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India begins with I

INDIA | Sunday, 19 July 2009 | Views [922] | Comments [1]

India was always going to be an experience of sensory overload, but not just for the usual culture shock-related reasons – the key to the beginning of my Indian travels is contrast. I was coming from Singapore, a model of modernity, order and efficiency, to India which in many ways is still a medieval country. I had left the most modern airport in the world in the most modern plane I had ever been in for Bombay International,  just a tad less efficient than Changi. We had been in a dry heat for months and it was the rainy season in Mumbai. Most importantly Claire and I had been inseparably travelling for 10 months, in each others company for 23.5 hours a day. I was now going to be on my own. Just me and my thoughts. The we had become an I. Even writing 'I' in the blog is strange ... being so used to 'we'. That's a lot to contemplate on a flight of only 5 hours.

It was 11pm and the monsoon rain whipped across the runway as we landed. There I go again. As the plane landed. Mumbai airport looked totally chaotic – it was as though planes had been left anywhere there was a free parking spot. Lots of airlines I didn't recognise. I had managed to change my remaining Singapore dollars for rupees in Changi so I reckoned I would have enough cash to get me to the hotel, provided I wasn't duped into one of the renowned airport taxi scams all the guide books talk about.

As instructed I pre-paid my taxi and was told to go outside by the gruff man at the counter. Taxi number 64 would be bringing me into town. The airport was quiet as I walked through it, I had expected crowds. I found the exit and walked out into a throng of hundreds of exotically shabbily dressed people shouting and waving signs. So I'd found the crowd, now for the taxi. I followed a sign which lead me to a stand where there were hundreds of identical bashed up black and yellow cabs that had probably been built in the fifties. Of course none of them had any numbers on them. I waved my ticket around and eventually someone in a uniform guided me towards a cab, just a little bit more rickety than the others. The cabbie hadn't a word of English and my hindi was non-existent. Expecting this, I had chosen my hotel (Sealord) specifically so that it was close to somewhere everyone should know: Mumbai's main train station, CST, formerly Victoria Terminus.

On leaving the airport it was immediately obvious that India is far poorer than any other country I have visited. Dark, sad faces gave thousand yard stares from beneath cardboard boxes and makeshift houses as we passed shanty after shanty, slum after slum, naked children playing in the mud well after midnight. After an hour or more of trying to understand what the driver was on about he turned on the radio. Ironically David Gray was playing. “What on earth is going on in my head?” The rain kept pouring down.

The driver got us to CST but was stumped after that. I wasn't prepared to start wandering the streets. He wasn't a very resourceful chap so I got him to stop at a shop and shouted out the window for directions. A crowd gathered and eventually admitted that we were on the right street but needed to go a few km further. I thanked them and gestured to carry on to the driver. We passed by more makeshift housing and some really interesting (bad) smells before the dim sign of Hotel Sealord came into view.

Mumbai accommodation is expensive, no bones about it. As I was arriving late I needed as reservation and this was the cheapest place I could find which took bookings and was close to anywhere. When I grabbed my bag out of the taxi boot the driver stood there, hand out, expecting a hefty tip for his services. As he had not even managed to get me to the hotel without my help I brushed him off. I could hear him swearing Hindi insults at me as I left.

The hotel was filthy and the man behind reception ignored me for a full 15 minutes before I caught his attention. He spent an age looking for my booking and finally found it, only then asking for my passport. He perused every page disapprovingly before wordlessly throwing it back at me and pushing the register towards me to complete. Welcome to India indeed!

The room was dank, smelly and hadn't been cleaned in some time. The bathroom was farcically dirty although the bedsheets did seem ok. The guy who showed me to the room was pushy ... eager for me to drink beer. Just to get rid of him I ordered one. It was well after midnight and I was wide awake and on edge.

After a beer and a flick through the 100% Hindi TV channels I went downstairs – I had spied a wifi router on the wall and was hopeful of connectivity. Reception had changed shift and the much friendlier night crew had started. I got the wifi password from them and sat down in front of my laptop. Privacy is definitely not the norm in India. The porters immediately sat behind me and looked at what I was doing over my shoulder, asking questions about my age, family, profession, marital status, you name it. They also made various offers to buy the laptop. They were a friendly bunch though and I was glad of a little company. They then started asking to download bhangra music to their virus ridden phones which they connected to my laptop. The virus scan kicked in and I hastily put a stop to all that. I would deal with India tomorrow. Time for bed. Just me...

Tags: city, monsoon




Haha... Mate these updates really make me laugh. You'd be mad not to bind all of them together and see if you can get them published.
Looking forward to the next hit of Indian mayhem, I wouldn't mind reading about some spot starring the next Bollywood hit, or something like that... maybe you can arrange that?

  Casino Heist Nick Aug 5, 2009 1:43 AM

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