Trip Start Jan 26, 2007
92Trip End Feb 06, 2008
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Where I stayed
Salvation Army Red Shield
It's an enormous country. Diverse in all facets. I was about to try to tackle a sliver of it and I was nervous as hell.
Mumbai is a sweltering harbor city of 15 million. The hour long taxi drive south into the downtown area, at 5am, revealed crazier drivers than Cairo, constant smells to entertain the nostrils, and city roads absolutely lined with people sleeping on the pavement.
I got to my hostel, the Salvation Army Red Shield, and was informed I would have to wait until 7:30 before getting a bed
After a sweaty, feverish nap until around 1pm, I walked about the Colaba area, a slightly upscale neighborhood near the Gateway to India monument. Many tourists and travellers base out of this area, being that it is close to the sights. My brief walk was enough time for me to get comfortable here. It's clear to me now that the last 7 months has actually affected me. While I felt completely scared and eager like I had in Rio de Janeiro, it took me about a tenth of the time to get comfortable. The pestering you get here isn't nearly as bad as in East Africa, anyway.
I decided to jump in head first. I made myself walk a long way to a train station to explore options for my onward leg. I ended up having to use the train system to go find private bus stands a fair distance north in order to get a ticket
I didn't jump in head first completely. On my first day in India, I was unable to overcome my fear of getting sick, and didn't eat anything except for a root beer float from McDonald's. I wasn't that hungry anyway - same thing happened in Rio.
The next day, I woke early to move to a cheap hotel and to catch a ferry to Elephanta Island, dramatically from underneath the Gateway to India. This island is one of Mumbai's main tourist attractions. On the island's slopes are 1300yr old rock caves carved into the stone hillside. A massive three-headed Shiva, plus a ton of other carvings detailing events in the life of Shiva. Very impressive and dramatic temples. The ferry ride across the bay shows you how large the city is, but also that the city isn't all that dramatic in terms of skyline. The coolest stuff is right where I'm staying.
Sweltering heat. It's past monsoon season, and there hasn't been a drop of rain, but every time I go outside it might as well be raining saltwater. I'm not usually one to sweat, but this climate makes my skin act like a sieve. I'm drinking over 3 liters of water a day, easily.
I ate lunch at a really good place. I don't think I'll have any trouble eating Indian food for a month and a half. Maybe the occasional milkshake or ice cream, but for the most part, it'll just be fear of sickness that will keep me from diving in to different things
I walked around some more. Just walking and walking to get myself comfortable with the weather, the atmosphere, and to an extent, the people of Mumbai.
My "hotel" is a hallway with 10 rooms and a shared bathroom. It's also right next door to Leopold's Cafe, which is apparently a Mumbai/Bombay institution, having been founded in 1871. It's a traveller magnet. For that reason, my hotel's street is filled with scruffy characters offering hash and/or taxi rides every ten paces.
There are some cool colonial Victorian buildings, remnants from the British occupation. The University looks like it came straight out of England. The Victoria Terminus/CST (big train station) is a crazy gothic-looking building. There are other cool buildings. At least in that respect, Mumbai's architecture is interesting.
I was "befriended" by a guy claiming to be a schoolteacher from northern Mumbai. He told me about a festival starting in "5 minutes" very close by, that lasts for 30 minutes, once every four years. I was doubtful but he insisted so passionately that we shared a $0.50 cab ride to wherever he was taking me
Once we arrived at the place, which turned out to be a cremation center, I knew it wasn't what he had promised. He walked me about, me doubtfully lagging behind and he insisting that I take pictures while I insisted my camera stayed in my bag. Taking a picture is leverage for later money solicitations - this I've learned.
He showed me the stands where bodies were cremated and kind of explained the process. Then he and a new friend showed me the piles of wood used to burn bodies. Then they took me back to this grassy area behind the whole place, showed me holes in the ground and a newly filled in hole containing "fresh baby," and then showed me the Magic Tree where people can come to pray. Litter was strewn about the base of the tree. Then they asked me to write my name and nationality for "the records." Eric Johnson from America then refused to give any money when they showed me "Spain - Rs 5000" and "Dutch - Rs3000" on the next few pages of the notebook. Rs4000 is a hundred dollars. "But it's a donation, for poor people, not for us," say they, and say you, "why be so selfish? you have money to give; give it."
There are other things about Mumbai. Mostly the smells - there's always something perturbing your nose, be it the sudden chill of an AC unit, the thick musk of your own and other peoples' sweat, a sharp whiff of strong spices, a sweet smell of sugar cane juice, or the various and subtle forms of the scent of feces.
I head north tonight to Rajasthan - Udaipur, in specific. The next 6 weeks will be a veritable whirlwind. I stay no place longer than 3 days, if all goes to plan. I will probably be lumping a lot of posts together. It'll be nuts. Hope you stick with me.