Strangers on a train

The Mumbai local trains are notorious for overcrowding. People routinely hang off the side of the cars and occasionally on the roofs. Every few weeks, the Times publishes a story about an injury or death on a train, usually when someone falls out of an open train car onto the tracks.

So, I was a little nervous this morning about taking the train for the first time. Expats don’t often take trains. We usually motor around Mumbai in private cars. But, today was different; today was the 10th Annual Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon. The literature that came with my race bib included this advice:

It’s our sincere advise that you do not travel to Azad Maidan using your own vehicle. There is no parking available within the vicinity of Azad Maidan.

They were not kidding about that advice. The train really was the best, most efficient way to get to the event. I and four other friends arrived at Vikhroli station at 6:30 am. We bought first-class tickets to CST (formerly VT), the main terminal in Mumbai, where we were meeting the rest of our team. As we wound our way to platform, I was surprised at how uncrowded it was. Sure, it was 6:30 on a Sunday morning, but this is Mumbai, the city that sleeps even less than New York. After we confirmed we were on the right platform, we had to wait only a few minutes for the train to arrive. Because we had a male accompanying us, we could not board the women’s car. So, we boarded the main first-class cabin.

A women's carriage inside CST.

A women’s carriage inside CST

I have been on trains in many places. When I lived in Chicago, I rode the local El from Hyde Park to Michigan Avenue often. I am no stranger to trains, but these trains are unlike others I have experienced. The doors do not close; the fans overhead do not work. The compartment was clean enough, but was certainly not what we would call first class in the US. Along the way, another couple heading to the marathon boarded the train, and we chatted briefly. It was a fun ride.

My friends on our ride to CST. The car was almost empty.

My friends on our ride to CST. The car was almost empty.

We arrived at CST by 7:30 am, well ahead of our 7:45 meeting time. At that time, on a Sunday, we could have taken the car and reached CST just as quickly, but the marathon would have made reaching that location impossible.

Like the airport that shares its name, CST is a very busy place at 7:30 am. Many race teams met at the terminal. People were milling about with matching shirts and race bibs. Vendors were transporting their goods atop their heads.

CST at 7:30 am is a very busy place.

CST at 7:30 am is a very busy place.

At 8 am, we headed out to the Azad Maidan, where the participants gathered for the race.

But, more about that later…

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