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Published: August 31st 2010
From Jaisalmer I got the night train back to Jodhpur, arrival time 5am. Again I was stuck with all my bags and about 10 hours to kill before my onward journey. Totally knackered, I retreated to the 'AC Class Rest Lounge'. This does not mean that the room has AC, it simply means that only passengers with an AC class sleeper ticket are allowed access. This place is the Indian Railways equivalent of luxury... minimal cockroaches, functional fans, toilets, separate rooms for men and women, a guard on the door checking tickets. The less fortunate majority, of course, just sleep on the floor of the platforms. I constructed a reasonably comfortable bed out of tables, chairs and my backpack, put a scarf over my face and went back to sleep until around 9am. When I awoke I dumped my bags in left luggage and went off shopping.
As I got on the train to Mumbai later I realised I'd completely forgotten to bring any food for this 20 hour journey. I caught myself thinking "never mind, some Indian family will feed me". Is it bad that I've become accustomed to this? I was right, of course, in fact two rival
families competed to see who could get me to eat the most food. I bought the entire carriage a round of chai to assuage my guilt.
As we approched Mumbai I watched careful to see if I could spot any of the legendary commuter trains with people hanging off the roofs. When I finally found one (they are ridiculous) I tried to take a photo but was forced to put away my camera because people were letting go to wave at me and I was scared I'd cause some kind of catastrophic accident.
I got off the train at Bandra terminus with time to kill before my friends finished work. I grabbed a rikshaw to the centre of Bandra, had a coffee and bought a pair of stunningly tacky 200 rupee high heels from a random roadside shoe vendor in preparation for my night out, which I was ridiculously overexcited about. Alcohol! People I know! The chance to wear normal clothes! I was such a mess by this point, having done two night trains in a row without a hostel to shower at in between. It's weird running into normal human beings when you're traveling. You don't realise
what a total state you are until you see someone from back home who is used to seeing you look, if not exactly good, then at least hygienic.
Shush and Caroline are my lovely friends from med school back in England, and I was super happy to see them. They're doing their elective placements with medical charities in Mumbai, and have got themselves a pretty sweet little apartment in Andheri. As an added bonus the lady who owns the apartment also runs a beauty salon from her place right next door, meaning there was an in house beautician to help make me look human again.
So there are some amazing clubs and bars in Mumbai. Wow. There are also some shit ones. A night out in the city is a pretty hit and miss experience. My friend speaks Hindi and knows Mumbai really well, but still we ended up in a couple of proper weird ones during the course of the night. Some look like they are trying hard to imitate their concept of a Western clubbing experience, but getting it oh so hilariously wrong. And the music. Ohhh the music. I can't remember the names of the
places we went but the last two were just gorgeous, probably the nicest I've ever been in any country. So lovely! Full of beautiful Bollywood girls, cool and classy Mumbai locals and (somewhat incongruously)... the three of us. We couldn't actually afford to drink there but Shush and Caro had helpfully made some local friends who very kindly provided us with an endless supply of expensive booze. Because I hadn't been out drinking in a month I was taking it comparatively slow. By the end of the night I was feeling weird (not too pissed, just a bit ill) and had to give up on the drinks. I distinctly remember thinking, enough! I don't care if this drink cost 15 quid and was purchased for me by a Bollywood producer, or something. No more booze!!
Unfortunately this didn't help and I as we were leaving I ended up puking in a plant pot outside the club. Yes, CHUNDERED EVERYWHARRR
, causing the pretty Bollywood girls to flee shrieking. I don't remember the name of the club but it was inside the Grand Hyatt Hotel and very, very posh, probably not the sort of place it's socially acceptable to vomit outside. I
realise I have done the reputation of Brits abroad no favours here. But I was ill! Though I admit the booze didn't help. I was definitely nowhere near drunk enough to throw up, anyway (5 years of med school has taught me my booze limits), plus my friends can't even remember this part of the night so I certainly wasn't as pissed as they were (sorry guys, dragging you into it).
I was sick ALL NIGHT but Caro and Shush were totally oblivious, despite the fact that all three of us were sharing a double bed (they were unconscious). By the time they woke up the next day I had just about managed to drink half a glass of water, and was feeling quite proud of myself. They were totally oblivious and puzzled as to why I looked so rough.
When we had all recovered sufficiently we decided to try and compensate for the night's atrocities by injecting a little culture into our visit. We went to an art gallery and met the local artist who's exhibition we'd seen, then to the National Museum, then for a walk in Colaba near India Gate, and finally for tea and
cake. We topped all this off with a ride along the seafront on a splendidly tacky silver horse drawn cart bedecked with heart shaped balloons and plastic flowers, clearly aimed at honeymooning Indian couples (with poor taste). Having failed to eat anything other than one slice of cheesecake all day (I was still feeling poorly) I decided it'd be best if I gave the Saturday night a miss, which is tragic because the club the others went to sounds absolutely amazing.
It was a good decision however, because it meant that by Sunday I was feeling well enough for brunch at Indigo. This cost considerably more than I would normally spend on food in a week (seriously, about 30 quid), but it was oh so worth it. I ate meat for the first time in a month... delicious, amazing rare stake. I had kind of hoped that I would naturally take to vegetarianism and be unable to face eating meat again when confronted with a bloody slice of beef. Nope. Still tasty. Oh well. Along with the mains, which you order, there was an incredible all you can eat buffet of Western and Indian appetisers, salads and desserts. All
Around 24 hours after swearing I would never drink (or eat) anything ever again...
drinks were included. Yeah that's right, all you can drink!! Cocktails, wine, spirits and mixers. Unbidden, waiters continually brought to our table various concoctions I can only describe as classy shots, presented in oversized test tubes. Coconut and cucumer vodka, sex on the beach... as soon as we'd downed one they came round with more. Can you imagine any way this concept could be employed in England and not be an unmitigated disaster? No, me either. But this was a classy place, there were families with kids here.
I'm not sure what to say about Mumbai from a travel perspective. In a way, at first glace, it reminded me of Hong Kong... the sky line, the furious pace of construction, the huge neon advertisments and the whole concept of a city built on islands (even though the islands in Mumbai were merged together long ago, it still sort of has that feel). Maybe its because iI visited very much in monsoon season, but for such a huge metropolitan area it looks quite wild to me. The city seems to be making a determined effort to return itself to it's natural state. Everything is very lush and green and jungly.
Eating a donut, with chopsticks as utensils.
Becaus of the climate, everything seems to be quietly decaying. As fast as new things spring up the older are mouldering away. Sometimes a graceful kind of decay, sometimes not so much. No sooner is something built than trees and vines start begin to grow from it, and mostly people seem to have given up trying to prevent this. I quite like it.
Another thing that confuses me about the place is the lack of apparent order. Brand new shiney exclusive expensive malls and clubs stand right next to the manky mouldy towerblocks and shacks. Andheri, the district where my friends rented their apartment, was still farmland 60 years ago. You'd never guess to look at it. It's far from the outskirts now, and everything seems to look so old so fast, it's impossble to place the age of buildings.
Basically, as many people have said before me far more eloquently, it's a city of extreme contrast. When we stepped out of our elegant, swanky restaurant that Sunday I nearly speared with my stilletto two huge evil looking crows eating the head off a giant dead rat. That is very Mumbai.
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