Mumbai to Goa (and back)

If you want to save money, get to Mumbai by plane and make the remaining journey to Goa by train from there. Depending on how much time you have, you could take a night train or travel in the daytime, not to miss the picturesque route along the Konkani coast. As a bonus, you’ll see the CSTM railway station in Mumbai – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A lion statue guards the gate t the enormous, elaborately decorated Neo-Gothic building of CSTM railway station in Mumbai
Impressive Victorian building of Mumbai’s main train station

Mumbai international terminal (2) to CSTM train station

When buying train tickets from Mumbai to Goa, choose the train leaving from the central station: CSTM. It will save you a lot of time. Mumbai’s terminal 2 serves all international flights AND AirIndia domestic flights. Domestic flights from budget carriers land at terminal 1 . When you leave terminal 2, follow the signs to the bus stop. You’ll see an orderly queue for the red, small buses number A 337, which come every 10 minutes or so. Board the bus and pay the fee inside. Get off at the last stop: Andheri. The suburban train station will be right in front of you. Go to the ticket counter and get a ticket for CSTM – it’ll be valid for any train going that way. Now, check the electronic board for the platform. Again, CSTM is the last stop. Outside peak hours, the trains aren’t very crowded, so you can get a seat.

Ticket seller sells tickets for the red bus standing behind him at the Mumbai airport
A/C red minibus will take you from the airport to Andheri suburban rail station

If you happen to land at Terminal 1, it’s even easier. Just walk 800 meters till the Vila Parle suburban rail station.

A half-empty carriage of a suburban train in Mumbai
Off-peak, suburban trains are empty

The additional benefit of taking the train to/ from CSTM is that you’re going to get to see the most representative building of the British Raj era. Formerly known as Victoria Terminal, Mumbai railway station is an enormous, neo-gothic structure with a splendidly rich interior.

Overnight stay near CSTM

We decided to travel by early morning train. That way, we could see the scenic Konkani railway route. It meant we had to find a place to stay. Since it was pandemic time, the dorm and budget rooms at CSTM (the best and cheapest option) were closed. There were plenty of private dorms around the station, but all of them allowed only men. We finally found a rather disgusting, affordable guesthouse in a dodgy area 15 minutes walk from the station.

Many towers and domes of CSTM railway station in Mumbai illuminated in pink at nighttime
CSTM station, former Victoria Terminal, is beautifully illuminated at night

Mumbai to Thivim by 2nd class seater train

The following morning, we took Mao Express departing at 6 am. This particular train has a luxurious carriage meant for Western tourists, the regular AC section and a fan, 2nd class section. We took the 2nd class since the journey to Thivim (north Goa) was only 7 hours long. I generally prefer the 2nd class since I can open the window and take photos. The train was new and clean. After a few stops, it filled up but then emptied again by the time we crossed the border with Goa.

Empty, clean and new benches inside a 2nd class train from Mumbai to Goa
2nd class day train from Mumbai to Goa is clean and comfortable

As for the route, it was a bit underwhelming. Yes, it was nice, since we passed by forests and fields most of the time. Also, the Western Ghat mountain range was visible throughout the trip. Yet, the visibility was quite poor and the views unspectacular.

A field in the foreground and a barely visible outline of the Western ghat mountain range far in the distance as seen from the Mumbai-Goa train.
A fuzzy outline of the Ghats accompanies you throughout the journey

From train station to the beach

The main tip: if you’re heading for Marjim/Vagador/Arambol, take the train which stops at Pernem. Getting off at Thivim and travelling to Arambol via Mapusa takes ages if you’re using public transport. You’d need to take a bus to Mapusa and from there the rarely running bus to Arambol via Pernem. It’s a very long, roundabout route with a stopover in Pernem.

A dilapidated interior of a private bus in Goa
Dilapidated private buses in Goa often move at snail-pace

If you’re going to Baga/Calangute/Anjuna, Thivim will work best. You’d need to take a bus to nearby Mapusa and another bus from the Mapusa bus stand.
Even easier is the journey to Panjim, since buses from Mapusa to Panjim are very frequent and include a super-fast Kadamba shuttle.

Brand new, A/C, modern Kadamba bus standing on the platform in Panjim, Goa.
AC Kadamba shutte is by far the fastest and poshest public transport option in Goa

Tip number two: if you’re getting off at Thivim DON’T take a private bus standing at the main road. The conductors might want to cheat you, while the journey to Mapusa would be unnecessarily long and slow. Instead, catch any passing by, fast bus to Mapusa. Ideally, white-and-blue Kadamba government bus.

A backpacker walks along a simple bus stand in Canacona
Canacona bus station: just 2 km from Palolem beach and a necessary stop en-route to Agonda beach

For anywhere in South Goa (Palolem/Agonda/Colva), get off at Margao (Madgao) and take a bus from Kadamba bus station, 3 km away from the train station. The Palolem bus is direct. For Agonda, you have to change to a local bus to Cab de Rama in Canacona.

Margao to Mumbai

Coming back from Goa to Mumbai, we took a night train from Margao. Margao train station is 3 km away from the Kadamba bus stand. If you’re coming from the south, eg. Canacona, by bus, you can get off in Navelim and walk for the remaining 1 km. Otherwise, you can take a local bus from the bus stand to somewhere nearby the train station.

A row of old but well-maintained colonial houses with pillars and wooden balconies line a quiet street in Margao
It’s actually a pleasure to walk through leafy streets of Margao, lined with traditional buildings

Margao train station has wonderful facilities, including luggage storage, a waiting room with fans and chargers and free, clean showers and toilets. Only the Margao train station canteen is a bit disappointing. You could grab your takeaway dinner from there, from many other stalls on the other side of the station or buy it directly on the train.

We bought a ticket for a 2nd class sleeper compartment, but as we were on RST (which means bed birth would be confirmed only last minute), we somehow got ascribed to the AC compartment. In times of pandemic, there wasn’t much benefit of it. The blankets and linen weren’t given and the curtains were taken down. For me, the AC is too cold to sleep comfortably. Consider wearing socks, long sleeves and long trousers for thermal comfort. For such journeys, a sleeping bag liner is indispensable.

We were quite lucky insofar our train arrived late, allowing us to sleep longer. Instead of 4.30 am, it made it to Mumbai at 7.30 am. Unfortunately, it lost its slot at the CSTM, which meant it finished at one of the suburbian stations before. If that happens, don’t panic. Go to the ticket counter and buy the ticket to CSTM. Although it was a morning peak time, the train we took wasn’t overcrowded at all.

An row of empty counters at the suburban train booking office at Andheri station in Mumbai
Getting a ticket for suburban train

Since we had the whole day in Mumbai, we left our luggage at the storage again. Mind you, you can leave your luggage only if you have a train ticket with you! You have to provide the number of your ticket and show your ID to use this service.

PRACTICALITIES

Prices [in Indian rupees as of February 2022]:

800 INR cheapest, poor quality double ensuite room near CSTM
440 INR 2nd class sleeper () from Margao to Mumbai CSTM
225 INR 2nd class seater (Mao Express) from Mumbai CSTM to Thivim
110 INR cheapest meal at a local eatery in Mumbai
70 INR cheapest meal at the Margao station canteen (daal or egg masala and chapati)
70-100 INR breakfast at the canteen at CSTM station
30 INR storing one piece of luggage (any size) for 24h at CSTM Mumbai or Margao
10 INR suburban train Andheri – CSTM
6 INR bus airport terminal 2 – Andheri railway station

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