Our Jet Airways flight out of Delhi was a bit delayed, and finally, after an hour and a half of sitting on the plane reading the news, we cruised down the runway. Once again, Jet Airways did a fantastic job taking care of its passengers and managed to do a full meal service (in addition to a snack service as well) in the short 1.5 hour flight. Our first order of business after landing in Mumbai was to get acquainted with the insane Mumbai train system and book it south to Church Gate station to meet our friend at her hotel. After a number of queries regarding the nature of our origin (specifically Rozy) we made our way to the Astoria Hotel.
…Enter stage center, Nicole Cook, take it away Nicole!
Hi there!! I’m Nicole Cook. Originally from the Washington DC metropolitan area, I currently reside in Richmond, VA. Coincidently (or not?) I too am employed at that same VA-based Fortune 500 company where it all started for Rozita and Danny, truly the common thread in the rich tapestry of this tale. Over the course of roughly 2 years, I enjoyed their friendship, celebrated their wedding, then said a
tearful goodbye to them as they packed up and headed down under.
In July 2007, my British boyfriend and I were engaged. We had spent nearly half of our 3+ year relationship planning our move to London that Autumn— for him to return to school and together, live out our dream of travel and adventure. However, during my last week of work, with my house nearly packed and UK visa in hand, Chris ‘reconnected’ with an ‘old friend’ from college, and literally overnight, I became redundant.
This year was to be one of new sights and new experiences for us, and simply because there was no longer an ‘us’, didn’t mean I couldn’t still have that life for myself, albeit now in a slightly different fashion. I was following Rozita & Danny’s blog and had never been in more need of a holiday. Exemplifying what truly kind and generous people they are (not at all surprising to those of us who know them), they responded ‘Hell yeah!!’ to my request to join them for a small portion of their amazing journey. Having done a fair amount of traveling in the past, in both developing and more modernized countries,
India definitely topped my wish list of destinations and over a handful of emails, we roughed out an approximate time and place to meet—Mumbai during late March.
Donning a 31 liter daypack (only ~75% full, weighing 13 lbs which included ~3 lbs of supplies for R&D) and a messenger-bag (also weighing ~13lbs), I boarded the plane on Friday evening, 21 March 2008. I was to arrive in Mumbai @ 1:45am on Easter Sunday, with Rozita and Danny to meet me @ my hotel after they arrived that Monday afternoon. However, during the 2nd or 3rd hour of the first of my long-haul flights, (Charlotte to Frankfurt), a technical problem with navigation system caused us to turn back towards the US. Apparently, planes are not allowed to land with a full fuel tank so we then proceeded to circle for about 3 hours to burn off fuel (we were ‘too fat’ said Uwe, the very nice German man who was seated next to me during our extended-dance-mix flight). We finally landed in Philly, sat on the runway for about an hour, and then for a change of scenery, we were herded into the airport to wait for another 2 hours.
By the time we were finally sorted out and took off from the US, my connecting flight in Germany was leaving. But US Airways stepped up immediately upon my Frankfurt arrival, providing me with vouchers for food, one night’s stay @ an airport hotel, and booked me on the same flight the following morning. Best of all, I was able to meet Rozita and Danny as originally scheduled. And so my adventure began as the third member of this traveling circus…
Thanks for the introduction Nicole, now, on with the traveling…
Fearful that the popular train route south to Goa would be full, the three of us wasted no time visiting the gothic-inspired Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to lock in tickets. The train station was beautifully decorated with gargoyles, intricate carvings, domes, spires and busts of random English colonials. It was an obvious taste of Europe amid a bustling and very Indian city. Inside, the station was a madhouse with activity as trains, people and luggage moved in all directions simultaneously. After the usual bit of paperwork and a lengthy conversation through a small plexiglass hole, and the obligatory photos, we booked our tickets to Goa and set out
to explore more of Mumbai.
En route to the massive Dhobi Ghats, we experienced a tragedy at the Mahalaxmi Train Station in northern Mumbai. As a train approached the station from the north, a man hopped off the platform and onto the tracks. He walked across the first rail and onto the second rail where he turned around and laid across the rail, hugging it for stability. Before anyone could react, the train was upon him and bowled him out of the way. After a couple minutes of confusion and finger pointing, everyone piled back on the train as it pulled away revealing the man now in two parts with his arm lying between the two rails and the rest of his body lying motionless to the side of the second rail. We didn’t stick around to witness the conclusion, but we did see a couple of official-looking types pick the man’s body up, place it on a stretcher, then set his severed arm on top of his body. On our way out of the station, we saw an ambulance pull up (which really just looked like a minivan with the word “Ambulance” on it) assumedly for the man
lying dead on the tracks. Very disturbing indeed, but, a rather frequently occurring event according to our friend “Sandy” (whom we met in Chahatrapati) who told us all about Mumbai suicide and the Hollywood stars she met during her 20 years in Indian tourism.
After the trauma at the train station and reveling at the sheer size of the Dhobi washing Ghats (literally thousands of folks hand-washing clothes in concrete basins), we pushed on to check out the Mahalaxmi temple and Haji Ali’s masjid, both which sit along the coast of the Arabian Sea. We enjoyed being whipped by the toxic waters blowing off the sea, and were craving more polluted fun, so, we decided to catch a taxi to Chowpatty Beach. Unfortunately for us, the taxi driver we hailed was either brain-dead or crooked, and he drove us to Juru Chowpatty which was considerably farther away than the nearby Chowpatty beach we had requested. Long story short, we made a big scene which involved no less than 5 members of a hotel staff, several taxi cab drivers, a dozen or so random onlookers, and one useless Indian police officer who basically just consumed air and got in the
way. Our end game was to pay ¾ of the fare and catch a train back into town…seemed a bit of a joke that the taxi cab driver didn’t clarify which “Chowpatty” Beach he is supposed to take us to if there is more than one and we are obviously from out of town and clueless…hmmmm…Logic is an excellent tool for those with the capacity to use it.
Another item on the agenda was to visit the Jain temple in the poshy neighborhood of Malabar Hill in order to learn more about its tenets and principles. We read all the writing on the walls of the temple and then received a bit of a lecture on Jainism by a volunteer who also sold insurance and was working his way into the tourism industry. Bottom line, Rozy, Nicole and I decided it would suck pretty bad to be Jain because it eliminates the following food items (not exhaustive) from your dinner plate: any meat, egg, seafood, animal products, and anything grown underground (ie: carrots, potatoes, beets, etc) because the harvesting of these food items may cause harm to insects in the soil. Additionally, any other food items that contains any
kind of living organism (including bacteria, mites, etc) needs to be carefully considered as you are potentially harming another living entity. Basically, Jains are like turbo-charged vegans who view the ideal meal to be a glass of crystal clear spring water and a wheat cracker.
On another day, we finally made it to Chowpatty Beach for some excellent people watching, delicious chai and snacks, and about an hour’s worth of handbag shopping. Nicole’s presence has added an additional female element to the group, throwing the gender balance off and launching a downward spiral of shopping, resulting in the degradation of the overall “fun-o-meter” reading from a male’s perspective. Not only is this effecting the fun-o-meter, it is having a negative impact on the spending behaviour of my spouse causing our trip budget to increase. I’m planning to ditch both of them soon and hide out somewhere in the hills of Kerela.
Our last evening in Mumbai was nearly tarnished by a 1,000 Rupee fine for riding in the 1st class section with a 2nd class ticket. Unbeknownst to us, we were riding in a 1st class car (which looks absolutely identical to a 2nd class car apart from
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a tiny little painted indication on the outside of the car which you do not have time to read as you scramble onto the train during its 15 seconds of motionlessness), yet only holding a colorful scrap of paper that apparently doesn’t mean first class. Either way, train official guy told us we had to pay a 1,000 Rupee fine for our actions, so, we began to whine and plead ignorance; this prompted him to make us get off the train. We continued to whine and complain and he offered to cut the fine to 300 Rupees. At this point, Rozy stepped up to bat and did a bit of quick talking (and considerable amounts of begging) which resulting in the train official guy dropping the fine and sending us off on the next train in the appropriately marked 2nd class car.
And finally, a word of caution, please remember to crush that water bottle after usage…the stomach illness you save, may be your own. STATISTICS
* Flights taken = 9
* Intercity trains rides taken = 13
* Intercity bus rides taken = 29
* Times lost = 16
* Total instances of diarrhea = 6
* Total number of requests for pictures with Daniel = 11
* Total megabytes of pictures taken = 25,870
Tot: 0.2s; Tpl: 0.021s; cc: 23; qc: 102; dbt: 0.0366s; 1; m:saturn w:www (220.127.116.11); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.6mb