zondag 23 november 2008

India, Day Two

India, Day Two.

After our brief overnight stay near Mumbai airport, we took a taxi to Mumbai centre. This is about a 20 km drive, which of course did take longer than 20 km in Belgium.
Originally I had intended to drive around in India – I even applied for an international license. But hell, I’m not nearly suicidal enough to do that! Cars in Mumbai are packed so closely together that one wonders how they do not actually hit each other continuously. I think there are about 4 lanes of cars packed on what was originally intended as a three-lane road. However, one cannot be sure, as road markings are virtually non-existant. They don’t really signal with lights either – the only warning to other road users is perpetual honking.
Safety belts, of course, are optional – as are helmets. This is worth mentioning, as a lot of people actually use a motorcycle as transportation. We saw entire families on one motorcycle – mom, dad, a baby or two – all without helmet of course.
They would get instantly arrested in Belgium, but it seems to be perfectly fine here. We did actually see one car being stopped by the police, and one really wonders what exactly you have to do wrong to get a ticket in Mumbai, or how the cops even notice someone did something in that giant anthill of cars.

There was no airco, which wasn’t too bad, since the open windows let in a pleasant breeze while driving. The scents interchange between the pleasant scent of incense and a foul rotting smell, as a lot of trash does end up on the street. And in a country as hot as India, decomposition sets in fairly quickly, certainly on foodstuffs.
Mumbai is strange, skyscrapers followed by slums, followed by some more decent housing and monumental colonial buildings like the Victoria station to boot.

Before my trip, a lot of people told me the poverty there was quite appalling – and that is quite true. We saw a lot of people living on the street; whole families in fact. On a human level, it is quite a culture hock. We really do not know how good we have it. On an objective level, however, Mumbai is a fascinating city of contrasts. We were only there briefly, but it seems diverse as well, as we saw both Hindus and Muslims – no, it seems they have not all moved to Pakistan.

Upon arriving at our destination, a small lodge M. found in her Lonely Planet guide, we got a bit of a shock. The residence was being renovated, and we couldn’t stay the night there. Serves us right for not booking, I suppose. M. was dragged off by some people trying to get us to sleep at their place. You see – it’s all about money, and competition. Foreigners are thought to have money – so everyone wants to make money on them. I was waiting on the street, watching the bags – a bit lost. M. was gone for quite a while and I was entertaining some Indians that were rather curious about tourists. I was actually starting to get worried when M. finally returned, describing all the places she had seen as ‘closets’ – rooms with no windows and a hole in the ground for a toilet. She said she suspected some of these rooms were actually somebody’s living room – that they were trying to make money any way they could. She then disappeared with some other people, coming back with the same result: the places she had seen the second time were not places she’s like to stay in either.

We then upgraded to a fancier hotel, Hotel Harbour View, which was slightly out of M’s budget – about 50 euro per night per room (apparently you pay per room here, not per person).
However, it did live up to its name – it had a lovely terrace, from which you could see the harbour. If you looked slightly sideways, you could see the Gateway of India.
I have actually seen it in my dreams, before I even knew it existed – strange, maybe some weird subliminal thing.
There was also food served at the hotel terrace – and it was rather good. Later that day we walked down to the Gateway. There were a lot of beggars there. The beggar situation is a bit unpleasant – thing is, you could probably spare a few coins, and they do need it – but if you give money to one of them, they just swarm you, apparently.

We went down to a nearby beach – paying triple the normal price for a taxi, as we later found out. The beach was not so impressive, and dirty by our standards. However, there was a nice view of the Mumbai skyline. We attracted the attention of a young kid, who didn’t seem to be a beggar, just someone who found westerners quite funny and strange. There was this curious guy who followed us for a while, I’m still not exactly sure why. We also passed some teenage boys who were playing in the sea, and yelled "I love you" at us. This made M. roll her eyes, but I actually thought it was hilarious.

Since there was not that much to see, we returned to the hotel and had dinner on the terrace there, which was rather nice. I had chicken Madras and M. had some vegetarian thing made of lentils, I believe. We both drank some lassi - that is a dairy drink, for the record, not a drink made out of dogjuice.

Oh, bonus: this hotel had toilet paper. Most hotels don’t: it is luxury product here. So we didn’t have to go out to buy it, at least. M. went to bed early that day, I took the opportunity to use the Internet and reassure B. and the parents.

I had one more drink on the terrace, talked a bit with the reception guy, took a shower and went to bed clean, at least. And thus concludes Day 2.

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