Published: August 7th 2007January 18th 2007
Leaving for Elephanta Isle
I honestly thought I was going to find Mumbai in more or less in the same state I found it 3 months ago when I first arrived in India. I hadn't planned on staying in Mumbai at all and was even looking for ways to avoid it. But I wanted to make sure I arrived in Mumbai with plenty of time to spare before flying out to my next worldly destination. So I decided to bite the bullet and mentally prepare for my 'Return to Mumbai'. Well - I was in for another shock. When I arrived I found Mumbai one of the cleanest cities that I've been to in India! Surely this miraculous clean up couldn't have happened over night? I can only put it down to a severe case of culture shock that I experienced when I arrived. Back then I couldn't wait to get out of the place. I don't think I could have spent another day in what seemed then like an oppressively smelly, noisy, dirty and crowded city. Instead I found myself walking along pleasantly clean and tidy paved streets, wandering around places I seemed to know but didn't recognise; like something out of a movie.
The impressive looking train station in Mumbai
I was enjoying what I had completely missed the last time and I can only put it down to a severe case of sensory overload that was preventing me from seeing Mumbai for what it was.
Fearing what was to come I really fancied some relative luxury in my last few days of India having 'slummed' it for the past 3 months. All the nice hotels however quickly become booked up. I found myself resorting back to the budget options in no time. It was then that I would find myself being foxed one last time my sneaky enterprising Indians. It had been a long train journey from Ahmedabad to Mumbai (about 8 or 9 hours) and seat reservations on this popular route from Delhi get booked up well in advance. Options were limited but I managed to get myself into 1st class on an early morning train that was ideal as it arrived in plenty of time to find accommodation in this busy city. Brilliant I thought, and it was dead cheap too - a bargain you might say. A friend had been in 1st class and received royal treatment in the way of free meals and drinks
Excuse me, any chance of passage to Thailand?
so my expectations were running pretty high. Instead I found myself on an early morning commuter train, that slowly filled up with more and more people on their way to work. No free drinks. No meals. Just people. The give away I realised was the lack of air conditioning anywhere on the train and the large availability of seats. It soon became clear that on this particular train, seat reservations are worth about as much as a crumbled cinema ticket recovered from washed laundry. Not that air conditioning is particularly needed this time of year but it certainly sets the classes apart. I was fortunate I hadn't settled for 3rd class as it may have been a serious consideration to get off the train and find another way to get to Mumbai. The journey it turned out wasn't too bad, first class (non a/c) just means you get packed in with the business men and women instead of the riff raff.
It was the trek around Colaba trying to find hotels that really tired me out. So when this dude, who was far too keen for his own good, offered to show me to the guest house I had
Aye Aye Sir
Well done kids. At ease.
been looking for, it was hard to shake him off. "Seashore Hotel?" he enquired pointing enthusiastically at the sign and running off toward it waving furiously for me to follow. No, No, I told him, but my attempts to beat him to the door failed miserably. It wasn't what I expected by any stretch of the imagination but I had run out of options by this point. So I followed him in to a miserable looking place and took the room that comes complete with a small army of ants and 3 large cockroaches harbouring a horde of tiny babies down the drain in the shower. I cunningly trapped the biggest ones down the drain by covering the opening with the bucket provided; suitably weighted down with water (with their size I feared they could literally move mountains). The air conditioning made a racket but I was so tired I managed to sleep with the aid of ear plugs. Houdini still managed to enter my room however and wake me up by flying around late at night before I swiftly captured the bastard and launched him from my third floor window. The next day I discovered Seashore Hotel, two flights
Most kids are more occupied in seeing the screen than having their photo taken.
up on the fifth floor and had a much more pleasant stay. I recommend giving Sea Lord Hotel on the third floor a definitive miss.
Moving upstairs I was delighted to find my friend Ingbert on his way back to Germany along with some jolly nice guys running the hotel and lots of other pleasant guests I could chat to. Ingbert and I had gone our separate ways after the camel trip so it was good to catch up again before leaving India. We spent the day on Elephanta Island which turned out to be a nice day out considering we had nothing better to do. In what must have been an enormous task around the year 600 AD (dates vary) the main cave and joining areas of about 60,000 sq ft has been dug out of rock to create rooms complete with pillars and images of Shiva carved into the rock walls. Elephanta caves however, I am told, are uninspiring when compared with the world famous Ajanta Caves not that far outside of Mumbai; for anyone planning on visiting those. I didn't have time this trip to make it to Ajanta, but I figure I'll be in and
Has anyone seen my sunglasses?
out of Mumbai on more than one other occasion in the future and will be sure to pay them a visit next time.
So all things considered - India was a raving success story. I made it safely in and out of the country. And the icing on the cake; they even let me into Thailand. In fact, relatively speaking I survived India without so much as a hiccup. And since I left I've come to appreciate even more what an absolutely wonderful country it is. I enjoyed every single hairy moment in the 3 months I traveled there. OK, it's possibly one of the most polluted, noisy, densely populated places I know on earth but apart from the initial sore throat, I didn't really suffer from it as much as some travelers do; for example those that suffer from asthma. I have a reasonably hardy constitution and over the 3 occasions that I fell ill I was only out of action for a total of about three and a half days. The street food vendors, those that are frequented by the locals I concluded, have some of the safest food I ate and the tourist restaurants with few
Careful now guys, play nicely
customers who have food siting around and don't know how to cook western food properly are amongst the worst. And the people of India were so friendly and warm and interesting that I miss them already - even the rickshaw drivers and touts who were frequently trying it on, over charging and hassling me, turned out to be warm and friendly once I realised that they love to play games. And I've never felt safer in any country I've ever been to before. For every cow pat I dodged I found an interesting person or fascinating piece of culture. It's easy to travel around because so many people speak English yet it's still a challenging experience. One needs time and patience to get the most out of a place like India and for this reason it is said that India is like Marmite; you either love it or you hate it; and it's so true.
Among my most memorable places and moments in India are; fireworks and festivities with Sandeep's family over Diwali, overlooking Hampi's ancient civilisation and rock scenery, leaping into a local ferry through the backwaters of Kerala, experiencing Agra's majestic Taj Mahal and friendly culture, being
What a nice pair of binoculars
I look terrified as I let kids wield my camera.
invited to a wedding reception in Chandigarh, bribing a rickshaw driver to put his meter on in Delhi, navigating tight back streets by scooter in Jodhpur, desert safari near Jaiselmer and of course arriving in Mumbai with acute culture shock only to wonder what all the fuss was about 3 months later.
I've chosen some pictures that I think show what India is really about. It's easy to be awed by the temples, forts and natural beauty of India. But it's also the quirks that make things entertaining. And if I didn't say it before the thing that most makes India is the sheer cultural diversity and wonderful hospitality displayed by all Indian people that I've since learned - you just won't find anywhere else in Asia.
There are more photos below