Last weekend, some of the girls and I went to a town called Matheran. It is a hill station, which as far as I can gather just means it's a small town in the mountains.
Matheran is reached by taking about an hour-and-a-half long train ride from Bombay to Neral. If it is rush hour, you will get to be smashed and shoved during nearly this entire hour-and-a-half. At Neral, you catch a cab that takes you (much too quickly) up a windy mountain road. If you are really lucky, you will get a flat tire on the way up. We were so fortunate. At a certain point, no more automobiles are allowed on the mountain and you trek the rest of the way. If you happen to miss a couple of trains out of Bombay and are thus two hours later than you meant to be, chances are you will have the lovely experience of the path lights going out and being left in the pitchest of pitch darks you have ever been in. But it will be misty and windy and the epitome of everything you thought India was supposed to be when you were a little girl. You won't have felt anything like the air unless you've spent time in the tropical zone at the zoo. Or, obviously, if you've been to India or the tropics before.
Then you may recall that at a wedding last summer in the mountains of Utah, someone gave you a pocket flashlight to navigate up another pitch dark road. And the flashlight is still in your purse. So you and your traveling companions on the road to Matheran now have a little more light. In a spirit of good will, and because you got the flashlight in a similar way, you hand it off to a man on the path when you decide to stop at the very first hotel you see.
But at the first hotel, you might encounter some rather surly proprietors who refuse to give your group of five more than one towel and who, when you complain about paying 1500 rupees for a cabin with a lockless frosted glass door and no water (so what would the towel be for anyway?), KICK YOU OUT INTO THE DARKEST NIGHT. After some pleading on your part, they may give you a guide with a little blue penlight to take you to a different hotel.
You may find a new hotel that seems to be rather posh until you enter and see that it is definitely a faded glory with a dirty indoorish swimming pool overflowing with rain water coming through the roof. When you have finally settled down for the night, sharing a bed with two compadres while the other two snooze on a fold-out sofa, and drifted off to sleep, one of your friends may yell HEY!! And she will have yelled this because she saw a MAN ON YOUR BALCONY SHINING A BLUE FLASHLIGHT AT YOU ALL.
And at this point you may get very sick of writing in conditionals and suspect your readers may be very sick of reading them. So you stop writing in them and start writing like a normal person.
So S saw a MAN on our balcony! When she yelled, he ran off, so nothing happened. But we still informed the management and packed up and moved to another room. Poor S didn't sleep that night or for the next two nights. I for some reason was absolutely not affected by the incident, though the next night I guess I did dream about it. Hm. Subconscious blah blah blah.
The next day we decided to find a new hotel and found a very modest one in a more central location. We all stayed in one room again, with S, N and I in one bed and J and J in the foldout. I guess we felt safer that way.
It was very rainy and misty the whole time in Matheran, which was lovely but also unfortunate because apparently the town overlooks a breathtaking valley. Ah well. We went for a tromp around the lake nearby (Lake Charlotte). S, N and I (we have become quite the trio) climbed through the barbed wire fence down to the lake shore and nearly got blown off our feet. It was so windy by the water and so misty. We couldn't see more than 10 feet out over the water and we were convinced the Loch Ness monster would leap out of the fog at us. It was thrilling and sinister. I could have stood there forever.
We tromped and tromped and got very wet but it was lovely to feel cold since it's just been so boiling our whole time in India.
That night we played Uno in our hotel restaurant, which took forever to bring our food. The power kept coming on and off so we had to try to play in candlelight and it was very jolly.
The next day, S, N, and I decided to go horseback riding and visit the different valley lookout points. Of course it was raining like mad but we went anyway. The horses were nice and tame, but it was annoying because the horse guys, instead of leading us on their own horses, just walked along side us, calling to our horses and at times taking our horses by the reins and leading them. As if we'd never ridden horses before in our lives. Okay, S hadn't (or maybe she had once). But N is very experienced, and I took riding for one of my PE credits in college so I am not a complete dunce. At any rate, after I fell off my horse, I guess they thought I was the Queen Moron and stuck to me like glue. Yes, I fell off my horse. Here is what happened. We had to get off our horses to visit the lookout points (I guess so they wouldn't leap off any cliffs with us on their backs). I had been climbing onto things to get onto my horse because I did not trust my strength to hoist myself on without incident. But at one lookout point, I got bold and thought "I can certainly dismount a horse. Heavens." But I forgot that I was not wearing riding shoes but rather the only shoes I brought to India...sandals. So my top strap got hooked on the stirrup and down I went onto my arse and flush in front of my horse's front legs. He started to walk backwards, and if he had continued I may have been carried off the mountain with a broken ankle. But I had the presence of mind to tell the guide to "STOP HIM" and all was well. I laughed my head off and I think the guides were relieved I wasn't a) dead, b) maimed or c) angry. From then on, like I said, they stuck to me like glue.
By the way, the views, even though it was very rainy, cloudy, misty, and foggy, were quite spectacular. I took some pictures that I'll post one of these days.
But now here comes the real story of the trip that made it one of the most exhilarating, glorious weekends of my life. I do not exaggerate.
J and J wanted to leave earlier than S, N and I. So the three of us were left alone. We ate and shopped. (I got some of my nephews sling shots...bad idea?) N and I decided to take rickshaws down to the taxi stand. I'd always wanted to take one because I played a song on the piano when I was a kid called "In a Rickshaw" and there was an illustration in the book. At any rate, S did not want to take a rickshaw because she didn't like the idea of another human being pulling her in a cart. And she was right not to. It was horrible! It's horrible to have another person pulling you along. N and I vowed we would not ever take another rickshaw in our lives. But at least we did it once.
So then we took a cab down to the train station with a man and his two fabulous little girls. The older wanted to be a pediatrician and the younger a geologist. She showed us a beautiful geode she had found on the mountain. There were lovely vistas all the way down the mountain that I have pictures of too.
Anyway, so we bought second class tickets back to Bombay and got on the platform to wait for the train. On Indian trains, there are general seating cars and ladies' cars. It is very desirable to take a ladies car otherwise you might get stared at or "accidentally" touched. But we were standing in the wrong place for the 2nd class ladies car and ended up on the 1st clas ladies car. We felt bad and decided to get off at the next stop and run for the 2nd class car. N had a big rolling suitcase that made it hard for her to run for anything, but we gave it a good go.
S hopped onto the train and so did I just as it started going, but I turned around and N was still running for it with her big fat suitcase and I just knew she wouldn't make it. The only thought in my mind was that we shouldn't get separated so I LEAPED from the moving train and landed on my arse for the second time that day. I sat and laughed hysterically while men leaned out of the train doors, laughing and telling me to get up. N came to me but then looked up horrified and I thought she saw S whizzing away without us. But no. What she saw was S LEAPING from the train as well and landing on the slanted part of the platform right before it ends and grass, a ditch, and a big fat POLE begin. She landed and bounced onto HER arse and everybody gathered around her and SHE was laughing hysterically and N started laughing too and we just all laughed our heads off as the train sped out of sight. Then we sat on our bags and had a rainy repast of chocolate Indonesian cookies, some kind of delectable nutty cookie, and green olives. Every so often we would burst into laughter that S and I had LEAPED FROM A MOVING TRAIN. The surroundings were so idyllic...fields and cows and rain and colorfully-clad people. And we sat and ate sacramental chocolate and olives and had just LEAPED FROM A MOVING TRAIN. And I had a flash of the future of us being Important People, diplomats maybe, meeting up at a shindig and telling people about how back in graduate school when we were travelling in India, we leaped from a moving train together.
When we got onto the train, N and I ate samosas that a man was selling and talked about our future plans and talked about how glad we were to be friends. S had gone in another door and the train was crowded enough that she couldn't see us. After enough people shifted, there was room for her across from us and we stood up and shouted her name (for which we got laughed at) and she came and sat with us and we talked and listened to some teenage girls sing and played with two beautiful little boys who sat on their mother's and grandmother's laps and who got very messy eating the last of our Indonesian cookies that we gave to them (much to the grandmother's chagrin...luckily we had napkins to clean them up with).
S said that she felt she could do anything after leaping from a moving train, and I felt that way too. We shall see...