We bought second-class train tickets (for our thiefhunting) and rode the most crowded Mumbai trains ever. No—you can’t imagine how crowded. Speeding into the stations, people jump off before the trains even slow down. But more amazingly, they leap on, right through the mobs waiting at the doors, before the trains stop.
I panicked the first time I experienced this, standing among the masses at the open door ready to get off. Like salmon swimming upstream, men lept on—like iron filings attracted to a magnet, against gravity. And once the train stopped, it was too late. Everyone else had hopped off and I was buffeted and spun in the doorway by men desperate to board. Only uncharacteristic aggression got me off before the train pulled out again.
Mumbai trains are mind-blowing
The behavior of Mumbai train commuters is a consequence of the efficient trains which stop very briefly at the stations; huge, huge mobs pack the platforms, and the men hope to get a seat for their long commutes. The benches in second class hold three men each, but four squeeze onto each. They alternate leaning back. Two more commuters stand between facing benches among the many knees. Everyone seems to permit and accept the squeezing. There is no “personal space.”
I’ve spoken only of men because most women and children ride in the ladies’ cars. In fact, I didn’t see a single other woman in the many second-class cars I rode all week. I was told though that the women are also aggressive about boarding during peak commute times. They can’t match the men, I’m sure.
Dadar Station is one of Mumbai’s busiest, but as it’s totally off the tourist track, you will likely never experience the huge madhouse that it is. Crossing over the rickety pedestrian “flyway” over the tracks and platform, we happened to see the awful scrum of getting-on-versus-getting-off from directly above. We were awestruck, and stayed to film the next train. Have a look:
We meandered through the enormous flower market in the streets and underpasses around Dadar Station. It was evening commute time when we were ready to go back to our hotel in Colaba. Bob and I stood on the platform in the middle of the pushing-fighting-desperate-madness. Bob filmed the scene while being knocked around like a punching bag. In the relative calm between two Mumbai trains a man next to us found the shoes he’d been pushed out of. “I can’t do this,” I said as we let a couple more trains come and go. Bob said “come on,” and grabbed my hand. Then we were in the middle, trying to board through a flood of debarking passengers, then pushed from behind with nowhere to go in front and the train about to move whether people were on, half on, hanging on, or whatever.
Obviously, we made it.