I’m in Goa for Christmas and New Year with my sister Katharine. We’re spending time on the beach and doing some yoga.
For the first five days, we’ve been in southern Goa in Patnem. I’ve been to a few yoga classes and hung out with some friends from home.
Today we left for North Goa, Mandrem to be precise. Both Katharine and I know that train journeys are always an experience and it felt time to get in touch with the real India – away from the British families and the music of Amy Winehouse and Bob Marley that we’d been hearing incessantly. The day proved to be a true Indian journey in every sense.
The plan was to get a taxi for an hour to Madgaon station – the main train station in Goa – and then get a train north to Pernem. From there, it was a short hop and a skip to Mandrem.
We were told that there was a train from Madgaon at 2:40pm. This was backed up by the internet.
We arrived at Madgaon station and got in the queue for tickets. Almost instantly I had to tell a bloke to get behind us as he tried to queue jump. For the next 30 minutes he pressed his body up against my rucksack on my back and complained that we were leaving too much of a gap in front of us. Indian men have no sense of personal space.
(Ticket office. It looks quite calm in a photo. It wasn’t.)
(Katharine on the platform)
A young girl was ahead of us in the queue. She had a beaming smile and big brown eyes. She asked us where we were from and made polite conversation in impeccable Indian English.
Men queue jumped ahead of us. Sweat trickled down my legs and arms. People shouted and gesticulated. And then we were at the counter. Katharine got jostled out of the way and suddenly all these hands holding filthy dog-eared rupee notes forcefully pushed their way under my arms, over my shoulders and through the tiny hole in the grubby perspex to the cashier.
Whoever was the loudest appeared to get served next. “Two for Pernem” I said in my biggest voice. By the fourth time I’d said it, I had her attention.
“Madam, train is at 6pm.”
“There’s a train at 2:40!”
“No madam, 6pm. Come back later.”
And with that, I was consumed by the crowd and found myself cast aside. Buggery bugger. We double checked at the information counter (more jostling). 6pm it was. The young girl found us and stood nearby while we discussed our options.
(Madgaon station ‘rogues gallery’. I’d like to start a campaign to get one of these at Harpenden station.)
Cheated of our train journey, we found ourselves in the queue for the prepaid taxis. The board said that the fare was the equivalent of £15. Our train tickets would have been 30p each. We grumbled.
Again we were at a counter.
“We want to go to Madrem.”
“But the board says 1500 rupees.”
“Diversion for a festival. It will take longer. The price is 1750 rupees.”
We said we wanted to pay the board price. They stood their ground. We stood our ground. The locals joined in. Why do they always do that?
We begrudgingly accepted and got shown to our taxi. We questioned our poor elderly taxi driver. I’ve never seen such pronounced cheek bones in my life. I don’t think he was in possession of his teeth. He didn’t know of any diversion. Everything seemed to confuse him.
The faff continued. We gave in and off we drove.
There is always a part of me that mistrusts these exchanges. Are they trying to get the better of us naive foreigners? You hear of so many scams that it makes you sceptical.
I remember turning up jetlagged at chaotic Delhi station about ten years ago with my dad to be told by an ‘official’ that our train was cancelled and we needed to give him our tickets. He was lying and we knew it.
Travelling around India on public transport is tiring and often doesn’t go according to plan but it’s also the most rewarding part of visiting the country. In Goa it’s easy to remain in your beach resort eating chips. Or you jump in a taxi and stay in your own little cocoon.
I’d still say that I love train travel in India. Chatting to families on platforms, sharing snacks with locals in your carriage, asking the chai wallah for a cup of that boiling sweetness, watching the vibrant countryside slide by hour after hour. Yes the toilet might be a hole in the floor through which you can see the speeding tracks below, but believe me, these are the magical moments.
This country has me under its spell. It teaches you patience and acceptance and tests you every day. Don’t ask me why but I love it.
Have you been to India? Any of this sound familiar? Or maybe I’ve made you think that this country isn’t for you. Feel free to comment below.