Brilliant Projects, Bombay Trains, Baffling Ticket Systems and Bollywood Bastards
04.10.2014 - 08.10.2014 36 °C
Well here I am back in India for the third time, still trying to work out what it is that continues to drive me back here. I have to say though, it seems to get better every time...
So travelling wise, we got here without any mishaps and even got upgraded to extra leg room seats on the plane by some friendly ginger on the check in desk (see they are good for some things). Arriving in Mumbai (or Bombay whichever) at 6am, we checked into our pre-booked hotel which great air con and cushiony soft bed and had a nice little sleep. It was a far cry from the India I knew before where slept on rock hard mattresses in leaky damp rooms with noisy back alleys. Waking up a little later we ventured out for a walk and some lunch. The first place we came to we stopped in and realised it was actually a chinese. Jesus. Our first meal in India was chinese food. How cultured.
Afterwards, we returned to the hotel and were met by Nirmal Chandna, the Director of CORP India who we raised the money for. Due to the language barriers, I wasnt sure where he was planning on taking us as there are more than a few centres based in and around Mumbai but we were delighted that he took us to Sharanam Girls home in Dharavi Slum in the North of Mumbai. It was a 30 minute drive and ironically picturesque. Parts of Mumbai look like a building site but without any actual building work going on, and other parts run down and decrepit but the overall impression is of a densely populated post apocalyptic world. Run down apartment blocks and high rise buildings are taken over by weeks and vined plants, balconies and other outdoor spaces crammed with multicoloured garments drying in the 35degree heat.
We finally arrived at the girls home which was on the 4th floor of a shoddy building. Going up the elevator, we peered into other peoples homes and were even confronted by a goat just chilling in someones hallway. Nirmal took us through into the main room where we met around 40 girls between age 4 to age 20. Shy at first, they sat in a circle and rattled off their names and what they wanted to be when they grew up. Dominating was 'business woman' and medical type jobs.
Following this, Yvette and I were asked to give a talk on how we had come across CORP and how we raised the money etc which we did, the girls then performed singing and dancing for us which was great. After, they had lunch which we were to be guests of honour, however after having just scoffed load of chinese food, could barely stomach more than a dosa and some drinks. Later we simply sat and chatted with the girls and they showed us some videos they had made on youtube - they had a great computer room - and after that they wanted to paint us with henna which we of course allowed. I showed them pictures of my own henna designs and to my delight they even thought they were very good! A true compliment.
Towards the end of the day, we were presented with an array of home made beautiful thank you cards from each of the girls, all of them referring to us as 'Didi' meaning sister. Welcome to the CORP family.We then presented them with the clothes and facepaints and things we had collected, including some Manx goodies such as calendars and flags, and then posed for some pictures, which no doubt you will have seen
Even after just 1 day I was sad to leave them all. Much improvement can be made at the centre, which I will be looking into on my return home. This project isnt over yet.
After a quick blast of air con in our hotel room, we walked down to the gateway of India to see the sunset. It was full of people, obviously a popular time of day, but still very beautiful. Afterwards we meandered around Mumbai until we actually found the street I stayed in 6 years previously. We even found a bar Alison and I had frequented (the Mondegar). It had the best air con so we stopped for a few beers then sampled some street 'toasties' on the way home. Think baby food, in a toastie, topped with hot sauce and cheese. mmmmm....
We also made a little friend on our walk. His name was Ravi and he was very confused about my boobs. Real or Fake? he kept asking. Cheeky devil..we met him again several times and each time he accompanied us back to our hotel. He didnt seem to want anything though so we deemed him harmless.
We didnt wake until 11am the following day, so had a wander before getting lunch in a cafe that inexplicably had 8 staff serving us. There were no other customers. Slightly intimidating we laughed it off whlist they watched on.
We then decided we should probably book some train tickets to our next destination - Pune, pronounced "Poona". What an inexplicable painstaking process this was. Victoria station is massive and after a severe amount of fannying we got where we wanted to be which was in a room full of intimidating men, all eyeballing the crap out of us.
We sorted out the train we needed but the woman said she wanted photocopies of our passports. We therefore had to leave the station, find a xerox place and go back through the whole damn thing again. The xerox place consisted of 2 men in a booth with 1 typewriter, 2 printers, and one dirty computer screen. "10minutes" the main said. I stood there wondering why the wait and soon discovered it was so that man number 2 could finish eating his lentil curry. He then made my copies.
The entire ticket buying process took around 2 hours and after that we decided a walk down marine drive would be a nice way to end the day. We walked all the way to Chowpatti beach, avoiding the stares and photograph requests from all the passerbys. One strange man worthy of comment was some obscene douchebag with wannabe dreams of becoming the next bollywood star. He was so eager to tell us about his upcoming success and that we should look for his ugly face on the billlboards next time we come to India. He would 'Sit on the thone of SHELOB!' and wear 'upside down hair!' and 'my flat can be your flat, and your flat can be my flat' - What the f**k? He was very hard to get rid of and kept trying to hug us and show us pictures od himself with various wigs. I didnt like him at all and wanted to get away from him. We made that clear and left promptly.
Chowpatty beach was how you would imagine a beach in Mumbai, full of people and rubbish. Needless to say we didnt stay long!
Back near the hotel we had a couple of beers in Leopolds and tried some more street food. Whilst waiting for toasties we met 2 identical twins who posed for a picture with yvette (the one time we actually ask someone else or a picture!) We then found a stall selling, to my horror, those rancid balls of ass-juice as mentioned in my blog entitled ' the weirdest things i've had in my mouth'. They werent half as bad this time, maybe they do them better in Mumbai
We set our alarms for 6:15am as our train to Pune was booked for 7am.
At 06:59am we both awoke and with sickening dread looked at the time and realised than 1 minute would not be enough time to pack our bags, walk to the station, find our platform and get on the train. Typical.
We purchased new tickets from the sweatiest man I've ever seen for an 08:40 train riding in 2AC class which means large reclining chairs in an air conditioned carriage. A rather boring journey was interrupted by the presence of what can only be described as an Indian wizard wielding a peacock feather brush which he proceeded to hit random people on the head with whilst muttering some sort of incantation. I think he wanted money also. I did not however want to be hit on the head, or give up my hard earned cash for the privilege. The only option it seemed, was to laugh hysterically which we did. The old man was not impressed by us at all. Some local folk appeared amused by our reaction though.
When we finally arrived in Pune, we were immediately accosted by twenty five thousand rickshaw drivers all shouting destinations and fares. We felt it fair to go with the first driver, a muslim man, who turned out to be the biggest wanker we have come across so far. We told him we already booked a hotl and he quoted a price for us to get there which we agreed to. The entire 10 minute journey he tried unsuccessfully to talk us into other hotels, then seemingly didnt know where our hotel was and got lost. By this point I was having to go through my breathing exercises to stop the rage boiling inside me. Unfortunately for him it didnt work out and I exploded when we got there and he tried to ask us for a greater price than agreed. What a f**king moron. It was a little slice of the India I experienced in my early twenties and I desperately wanted it to go away.
Thankfully it did. We checked into our room at Surya Villa then sat i a nearby cafe for lunch. We decided there to take a rickshaw to Aga Khan Palace which was a temporary residence of Mahatma Gandhi along with his wife and personal assistant. Both his wife and his beloved assistant died in the palace which is now a museum devoted to all three. We picked a cheeky looking driver offering a good price. He proceeded to talk utter bullshit the entire drive but maintained a cheesy grin and kept chuckling throughout so we were kept amused. The palace was lovely and peaceful and muted out the sounds of beeping horns and noisy traffic. We were also amazed to find that Gandhi's ashes were kept here. It was a privilege to stand there and I have to say it raised hairs on the back of my neck. I love this kind of thing. As we were taking in the graves, it began to rain. And in india, it really rains. We took shelter and waited until it pewtered out then ran back to cheesy rickshaw man.
During the drive back, our man inexplicably kept trying to take us shopping. When we were almost back, we were overtaken by a massive lorry (the bigger the vehicle the more right of way they have) which succeeded to absolutely soak me all down my left side. Our man just carried on chuckling in delight. Gotta love him.
We hit Prems, a lonely planet reccommended bar, where we had a few beers (and poos). After leaving there we made another little friend who we nicknamed Ravi 2 as we couldnt remember his real name. He was very sweet and jumped on a motorbike only to reappear minutes later with a red rose for us both. As is the way with Indian folk, you can meet some real assholes, but mostly they are good sweet people.
Back at the room, we showered then dropped in our local travel agent run by 2 good lookin' Indian boys who proceeded to invite us to party with them. If I wasn't so terrified of being drugged and raped, I would have been happy to go along. We walked to a lonely planet reccommendation for dinner, called Malaka Spice, wihch we realised was Malay themed, and had the best meal in the most glorious setting imaginable. I wont even bother to describe it as it could never justify how magnificent this was.
We stopped for litchi drinks on the way home which would become our saviour during the night when we were both accosted with that all too familiar stomach luch leading to the inevitable stark realisation that something bad was going to come out of us. First it was me and my ass, followed by Yvette barfing. Sleep was hard to come by that night as we were thrown into bouts of crippling cramps and toilet trips. No wonder we slept until 10am.
Eventually morning came. I had a shower which consisted of me sitting naked on a stool and pouring buckets of cold water over my head. Up and about, we found a net cafe to make a booking for another hotel and inexplicably had to provide our hotel address, passports, signatures and all sorts of ridiculous informatio just for 10mins of internet time. During this time Yvette turned tome with a pained look on her face which couldnt be misinterpreted. She had to go. Immediately. Poor wee lass.
We decided to stop at the German Bakery at the end of the street. It was badly bombed in the 80's I think so there was high security in effect which felt odd but understandable really. We were approached by a waiter who gave us our menus and asked what we wanted to order. Before the words were out of my mouth (I wanted a veggie sandwich) he abruptly asked 'veg or non-veg?'...i said i knew what i wanted and can i order a veggie club, he said yes and presumed Yvette wanted hummus. We were so perplexed by his manner that we simply agreed. He then made me order a drink that I had never heard of instead of the coke I wanted. When it came, unfortunately Yvette was sick again and we took the sarnies to go.
After a walk around the Osho mediation & yoga centre (asylum) famous as being the birthplace of yoga, we got our cheeky rickshaw man to take us to the train station. Desperately needing the toilet again, confusingly we could only find gents ones so we boarded our train and used the hole in the floor one, which drops out directly onto the tracks beneath. We'd booked onto a lower class so we could experience a real Indian train, and it was a bloody riot!
The seats, made for 2 people but meant for 3, were squashed but we were okay. That was until our palid white skin was spotted by a couple of street urchins who boarded the train and held out hungry grubby hands to us rich whiteskinned millionaires. I handed over Yvettes cucumber sandwiches. There you go lads.
People came and went during the course of our journey; there was 'Staring Asshole, Hidden Motive' whos gaze was unavoidable, there was a lovely couple, and Grandpa Gandhi who after curious glances, struck up conversation with good English. Inbetween all these people coming and going were the usual Chai-wallas - men heaving tanks of hot chai, shouting 'CHAI CHAI CHAI CHAI CHAI!' down the carriage...also blind men selling childrens toys...everything was being flogged, from samosas to minature airplanes, wallets to whole cucumbers. It was all very interesting. Oh and who could forget the little girls singing (unfortunately badly) for tips.
The entire journey however was condemned with the overwhelming stench of shit and piss fromthe nearby toilet, which even bothered the Indian folk, not just us posh westies!
Well I'm going to leave it there, that's enough writing for today...will continue this blog from home if not before..hope you enjoy