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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Mumbai

INDIA | Saturday, 20 October 2007 | Views [2331] | Comments [3]

Tues 16th Oct - Another day, another country. Time to move on to India. Spent the morning getting packed and the usual last minute stuff. Got to the airport in Mauritius early as the taxi driver had someone else to collect. I am booked on to Air India flight AI6748 which is a codeshare with Air Mauritius, due to depart at 16:30 and arrive in Mumbai (aka Bombay) at 00:10 IST local time.

Checked into the weather forecast for india last night. Whoosh...35°C during the day and 28°C at night! Scorchio. Guess I won't be needing a coat then? India is 4 1/2 hours ahead of the UK at the moment and that will increase by 1 hour at the weekend when the UK clocks go back.

The next currency to contend with is the Indian Rupee. Roughly £1=82 INRs.

Plenty of time to spare at the airport, with not much to do as usual but people watch and read. I must be the only person in Mauritius who hasn't bought something to do with the dodo.

The plane was an Airbus A340 which are really nice planes, attended by some incredibly nice hostesses dressed in airline co-ordinated saris and perfectly manicured. Soon after takeoff a round of drinks and a realy nice glass of rhum punch to go with the indian meal. Spot on food!

A good selection of in-flight movies - watched Superman 3 (note here: the line from the film that 'man must put his wife before himself'. If only I had seen Spiderman 3 years ago, just think of the problems I could have avoided), Ghostrider and  Shrek 3. Also had a copy of The Indian Times to see what is going on in the indian world. Some interesting stories, completely unrelated to India but shows what they find important news. Major story about the Vatican forgiving the 'Knights Templar' of heresy nearly 700 yrs ago. I wonder if they have had their cage rattled following Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code ? For those who haven't read it, the knights templar were formed back in 1119 to protect christian pilgrims visiting the holy land following the capture of Jerusalem by the crusaders in 1099. Unfortunately, they abused their priviledges and became very rich in the process. They were also supposed to have guarded the secret of where the 'Holy Grail' was hiddened - the cup used at the last supper. Who says I don't keep you upto date in world affairs!

Another top indian story was about how, before the end of the century we will be having relationships with robots and getting married to them. They will be programmed to be exactly who you want! Excellent stuff - I hope they programme them to argue occasionally and have PMT as it adds to the uncertainty of whether you are really an intelligent human being after all! That wonderful time of the month is man's realisation that he really hasn't got a clue about anything and is absolutely hopeless at self defence against a woman! Sorry girls....just playing!

Last but not least...According to a survey by Durex, New Zealand women are the most promiscuous in the world...roll on New Zealand...only kiddin!

Apart from those earth shattering topics, india has about the same problems as everywhere else.

The flight went really well and arrived on time to 28°C at midnight!. After a major hike across the airport you get to baggage reclaim with not a clue which conveyor is offloading your luggage. 'Go and ask that man in the blue shirt' I was told. Not a single official looking sign on him but he was directing people. He was right so their system works. Then the fun started....I was due to be picked up by taxi...waited and waited and nobody came. My sim wasn't working so couldn't ring the hotel. Decided to stuff it and sort myself out. You go to a little window and a man asks airconditioned or non-airconditioned? I went for non at 380 rupees. Givena slip, turned around and someone ripped it out of my hand and said follow me and shot off. I hurtled after him and he stopped and grabbed my backpack from me and ran off with that to. Others were shouting 'it's ok' at me. Hundreds of taxis in front of me, it was hard to keep track of him. Eventually, he loaded my pack into the boot of car 2799 - the number I had remembered seeing very briefly on the rapidly disappearing piece of paper. Bundled me into the back seat and locked the door, which would have fallen off its hinges if he hadn't! The non-aircon car had aircon alright as it didn't have any windows! Wait for it......the man disappeared for a long time and eventually a weaselly looking old guy with an orange beard turned up running, shortly followed by the original guy asking for a tip as he found the guy for me as his porters fee. The bloody cheek of it. Gave him 5 rupees and he nearly fell over in disgust. Told him to sod off and told the driver to get going quick.

Now, from zero speed to flying in 5 seconds shouldn't have been possible in this contraption, but it did! The non-aircon worked too! Mr thingymahatma was an entertaining driver. Nose glued to the window for ages before he asked me where we were going. I wondered when he would ask? He made some mutterings and then proceeded to tell me aout the history of the city, which was great. What a shock was in store....this city is a shock! Hundreds, and I probably mean thousands of bodies lying about the pavements asleep. Even taxi drivers asleep on top of their taxis at the roadside! Even at this time of the morning, whenever we stopped, beggars would appear with the most horrendous of disfigurements. I have seen a lot in Africa, but this was a big surprise. Some way onwards and we got to the right area for where I was staying - good job I had done some homework as the driver was lost! He had to stop a few times for directions but we eventually got there at 2am to the grandly named 'Chateau Windsor'. Unfortunately it should be called 'Chateau crapeau'. Absolutely knackered by now, I was whisked 5 floors up in this ancient lift by an attendant into a reception that looked like something from the old tv programme rising damp. They thought I should have been there 2 days earlier and so gave my room to someone else and that's also why the taxi wasn't there. I showed them the correspondence and they admitted to their mistake. Problem was, the only room was a torture chamber with no aircon  or toilet. They did agree to sort it the following morning and only charge me half price for the priviledge! Too tired to argue, I went to bed seething. They brought me a free cup of chai and a bottle of water to see if that helped!

Wed 17th Oct - having slept only a few hours in a sauna on a board with fan noises all night, I could have killed anybody! So ordered breakfast for 45 rupees (2 slices of toast, pot of chai, 2 poached eggs and a banana - all for 60p) and calmed down.

Straight to reception and got moved to another larger torture chamber (officially called a superior room) - at least this one had aircon but a rather odd shower. The shower was almost directly over the toilet and the sink and the towel rail. Turn on the tap and the whole tiny room gets flooded! How's that work then? Perhaps you're means to shower, shave and sh...all at the same time? All this luxury for 2700 rupees (£35 dear place mumbai ). Can't wait to leave Mumbai already!

May as well chalk up the experience and get on with the day, so headed off....got 50metres or less from the door and got accosted by dozens of taxi drivers. What's the collective name for a group of taxi drivers?? Answer 'A shower of bastards'! Leave me alone......anyway...decided to enlist the help of an old taxi driver called 'Raja' only because he had a blue taxi and everyone else had black ones. Must make him a better driver then! Don't worry...I've lost the plot by this stage. Turned to be a good decision generally. Bartered him down to 600 rupees for a sightseeing tour of the city which lasted about 5 hours. Did you know....Mumbai has 65,000 taxis and 20 million people and 1 policeman to every 400 people and the haze over the city isn't from the heat, but the smog! Well now you do!

A few noteable points on the tour.....

Stopped at an old mosque which was being renovated. Shoes off, as is the tradition and went in to observe the rituals. A lage group of women were chanting and burning sandalwood incense whilst doing various motions. They regularly got up and rang a bell and then disappeared into one of the altar rooms to pray. Incredibly ornate décor and they were wonderfully dressed in brightly coloured saris. They also had an interesting scarf arrangement that went around their chin and mouth, I think to prevent an overdose of breathing in the incense as it was quite strong. I was the only westerner there and they didn't seem to mind me being there.

Next stop 'Mani Bhavan' otherwise known as No 19 Laburnum rd, otherwise known as Mahatma Ghandiji's home. (Note - Ghandiji and not Ghandi. He is generally known by the former here). He was he man attributed with leading India into Independence from the british colonial rule. He went on long protest walks, fasted for long periods and generally devoted his life to the cause until someone decided that they would shoot him! Not a nice thing to do to a very nice man is it? My taxi driver had a different story to tell about Ghandiji that painted a not so noble picture of the man. Rather than taint his otherwise saintly popular character, I will leave out this alternative version of history. I like Ghandiji, so there!

Note - common to see barefooted priests walking along the road as they aren't allowed to use public transport as part of their faith. 'It's good for the soul', someone told them...what they really meant was it's good for the soles of your feet!

Next the Kamala Nehru park and the 'Hanging gardens'. Hanging, because they hang off the edge of the hillside. Some interesting trees here and yet again more renovation going on. I guess everywhere in Mumbai is being rebuilt. To be honest, it needs it.

One of my favourite stops at my own personal request  based on some reading I had done was the 'Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghats'. x is pronounced sh by the way. Almost all hotels washing in this town is handled by nearly 5,000 'dhobi-wallers' or washer women/men. Here they wash, pulverise, scrub and generally try to demolish a multi-coloured array of people's clothing and bed linen. It is a sea of colour with it all hanging above the area drying. Below, the dhobi-wallers are doing their stuff in square pits. It is a sight to behold, and one that will live forever in my mind! Located right next to the train station too. A shanty town washing machine!

Taxis here run on Compressed Nitro Gas. CNG for short. Thought I would throw that in for general knowledge.

Last stop, a carper shop....he had to have a mate in need of some business didn't he! Made my escape rapidly and went to the Gate of India. This officially opened in 1924 after being built following the visit of King George V in 1911. The british sahibs and memsahibs needed a grand arch to walk through when they entered the country didn't they? Anyway, the arch also lead to the very opulent Taj palace & tower hotel opposite. A very grand affair that I will try to gate crash another day for a reccy. Unfortunately, it ceased to be of use 24yrs later when india got its independence. The last british regiment left under ceremony through the arch. A nice lagacy though....and yes...it's being renovated!

Had a dodgy snack of cucumber spread with chilli salt for 5 rupees. Let's see how my stomach handles that one eh?

The gateway is also the place where boats leave for Elephanta Island. Will go another day and tell you about it then.

A pleasant walk back through the smog to the hotel, with a few noteable stops on the way. In snack mode and wanting to experiment. 'Panna leaves' with herbs. For 10Rs each a leaf is spread with a yoghurty mix with herbs and spices and wrapped, dipped in sauce and coconut. Lovely taste and available in loads of variations. Next, a lebanese chicken, herb and mayonnaise type wrap - also very nice for 60Rs. Washed down with mango lassi (yoghurt drink) for 10Rs. Ded cheap to eat on the streets here. Just got to be careful.

Later in the day after a quick recover and read, went for dinner for flame-thrower pasta. Well actually pasta arrabiata, but like everything here, covered in hidden chilli and a cold fire putter outer - aka beer! And a mango freezy-thing to stop the pain.

During the day I bought an Indian SIM card and unlike everwhere else in the world...here you need your passport and a photocopy....and your visa and a photocopy....and a passport photograph. Reason is that they want to prevent terrorism and hence have a national database of every phone number in use and all the personal details. It is a legal requirement that the sellers must comply with. Strikes me that there would be an easy way around this if someone wanted to.

Some other events of the day....not many western faces around. I stopped to chat to locals a few times, as I do from time to time and for no reason other than it is the only way you learn about them. It draws in the crowds you know. On one occasion, a really old passing spiritual healer guy was brought into the group. Couldn't speak any english of course, and I couldn't speak any Hindi so we stared at each other a lot. He looked like Roy Wood from wizard with a really good suntan and a turban! Facinating experience that one. On another occasion, a bunch of guys dragged another old guy into the discussion, and tried to tell me about his 6 wives. I am sure he was probably my age but they had worn him down to looking 100 yrs old! They are really friendly folk so enjoyed it. This is where you see couples or groups of tourists walking along talking to nobody else...you need to make the effort to talk to the locals or you learn nothing.

Finally, chatted to a dutch guy and we ended up going off for a drink together for an hour. I had a really nice bucket of spiced chai (tea to you westerners). I learn a bit about alternative healing, his speciality, and that he was off to a traditional indian wedding soon. That would be an experience.

It's been a long and tiring day, with so much crammed in for my first day in India, that it is almost a blur, but it has been a very interesting mix. Last thing of the day was a walk down towards Chowpatty beach along marine drive. It was crowded as there is a stadium part way along that had a game on. Couldn't work out what the game was and I was too interested in watching the film crews setting up for the news bulletins and a really cute presenter learning her lines. Absolute mayhem with the traffic and honking of horns. Didn't make it to the beach as shattered and will go another day. This is Jeff Bradshaw for the BBC 10 o'clock news from Mumbai....back to mr blobby in the studio......

Thu 18th Oct - Another day in amongst the mayhem. First stop though to check in at the Jet Airways office close by that my e-ticket to Chennai at the weekend is in order. Went well enough so relaxed about it. Walk to gate of India to catch the ferry to Elephanta Island. Popped into the Taj palace hotel for a reccy. You get strange looks when your in shorts and sandals and they're all in posh outfits. Chin up, chest out and walk around likme you own the place and they leave you be. Must book into the 'Presidential Suite' one day. Only 300,000 rupees per night! That's £3,750! A superior single here is £206 per night. I bet it's a bit posher than my superior single?

Got ticket for 125Rs for the ferry and the cheek of it when you get on board, they ask for another 10Rs to sit up top. Get stuffed I told him and went up top. He complained and so did I - after all I had paid to get on the boat, not where I was going to sit...me smells a scam here. Anyway, he left me alone and smiled. Everybody wobbles their head here when they speak.....started doing it myself for fun. They don't seem to notice as they are so used to it!

As an aside....I started wondering about predictive SMS in India and how tricky that must be to get it right. Also, I know why texting is so cheap....the words are so long, you cannot fit a sentence into 160 characters!

Chatted to a lady from Belgium on the ferry and decided to tour the island together.

The island is about 10km north east of the Gateway of india and takes about 1hr. Boat lands at the Shetbunder jetty and the first thing that hits you is a tourist tax of 5Rupees. A little train can take you the hundred yards or so to the end of the jetty. How lazy are some people! 120 steps take you upto the main entrance to the Elephanta caves, the reason for coming here. On the way they climb up past loads of opportunistic trinket sellers and fod stalls plus even more opportunistic monkeys trying to nick everything they can. Funny little things and lots of baby monkeys too. A real aaarrrhh factor. For those that don't fancy the climb, 'coolies' can take you up in a kind of bamboo sedan chair.

Once up near the caves the 250 rupee entrance fee. Always amuses me when one guy gives you a ticket and the guy next to him then takes it off you and refuses to give it back as a souvenir!

Elephanta island was given its name by the portugese when they landed here in 1534 and saw an enormous elephant in the entrance to the caves. This isn't here now as it was relocated to Victoria Jijamata garden in Mumbai. The history of the island is very sketchy but goes back as far as 635AD.

Indian hinduism is split mainly into 2 sects that believe in two different 'supreme lords'. Saivism that believe in Siva  and his consort Parvati. And Vaishnavism that believe in Vishnu. Elephanta island was definitely founded by the siva sect as the caves ar a tribute to Siva and Parvati and various scenes of historical interest. The understanding of what it all means requires a knowledge of indian mythology. Something for a quiet moment and a beer I think as it takes some following.

Back on land after the return ferry and a few minutes down the road a hindu guy launched himself at me, stuck a needle in my ear and conjured up some disgusting wax - ranted at me for the effects of using too much shower gel and suntan lotion! Now first thing, forgive me for being quaint but, anyone who does that without saying hello first, deserves to have his lights punched out, and secondly, what he supposedly produced from my ear looked more like putty - nothing that my body could possibly be capable of producing! I think he needed to change his business plan after I finished with him!

Off down the Cordoba causeway and decided to go to a famous place for travellers in these parts called 'Leopold's cafe'. Had an indian biriana meal. You get 10% cash back if you pay for your meal on credit card. Now...they expect a 10% tip...funny that isn't it. They give you a scowl if you then leave without giving them a tip. I hate it when they expect it...stuff em!

Walked on to the old fort area and was accosted by an old man who claimed to be the retired profesor from the university opposite where we stood. He needed a bit of a clean up for an ex professor! He offered to talk to me for 10 minutes and suggested we went somewhere where I could buy him a beer  and he would save me money by going to a cheap bar! Bloody cheek. He also looked upset when I told him I didn't want a beer and it would do his health good to stop drinking and get another job! Cannot stop laughing at these people.

Chatted to a dutch couple on the way to the sea front then sat on the wall with an indian family to watch the sun setting. A bit clearer than last night. They came from New Delhi and have offered to show me around when I go there soon. Meeting the locals is what travelling is all about isn't it?

After a change of clothes due to the heat went out for a night walk to Chowpatty beach. Must be 90 degrees so cooling down! Piped music relayed onto tannoys down the centre of the marine drive. Sounded like a mix between India meets Michael Flatey's river dance meets the Shadows. Me being the only westerner daft enough to go walking at night means i'm outnumbered by 10,000 to 1 but lots of people say hello as I pass. Really friendly. Chowpatty beach is a crazy crazy place at night. Lots of hustle and bustle of families at fast food stands and entertainers with miniture cars rushing around mowing people over. Head massagers, shoulder massagers, wallet massagers....rushing after people canvassing for business. I was latched onto of course and drew an attachment of massagers. Became a pest really. Had a pistachio kulfi which was really nice and some panna leaf then walked back. An electronic sign above the road announced that 14 had been sent to prison for 'rash' driving. Now, as previously mentioned, this place is barking mad. Many thousands of drivers try to kill each other and have no regard for road rules...as there aren't any rules! I would love to know what they mean by 'rash'? Saw Osama ben laden and his family having a chat on the wall enjoying the fresh evening air. He looked without a care in the world. Obviously on holiday from all that killing and terrorism stuff! Only joking, but he did look so similar!

Another point....don't wish to offend anyone but, either a lot of indians here are gay or they are just very friendly to each other. So many of the guys hold hands or wrap their arms around each other when they walk along. So sweet innit!

The end of another experience packed day.

Fri 19th Oct - Last full day in Mumbai. Left hotel early and bumped into the taxi driver I had used on my first day for the city tour. He tried to offer me a day on an island and lunch at his home. Would have been nice and not too expensive, but I fancied a chillin' and cheap sort of day as it's been a busy few days. Glad I turned him down as 50yds down the road bumped into girl from Holland on walkabout. Went for walk and talk which was nice. Later went to sit in the 'Maiden Oval', which not surprisingly is a massive green park area in the centre of Mumbai where everyone interested in cricket comes to play. There are numerous games being played over the park and it's easy to see why india produces some great cricketers, as it is in their blood from an early age. I picked an area in the shade to sit and watch and it wasn't long before I was joined by a couple of locals who wanted a chat. Spent at least 2 hours talking to these guys about a whole range of local issues. Really nice guys and learnt a lot from them. Had my second glass of cane juice of the day to keep the energy up, and moved on to another area of the park and spent an hour talking to a couple from Finland. By the way...cane juice is high in glucose and for 3 rupees a glass its ideal for quenching the thirst and an energy boost.

Off to the train station to buy a timetable and rail network map and then hang around for a bit to soak up the atmosphere. If this is typical of other Indian rail stations, then they are great places to just stand for a while. Chaotic is an understatement. The trains are different from anything I have ridden on before so looking forward to some interesting times on some journeys I have planned. As a tourist I can book a long distance train a day before departure, subject to availability of course. An indian national has to book 60 days in advance! There are tourist booking offices, but the locals have to run the gauntlet of the normal booking system. I haven't booked anything yet so will be interested to see of reality turns out the way they say it should.

Been a talky sort of a day and really nice. Talk costs nothing and you can learn so much from it. Had spent some time on the net earlier in the morning and as seems to happen regularly, some more travel plans seem to be going awry. This time, it is possible that a tour I had booked in Sri Lanka may not happen at christmas. There is troubles out there at present and, although not affecting the main tourist areas, might be enough to make people hold off going there. Will have to wait until later into november to know what is happening. Just in case though, I started making some enquiries into alternatives. As I said in a previous blog...the less planning, the easier it seems to go. Almost everything I booked in advance of setting off from the UK has been cancelled or changed somehow. For example...not booked any digs for arrival in Chennai tomoro, until tonight. Got on the net and in about half an hour had organised something for 7 pounds a night in exactly the right location. The net and other methods have made getting around so easy these days. Could have just turned up of course but it's nice to have one less thing to do when you arrive somewhere new. Was talking to a tour company about something later in the year, to find that, if I leave it 30days or less from departure, I will save 20%. Why book early then? The risk of course is that it fills up and no spaces left. For that amount of saving, it's worth hanging on though.

Never ceases to amaze me the coincidences that happen! Was walking into my hotel and saw a couple of girls sat on the steps talking english. Stopped to say hello and chat about what they were up to. Oddly enough, they were about to leave for Chennai and even more was that they happen to be on exactly the same tour as I am on with Intrepid travels! They are going on a 26hr train journey to get there and I am flying tomoro morning. Wish I was on the train to be honest but glad of the extra night in Mumbai with stuff to do. So, will be seeing them again. Small world isn't it.

It happened again....the dutch girl I had met earlier in the day....I was sitting having a meal and guess who walked past the window? She came in for a meal so I joined her and her friends from Bangalore. Got their details in case I end up there, which is very possible. Small world isn't it?

Tags: Sightseeing

 

Comments

1

Ah yes the toilets at Mumbai airport. They give you one sheet - use it wisely!

  pmb Oct 24, 2007 6:56 AM

2

Hi there,

Seems like you did like certain things in India. But from all that you mentioned more of it seemed kind of sarcastic to me. Well you do find bummers all over the world not just India but if your talking about the poverty line I totally agree with you because our government does not provide the DOLE like in other countrys so what else do these people do but to resort to begging not to say they are educated or have the resource to start a small business so the easiest thing is beg. Again you do find beggars in most places. I have seen some in the US and Canada but again they might not be so remarkably visible to a common man as like in India. Sad that your rooms did not turn out to your expectation not surprised about that though I live in Bangalore been to Mumbai once and couldn't take it there with the dirty rooms roads and the ambience was a complete turn off that I left mumbai in a couple of hours never to return there again. But India has a lot more to offer you than just Mumbai if only you took the time to go to the right places. Hmmm.... guys holding hands to you in your country might potray a Gay but back here in India it isn't. Quite funny though for guys to hold hands but im kind of used to seeing it. Again its all to do with the mind. Hope that on your next visit you do have a blast and see a lot more of a better India.

  Sabrina Nov 19, 2008 9:13 PM

3

Hi Sabrina.

I am never sarcastic in my blog entries. If you checked some of my other blog entries on India you would have seen how awesome a country I said it was. I was there for three months and got to many places. The problem with reading one blog and especially the first one on entering a country, you might get a distorted impression. I have traveled for 18 months now, to many poverty countries and have and always will respect the domestic environment.

Also, my journal is just that...a daily diary of opinions at that time. What you will find is that when i leave a country i sometimes do a summing up of the overall impression it left with me. India is a country of extremes...check out some of my other blogs.

Regards
Jeff
Jeff

  Jeff Bradshaw Nov 19, 2008 9:27 PM

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