Visiting Bombay

Michael Palin’s Diary entry from Around The World In Eighty Days.

Today is a festival day called Durga Puja, the climax of a ten-day celebration of the triumph of good over evil. There are at least seven different New Years in India, depending on when the harvest is brought in.

The Streets Of Bombay

I venture into the streets of Bombay in search of someone to remove eight days' growth of beard. If you look around you can find someone on the street to do anything for you. I end up opposite the grand Gothic pile of Victoria Terminal - one of the most gushingly elaborate station exteriors in the world. Sandwiched in between a professional letter writer and a man who organises mongoose and snake fights, I find a barber who shaves me then and there on the grubby pavement with a cut- throat razor. Not something I shall tell my mother about, especially as I'm convinced from the way his fingers rather than his eyes seek out my face that he is blind.

The oldest surviving English building in Bombay is a more modestaffair than the Victoria Terminal. It's a church, with a simple perpendicular tower, I assume wrongly that it is for English people, but the priest in charge tells me that the congregation consists entirely ofnative Christians, and that Christianity, far from being a relic of the Raj, is the third most popular religion in India, after Hinduism and Islam.

Traveling around India

Traffic conditions in Bombay are anarchic. Pedestrians and cows have as much right to be in the road as cars and this makes for a constantdisorderly fight for space.

Train travel in India is not restful, and the shredding of the nerves begins as soon as you enter the station. The Indians seem to revel in the arguments and disarrangements and hustle and heat and chaos. Part of the problem is that Indian Railways is the largest employer in the world, and for every single problem you have there are about eight people all with different ideas of how to solve it.

We leave on time at 2.30. Our journey across 1251 kilometres of Indiawill take 27 hours and we shall make 30 stops. I sit in the corridor with the window open, glad to feel a breeze on my face and glad to becircumnavigating again. I could well do with a cool Kingfisher beer but the only bars on this train are across the windows.

The train is progressing comfortably but unspectacularly, at 50 or 60 miles an hour. The lines are busy, with much more freight being moved than in Britain. Our meals are ordered ahead, so we have to decide on tonight's supper at 4.30 and tomorrow's breakfast about an hour later. Details are phoned through to the relevant stations, so if the train is late so is supper and breakfast.

My compartment is First-Class non-air conditioned. First-Class air-conditioned are apparently very cold and have windows tinted so thickly that you can hardly see out. There is a 'Western-Style toilet' at one end of the carriage, which has a sit-down lavatory and a push-button water dispenser that fires straight over the basin and into the trousers.!!