Published: July 31st 2009June 15th 2009 Mel
Mels boyfriend modelling souvenir from India
A T-shirt with the name of the famous expats haunt Cafe Leopold in Mumbai, scene of last years shocking terrorist attack
I arrived in India, and was only delayed a couple of minutes by the masked and white coated doctorlike people at Abu Dhabi and Mumbai airports.
They put on a big show of preventing swine flu entering their countries, but if there were any cases of it, I think they would have easly got in. One masked guy in Abu Dhabi gave me a form to fill about swine flu. Even though I told him I am not staying in Abu Dhabi he said I have to fill it in anyway. I proceeded on my way to find a leaning spot to lean my jet lagged body one, to fill in the form and quietly grumple about how all these forms are a pain in the a... because I was woken up by the airline staff and given 2 lenghty forms already to filling in, the immigration one and the one about the airline service. I had walked 2 meters when another man said, ''give it to me''. I told him I haven't filled it in yet. He said, ''give it to me anyway''. He put the unfilled form at the bottom of his bundle and I continued on past the other 10 or 15 masked people and through a temperature checker, without incident.
When I arrived in Mumbai I was sent in the direction of around 6 white coated and masked folk. One asked me where I came from. I said, Abu Dhabi because Germany is on their list of infected countries...... That guy then waved me on without incident to the passport control and immigration who made a bigger fuss about what they usually fuss about and more stuff to fill in about names and addresses of my contacts in India. Mel
Bollywood has already found me. The guy seemed astonished that I am turning down my opporturnity for fame and fortune. But I dontt want to spend all tomorrow having myself filmed over and over turning my head slightly to the left or taking a sip of something.
I hope the guy doesn't tell the Salvation Army that I am far too wealthy to stay there, because I could turn down an actress job. I hope they won't threaten to throw me out. Last time I was almost thrown out, for staying out after the curfew every night. That time I was allowed to stay after apologising and promising to change my ways. Dirk Jan
Better not tell them you live, unmarried with child, with a metalhead then, heheh. Mel
Went to 'been around since 1871', popular expat haunt Cafe Leopold for some coffee drinking and loitering. It has become quite fancy, since the last time I was there over 10 years ago. They now have expresso, and the pit toilet has been replaces with a western toilet with 10 air freshners to keep it sweet, and there are bullet holes on the walls and mirrors. And there are 2 uniformed security men stationed in front of the cafe. I don't know if they are to keep out terrorists or beggars.
Speaking of touts and beggars, I expected to be mobbed by a swarm of them in Colaba but there was only a trickle and a lot of genuine looking and non demanding smiles from many other Indians, including the door man of the Taj Mahal Intercontinental hotel. It is almost as friendly here as Kurukshetra was. I suspect it has something to do with sympathy for foreigners because of the terrorist attack. Dirk Jan
So you've 'done' Leopold and Taj Hotel already, despite jet lag. Hope the Salvation Army don't wake you up at all hours for prayer or something... Mel
There were around 10 bulet holes in the marble wall I sat beside in cafe Leopald. It was creepy knowing that if I was sitting there during the terrorist attack I would have been shot, but it was the best spot for watching street life go by.
All entrances of the Taj Mahal hotel are shut, except a small one at the side with a metal detector to walk through. No walking along the red carpet and through the impressive front doors, when I go there for a drink some time this week. It won't really be worthwhile though, if the security prevents people from sitting at the windows, that have a great view of the bay.
Despite it not being allowed in Cafe Leopald, an Indian guy at the next table managed to subtly pester me. All this talk about the new phenomonen of female sex tourists
has made this stuff even more annoying. Now, I am considering the possibility of male prostitutes lurking everywhere, and not just the traditional reason I get pestered for.
The Salvation Army people didn't wake me up for prayer. There is a Jesus photo on the wall, but I think they have even given up on asking the 'are you Christian question' of the guests. Mel
I went to sleep at 6PM last night, after a few minutes under a cold shower. Some Australian girls asked me this morning if I am alright. Apparently, I was so conked out that they had been checking my breathing during the night. What will they be like when they have babies, if they even panick about adults in dorms dying in their sleep.
A guy at the computer next to me is showing off a camera he swapped for his. What an antique! Looks like it will put his baggage overweigt for his next flight. :D He said, it was a fair swap. A piece of rubbish in exchange for a piece of rubbish, he said. Money bullshit
: No matter how India proof I try to make myself there are still surprises. I have to pay 15 Rupees luxury tax to stay at this place. It is about as luxurious as the place we stayed at in Delhi. A bit cleaner though, which I suppose is always a luxury in India.
And despite that I am carefully refusing all shabby notes, I still managed to get a coin that was damaged enough that the coconut milk lady wouldn't take it. Is there any excuse for a coin like that. Normal wear and tear couldn't bend and dent a coin, could it. It will be a souvineer because I am not going to make the mistake of giving it to a beggar again. Last time I did that I was chased down the steet by the begger demanding good money in exchange the one I had given her as a gift. I had to jump on a bus to escape because beggars are not allowed on busses. Dirk Jan
Snobby beggars, is there no end to strange stuff in India? :D Mel
The simple answer to it is, that there is in fact no end to the strange stuff in India. :D
I walked to Chawpatty beach. The heat is not as oppressive as I have been warned it would be, because a cool sea breeze gave the feeling of always walking under a fan.
Got propositioned by another Bollywood talent scout, who was again shocked by my lack of interest in his well dressed self and business card.
I forget if I told you or not, but there was a doccumentary being filmed in Cafe Leopald while I was there, so getting on camera here is practically inescapable. Call me vain, but I was glad that no cameras found me on Chapatty beach. I wouldn't want a red faced, sweaty version of me that had just got lost on a walk, to what should have been a couple of KM along the Arabic coast. I walked 200 M, before a slum got in my way. I bought a bag of oranges in the slum and hurried past the many chicken sellers there, because the chickens were alive before sale and not after. Then a shopping street intersperced with fancy shops, street stalls and a couple of cows. There was a cafe there called 'Anything can Happen over Coffee'. I didn't go in, because my reason for going into those airconditioned havens is generally to get a good cup of coffee and to have a break from situations where anything can happen. Dirk Jan
Heheh, I doubt if you'll find 'Coffee and for the rest dead as a doornail' but who knows :-) Mel
There are family rooms here in the Salvation Army Hostel, for 279 Rupees per night. Double rooms cost 800 Rupees per night. Families are respectible and get charged less for things, so you are not a metalhead. You are good husband with job who provides and Lydia is the first of many children, and I am here in India in search of more spirituality. When I find some, I will bring it back to you and Lydia with a box of those great handmade Indian sweeties.
Smoking is not allowed here in any public place, and that includes hotels, the street and everywhere. I was talking with an English guy here who had just been fined 200 Rupees for smoking on the street. The Salvation Army lets us have a few illicit smokes here so long as there is no hashish in them. But alcohol drinking is forbidden and so is having guests visit us at the hostel, unless they pay a fee of 50 Rupees. Dirk Jan
If you find no spirituality, feel free to fill the rest of the box up with sweeties, too :-D Mel
Now back from Matharan Hillstation, weary and covered in red mud. The stampedes on the train were so bad, that they broke my shoes.
But, Matharan is a gem. No vehicles except an ambulance, are allowed up the last 4KM of the hill. The air is clean, appart from the smoke of the street vendors cooking. All supplies are brought up to the village, via teams of well trained ponies.
I got a hotel room at the edge of the village, with monkeys swinging from the trees behind it where the hotel illicitly throw their garbage down the hill. I suppose the environmental police from Mumbai don't go as far as checking behind the hotel. The views were magnificant. Dirk Jan
Sounds good :-) Mel
When I arrived at the hotel the guy gave me a chair to sit on, while he called somebody on his mobile phone and described me as a nice English lady. I don't know if it was the price of the room or that I was allowed to stay there at all, which depended on my being a nice English lady. If he had described me as a grubby backpacker or a druggy hippy, would I have been send the 200M to the hotel run by the long haired guy who wears the ACDC t-shirt?
I just hung around the town eating Indian food, and drinking coffee that the restaurant owners generously gave me hot water to make. I met a couple of women. One works with prisoners in England. I asked her to visit that prisoner I am writing to in Laos.
You and Lydia would love Matharan. If we were all there together, we could take her on horse rides. The horses are well trained, and there are guys who will take you where you want to go on them.
I am off to Cafe Leopald, for a few espressos in a few minutes. Last time I was there, a women came over and told me she is an actress and has been observing me. She said, she really needs to talk with me and wanted to sit at my table. I said no, because people don,t always turn out to be looking for what they initially say they are want. Looks like my character may end up in some Bollywood flick even if I won't. After the actress left, 2 Asian women at the next table asked if I am staying at the Taj. Even though the Taj recently had a special offer with rooms for 700 US dollars per night, I am still not staying there. It is back to my dorm bed in the Salvation Army Hostel with me.
A French woman I met said she saw an advertisement, with 2 18 year old Western girls in bikinis, fawning over an Indian medalian man. She said, they looked like 2 ordinary backpackers the film people would have picked up on the streets. I thought the hair dye commercial they put me in last time I was here was bad....... Dirk Jan
Haha, solliciting poor backpacker gals for blue movies now. They're moving up in the world... Mel
When an Indian stops at a station, everybody tries to get through the door a the same time, whether they are getting in or out of the train. Even if there are 10 people getting on an empty carriage with more than enough room for all of them, they will still all 10 try to get through the door at the same time, creating a bottle neck and when they manage to get inside the train they stampede towards the seats. This situation is only made more dangerous when the trains are crowded, which they are most of the time. People are then often still trying to get on and off the train, while it pulls out of the station. When I was on my way to and from Matheran, the trains were jam packed. The stampeding was so bad, that one of my shoes got broken as people trampled over my feet and my bag, as I desperately clung to a railing to prevent all of me ending up under all those feet.
I went to the Gandhi Museum today. Over coffee this morning, I considered whether I should take a taxi or brave the streets and public transport. When in the end, I decided that if the worst came to the worst, I could buy a new pair of shoes, so off I went passing people selling paintings, Saris, t-shirts, a guy who wanted to know if I want to be an extra in a Bollywood movie, some beggars, and a guy who followed me for a couple of hundred meters asking where I am going because he is apparently a security man and wants to help me, then came to a dead end because an entire section of Mumbai is blocked off because they are counting the election votes. I took another route and eventually arrived at the train station. The train journey was not too high on the scale of horrendous. I managed to score a seat and my bag did not get separated from me and all its contents trampled on, and I got no bruises on my feet and no kids puked on me. At the Gandhi museum I looked at all the exhibits, bought us a book about Gandhis political philosophies, photos and a copy of a letter he wrote to Hitler in 1939 to try to prevent WW2. Then back on the streets and back to Colaba and Cafe Leopald. Dirk Jan
Another well spent day :-) Mel
Yesterday, Cafe Leopald was packed because it is popular, and also because today is what is known in India as a dry day. Because the election votes are being counted apparently. Nobody in India is allowed to drink alcohol today.
The airline changed my flight to one day earlier. Anyway, I had better go order a taxi for tonight. I am feeling a bit disorientated, because I thought I also had all day tomorrow to spend in Mumbai.
An Australian girl just came in here, and told me she is being filmed for some scene tomorrow in a bikini. She said she is only going to be in the distance an advertisement. Well, that is what she thinks......... :D Mel
I am using free internet at Abu Dhabi airport. So tired! I went to the slum from 'Slumdog Millionaire', with the taxi driver who took me to the airport last night. He asked me if I have been to the slum. I asked if he meant the one that is in 'Slumdog Millionaire', because before that movie nobody would have used the expression 'the slum'. There are thousands of slums in India. He then decided to take me on a taxi tour of the slum, on the way to the airport, and gave a running commentary about it when we were there. At the airport, he wrote down his phone number and said he is always near the Salvation Army Hostel, for if I need a taxi next time I am in Mumbai. He sure knows how to win customers.
The slum is like what Colaba, where I stayed used to be like, when I was there 12 years ago - Squalid and with families living in makeshift huts on the side of the street, and lots of people living on the street itself. Now Colaba is as clean and tidy as any international city shopping and tourist centre. I wondered where they had moved all the poor and homeless to. Looks like they were moved out to the edge of the city, and made a new slum there, that featured in 'Slumdog Millionaire'.