From bangkok to bollywood

Trip Start Dec 14, 2004
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Trip End May 25, 2005


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Saturday, April 16, 2005

we have had a long and intense week since our last entry. on monday we took a minibus back to chiang mai, from pai, and we crossed our fingers that we would be able to find a cheap and good room for one night in that city. the beginning of the week was also the unofficial beginning of the thai new year, songkran, which manifests itself in the form of a water festival. chiang mai is the best and biggest celebration of the holiday in the entire country, so we were lucky enough to find accomodation for one night.

we were not, however, spared the luxury of remaining dry during such a celebration. the buckets of water began before we left pai, with people standing on the streets and dousing whoever walked within 20 feet of them. we thanked our lucky stars for having enough plastic bags to keep our important stuff dry, and headed to where the real water festival was taking place. (driving through the mountain road from pai to chiang mai with the windows open proved to be a bad idea!) chiang mai is a city with many canals, and masses of people lined the main streets near the canals, filling up water buckets and super soakers, jumping into the canal, and having a great time with water.

we enjoyed ourselves for a little while, but because we were taking an overnight bus on tuesday night, we wanted to stay as dry as we could before heading to the bus. at the end of the day, we managed to keep a dry pair of clothes handy for our busride to bangkok.

ahh... that busride to bangkok... it all began by waiting for two hours for the van to pick us up to take us to the bus. once that happened, we were dropped off at a gas station where about 20 other travelers sat waiting by their luggage. everyone had heard different times of when the bus was actually supposed to leave, though the general consensus was 7:30 pm. we arrived at the gas station (makeshift bus stop) around 8:00, and a few people were already voicing their suspicions of what was going on. the people inside the gas station store didn't understand any of us, and we knew we just had to wait it out... around 10:00 we started thinking of other ways to get to bangkok. we could fly, charter a taxi, do something that would've cost an outrageous amount of money on a holiday... but we had a flight to catch the next day.

take a random group of 30 travelers and throw them into this situation, and you get an interesting mix of things happening. the 7 or 8 israelis that had come in small groups of 2 or 3 eventually all bonded... we talked to them for a while, as well as to some other travelers, one guy kept telling everyone all of the possibly bad things that could happen to this bus... a group dynamic started to form.

a bus finally showed up around 10:30, it had supposedly "broken down." but, great, we had four wheels and some seats, we were ready to roll. so we thought. but then the bus stopped to fix the air conditioning, for which we were thankful, and we didn't end up actually leaving chiang mai until 11:30pm. 5.5 hours after the initial waiting game began.

much to our dismay, we got back on the bus after they had "fixed the air conditioning" to find that there was still no working a/c... but the dvd player was working, which could've been good, except someone chose "Troy." bad move. so, we're rolling along the highway, with the sounds of "troy" blaring through the speakers and beads of sweat starting to pour off of our faces and bodies. what an excellent combo.

the bus begins an ascent on the highway... and we can all feel and hear that the driver is having a hard time switching to the proper gear. he knocks it into first gear after stopping in the middle of the highway, and we begin to crawl up the hill.

two israelis begin freaking out that this bus is not properly equipped to take people all the way to bangkok, and suddenly the entire bus is up in arms... what do we do?! after some yelling between an israeli guy and the bus driver, they convince him to pullover... all of the israelis, one pug puppy, plus a couple of others, get off and get their luggage, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a major holiday, and they insisted that we all come with them. well, with no more hills to battle on the highway, and a driver who is telling us that everything will be fine in a very sincere way, we stay on the bus and have a miserable ride with no a/c and no open windows... alas, we have a flight to catch.

we spent all of wednesday at the airport in bangkok, waiting for our flight. by the time we board the plane we are so tired, but we are so excited for our first taste of indian food, even if it is plane food. at this point, it has been about 32 hours since we woke up in a bed and had a shower, and we were positively loopy by the time our (delayed, go figure) flight to Mumbai took off.

our flight had a brief layover in Delhi, and it was about 1am India time when we landed- according to our bodies- about 2:30am. We're still not sure how the time difference can include a half an hour, but we'll go with it.

our first battle? waiting for luggage.
our second? trying to procure one of the pre-paid taxicabs that Lonely Planet (our guidebook and sometimes bible) recommended taking to the hotel. it was after 2am by the time the three of us stumbled into the humid Mumbai night. we paid for a cab and got a slip with a number on it... the man behind the counter said, "it's number 5437, a blue taxi, look for it in the parking lot outside." we walk outside to the parking lot where there were at least 300 blue taxis waiting. whoah. now what? well, we walk to the lot and start asking the men about the number, at which point they start calling out the number as well, and it looks as though we'll never find this specific taxi. it took a little back and forth from the counter to the parking lot, but eventually we were in a taxi with our backpacks hanging precariously out of the trunk, ready (or not) for our first driving experience in bombay.

if we had thought the driving had been bad in bangkok and cambodia... we really had no idea about india. there might be lines indicating some sort of lane division, but if they're there at all, the drivers pay no attention to them, whatsoever.

we arrived at our hotel with our hearts in our throats, and finally made it to our room to settle in for some much needed and much anticipated sleep. we arise in mid-day to get our first glimpse of bombay in the sunlight and seek out a pure-vegitarian restaurant. our cab ride to the more touristy part of town, kolaba, was our first real glimpse of the 'slums' in this city. we sat in shock as we passed through miles of streets lined with shacks and people. drying clothes hung over the cement median, and both children and adults roamed and sat, cooking food and playing games, taking baths and sleeping... some kind of normal flow seems to be happening in these slums at all times... but how is this kind of normalcy at all acceptable?

we wandered through kolaba for a little while, just trying to get our bearings and adapt to our new and very different surroundings. later in the day we were approached by a guy who asked us if we wanted to be extras in a bollywood movie on the following day (friday). apparently, india is home to one of the worlds' largest film industries- better known as Bollywood (think "Monsoon Wedding", "Missippi Masala"). After a bit of hesitation, we agreed to meet him early the next morning to see what an experience in bollywood would be like.

after a long, early morning drive, we arrived in bollywood with about 30 other travelers who had been recruited for the same thing. women were given their costumes which turned out to be orange and white bikini tops, short cheerleader-esque skirts and funny little hats- we were "cigarette girls" for this particular song and dance number of the movie. we were way less than happy with these utterly ridiculous outfits. men, fortunately for them, were given black suits. for some unknown reason, 10 girls were recruited but there were only 8 costumes. fortunately, or unfortunately for her (depending how you look at it) jodie did not get an outfit and missed her chance at bollywood stardom. jodie spent the day watching the fliming of ridiculous song and dance scenes while rachel and allison took their shots at onscreen fame. while very funny, the day was hot and exhausting and we were less than happy to be wearing our mini outfits from the get- go.

14 hours, 2 huge meals, and numerous complaints later, we were on a bus back to downtown Mumbai. the day was well worth the story- it was incredible to see how long it takes to film 2 minutes of a movie. but, after the past 10 days, we are more than ready for a great story that is enjoyable in the moment, and not just in retrospect.

we know this has become a long entry...and if you've made it this far, bravo- you're probably among the few and the brave. it has been an intense 10 days- since we left on the trek up in Northern Thailand, it has been one long day after another. travelling as we are is hard- and we enjoy it, otherwise we wouldn't be doing it this way. but it shouldn't go unmentioned that our (albeit limited) exposure to life in India thus far has been shocking.

on an intellectual level, we all knew that India would provide more than a fair share of 'hard things to see'- we've seen the photos in National Geographic, read the statistics--- but nothing, not even our experiences in Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos could prepare us for the level of degradation we saw as we drove through the shantytowns of Bombay last night. before any of the parents out there worry- we should preface this by saying that we have not felt unsafe. never have we been intimidated, or felt threatened. however, we have been overwhelmed to an indescribable degree. It seemed that the stretch of the 'slums' we drove through last night lasted for well over an hour- people sleeping everywhere, on the street, on piles of rubble- children next to grandparents next to dogs next to piles of trash. the three of us just stared out the window- it's the sort of thing that makes you want to close your eyes, but we don't. we came here by choice- with the sense that for all the sadness and ugliness we may see, there is a lot of beauty to be found here. for all of the filth- for all of the abject poverty- we saw mothers holding children and laughing, men sitting in intent and lively conversation, teens playing paddleball--- basically, people going about the business of daily life.

these are only our first thoughts and impressions... we have only two and a half weeks in India, and we know that there is a lot to see, and to take in, and to adjust to, in a very short period of time.

we are off to the train station now to attempt to decipher Indian bureaucracy and purchase train tickets to head north. we have a few options in terms of SERVAS stays (home hospitality) as well as a host in Delhi who will be quite helpful. Passover (Pesach, a major Jewish holiday of the season) is quickly approaching, and we're still in the process of trying to secure spots at a seder.

lastly--- a few of you have asked about the change of end date listed for our trip. we've decided to cut our time short by a couple of weeks. it's just too expensive to spend more time in Western Europe or the UK (the pound is nearly $2 right now!) and we'd rather go for quality than quantity :)

we love and miss you all... we can't tell you how much we enjoy hearing from you, so keep writing!
Jodie, Allison, and Rachel
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