Touchdown. . Mumbai

Trip Start Feb 19, 2006
1
5
90
Trip End Oct 01, 2006


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Flag of India  ,
Monday, February 27, 2006

The flight from London was long, about 8 hours and with the time difference, it was 12 hours later when I finally touched down in Mumbai.
Taxiing in, I saw my first bits of India from ground level, shacks next to decent-looking houses, trucks and airport equipment busy being used or sitting used up, palm trees and hazy sunshine. Stepping off of the plane and into the terminal I felt both apprehensive and excited, not to mention sweaty (within moments, anyway). .The air conditioning was minimal at best, but at least I was not shocked by the heat. I later learned that all things in this country are like that, used and used up, busy being jury rigged, old and/or not functioning properly, if at all. Ant the terminal itself, though an old military field from what I understand was no exception. From a distance things such as vents and light fixtures looked ok, but upon closer inspection one can see the non-standardization. Everything is just a little askew, no two things are quite the same. .

After some travail, and some time I managed to get my bag and go through "customs" ( an army guy taking a little ticket you fill out on the bottom of your entry/exit card, no bag-looking or even x-raying) and so went outside to find my ride. . .
There were perhaps fifty drivers out on the sidewalk with signs and different names, but not one of them was mine. Good thing I had the drivers cell phone number. . Called, he answered, and said. ."yes, my friend, we are ready to pick you up. . 11:55 tonight, yes?" Oops!. . .I know I told him AM and not PM. . So now here I am in this crazy place with my backpack, and I'm on my own. . Yikes. .
As I was near the phone a sikh man approached and asked if I "need taxi" and so myself and a south african couple followed him to a little yellow and black taxi. I negotiated the fare for myself, 400 rupees, a good deal I thought, since the hotel guy wanted to charge me 1200. . Only problem was, as I found out, the hotel was not 6km from the airport as they told me, it was 35 km. The driver's "agent" found this out and told me, and looked annoyed, thinking I was trying to dupe the driver by telling him the hotel was closer. I managed to do a little damage control and negotiated another fare for the trip. "American twenty!" the sikh said. "Eight hundred!" I countered, and after a couple of minutes we did settle on 800, about 18 dollars, actually a good rate,as I found out later. .
The ride was something different altogether. Mumbai is total anarchy just about, the driver took us past makeshift shacks and tents with dirty and hungry people, living in extreme squalor and poverty that mere words cannot describe. Thousands of staring eyes on a 6-foot bleached blonde westerner in a sikh taxi. And the famous smell. The smell of people living, dying, excreting, washing, cooking, sleeping. Mixed with exhaust, smoke, rotting things, chemicals, and all manner of everything. The smell was not unfamiliar, and not even unbearable to me as it is to some, I've smelled similar in other cities, especially new york, but Mumbai is more so, MUCH more so. Not for the weak of stomach.
Finally we get to Pilahouse Naka in Mumbai central, and as I figured out quickly, Central is about the furthest thing from a tourist area. In fact, I have seen not one westerner in the hordes of trousered and collared pedestrians. Not that I am afraid per se, but it is an isolating and a little disorienting feeling to be so far from home both in distance and culture, surrounded by staring and unfamiliar faces.
A man comes out as soon as I get my things from the taxi and motions me inside. No sign on the door or anything, just a door. .Cautiously I ask him if it is the Hotel Anukool. He nods and says, "yes, yes, come!" Stepping inside there is a desk and stairs. It is the hotel, and an attendant takes me upstairs to show me the room. Dark, with a fan, and one dingy window, a shared bathroom, equally dodgy, and going back downstairs, I request the private AC room, also used up and dirty, but with a decent private bathroom at least. Well worth the extra money, though again, not one bit like the hotel they had pictures of on their web page. I don't know where that hotel room is, but it is certainly not in this building, nor anywhere near this neighborhood. Perhaps my taxi driver was right, I should have just flown straight to Goa. .
At least I have survived so far my first day in the crazed city of mumbai, and am relatively safe in my locked hotel room. . Whoa. . .No matter what you read, see, or hear, nothing could possibly prepare one for the stark human reality that is the former Bombay. . Watch tv for a bit, filter some drinking water. . then sleep for 14 hours. .
Tomorrow is another day, and rest and body-clock resetting are the first order of business.
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