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Posts Tagged ‘Mumbai’

A Problem in Mumbai

11 August

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We had a problem. Mum’s brand new suit, tailored by ‘Master’ had Hindi writing in orange indelible ink over the back of one sleeve. Clearly it could not be worn. We were bashing the doors down at the fabric shop even before they opened and their baffled faces turned wary as we made our complaint. They discussed in heated Hindi the issue. Everyone from the owner to the cleaner had a good look at the offending sleeve. It was scratched by everyone’s index fingernail, held up to the light, sighed over and finally declared to be chalk. We (mother and I) poo-pooed this idea at once, it was very clearly not chalk and rather glaringly orange indelible ink.

Master was called. And while we waited for him to arrive we started the process of going through new salwar suit packages. In their desperation to please, nearly every cellophane-wrapped parcel was removed from the shelves. A servant was sent to buy stain remover and master arrived and grassed up the desk clerk by announcing that he had authorised the using of the inky material.

We left them with the problem and went off to buy skeins for my cross stitch as my entire nine month collection had been mislaid. For some reason the haberdashers is always located in the vegetable market where we duly went and I merrily bought thirty-four Anchor brand skeins at under £1.00 – serious bargain.

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However, we had another problem. This one was far more serious. Whilst packing our rucksacks that morning it was discovered that Mum didn’t have her camera (the beloved G10). We tried to mentally retrace the previous day’s steps: The tour, the thali, the internet cafes. Had we been to the perfume shop, what about Leopold’s? The days meshing together in a confused jumble. “Don’t worry about it” I said (rather magnanimously, I thought) “It’s just a possession. No-one has broken a limb” But Mum was inconsolable, she would not be consoled. “Besides which, this is India, if an Indian person has found it we will get it back” I added confidently. “If a foreigner has found it – you can kiss your Canon goodbye.”

On our way to the tailors we had been to Leopold’s – it was not there. We had asked at the cloth shop – also not there. So, after the haberdashers we wended back through the streets to the first internet cafe from the day before. But we were stopped out side the temple and the man explained that today was a festival for Shiva and he performed a small puja (offering or prayers) for us. Tying a red and yellow string around our wrists and painting our foreheads with red tikka. After which we continued our journey to the internet cafe where we explained our situation to the desk-dude and he went to get his boss. The boss arrived, took one look at us and exclaimed “Madam, you left your camera. Don’t worry I have it here safe.” Mum and I almost burst into tears.

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Nerves jangling like a temple bell we strode back into the fabric shop, battle-ready. What would be their solution, if any, or would we be fighting for our money back? On entering our nostrils prickled with the acrid scent of stain remover, not unlike old fashioned nail varnish remover – before they took the poison out. But the indelible ink indelibly remained. Chalk indeed!

In the end it was us that solved the problem suggesting that Master (we were starting to doubt the veracity of the epithet) found some off-cuts of same baby-pink material and inserted panels into the underside of each arm. But he would have to be quick because we had to check out at 12 and our train was at 14.00 from Bandra Terminus (don’t you just love the names? Terminus – makes me want to coo-chi-coo India under the chin).

I ditched Mum and started Olympic power walking back through the Colaba streets to get back to the hotel before the clock took us over into the “next day charges”, my dupatta billowing behind me like chiffon wings.

We hit the road (Jack). After an eventful local train journey to Bandra and fight with a rickshaw driver we eventually made our way to the correct train station and platform. We still were not sure of our travel status. We were told by the inquiry desk that we had been allocated one seat between us and by the Chief Reservation Manager that we had been allocated a first class cabin….

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As it turned out we had only been allocated one seat/bed for our eighteen hour train ride to Udaipur. It was a Lower Side berth meaning that we had our own window and was luckily in A/C class. We immediately engendered the animosity of all the other passengers (all men) around us because the passenger from the upper side bunk is supposed to be able to sit on the lower side bunk whilst it is a seat during the day (it gets converted into a bed for the evening). We drew our curtain across us, thus maintaining a dignified purdah (the custom (mostly Muslim) of keeping women in seclusion; veiled), from behind which we giggled, chortled and on occasions roared with laughter as we negotiated legs, bags, books and even dinner.

We settled down to sleep at around 22.00 a contortion of legs and carefully positioned bottoms as we top and tailed on the tiny Indian-person-sized (albeit a fairly wealthy Indian person) bed. As we had also pissed of the officious conductor by only having our reservation printout and not our ticket in triplicate, notarised and signed by the mayor we had not dared to ask for the possibility of another bed. My meek request for another pillow was stoically refused, my eyes not even met and I was dismissed with a wrist-flick like a beggar child.

At 1.00 I was given a reprieve, however, and told that I could move to bed 22. Soothed by the gentle chug and throb of the train and the mental security of knowing that I was not alone on this train, I slept like a baby, waking refreshed and ready for the rickshaw scrum in beautiful Udaipur.

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10th August.

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We leapt out of bed the following day, with a spring in our step, eager to attack all that Mumbai had to offer. We strolled down to the ‘Gateway to India’, the scene of my panic attack on my second day in Mumbai, all those months before.

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Our plan was to take the trip out to Elephanta Island to see the Unesco World Heritage temples there, but we were way-laid. We were cunningly sold a city tour – encompassing the slums, the laundry, the two hotels where the bombers were (?), Jain temples and Gandhi Ji’s house.

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Mum had great fun with her new camera – my old Canon G10. My G10 took me faithfully around five countries and through, literally, thousands of photos. Our love affair is over, however, as I am now the proud new owner of a Canon 550d so expect more photos, hopefully markedly better ones.

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We saw the sights, heard the tour guides broken English commentary and declined to buy anything in the obligatory tourist shop at the end. We were dropped off at a fab little thali place that was conveniently located just next to our fabric shop where the day before we had purchased our new salwars. We popped in to see if they were ready before a quick trip to the internet to book train tickets for our next destination, then we were to catch the last boat to Elephanta.

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However, the clothes were not ready and I mistakenly booked us waitlisted tickets on the train to Udaipur the following day. We rushed back to the Gateway to catch the boat – which we missed. Dejected and blaming each other we made our way to another internet cafe.

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On the way a very wily young boy tried to sell us a map. We did not need or want his map or his children’s books, but after hearing his story about how he is a good student and that he doesn’t like to beg for money, he artfully suggested that we might like to buy him some rice. A very reasonable suggestion and we concurred. He told us he would take us to the rice shop and then show us a good internet cafe. We had envisioned buying him a plate of rice for him to get his skinny bones around, but he had much more grandiose plans than that. He proposed that we buy him 5kgs of rice, thus feeding his whole family for one month.

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This ‘tiny’ bag of rice would set us back Rs500 (and although not a huge sum by Sainsbury’s standards, you must understand that Rs500 is my daily budget and I wouldn’t even pay for a hotel at that price). He stood there with his cheeky little face and categorically denied that he was begging. We negotiated with him and it was finally decided he would, in fact, accept Rs10 to take home to his mother.

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We did then go and spend another torturous hour or so in the internet cafe where we tried every which way to get straight from Mumbai to Jaisalmer (it cannot be done) and finally decided to take a risk and hope that we got seats on the train the following day. We would be going from Mumbai to Udaipur, a hop at only eighteen hours. And although you don’t know it because I never published the blog, Udaipur is the last city that I went to in India the first time round. It is beautiful and romantic and perhaps my most favourite city in all India that I visited. It is hustling and bustling and I did cooking classes and art classes and I loved it. Maybe one day I really should publish that blog……hmmm, we’ll see.

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The wise words of GhandiJi.

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fly-to-thailand

I am flying to Thailand. No longer in India, but in the air with two delicious glasses of wine inside me and having eaten my last curry. I have no reservation for tonight and no Lonely Planet. I am going solo, turning-up the intrepid, because lets face it – it has all become a little too easy. I came for adventure and I truly hope to find it in SEA (South East Asia folks, keep up).

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My last night in India was a journey back to the beginning. I stayed at the Y. WCA that is and from there, took a taxi, metered of course, and I returned to the start. To Kemps Corner. The only way to know how far I have come was to go back. The area felt like it had had a million dollars worth of redevelopment. I noticed all these really posh shops that I just hadn’t seen before, because the first time, six months ago, what stood out were the ladies selling carrots and bananas by the edge of the road, the posh bathroom shops faded into insignificance.

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My first hotel in India (Hotel Royal Castle)

The dirty, scary, residential area I now realise was actually a really nice neighbourhood with an important hospital and up-market hotels and shops. No-one stared at me, noticed me. Or maybe I wasn’t looking at or noticing them. Kemps Corner is actually a fairly quiet (by Indian standards) quarter of the city.

I had three objectives:

1. Buy new flip flops.

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I had bought these cheap flip-flops when I was there before for wearing in the shower, except they turned out to be more comfortable and easier to walk in than my TEVAs which cost £60. I knew that the shop would still stock my spongy, not-flat, good-for-walking-up-rocky-mountain shoes and I was right. Mission accomplished. Rs95.

2. Return to Shiv Sagar.

Last-supper

This was where I ate my first meal in India, I had Dhal Tadka and it was delicious and cheap. Except it wasn’t. Well it was still delicious but Dhal Tadka for Rs90? Are you kidding me?

3. Cross a certain road.

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I was not going to leave India without knowing if I could do it. I returned to that crazy five way roundabout and intersection. It was still crazy and the traffic was noisy and still sudden-appearing but I want you to know that not only did I do it, but I crossed all five roads, all by my intrepid self.

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So I have come full circle. In the last few days about six people have commented on how brave I am to have travelled India alone. When I first arrived, I didn’t feel brave – I didn’t think that what I was doing was particularly brave. But now as I fly away from India and the last six months is flashing before me like a corny movie with terrible sound bites echoing through the distance – I accept. Perhaps it was brave.

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Beach Bull

After four days in Anjuna, I was itching to get back on the road again. Not just because despite taking my vitamin B1 religiously, smothering myself in 50% deet every evening and lighting enough mosquito coils to stop malaria in its tracks, I am still getting bitten. Especially my feet, the irritating red bumps clashing horribly with my Revlon Red toenails.

After the first night extravaganza, Anjuna turned-up no more surprises. I had lazy fish lunches at the beach, went to the flea market (bought that hat), had evening drinks with various people, read and  did endless hand-washing – I feel like I work at Mumbai laundry!

To liven things up I did get stung by a jellyfish – no ’F.r.i.e.n.d.s’ fans, I didn’t wee on myself – and was also head-butted up the bum by a homeward going, sunset-beach strolling cow. An actual cow, not just some girl I took a dislike to, or rather her to me, after all, she was the one doing the head butting; No, I’d just bent down to take off my shoes so I could walk in the surf. It was a cow, of the bovine variety. They have a lot of them in India you know.

Going Home

As Thornton had friends staying at the house for the weekend, I decided to head to Panjim. Just up the road, Goa’s capital would be my new base for exploring. I had to catch two of the local buses to get there. These rickety vehicles trundle along picking up new passengers anywhere along the route and packing us all in like sardines – the trick is arrive early to get a seat. Or be a foreign girl. The one I needed was full so I was ushered up to the front to sit in the cab near the driver. It was like a mini VIP section. Indian music blares out of tinny speakers, perfect soundtrack to the lush countryside. It was great to feel I was travelling again; there is so much to see I feel guilty if not actively pursuing the “next place”, however, the break in Anjuna allowed for some much needed R&R. And I am supposed to be trying to master patience or rather my lack thereof. I keep having to remind myself I am only two weeks in!

From Panjim I had decided to go up to Ponda, where there is a spice plantation and the exotic promise of elephants. Stopping for breakfast at a little eatery I had spied on the way to the bus station, I sat cosied up on the first floor Portuguese restaurant ‘Hospedaria Venite’, with its little jutting balconies overlooking the bustling street below. I ordered a yummy banana lassie and an omelette. I was tucking in when two women came and sat at the table next to me. Pamela and Cathy, two nurses from Australia who had left husbands and (grown-up) children behind for a month-long Indian whirlwind tour. Chatting for a moment, they decided to join me on my trip to the Spice plantation. I was thrilled; I now had company without even trying.

Another little bus took us up to Ponda, where we were advised by a ‘helpful’ man that we could get another bus to the plantation for 5 rupees instead of the 300 rupee taxi which we did. We were greeted at the plantation with a cup of hot lemongrass, ginger and cardamom tea – delicious.

We embarked on a guided tour to see, smell and taste a wide variety of spices. Freshly cracked nutmeg, soft as a walnut and delicious, the largest coriander leaves I’ve ever seen, vanilla and peppercorn creepers growing around other plants, chillies, cinnamon and a demonstration of how to climb and swing between a betel-nut tree. The place was an incredible green paradise set by a lake, it was idyllic. After the tour we were fed a Goan feast on a banana leaf. I couldn’t believe how scrumptious it was. They managed to strike the right balance between giving value for money and not turning it into a “Disney SpiceLand”.

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Then the bit I was excited about…. the elephants. Cathy and I had paid to bathe and ride an elephant. Something was lost in the translation; I had thought we would wash the elephants after they had been working as I had previously researched back at home. Actually the supposed to happen. i.e. you sit on elephant, elephant squirts you with water.

Mala was huge, naturally, and had a speckled pink trunk and ears. She was instructed to get in to the pool which was fairly small by pachyderm standards,. Poor Mala having to struggle down the steps, STEPS, imagine an elephant having to negotiate steps. Once in the pool she had to lie down so Kathy could get on. Then a few sharp instructions and Mala had to fill her trunk with water, throw same trunk backwards over her vast boulder-shaped head and spray it all over Cathy. Mala did it once, but her heart didn’t seem in it. I have seen elephants do this on the telly. They seem to love it, drenching themselves with gay abandon, but Mala was having none of it. The instructions were coming thick and fast as Mala was being urged to do it again. She did so, but under duress. Then they started poking her with sharp, metel-ended sticks to make her do it again. In protest she trumpeted loudly and did an enormous poo in the pool, that, by the way – I was standing in (why do people keep pooing at my feet?). She really was not enjoying this and I felt uncomfortable with the slight err towards animal cruelty that I decided, I wouldn’t take my turn, much to the handlers’ bafflement. They clearly thought that my reason, that Mala didn’t seem to want to, was very strange. Both Cathy and I rode the other elephant, Babu. Again, I am not really certain how I feel about it. I cannot be sure that those elephants have any quality of life and Mala was not at all keen to perform her demeaning task. I also am not convinced I like riding on the animals but I had wanted to see if my back would hold out for when/if I do a tiger safari up north.

Above our heads I spotted a gigantic green and black spider, waiting ominously in it’s appropriately halloweenesque web. Then a man came passed with a scorpion, on a lead! Ok! Fine. Slight exaggeration, not on an actual lead, but it was tied-up to a piece of string. From which it hung limply, upside down and still very much alive and no-doubt biding its time. Having been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of at least three “the biggest scorpion I ever saw…” stories, a lot of them based in Anjuna (where I am staying normally), the sight of this frankly huge scorpion, about the size of my palm (and that’s NO exaggeration) it had vicious front pincers the size of broad beans, was terrifying. The day before I left Anjuna I had seen a similar sized dead one in the road near my little house, it had turned metallic blue as it was rotting and being eaten by ants – that night I went home and put up a mosquito net!!

Goan Feast

At this point I was ready to leave the jungle/spice plantation and return to concrete buildings. The ‘helpful’ man from earlier suddenly reappeared and started ushering us to the bus, however we had decided that we would take a taxi back down. He had a quick word with the waiting drivers and miraculously none of them spoke any English or wanted to take us in their taxies. We conferred and decided fine, we would take the bus (like we had a choice!) but in our own time. We started to walk to the main road and who should appear at our elbows? Except now he actually demanded money! Needless to say we did not give him any.

Small palaver later and we enlisted the help of the security man to order us a taxi and we were on our way. We then met up with a young Swedish couple (Adam & Josefine) who had also been elephant riding. They are travelling around south India, Sri Lanca and the Maldives for three months before returning home to embark on five year medical and psychology degrees. They were really lovely and we all got on so well we decided to have a drink together at the Venite from earlier. I then discovered that, I had not been as intrepid as I had thought. I had not found a special, hidden, unknown place – it is in Lonely Planet, (other guide books are available) written up as: “Without a doubt the lunch address to which most tourists head.” Damn you, Lonely Planet, damn you and your extremely useful, accurate and comprehensive guides!

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Soon Cathy and Pamela had to go and I was desperate for my shower, I am averaging about three a day with as many clothes changes- hence the Mumbai laundry. Adam and Josefine asked if I would like to join them later for dinner, which I did. We had a lovely fish supper, except very fresh and done in butter not batter and garlic, served with inexplicably cold chips. Oh yes and I drank beer! Voluntarily! Well kind of, you see a glass of wine is a very expensive, not to mention foul thing in India and I can’t keep drinking rum and full-fat coke. We had a great evening, talking about all manner of things and I hardly noticed that I am ten years older than them and they probably think I’m a grown-up.

They kindly walked me to my hotel, which was in total darkness with the doors locked – I had taken my key so they didn’t know I was out, oops! Luckily there was someone asleep just inside the door, so I was granted entry.

I was knackered and keen to get to bed. I was brushing my teeth looking at the TV. So when I went to spit in the sink I didn’t notice the huge creature sitting in there, I spat toothpaste all over it, it jumped up in the air and I screamed. Locking the toilet door from the outside, had to get re-dressed and ran to get the man from downstairs to come up and rescue me; Looking at my demeanour he could tell that it would be a big job. he came armed with a huge can of bug spray. I was about to protest and ask him not to kill it, whatever it was, but then remembered that this was the second time I had woken him up and thought the better of it. He went into the bathroom and peered in to the sink, as I cowered in the corridor, peeking round the door frame. He uttered something that sounded suspiciously like “Oh fly” (for the record: it was NOT a fly) and sprayed it liberally with poison.

Finally with the excitement over and I was able to get into bed. I settled down and turned on the telly – I was not surprised that Jaws 3 was the only English movie on.

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Villages from the train

The train was only two hours late and I figured that was pretty good going. The train journey was great. We were fed breakfast and lunch, not wanting to get ill I copied my fellow travellers for breakfast. Breakfast went very wrong (please note “Cheese Sandwich” is not a good option) but for lunch I opted for veg biryani. I was staggered at how delicious it was, it was served in a little thermos pot with a lid and only cost about £0.50p. In your face British train services!

I had two Brits to chat to and a very friendly Indian man. He asked me all the usual questions about my job and marital status (which as I have already been told, it is my duty to be married…oops!). For times like these I have been advised to invent a husband, everyone feels much happier that way. The back-story for this mythical husband is developing and he has been quite ill, spending a lot of time in hotels or meeting me at my destination. People look very concerned when I tell them that he is in another town to me, either he is careless to trust me or I am wanton to even think of leaving his protective side. Also I guess they wonder who on earth is looking after him if I am not there!

Going on Jenny’s recommendation, I am now a teacher which, is considered an honourable profession and works out fine until spending any length of time in someone’s company and they start wanting more information – such as the age of my students and the subject I teach. I hate lying and feel very awkward most of the time which makes me reticent to talk.

The scenery was wonderful. Again very green and often hilly. We went passed small villages and farms and I went and stood in the open doorway and watched the countryside flashing by, the warm air preferable to the cold air-conditioning of the carriage. It felt very romantic and I enjoyed the complete lack of health and safety.

Arriving by taxi in Anjuna my instructions were to find “Jo Banana’s” and then the housekeeper who would take me up to the house. The taxi and I had to ask directions several times to make sure we were going in the right direction, I think that he was bewildered as to why I wouldn’t want to go to a hotel or guest house.

Having found the housekeeper, she led me by torchlight up an earth pathway to a little cottage. She didn’t know I was coming so she quickly set about getting me clean sheets, turning on the water pump and sweeping the floor. It is practically the last house in Anjuna Beach and a quick glance told me that there will be bugs! She bought me a cold bottle of water, mosquito coils and safely matches. I immediately set about lighting them, one of the matches did a back-flip and shot into my eye – brilliant! So much for safety.

I have met Basmati who is a rescue and seems to live outdoors; she is a perfect guard dog. I also have several resident geckos which I am thrilled about because they will eat up all the creepy-crawlies. I have managed to shower and wash off some of the dye from my new kurta, which has dyed me, my underwear and new trousers a pretty pink colour. The kurtas are all now soaking in salt!!

My new home

The little house couldn’t be more rustic, there is no TV, a small two ring gas hob, a fridge, temperamental electricity and I think it’s perfect. The cleaning lady and electrician will come tomorrow to get everything in good working order. I feel very snug and relaxed here. I think that this level of peace and quiet, right next to the beach and one or two bars is exactly what I need. I am sitting writing this by the light of one lamp (I love lamp) and two candles, how romantic. Outside I can hear the cicadas, music drifting over from the neighbours and the occasional bark from Basmati.

I cannot wait to start exploring tomorrow, go shopping for my own groceries and actually do some cooking which I am really missing. I have a really good feeling about this.

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Train Station

Yesterday “Seattle-Chick” showed me exactly how the train works. She took me, almost physically, by the hand to the train station where we queued (of course), filled in forms (in triplicate) and it really is that simple, providing of course that there are seats available on the train you want in the class you want. We booked AC2 which means that the carriage is air-conditioned, you get a brown paper parcel (not quite ties up with string – but still pretty amazing) with a pillow, two crisp, white starched sheets and a rough blanket. The bunks get put up for day time travel but at night everyone gets a padded bed, there are little storage spaces for your personal effects and plug sockets and a little reading light. This mode of travel was much more like it. I found it romantic and incredibly adventurous. Also the added bonus of not being convinced that I was about to die was wonderfully soporific.

So I have been here in India just over a week. It has been an incredible start to my travels and today as I sat in Mumbai YWCA (which I would highly recommend) I was looking forward to my trip. Of course there have been moments of self-doubt and trepidation but India is intense and often otherworldly. I am now feeling a lot more comfortable.

The streets seem quieter, less manic. Crossing the roads no longer feels as terrifying and now I have one night bus and one night train journey under my belt, traversing this vast country seems infinitely more do-able. Even heaving Mumbai renewed its appeal, it helped that we are staying in touristville this time. I managed to buy a mobile phone and in Fab-India I bought myself three cotton Kurtas (read tents), the appropriate attire for solo female intrepids.

It helped to have guidance. Thanks to the girl from Seattle, the train journey from Aurangabad went with half the anguish it might have done. I am now sitting on the train to Goa which I negotiated my own way on to with ease, it’s an 11 hour ride, and I expect to arrive at about 6.00pm. That the scheduled time anyway, who knows what the actuality will be. The train to Mumbai came in only four hours late. We can forgive that one though, as only the day before a water pipe over a bridge collapsed on to a train killing 22 people, and the tracks had to cleared.

Riding the train

I am really looking forward to chilling out in Goa. Having kindly agreed to let me stay, Thornton’s (a friend of a friend with a house in Goa) house sounds perfect. I was most excited to discover that I will be looked after not only by a housekeeper but also by Basmati, the dog. Hooray I get a dog for two weeks! I could not be happier – except, perhaps, if it were a baby tiger that needed bottle feeding.

I am convinced that Goa is the way to go-a…sorry couldn’t resist. This train has foreigners on it and everything.

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To be honest the punctured tire was a relief. Having spent the afternoon in my room, resting and trying to find a contact to spend Diwali with (no luck there unfortunately) my morale had sunk a little and having not seen another traveller or hotel guest all day I wasn’t about to rely on that for company.

But wasn’t this why I was here? Hadn’t I got myself into this position, well it was time to see what I was made of. With directions from reception, I struck out beach-wards for a sunset stroll and then to procure a taxi to take me to the Gateway to India.

Dusk was settling in and the evening had a bluish hue from the smog and electric lights. street vendors, selling everything from fruit to electrical flex, were burning sweet incense, it felt so exotic and diverse.  I walked down towards the main junction where I was supposed to cross the road. I am no good crossing the road at the best of times; having been hit by a bicycle in Spain (twice) and prone to looking the wrong way I knew my best bet was to follow a local. But this! this is a whole different ball game, they move so quickly, clearly trained to see gaps in the maelstrom of cars, throwing themselves into oncoming traffic with gusto, confident that they won’t get hit. I have no such faith and no such skills. I was sure I would die!

Mumbai scary street

I did manage to cross some of the roads, just not the ones that would take me towards the beach. My heart was cartoon-pumping in my chest each time I stepped off the relative safety of the pavement. There are traffic lights and zebra crossings but they are clearly decorative only. I ended up toing and froing across some of the little feeder roads., marching purposely up and down pavements but really I wasn’t going anywhere!

This is India and of course the poverty is prolific and the things you see are very humbling but I let out an audible gasp when I saw a woman begging with her tiny naked, lifeless baby, its frail head wrapped in a bloody bandage. I have prepared myself for such images, but they are nonetheless shocking and distressing.

Regaining my previous state of near abject terror I resolved to get a taxi. Luckily there were hundreds of them, hurtling towards me at breakneck speeds, beeping, coughing smoke and swerving like bumper cars, unluckily they were all full up, some of them with entire extended families cramped inside.

I managed to cross two more roads but this didn’t help me much as I was now standing right back where I started! One solitary taxi did stop for me but quoted me an astronomical sum (£2.50 or something) so I refused. I was determined that I could crack this. I would see something of Mumbai before the night was out. But, I couldn’t. I could not get a bloody taxi… so slightly deflated I returned to the hotel where I got one of the hotel boys to do it for me, which is only cheating a little bit.

Two seconds later I was safely (ha!) in a bumble-bee coloured taxi. Now I was part of the traffic and from the inside you realize that they are not going that fast at all. There are just so many vehicles and burdened-beast pulled carts all trying to get through the bottle-neck at the same time. It feels much more overwhelming than it actually is.

Mumbai at dusk

I was very proud of myself. This is what intrepid travel was all about, here I was in an Indian taxi that I had practically hailed myself, and there out of the window were the wonderful sights of Mumbai, BOMBAY! We’d been in the car for about 7 minuets and were driving round the bay was when the blow-out happened, I got to sit quietly in the back whilst the driver changed the tire – he didn’t want me to get out for some reason- this gave me the chance to calm down and my thumping pulse returned to normal. Tire easily fixed we continued on to our goal.  At the gateway he promised to wait for me to take me back to the hotel.

I walked around the lit-up edifice. I tried to enjoy the sights, tried not to be suspicious of every person who came too close. Tried to soak up my first experience of India beyond the hotel and also desperately  trying to channel Nick, taking photos from odd angles; desperately trying to remember what aperture priority is and does. I think I managed to get one ok picture, let me know what you think.

Gateway to India, Mumbai

 

After what felt like ages, but realistically was only about 20 minutes my adrenaline racked body decided to return to the calm, air-conditioned haven of my hotel room. I returned to the pick-up point but Mr. Driver was gone. I had been abandoned. Taking deep breaths I tried to get another taxi but none of them could understand the address I had. By this point I was starting to worry as I had no idea how to get back to the hotel and apparently no one else did either.

However, we were right next to the Taj Mahal Palace which is a 5-star, stunning hotel (and one of the hotels caught up in last years terrorist bombings). I had to go through airport style security to get in, but once inside their calm air-conditioned sanctuary I was saved, as you should be when you go into a sanctuary otherwise it’s not much of a sanctuary. Concierge were amazing, although I must of looked disheveled with a slightly crazed-panic in my eyes, they could not have been more helpful. They gave me water, an icy-cold flannel and more importantly the address of my hotel written in English and Hindu along with a printed map of my area to show the taxi driver.

Which worked, because I am at the hotel telling you about it rather than wandering the streets of Bombay and bedding down with the rest of the street population. I live to be intrepid another day!

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