary “goodbyes” to Tanvi and Jigar (who will meet us in Vadodara later this week), we grabbed an Uber and made our way towards the train station.
Upon arriving at Mumbai Bandra Terminus Station, we were immediately bombarded with guys who wanted to transport our luggage across the station for us…for a fee, of course. This is very common in India because train stations are large and due to this, you often have to walk a very far distance from the entrance to your train’s platform with your luggage. Additionally, the high poverty rates in India compared to the U.S. have created a culture where you can almost always pay someone to do anything you need at a very cheap rate (which is also why middle-class families can afford maids and usually have at least one maid, if not more). While this is standard in India, I was definitely not used to it so it made me a little nervous. I let Moni do all of the talking and negotiating, of course, and he picked a few guys to carry our bags allllllllll the way to our train’s platform, which felt like miles away while walking towards it. Moni was actually a bit irritated with the guys as they charged him a higher fee than he was used to, which occurred because they saw that I was with him. When negotiating fees in India, if they spot a white person in your group, they automatically charge you more as they know that white person is either from the U.S., Europe, Australia, etc. and they assume you have plenty of extra money to spend. This is the literal price Moni paid bringing his American girlfriend home with him. ?
Before hopping on the train, Moni went to grab us some food because he informed me that “they won’t have a good selection of food offered on the train“. I quickly learned that you will not receive service on a train like you would on an airplane. Once our train arrived, we boarded and I got my first taste of what second class tickets on a train ride were all about. We made our way to our seats where we found two bunk beds that we had all to ourselves, with two additional bunk beds facing ours that were reserved for other passengers. A small table was in the middle along with electrical outlets, one fan, a mirror and a small table that could be stowed away when not in use. We placed our luggage on the top bunk for safe keeping and to ensure that it was out of the way – which was important since we had four suitcases total between the two of us.
I found this train ride to be fascinating! I saw so much of the Indian countryside that I otherwise wouldn’t have seen. Additionally, I got a really good glimpse as to what life is like for those who live in the small villages (the train ran alongside a good number of villages, which I hadn’t anticipated but was happy to be witness to!). At times, it felt like I was riding in a time machine, heading into a past decade that occurred long before cell phones existed. These villagers were working in fields with zero modern-day machinery, they were walking barefoot along dirt paths with their cows, and they were living in homes that would be considered “shacks” in the U.S., but this is ordinary life for them, which is vastly different from mine.
The family in the bunk across from us had the most adorable little girl! She was 3 years old, if I remember correctly, and I was able to practice my Hindi with her as my speaking level would’ve been considered “child-level Hindi” at the time. ?? This was so fun and helpful for me!
Another interesting encounter I experienced on the train was going pee… This might be TMI (Too Much Information), but using the restroom on a moving train was an adventure in itself! The area where the toilets were located rocked side-to-side pretty hard as it was also the spot where two train cars meet. Luckily for me, these toilets were the “hole-in-the-ground” version that I prefer (which I previously wrote about in India Trip: Day 3 – Exploring New Delhi). Although, squatting while the train rocked side-to-side was definitely a challenge! But hey, this made the long ride less boring and added some spice to this story, am I right?!
When the train began to approach our station in Vadodara, Moni told me that we should go wait near the doors to ensure an easy exit. Also, this gave me the opportunity to hang my head outside of the moving train! Something that I’d previously only seen in movies or on TV, which is most likely banned in other countries, though not in India. ? Let me tell you, this was FUN!
The train eventually stopped and when we hopped out, we were once again immediately bombarded by dudes asking to carry our luggage…for a price. Dad quickly spotted us and, thankfully, had already negotiated a deal with a few guys to carry our luggage for us. Unfortunately for them, they completed this negotiation before they saw me, meaning they lost out on the “American upcharge”. For us, this was definitely a win!
After making it to the entrance to the station, Moni and I stayed back with the luggage while Dad went to bring the car around. We loaded up the car then began to drive towards the next wonderland on the list – Moni’s childhood home! But first, we witnessed a local street fight where a woman was beating up what appeared to be her husband while screaming in Gujarati (the regional language and Moni’s mother-tongue) and crying. She was pointing at some other woman who was there, which helped me draw the conclusion that she possibly caught her husband having an affair. Tons (and I mean tons) of people had gathered to watch, which I quickly learned is typical when dramatic things such as this occur, especially when in a public place.
We continued driving towards what I would soon begin to call mera doosara ghar (my second home) and all along the way, Moni and Dad began pointing out all sorts of things to me – places they like to eat at, Dominoes Pizza, friend’s houses and societies (their term for neighborhoods), etc. It was a lot to take in, but I enjoyed every second of it! When we finally arrived at home, we were excitedly greeted by Mom. Moni gave me a tour of the house which included his childhood bedroom, immediately calling it “our room” as this is where we would sleep for the remainder of this trip.
As the day began to come to an end, we settled down and ate a homemade meal prepared by Mom then spent the rest of the evening resting. We’d had a long day (a long week for that matter!) and had many more exciting events to come. Even though it was only my first night in this house, I already felt right at home. ?
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If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the previous days of my first magical adventure to Incredible India!