My Daily Adventures in Mumbai, India

This posting is related to my other Mumbai postings. In this writing I tell some stories of my time spent in Mumbai, the city where I kicked-off my 2013 India Adventures. Hope you like it!

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I walk-out of the apartment complex to the active street below to procure an auto rickshaw. Suddenly I remember that I have no small bills, only 500s and 1000s. My ride, if legitimately charged, will come to less than 100 INR. ($2) Drivers never seem to have any change for tourists. They may have a bit, but never enough to fairly settle a bill. I always tip, but I try not to pay 400% or 1000% or the like, amounts which seem to often be expected. They don’t cheat a little bit, they aim high. This has happened so many times that I can imagine what they must be thinking, “You rich, white person, why not let me have $20 for $2 ride? What difference does it make to you?” I ask a middle-aged gentleman who is smoking at the front gate his opinion. “You definitely will need correct change, Sir,” he agrees, motioning to someone nearby. “Give him 500 and he will change it for you. Don’t worry, Sir, he is with our building.” A young man near to my height but nearly as thin as a fluorescent tube takes the bill and scampers from shop to shop. A moment later he returns with my money broken down into smaller denominations.

My neighbour now even helps me further. He hails me an auto rickshaw, explains my destination to the driver, and ensures that the metre is properly engaged so that I pay an honest fee. Even when metres are engaged, I have learned that one still needs to check that the starting balance is reasonable. If you’ve called or reserved a drive, starting with a sizeable balance could be legitimate if they have charged you for the drive that it took to get to you. But when you hail one from the street, which is nearly always the case, it should always have a starting fee of less than 20 or so. I’ve jumped in a street-side rickshaw whose driver initiated a starting balance as if he drove for an hour to come collect me. “Reset your metre.” “Sorry no English.” “Metre,” I gesture. Of course he knows what I’m talking about, language is not required when I acknowledge that he is cheating me, he knows full well that he is but is hoping for my ignorance as a tourist. I reach for the metre to reset it myself. “NO TOUCH!” he yells, slapping my hand. (To reset the meter you just put the lever down and then up again. Up is the engaged position.) “Stop, I’m getting out.” I often have this kind of issue when trying to get a ride on my own, so his assistance is much appreciated. Sometimes they will refuse the metre and quote me a ridiculous price. I never accept not using the metre. Other times I will get quite a long tour to cover a short distance. It’s the same games as many places in the world.

My first foray this time in India after having arrived last night. I suddenly realise that I forgot to observe the details of my building. In the plethora of stimulation – colours, lights, commotion, shops, rubbish, people, traffic, dogs – I had been much distracted by all the details and had not made any mental notes as to the arrangement of my building within the context of the street and nearby landmarks. Oh well, too late now.

We pull into the area of Kandivili Station and my 60 INR paid, I disembark in search of a restaurant called Sarovar, the meeting place my friend has designated. The station area is very busy with comings and goings. As I pass a McDonalds I think this would have been a more suitable landmark to meet in front of, recognisable from a distance and familiar to everyone. I find the restaurant having not seen a sign for it, fortunately I notice “Sarovar” embroidered on a blue uniform blazer of an attendant in an open-air section of the restaurant as I pass. (The signage I notice was around the corner on a side street and I never would have noticed it unless I had been walking from the station.)

A pleasant 27 Celsius, I find a spot in the shade and wait to meet my new friend, someone I corresponded with online and am now meeting for the first time in-person.

Profile photos are often not a useful tool when it comes to meeting. Sometimes they are pictures from a bygone era, usually the era during-which the subject was at their physical prime. A younger age, or when they were their fittest, after their best-ever haircut, or dressed up and groomed to the nines for a formal occasion. A caption could be, “Here is a photo of me from a time when I looked completely different than I do now, ” or , “This is a photo showing what I no longer look like.”

I am 20 minutes early. Still on Western time, which in India would be considered hyper-conscious, I don’t even start looking for him until the appointed time. I know that the chances of him also being early are very low.

Today I am wearing blue. Blue trousers, a blue checkered Ted Baker shirt, and a blue Fedora. People-watching as I wait, I realise how well I blend in. I attract continual curious looks and stares. I wonder how I appear to the locals in this completely non-touristy place. What would passers-by think of me, imagine about my life, assume about my origins. Would they assume me to be British? American?

Our meeting time comes and goes by 5 minutes, 10 minutes. Several people cross my radar as being my potential friend but they don’t approach me. I’m at a visual disadvantage for recognising him, all young men have dark hair, brown eyes, tanned to dark skin. He will need to find me, if being the only white guy in the neighbourhood isn’t enough, he knows I’m wearing blue and this kind of hyper-coordination I have not seen on anyone else.

Fifteen minutes after the appointed meeting time a little Mumbiker runs up to me sweaty and with a big smile. “Sorry I’m late, I went to the wrong place,” he admits, even though he had designated the meeting place.

After brief introductions we hire an auto rickshaw to take us to a nearby shopping mall, his idea for where we should go for lunch. There are countless restaurants here but I don’t know how to choose anyway, his idea sounds dull but I am happy to accept any suggestion.

After putting our bags through x-ray machines, walking through a metal detector, and having a pat-down, we are inside a middle-class haven of materialism. An impressive mall of 5 levels centrally open to the skylights above, the one design flaw that is readily apparent to me is complete lack of attention to acoustics. Even now while the mall is nearly vacant of shoppers, the noise level is shocking to me. Not of music, just a loud echoey din created by the noises endlessly reverberating. Alone, I would reach for my ear plugs.

Given a selection of Western-style fast food, I choose a restaurant outside of the food court hoping to escape the disturbing noise levels of the open spaces. Somehow the noise is welcomed into the restaurant with partial glass walls not reaching the ceiling. The food is mediocre at best and priced internationally. Over the coming weeks locals in different cities will often suggest we go to a mall to eat or to wander around after I express my preference to go exploring. They continually want to show me what they think will be impressive to me, clean, modern, international chain stores. “I hate shopping malls, ” I eventually highlight when making plans with anyone. There are some interesting ones, but never the ones they would take me to. “This is a local place, lots of people shop here.” I will be told. “What do you shop here for?” “Oh, nothing, it’s too expensive.”

“While we’re in a mall, could you help me to get SIM cards for my iPad and cell phone?” Absolutely, he is happy to help. Surprisingly, in this large mall, it is not a possibility. But he knows where we can go. Mobile phones are everywhere in India, so I am surprised that this mall that probably has 200 stores cannot furnish me with SIM cards. Rickshaw drivers have them, young people and old people use them, “Even homeless people have cell phones in India” one of my hosts exclaims, and it seems to be true. They are very affordable, the minimum payment I can later make on my prepaid account is 2 INR (4 cents).

After lunch we hit the street. After some difficulty hiring a rickshaw one is finally willing to take us to Hypercity. This is an everyday-type of department store that also has food, here it is referred to as a supermarket. There is also the main branch of a cell phone company within.

If someone had told me the process of setting-up a phone number in India, I may not have believed them. In the US I can go to a corner store, get a SIM card, and prepay what amount I like. In the UK, there are stores to expedite this process, visual in any location where there are shops. You go in, choose a plan, pay, and you are good to go. In India, the process seems more comparable to purchasing a home.

After waiting in line for about 20 minutes, we are told at the service counter to go to a different service counter. Despite there being no signs in Hindi nor in English, this counter is for payments only.

“Passport Please.” Two copies of my face page and two copies of my Indian Visa are required to get SIM cards. “Do you have identity photos?” I am asked. I hand over my extra Indian Visa photo. “You need two photos, Sir. We can take them for you.” A photographer arrives on the scene ready to shoot. “Am I allowed to smile for my SIM card application photos?” I ask, finding the lengthy process nearly comedic in it’s thoroughness. “Oh yes Sir. In India, you can smile for your photo. Not like in your country, is it Sir.” “Well, we don’t actually don’t need identity photos to use a cell phone in Canada. . . . ”

The application form, rather than copied, you fill out twice. Perhaps this is to capture you in any discrepancies? It contains all the usual questions regarding your life history that one would expect when opening a cellular phone pay-as-you-go plan.

“You missed your father’s details, Sir,” he points out after I thought I was finished. I suppose my brain had not allowed me to acknowledge this section, surprised as it was to discover that such information was required.

A few more moments and the documents are ready for signing. “Just sign here, and here, and here,” turn page, “and here”. “Now again, Sir, here, here and here,” ” and here.”

“That’s all there is, Sir. Now please, you can wait in the payment line. After you make payment, you will get the SIM cards. Then you will just need to wait for your identity check. After that, you can call 117 so they can again verify your information and activate your mobile. You have to call a separate time from your reference’s phone number to activate your tablet’s SIM card Sir, and they will also need to verify your Indian Referee’s home address.”

Wow. I guess cell phones in India must be really, really safe. Incredible checks and balances. In fact, it was okay activating my cell phone a few days later, but activating my iPad internet was a lot more work and a lot more hassles both for me and my referee. A week later, both my cell phone and my iPad were fully functional.se

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Riders bulge from every opening of the approaching train and start disembarking before it comes to a stop. There is a burst of activity as passengers push through each other in both directions at the same time. In an instant I learn that it takes some force to board an Indian commuter train.

This is not rush hour, but the train seems still filled to capacity. The door-less thresholds serve as overflows with peoples entire bodies outside of the train apart from their feet and hands. They hold on to the ledge above their heads where a door would close.

The Indian Railway is one of the largest employers in the world, with 1.6 million employees. 55,000 trains carry 25 million passengers every day. Today is my first time to be one of those passengers.

Crammed into the rail car and being told this is a “quiet time”, the posted rules seem a tad comedic to me. Here are some excerpts, “DO NOT throw lighted match stick and cigarette/bidi ends. . . .DO NOT carry explosives and dangerous goods . . . .DO NOT light up stove or sigri. . .” Punishment up to 2 years imprisonment and fine up to 3000R (nearly $60).

We arrive to Juhu beach early in the evening. Mumbai beaches seem not to be for swimming or lounging. They are for taking a stroll and enjoying the breeze. We pass some women walking along separately together. (Keeping within visible vicinity of each other but not close enough to chat or interact.) I’m told they are prostitutes, I would not have recognised them myself. There are small men who give massage, legitimate massage, on the beach. At the end of the beach we come upon a “street food” bazaar, a grouping of a few dozen food stalls set-up beach-side.

Following our stroll we hop into a taxi and our host guides us to his friend’s home. Enroute, we stop to get house-warming items such as beer.

Hassan is a medium-sized guy around 50 years old who prides himself on giving a sturdy handshake. I have been taught that a medium-firm handshake is appropriate and shows integrity and sincerity. But a handshake should also be reciprocal, meeting the other person’s intensity. To be honest, his handshake is actually rudely strong, like one you might receive when being physically threatened in a covert way or when the giver is showing anger. In his case, I am sure it’s not his intent, he has simply been misinformed that stronger is better regardless the situation. He has also passed this teaching on to his 16 year-old daughter who also puts all her might into shaking hands. I guess he is proud of his grip, and hers, because he brings it up in conversation.

Hassan is a writer, as am I, and as is my German roommate for the week, so our host figured we’d make fast friends. Hassan does all kinds of writing, philosophical ideas, fiction, hindi films, and television scripts. Such a wide range, I think, he must have an agent to sell his various works? “Oh no, I’m waiting for my break,” he admits. All of his writings are sitting in his notebooks. In the bedroom. For no one to see.

He clearly does not understand how “breaks” happen. Without creating any possibility of discovery, he hopes his works will be discovered.

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I have still not adapted to India’s sense of time. One can explain it coming from the crowds and the amount of time it can take getting places. But, it takes me a long time getting places too, which is why I leave extra time so that I’m not late. The relaxed approach to time is simply a different way of thinking, perhaps a lesser appreciation of respect of other’s time. This morning I am meeting people at 8:30 at a McDonalds or at 9:00 in front of an orphanage. To make sure I am not late, I am out the door to the train station at 7:30 on this Sunday morning.

Waiting on the train platform, a woman and her grown son are parading up and down the captive audience. His legs folded underneath him, he drags himself about on his bottom, his Mother guiding him along on a leash. This man of about 20 years is tethered to his mother. My guess is that he was born with such great brain damage that he was never able to learn how to walk. Or crawl. He scuttles about crab-like as his mother beseeches all who are present to help with donations. I give some bills but enough is never enough from the foreigner and they want more from me. I have to retreat into the crowd to get away. The train finally arrives, after about two long minutes.

“Foreigners are recommended to avoid the trains except on Sundays,” I have read somewhere. It’s true. I enjoy embarking without push and shove, this, the quietest time of the week, feels about the same as what we call rush hour on the Toronto subway. There is space enough between those standing that with leaning, we are able to make way so that people are actually able to pass. Mobility is possible.

In an instant, a very energetic figure in a flashy red sari enters the car and goes about rapidly touching heads and repeating a phrase again and again, upon each touch. Many dig into their pockets to dig out coins handing them to her/him. This is my second such experience so that now I understand the curiosity that is taking place.

Hermaphrodites are born in every culture, but typically a doctor decides with sex is most suitable at birth and the appropriate surgeries are carried out to create a single-gendered person. Very often, this situation leads to gender identification issues such as a man feeling trapped in a woman’s body or a woman trapped in a man’s. But when they leave both sets of organs there are definitely gender identity issues because humans are a gender-specific species.

A few days ago while my friend and I rode a rickshaw, a Hijra charged towards us at a stop light, put her hand out, and said, “Money please!” Stunned, I replied, “You don’t look like you need it, ” which my friend translated. It’s true, she was the best-dressed person I’d seen all day, glamourously so. She sighed, exasperated, and kept her hand out. “Do you know what this is?” my friend asked. “A man wearing fancy woman’s clothing is asking me for money?” Wearing a beautiful light blue and gold sari, bangles, make-up, dolled-up with all the pride of a drag queen ready to take the stage, she blurted, “No man!”

The Hijras live between the genders in India, not man, not woman, they are considered their own 3rd gender. Life can be hard for them, employers would not hire a Hijra so regular jobs are not available. The main modes they have for making a living seem to be begging, performing, and prostitution. “We believe that it is good luck to give them money, my Mother always does, ” I am advised by my friend, “But also, if you don’t give them money they might give you a curse.”

I hand her 100INR ($2) and she’s off. “You gave her too much.” I’m sure I didn’t, maybe too much were I Indian but foreigners are held to a completely different expectation. Had I been alone, she would have stood there demanding more, as is so often the case with street people.

On reaching the station it’s only 8:20 so I go in search of breakfast. An average looking woman with two children (perhaps about 3 and 5 years old) approaches me. The kids have been taught to beg when they see a foreigner and they crowd me with their open palms as I continue walking. “For the children,” the mother begs as I hand her a 20 INR note. (Most people give 1 or 2 INR to beggars.) “What about for the other one?”
“Sorry, that’s all I have.” I have no small notes left, and anyway, she could break it into 2 – 10 INR notes herself if it were really for the children. I have not stopped walking during this little transaction, but now I walk more quickly and try to ignore her continued pleading. Now the three or them are running alongside me and grabbing at my arms.

I spot a Cafe Coffee Day and high-line to it. They won’t come inside, I know this. They do, however, press against the glass and bang for my attention even as I find the seat furthest from the window and sit with my back to them. They do not relent until being shooed away by a worker of the cafe.

After a few minutes I take my place on the nicer patio. Surprisingly, on this private commercial patio, next to me sleeps a young man inside a mosquito tent. After I snap a photo of this arrangement, he really is right beside me, I see a little head poke around the corner. I grab my coffee and sandwich and retreat back inside as quickly as I can while Mother and children are running towards me. “No! I already gave you money! Enough is never enough and there are too many people!”

I decide not to give any more money today, since each time I give they only want more and more. If I give, they assume I will give more. If I don’t give, maybe they’ll leave me alone sooner? It is a lose-lose scenario with those in need all encompassing.

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I arrive at the gate of Mother Theresa’s Sisters of Charity at the appointed time of 9AM. Fifty two people have signed-up to come visit and play with the children at this orphanage, so far we are 3.

The organiser, a dark tall stocky guy, bumbles out and informs us that we will wait for everyone to arrive so that we go in as one group. Sounds reasonable. Nearly an hour passes and we are up to 9 of the 52. “I guess this is it, ” he says and we wander in.

Inside, we stand around the small office and are soon greeted by a Sister who explains that since visitor hours are between 4 and 5PM, the children have a programme at this time so the most we can do is to gawk at the infants through windows and the children in classes through doorways. The organiser had not even made the effort to call and find out the visitor hours, he just assumed Sunday would be an open house. Additionally, after he did discover this at 9AM, he didn’t want to be the one to tell us of his laziness so he waited for the Sister to inform us at 10:30. We, as attendees, had assumed this to be an organised reservation, not a large group randomly showing up to an orphanage, which it was.

We peered through the screened nursery windows for some minutes watching babies sleeping, resting, and a few watching us watch them. Then we were led to doorways where we huddled and watched for a moment as children sat quietly doing work at their desks. Finally we were led to the office for donations.

I signed-in the toy I had brought, a battery-operated hamster inside a ball.

I donated at the table where you were supposed to donate, in the way that I was supposed to do it, but I guess the amount, even in this group of middle-class professionals, made me a show-off. I folded the 1000 INR note (less than $20) and handed it to the Sister so it wouldn’t be noticed, but then I had to write my name and the amount given in their log book. As soon as the next person saw my entry it was if I had ruined it for the rest of them to give 20 or 50 or maybe 100 INR. The group, who were formally curious and friendly, were suddenly stand-offish and distant apart from three younger 20-something guys who thought nothing of it. There are lots of stores where these middle-class Indian folks can spend $60 on Ralph Lauren T-Shirts and $400 on Coach handbags so I’m not really sure why $20 would be considered a showy amount to give as donation when visiting an orphanage.

I just can’t seem to get the right balance of charity in India. If I don’t give to a beggar they may follow me down the street hassling me. If I do give to a beggar they may follow me down the street hassling me for more. Sometimes I give and suddenly find myself crowded with new outreached hands. Now I’ve discovered that if I give too much to a legitimate charity I may hurt the feelings of the locals who can’t give as much. I do my best to keep small bills tucked into all my pockets so I never have to pull out my wallet. It’s a lot of work getting small bills, even my hotels begrudge giving them to me. I feel panicked when I run out, nothing to pacify the beggars and without small change it is difficult to make transactions. Even a major coffee chain shop will claim not to be able to change a 500 INR for a 120 INR purchase. How annoyed was I at a Cafe Coffee Day a few minutes after being told they had no change to witness the cashier change over. Counting the cash back to a float, they counted a pile of 10s that was several inches high. They had hundreds of tens but claimed to have none. I guess it’s just what they say, whether they have change or not, they cringe their face and apologise, “Sorry, we have no change, you have smaller bills?”

Realising that this is a lose-lose situation for me, in many neighbourhoods it is simply too difficult to interact with locals. There is such a mass of poverty that as much as I can give is less than a drip in the ocean. It is overwhelming and often I need to keep my eyes straight ahead because sometimes when I acknowledge someones interaction it escalates to harassment. Pulling, grabbing, blocking my way. I will wear my headphones and feel sad that I am blocking out what I have come to India for, to interact with locals.

Leaving the gates of the orphanage, people are talking about continuing with lunch. I voice my interest in joining anyone and the three young guys agree, but suddenly the talk of going for lunch has now wained as the others have reasons not too join us. The four of us head out looking for somewhere and after circling the block we end-up just going to the McDonalds that’s near the station. Inside we walk past a table of 6. The other 6 people from the meet-up. It is rare to find myself having been so offensive.

Without serving beef, McDonalds India does still retain it’s charm as a purveyor of white sugar, white flour, buckets of sodium, and factory-farmed meats and vegetables all dripping with delicious trans-fats served in a nearly nutrition-free presentation. World-wide this company supports and endorses the means of food production that are slowly poisoning humans.

Sadly, this is sometimes the most healthful option for me when spending time outside of the tourist districts. The standard of hygiene in an Indian McDonalds is pretty much the pinnacle for restaurants in India. A nutritious salad will very possibly bring me to my knees for two days of agony because it was washed in water I cannot drink or because it wasn’t washed so it contains chemicals or faeces (manure), or because the implements used when making it were not sanitary, or because the cook went from working with raw chicken to pulling apart lettuce without washing their hands, or because from the open market the veggies and meat were thrown into the same carry bag, whatever the case, uncooked food is to be avoided outside of 5-star restaurants and hotels that have their own means of food production. (High-end places will sometimes have their own farms so they can completely control their food supply.) A sandwich made with sticky, unwashed hands, or a curry that contains left-overs from yesterday – which had left-overs from the day before – which had left-overs from the day before that, a hygienic meal served on dishes washed by being rinsed in a bucket of dirty, parasite-ridden water, the causes of food poisoning are countless and I have found my system to be weak in it’s resistance. Due to these factors, “safe” ends-up carrying a much heavier weight than, “healthful”.

My three companions become two after lunch. Both are recent newcomers who are hoping to make some local friends today.

Gokul is 27, a bright-faced IT guy temporarily relocated to Mumbai from Chennai for work. “You don’t need to visit my city,” he informs me, “there is nothing special about it.” I had already crossed Chennai off my list of possible destinations after having previous feedback.

Arand, 36, is a tiny, divorced man from Kerala. (Kerala is a popular destination for tourists in the South of India.) Arand may have overlooked my vulgarity because he is presently working on plans to immigrate to Canada and I later realise that he thought meeting a Canadian was a jackpot.

I suggest we visit nearby Juhu beach to find an open-air pub on this beautiful Sunday afternoon. Neither of them have been there, so I’m the guide for this one. Our auto rickshaw takes us to the central part of the beach where the food bazaar is located. Gokul is used to considering McDonalds a place to have a snack (it’s treated like a coffee shop by young Indian people, those who can afford it will meet friends there after school or work, or during breaks) so that even though he’s had a highly calorific meal, he feels like he has not yet had lunch. Gokul has a quick plate of street-food before we continue to wander in search of a patio.

Using his android phone, Gokul is doing his best to find something nearby but it uncovers nothing. It seems a strange lack, most of the beach is lined with the back-sides of buildings whose construction completely ignores the existence of the water and the cleaner fresh air. Finally we encounter a raised garden with an open-air lounge as part of a chain hotel. Arand calls to a security guard asks whether non-guests are welcome and how to get in. (There is no visible way up to the area, which sits about 8 feet above the beach.)

As we enter the airport-type security that is the entrance of this basic-seeming hotel, bags x-rayed, pockets emptied, and bodies frisked, I realise that this may not be the kind of place where local young professionals will feel at-home. But, it did look nice from the beach and we are all enthusiastic after having found what seems to be the only open-air bar on the entire beach.

We find a table that we are able to push into the shade and I notice the placards on every table read, “Min 1000 INR per person”. $18 is a lot of money here, so was reiterated to me this morning. “Let me treat, it will be the same as if I bough the drinks in Canada!” I suggest to ease any tension before it develops. The rickshaw ride, the wandering to finally find this place, it took well more than an hour to find a patio and it would be very awkward to leave. “What do you mean?” Gokul asks, why would buying a drink above a beach in Mumbai be like buying a drink in a country that is now full of snow? “The prices here, they might be foreigner prices, so let me treat this time because they are what I am used to anyway.”

Their eyes widen as they open the drinks menus. 597 INR for drinks that they would expect to pay between 70 to 110 for. Clever pricing, minimum of 1000 immediately becomes minimum of nearly 1200 or a 2-drink minimum. The drinks are of a higher quality than cheaper ones would be, but not 6 times better. We are in the domain of the international tourist and the Indian elite.

They both accept my offer with some relief. To spend several days wages on having 2 drinks would have been ridiculous.

As we chat about India and Canada and about their hometowns and new life situations I can’t help but notice that of the 30 or so Indian folk around us, not one is darker than beige apart from my two new friends. Indian skin colours differ considerable person-to-person so a sea of the lightest variety is very noticeable to me.

We call it an evening at around 6 o’clock. For me, it’s just the beginning of my next adventure. Trying to get home relying on the notoriously-ignorant auto rickshaw wallah.

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In most countries I have travelled, providing an accurate, detailed address that includes the neighbourhood, proximity to major landmarks, and even general roads required to get there would guarantee your arrival to that designated destination. Not so in India.

In addition to not using maps, not having GPS, and often being unable to even read any information even in their own language, the drivers also don’t like to leave their areas. Given this fact, you’d think that they’d know their own areas better than they do. When naming the region of the city where you are trying to get to, if that region is not within or directly next to the region of your departure point then it will be difficult to secure a ride. I think there may be restrictions as to how far an auto rickshaw can venture as well so perhaps they are not allowed to venture outside of their own area.

One of my new friends is going to an address that is half way to mine, so we agree to share an auto up to that point. From there I can catch another one for my 2nd leg. Even with this much closer destination, it was the 5th driver who finally accepted our fare.

At the end of this first drive, it was not too difficult for Arand to help me find another auto who would agree to take me to my neighbourhood. After much instruction, written, on the map, and explained by Arand, we depart for Kandivili on the now dark streets of Mumbai.

Auto rickshaws in India are not designed for the foreign tall person. My head is entirely within the confines of the non-transparent tarp that constitutes the roof and body panels. The deep slouch required to have any vision beyond the immediate traffic is something that I can only retain for a few minutes. So I am not fully able to see where we are going or where we are coming from when riding in the back of this kind of vehicle.

My address is in Kandivili West, Charkop Sector 8, behind MTNL (a large landmark building of the Mumbai Telephone exchange, this description is even in the official post office mailing address). My driver was thoroughly explained all the directional information at great length but has chosen to ignore the part about being in Kandivili West and the part of being in Charkop Sector 8.

In the darkness I jump out at the large MTNL building. He was given and explained my actual address but I know how to make my way from here. As soon as he has pulled away I recognise my situation is not what I had expected. He has taken me to a different MTNL building that is not in Kandivili West, not in Charkop Sector 8. I have no idea where I am.

Thus commenced the ugly dance all over again. Hailing down autos and begging them to take me to the region I need to get to, eventually finding a taker on offer of double fare. Then providing written and vocal instruction numerous times. The driver pulling over to ask for directions after each turn, me putting the driver on my cell phone with a friend who lives near my home stay and knows the area well. Three times.

Finally home, I am too late to join my host family for dinner so my neighbour friend who has talked my auto driver to finding home, joins me for a visit. He helps me find the best food option in the neighbourhood, I have tomato and cheese on dry white bread. It’s a street-side stall and we wait a moment as the young man slices the tomato and makes the sandwich. It’s not a clean place but it is the best of what’s walkable. A few hours later I am sitting on the toilet in the middle of the night with burning cramps while my insides are trying to escape. Really? I guess his hands and the counter were that dirty?

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The Gateway of India stands in the heart of Mumbai near the famous Taj Mahal Hotel. It is from there that we catch the last ferry of the day going to Elephanta Island.

Formerly known as Gharapuri, Elephanta was renamed as such in the 17th Century by Portuguese explorers who found a large, ancient elephant sculpture near the entrance of 7 very impressive caves on the island. They tried to take the sculpture back to Portugal but their chains were inadequate and the giant sculpture fell into the sea. Later the British cut the sculpture into several pieces and relocated it to the Victoria and Albert Museum in Mumbai.

The path leading from the dock to the caves is strewn with Monkeys and vendors. A light-rail miniature train can replace the short, 600 metre walk although waiting for it takes as long as the walk itself unless it is there and ready to leave on your arrival.

It is estimated that the caves were carved into the rocks sometime between the 6th and 8th centuries. Perhaps the most impressive remaining example of Hindu Cave culture, these caves comprise the abode of Lord Shiva. The island is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre due to it’s significance to Indian history.

My favourite part of the visit was actually the ferry ride that took less than an hour to take us 10 km from Mumbai in the Arabian Sea. For much of the journey, Seagulls hovered very closely to us as Indian tourists tossed them snacks, mostly potato chips and Doritos that were available for purchase on board. Hovering within arms reach, when looking directly into the flock it seemed like we were flying with them.

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A large park situated between the Eastern and Western suburbs of North Mumbai is also the “lung of the city”. For some reason there seems to only be one entrance, from the North West area of the park. The park would be far more utilised were there more entrances, but perhaps that is not desired. I am staying very near to the park geographically, but being on it’s East side I need to completely circumnavigate the park to gain entrance. This journey takes about 90 minutes by auto rickshaw or 2 hours by air-con bus.

The entrance for Sanjay Gandhi National Park is located approximately 1km from Borivali Station. Located within the park are the Kanheri Caves. Kanheri means “black mountain” and it is a large outcropping of basalt rock. 109 caves of various dimensions have been carved into the rocks ranging in age from 1BC to 10AD. By the 3rd Century these caves had become an important Buddhist Settlement.

The caves are located at the top of an incline that extends 6km from the entrance. Bicycle hire is available in the park to make this journey more manageable for those who are not visiting by bus or car. Small, pre-adult sized mountain bicycles that were obviously acquired a generation ago, are kept in near-working order with the additions of extra bolts and screws, clamps, tape, metal wire, and various other small handies in a MacGuyver chest of tools.

My seat is raised to it’s max so that my knees don’t come to my face when pedalling. My brakes are made to work to some degree, and we’re off. My one-speed cycle is missing half of one of it’s pedals, and turning the wheel to the right (and back again) involves considerable effort, but it’s doable.

The pavement consists of the variety of road surfaces I have come to anticipate in India, from smooth, to rutted, to to nearly impassable. The ground vegetation is dried-up and crispy brown. The trees look as though they are used to hanging-on to life. I spend much of the ride jumping to my feet off the bike, saving myself from sudden bumps and hoping that what’s left of my pedals won’t snap off one of these times.

My host is not good with reality. Despite taking this ride many times, when he descries it to me he says, “20 minutes cycle”. He is not a strong cycler and I have to stop and wait for him to catch-up often. It takes perhaps an hour. “When were you here last?” “A week ago.” I don’t think his stamina would have changed that much in a week.

We both push our bikes up the last steeper stretch and abandon our cycles at the side of a car park. A busload of white middle-aged tourists have already taken in the caves and are waiting to leave. Such a different experience, I think, I cycled here with a local and they just came out of their bus right at the destination. I think back to my last trip to India when we too would have arrived by vehicle (two of us with our car and driver, we had the same driver for 21 days). We would have gotten out of the car with our local guide, he would have shown us around, and off we would go again to the next sight. On this trip, one sight can easily take a full day and it is a much more local-feeling experience.

Like in many parks, monkeys are a part of the amusement. They hover closely as we drink water and one growls with impatience each time I take a biscuit. It’s actually really cute, but cookies are not good for monkeys. They’re terrible for me too, but we haven’t had lunch and this is the only think actually available at the hillside “cafe”. That in mind, I do end up sharing. Better than nothing I suppose.

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I hope you enjoyed this posting of things to do in and around Mumbai. If you did, please share it with your friends! You can tell them my domain name, http://www.PersonalTravelStories.com, or share a link to this story by clicking on the facebook or twitter button below. Also, don’t miss a story by clicking on the “follow” button on the bottom right of your screen. You will get my new posts as an email and you can unfollow with a click anytime you like. Thanks for reading! Cheers! Darren

The Beginning of my Indian Adventures of 2013

Going to India 2013

The flight departing from London at 21:05 was packed-full. I passed through the first-class pods with a touch of dread; a relaxing, comfortable slumber would not be mine tonight. Window-seated, I was confined by two seat-mates separating me from the freedom of mobility that only first-class or an aisle seat can offer.

Having an aisle seat didn’t help me on my previous Indian flight though, leaving India after a month touring Northern areas last winter. On that flight a couple from Delhi became my torturers. They were not among the sophisticated, educated city-types one meets on International flights, they were a backward-seeming police official and his wife.

On introduction, Mrs.Kumar showed me her husband’s badge, of which she was very proud. A licence to print money, so it seemed. They spoke very little English but somehow they communicated that her husband was a very successful police officer and they were now starting out on a 6-month tour of the USA and Canada. Two weeks in NYC, a week in Banff, a month in Miami, a few weeks in Hollywood, Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, Washington. . . .with countless flights all over the continent. They did have family in two of the cities they would be visiting. The cost of a 6-month tour as they described would be out-of-reach to most Westerners. But this kind of success from someone in the Indian Police force, a fixed-income government job, highlights the kind of success for which one should feel ashamed. The corruption of Indian Police officers is notorious, it is assumed that most take bribes as part of their income, but he must have really been a high-achiever when it came to cheating the public.

It soon became apparent that this couple had never flown before. They were also not accustomed to being told what to do. Before take-off the flight attendant had to tell them 3 separate times to hang-up and turn off their cell phone. The first two times they completely ignored her clear instructions gesturing at the phone and showing them to put it away. The third time she threatened that she would need them to deplane if they continued to refuse her instruction.

An hour into the flight I deal with being kicked over and over, she has reclined onto her husband’s lap and her feet extend into mine. It would have been less irritating had she removed her dirty shoes. Food comes and she’s up again. They apparently have servants at home because they seem to think the fight attendants are there solely for their comfort. The fourth time they ring for more drink during the meal the flight attendants finally tell them no. I feel embarrassed just to be near them. Every time I heard a ding I’d look up to see our light being lit, peanuts, another blanket, another pillow, more water, do they have more of the dessert that was part of the dinner tray. . . .

The lights finally off I put on my own eye mask and settle in to sleep. There’s someone in my lap. She’s straddling me, climbing over my lap. I’m 6’1″ and I fully take my space, she’s a little more than 5 feet tall, not nearly tall enough to climb over me. Well, it’s possible, but not without all her weight sliding over my lap, her feet losing touch with the floor. I’ll stay awake until she returns, I think, rather than start to fall-off again just when she’s returning. I don’t know where she went because she was gone a long time, perhaps 30 minutes.

Settled, I am woken next by her husband tapping me on the shoulder. He needs out. Then he needs back in. Then she’s climbing over again before I can wake to stand out of her way. Ding. They need a snack. Ding. Do they have another, different newspaper? Out she goes again. Out he goes again. Making the most of having free drinks that they continually consume, mostly tea, water and soda, they frequent the toilet again and again. She sleeps for another hour, restless leg syndrome or too much tea, the kicking resumes.

Morning comes and I have a strong resentment towards my evil seat-mates. I could not have imagined a less considerate, more self-absorbed, ignorant couple if I tried. I wonder if they will grow-up a bit during their North American travels, I cannot imagine anyone putting-up with their demanding, selfish behaviour. Not restaurant servers, not chamber maids, not hotel concierge, not taxi drivers, in North America we consider ourselves to be more equal and expect respect in our various different roles.

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Mumbai, India – Arriving
Written Sat Jan 12, 2013

I hired a pre-paid taxi inside the airport, which one should always do if disputes over the fare want to be avoided. After long deliberation between my driver and various other drivers as to how to get to the destination (the general direction anyway), we set out.

Streets are a cacophony of movement in India. Various forms of mobility weave and mingle forming a mass of random-looking motion. Three lanes become five, as cars, auto rickshaws, buses, ox-carts, trucks, scooters, motorcycles, bicycles weave in and out, crowd in together, and entirely disregard the notion or existence of lanes. The vehicles don’t drive one-behind-another, instead the moving mass fits together like a large, ever-changing jigsaw puzzle moving its way slowly forward. The noise created is deafening, engine noises of all sorts and incessant horn blowing in a range of pitches and volumes. Bollywood music blares here and there, both from vehicles as well as from little vending shacks. The louder the better.

This is the beginning of my second trip to India and my first visit to Mumbai. From the airport to my first destination involves more than an hour of intense navigation. After we leave the heaving mass of movement that seems to be a highway, we enter smaller roads that meander through endless neighbourhoods, some ordinary, others maze-like. These smaller roads are still messes of confused congestion, on a smaller scale. There is more stimulation from the roadside now, with mostly shack-businesses lining the side streets. Rubbish is strewn anywhere, laundry hangs from string and if available on roadside fencing. Vendors sit on the ground surrounded by their wares, usually produce. Cows linger with dogs. People are everywhere, walking on the streets, sitting on the streets, selling, buying, waiting, going. Smells emanate continually, it smells like farm, now fish, now burning rubbish, now open sewer, now just traffic pollution. Heaps of rotting discards, hot from the sun, smell earthy. Cows pick through. So do people.

I feel myself becoming entirely engulfed by the chaotic humanity. Going deeper and deeper into the urban jungle; there is no quick escape from this place. This realisation makes me feel claustrophobic. I am absolutely surrounded by high-density life for miles in every direction. This city will be my home for the next three weeks, from four different vantage points.

My first situation is a home stay in Charkop Sector 8, a North-West suburb. As we approach the general region the driver stops for directions. Not that we’re lost, this is actually the modus operandi of taxi drivers. I have found that addresses are of little interest to drivers, they just want to know the nearby landmarks. In fact, addresses very often include landmarks, officially as part of the address. (Whenever possible) My address here includes “behind MTNL”, a large telephone exchange. So it will be this, and not the actual address, that the driver asks for each time we stop. After three such stops and one U-turn, we have found the landmark. At this stage we phone my host, who now guides us in like an air traffic controller.

Well, nearly. Now behind the telephone exchange with street-side locals scratching their heads, we connect with the host one last time using the mobile. Another u-turn and a bit more searching and I am finally introduced to my new friend and host who is flagging us down from the sidewalk.

“I will never find my way home,” I think as he helps me into the building. During my first trip to India I stayed in hotels that were the landmarks of directions. Also, I was not travelling alone and our driver was always with us.

I am in for quite a local adventure.

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I definitely have a nervous anticipation of the situation I will find myself arriving to for my first home stay in India. I have never been inside an Indian home before and I’m not sure what to expect regarding daily routines. I did choose a home stay that had numerous references from previous foreign guests so that I do have assurance as to the cleanliness of the flat and the positive character of my hosts.

Being an introvert, I tent to avoid situations that will possibly cause me too much distress. I’m not shy and I do enjoy meeting people, but having too much stimulation, having too-long of a day, or not having adequate personal space can cause me a great discomfort and mental exhaustion. When pressed beyond my endurance, my socialisation threshold, the felling of panic and agitation that ensues can cloud a whole experience.

I arrive from the airport early afternoon and my host, Aman, meets me outside He is warm and friendly, a big guy by Indian standards, similar in size to me. He had been on the phone with the taxi driver several times to negotiate my arrival and he came down to the street during the last call of arrival.

A little security hut with a little security guard sits at the now open gate of this typical middle-income Indian apartment block. The gate opens onto a small alleyway that links to the open main floor of the building where cars park and kids throw balls and families sometimes play badminton. We chat introductions while waiting for the little freight elevator that had a regular wooden hinged door over top of a black metal accordion gate. The elevator box has a tendency to stop a few inches off the mark, usually too high. It also makes a lot of noise, like the warning of a truck reversing, all the time that the doors are open. I guess that a microchip that could give us a few seconds of grace from the alarm would be a bit of an upgrade.

Upstairs, Aman’s Mother’s full name appears on a metal plaque on the door, like at a doctor’s office. I am greeted by a very pleasant host Mother who immediately offers coffee.

Isha is 50 years old with 2 sons, Aman who is 30, and his older brother. They moved here from Hyderabad 5 years ago. Separated from her husband who remains in their hometown, Isha is a devoted member of her “cult”. I flinch at their use of this word to describe her spiritual devotion. It has negative connotations in North America, but perhaps that stems from Christian’s monolithic belief that theirs is the only true way. By Christianity’s doctrine, any cult would be the wrong way because it is not Christianity. Here in India, there are many ways to honour God(s) through your dedication and the word “cult” is a neutral word.

Host Mother’s cult devotions benefit her guests as it pertains to daily life. She gets up daily at 4AM to meditate. Later, she visits her cult and coming home she buys fresh food for the day. Mid morning she meets her “bai” (literally “woman”, what they call the female domestic servant) who helps her clean the entire home every day. She hovers over the girl for several hours as they attend to the all the details that can be found in a 2-room plus kitchen and double bathroom apartment. The thorough cleaning of everything everyday is part of her cult’s mandates for living a pure life.

When it comes to food, as a guest in her home, Isha’s cult followings serve me well too. All food should be freshly made, vegetarian, but with no garlic and no onions. This differs from the Jains who do not use any root vegetables whatsoever. She buys fresh milk every morning and makes fresh yoghurt from it every day. We enjoy fresh juices made directly from the fruit at the time of drinking. Watermelon and orange seems to be the most common. The healthy meals here are a fantastic highlight of my home stay. Finding food on the streets, particularly off the beaten tourist path where I tend to gravitate, is hugely challenging. Being able to come home to clean, safe, highly nutritious food is a bonus of huge magnitude. Even a beautiful, clean restaurant can have a kitchen behind-the-scenes that looks like a scene of a slum. The front can be palatial and gleaming while the back is feted and filthy. Levels of bacteria and parasites that have no impact on Indians whatsoever often leave the foreigner begging for mercy.

The final way I benefit from Isha’s cult following is in her constant state of relaxed kindness. She just seems like a happy, satisfied person. Her easy, straightforward friendliness is contagious and it gives the home a warm and comfortable feel. It is a place I want to be, with her and her son.

Aman is my designated host who is taking a break from the IT industry. His last job was working for a call centre that serviced North America. His English is fluent and eloquent. The politeness of his indirect speech I find a bit humorous.

“Have you been to Goa?”
“Not really.”
“So, just a little bit?”
“No.”

“Do you have brothers and sisters?”
“As of now, I have an older brother.”
“As of now? Is your Mother thinking of having more children?”
“No.”
I explain that “as of now” implies that a situation could be different in the future. “As of now, I have been to 9 Indian cities,” is a statement of fact that is likely to change in the future.

“Drunkards in India have not yet turned to wine,” he tells me, “it’s probably too expensive.” I know that he really means that most drinkers, those who do drink alcohol while many do not, are not in the habit of choosing wine as their drink of choice.

I went to a wine bar in Bandra with a new Mumbiker friend. It had at most 25 choices on the menu, and considerably fewer in reality. A “local” spot for Indians with money, it was definitely 2 to 4 times overpriced, very expensive here. It was all Indian apart from a few Chilean wines. I set out to try a few small glasses, ordering a different kind each time and asking for suggestions. My friend, however, refused the sampling game and stayed with the same mediocre taste over and over, three times.

The prevailing taste was of someone’s home-made wine kit gone a bit wrong. My standards thoroughly lowered after my last India trip, “drinkable” now has a meaning closer to, “does not taste like ethyl alcohol”, or “does not taste like it must have been opened 3 months ago and allowed to re-ferment in a rotting fruit sort of way,” or “does not make me gag.”

An English couple had told me there were some lovely Indian wines. I didn’t actually believe them after having suffered my previous trials last year, but they did put a shadow of doubt in my curiosity . . .if I could find a nice wine to enjoy sometimes that would be great. This night I do not have one I would ever want to repeat, but I do later have a few decent ones.

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Aman makes a wonderfully kind and engaging host. For the moment the is enjoying the role of host to foreign visitors. I suspect that the small daily tariff we pay to join their household exceeds the income he could earn working as an “executive” at a call centre. This must make the drudgery of work seem pointless unless following a passion. His brother is working on benefiting from this foreign economy as well, he is organising the rental of a flat what will also allow him to host foreign visitors which his current one does not.

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The flat itself consists of two rooms, a kitchen, and a double bathroom. (It seems like one bathroom split down the middle into two narrow ones. The spaces don’t need to be large because the shower is not designated a separate space from the toilet, the entire floor is basically a draining shower floor. It’s similar to the set-up we had in our motorhome when I was a kid. A small water-heating device hangs on the wall to heat the shower water as needed, the kind often found in Europe. In India these are called “geysers”.

This set-up meant that when you needed to use the toilet, you had to put on sandals because the floor was rarely dry. Oddly, they do not keep sandals here for this purpose so I bought my own the first time I left the house. The bathroom “slipper” tradition continues in Japan despite the fact that their washrooms have evolved to be highly modern and hygienic rendering the need for footwear completely unnecessary. But the idea of providing bathroom slippers, this is probably the set-up that idea came from.

The washroom sink taps are cold-water only, as is the kitchen sink tap. There is a galley kitchen that contains all metal cutlery, cookery, and dishes. Isha spends hours in this space cooking everything from scratch. After-use, the metal dishes are put into a large, wide bucket and accumulated for the “bai” to clean in the morning. This she does squatting on the floor in the bathroom.

I’m not sure of the dish-cleaning process, but I do know that the first time I heard it I sat bolt upright in bed with eyes wide open. There is so much metal clanging noise at one time that it sounds like a class of preschoolers armed with great metal pots and spoons. Fighting, they all then fall down a flight of stairs together. Repeatedly. For half an hour.

The main rooms of the flat aren’t really designated with a specific purpose, it’s not like the West where bedrooms are generally designated as private sleeping quarters and the living room is a lounge area. These rooms are more-or-less equal, the room closest to the entrance is more public.

In the more public room is a single trundle-bed against the wall facing a double wardrobe. A small, rolling coffee table and plastic stools serve as food holders when dining while sitting on the bed. There is a computer on a small desk in the corner beside the wall of sliding doors which open to an exterior laundry-hanging area. At night, the trundle pulls out from under the bed making two single beds.

In the 2nd, smaller room, two single beds and one wardrobe take up the entire space. This room also has sliding doors to the outside where more laundry is hung and where several large tanks of cooking gas are stored. The sliding doors do not have screens, nor have they been fit with precision. Fully closed, there’s a gap where each door meets allowing mosquitos to come and go freely through the night leaving me nearly bloodless by morning. These are little, tiny, dwarf mosquitoes. They don’t look capable of malice, but I wake-up several times during the night slapping myself in the face trying to obliterate the miniature beasts that are capable of so much harm. After a week, I am covered in red, puffy welts some of which actually enlarge by localised bruising.

In addition to improving the quality of life for the local mosquitos, every day the air passing through the openings brings in the smell of morning. Somewhere around 6AM when neighbours start rising and start taking their morning showers, using the toilet and otherwise getting ready for a new day, the level of the sewers rise causing the stink of rotting faeces to to waft into the room and kick you in the face. At least, it kicks the foreigner in the face. “What smell?” Aman asks.

It’s like when you work in a coffee shop all day, you get used to the smell of coffee and don’t notice it but newcomers coming in have a heightened awareness of the coffee aromas. Crossing town in mixed company when we passed an open sewer I mention, “Wow, it smells like a farm but worse!” “I know,” responds the other Westerner. “What are you talking about?” asks the Indian. “The stink!” “What stink?” So this auditory feature is perhaps limited to visitors who are not there long enough to develop an immunity.

At 2AM one morning I dash to the toilet. An explosion of chunky liquid brings some relief momentarily but I feel like my insides are being twisted and knotted. I spend the entire night finding it difficult to breathe and I take in deep breaths which I hold and then release very slowly.

My host, in the bed 12 inches from mine, gets up at 11AM and I continue to lay there aching, nauseated, and weak. At 1:30 he tells me the time and I explain to him my condition, which he doesn’t believe. “You probably overdid it yesterday,” he suggests, “maybe you need some rest.” I spend the rest of the day fending-off food offerings during toilet breaks. In the end, I do have an apple.

I am still unwell the next day, again to my hosts disbelief. I am aching everywhere, I’m running out of medicine, and I’m drinking my rehydration liquids that I brought from Canada. I try some rice and yoghurt and somehow within minutes it has cycled through my disabled digestion tract and explodes out the other side. “Should have used a dish, could have given that to the cow,” I chuckle when I see the barely adulterated recognisable food. Host Mother always feeds me to beyond capacity, it is not possible to finish with an empty plate because it is disallowed. An empty plate gets more food, so I always end with left-overs. “Give to my cow,” she cheerfully states as she clears away the dishes. It’s one of her few English phrases. She doesn’t have a cow per se, but there is a cow that she passes everyday and feeds left-overs to like any good Hindu should.

I return to bed and take-off my day clothes since my trial lunch was not a success. I ache all over. Partly from the food poisoning, partly from the super-hard 2″ thick mattress on wood that I have spent far too many hours on. I still feel too weak to sit-up, to tired to read, I’m hot, sore, crampy, and nauseated. (I hang my head over my bedside pail now and again, but in the end I don’t end up using it. This time.)

My host, who has never himself experienced food poisoning, continues to remain suspicious of my condition. “Are you sure you have diarrhoea?” he asks, his head tilted and eyes narrowed as if to uncover some deep, hidden secret. I feel a tinge of momentary hatred as I look up at my lovely, kind host who has been attempting to force-feed me now for 2 days. “You’re weak because you’re not eating enough, ” he declares. I don’t feel like defending my condition anymore so I don’t. I just look and then close my eyes.

The next morning I feel completely well. I have been in Mumbai for one week and today is my first moving day.

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“Explore Cultured Mumbai Home stay” listed the following as amenities: air conditioning, tv, internet, elevator, washer, dryer, pool.

I arrive to the very local suburb of Mulund after the usual taxi conundrums – stopping for directions, calling my host several times, and making the occasional u-turn. I did give very clear and concise directions which were disregarded for the usual routine of spending much of the drive seeming lost.

Standing at about 5’2″, my little host meets us roadside and we complete the journey with him pointing the way. A tiny “temple”, a miniature square building about 7’x7′ sits awkwardly at the roadside against the front of a 15 or so storey building built 2 years ago. “We cannot destroy temples and it was here first,” he informs me when I ask about this little structure that interrupts the sidewalk and looks so out-of-place. “Can’t they move it though?” “No.”

“Have you hosted a Canadian before?” I ask my new host.
“Yes, I had a guy from Michigan.”
“That’s not Canada,” I offer.
“But it’s the same, isn’t it?”
“No.”
“Oh, and I had a girl from Seattle.”
“That’s not in Canada either.”
He tilts his head back and forth, not sure whether to believe me? It seems something like, “We’ll just agree to disagree.”

We roll my suitcases around the large structure on broken cobble to the back where we find the middle-aged, typical 6-storey apartment complex that is supposed to be my home for the next 7 nights. Somewhat dingy and with electrical wires bulging form wall panels on every floor, we have a tour of floors through the metal gate of the lift as we approach the 4th floor.

Already apparent is the lack of a pool. There is no possible space, inside or out, where one could possibly be.

The door to the flat is large and is covered with a paper sticker that gives the impression of being a wood-panelled door. Well, it doesn’t actually give me that impression, it just looks comedic, cartoon-like. My host, Babu, removes the padlock and slides the bolt to unlock the door. I’m not overly fond of having a door, in a foreign country, where any passer-by can lock me inside by simply sliding a bolt. Fourth floor, no fire escape, barred windows. . . . .

He opens the door to a one-room plus kitchen and bathroom apartment. Readily apparent is the lack of family one normally associates with a home stay. This is just a bleak, faceless, worn-out space and the complete lack of character suggests that no one lives here.

“People used to stay with my family, but I decided it is more comfortable for the foreigner to have their own space.”

“But if a foreigner chooses to have a home stay, they have decided they would be more comfortable to share a space. This is not a home stay,” I suggest.

He tilts his head. “But it is, because you can visit my family anytime. My guest from Finland said that I lied about the place because he wanted to stay with a family, but this is better.”

“But this is not a home stay,” I reason again. He should advertise it for what it is, a flat rental. That way, people who want to have the situation that he has decided is better for them, can. But clearly he understands that this is not the situation many foreigners are looking for, otherwise he would not have misadvertised. His parents probably don’t like having constant house guests so he rented this apartment rather than lose this, his only, income.

Other missing amenities come immediately to view. For tv, I am welcome to visit the family home any time, less than 15 minutes away. Well, the 2 times I did happen by the family home (a 3 room apartment) his mother was glued to her Hindi soaps. I don’t speak Hindi so my interest in these would be very short. How likely would it be for me to go into their home, commandeer the television and watch English programs when both her and her husband don’t speak English. Not likely. Television is not an amenity of this “home stay”.

Internet too was a false promise. I had already learned this from comments of previous visitors though, so I knew to expect that. If I had not been able to internet-enable my iPad with a SIM card, not having internet, without phone or tv especially, would have been a deal-breaker.

The tour of the small apartment just got better and better. There is no air conditioning. “But I can visit the family home to cool down, can I? Very handy especially at night if I can’t sleep because of being too hot.”

“No, we don’t have ac either. I hope to put it in someday, after I make lots of money renting the flat to foreigners.” So in his hopes to get air conditioning some day, he lists it as a benefit now for this “home stay”.

The kitchen is a cluttered mess in that due to having no shelves, drawers, or cupboards whatsoever, the counter is a pile of condiments, dishes, and useless items. A sink at one end and a 2 burner stove at the other, and a large empty jug as from a water cooler laying on it’s side with a spout attached to it’s mouth.

Absent from the kitchen, making it a completely useless room to me because I can’t even make tea with milk, is a fridge. Restaurant left-overs will have to go ” to the cow” and I cannot stock-up on any fresh food or have chilled water in this hot, stuffy apartment. The kitchen does come in handy later for brushing my teeth. Later I discover that there are no window screens in the bathroom but I can avoid the mosquito attacks somewhat by leaving the bathroom door closed and using it as little as possible.

Speaking of the bathroom, the next thing I notice is the absence of a toilet. This apartment has the more traditional squat-hole. Lovely. Another missing element, although I don’t notice until the next morning, is a water heater. Usually called a geyser, this little point-of-use appliance that provides warm showers does not exist. It doesn’t seem like anyone ever lived in this apartment, that it was never quite finished. Yet, it is in a rather dirty, worn-out condition. What there is, however, is a big plastic tank full of fetid water overhead. It’s like a huge, plastic toilet tank that keeps itself full for when the water is not working, your own private stash. In case the water was not bacteria-laden and parasitical enough, you can turn a valve to bypass the regular supply with this one.

Looking around, I enquire where I do laundry, which I had accumulated until now since a washer and dryer were listed as amenities. “I can show you how to wash it in the sink, ” he cheerfully offers. “Not necessary, I can figure that out myself.” No dryer, no washer. The ONLY truth in his profile listing this accommodation was the elevator. WOW.

So it was that I took an immediate dislike for my host who lied so thoroughly to fool foreigners into pre-paying for his “home stay”. I did not trust him whatsoever. I didn’t hide it either, this liar would be no friend of mine.

There was a complete in-congruency between his lying and his friendly, gentle nature in-person. I guess he got away with his false listing because other foreigners newly arrived to India staying off the map in this local area would be dependent on his assistance to do anything. Even getting a taxi here requires much local help and intervention. In my case, however, I had already made some friends in Mumbai, I already knew how to navigate the insane train system, and I did not require his assistance to get by.

My refusal to be friendly to this little man who lies and tricks foreigners into renting his nasty apartment did not sit well with Babu. He kept coming by offering to take me to a temple, go here or go there. My first day I did take a day trip with him, but his continued lies bugged me so much that I couldn’t stand him any longer. He interpreted my coldness as disappointment in the flat and arrived with drinking water and a plant.

In fact, the apartment was okay, I could deal with it; I just really begrudged his lies and his refusal to acknowledge them as such. On day three I responded to his texts offering to do things together with, “The apartment is fine. It is you I don’t like. Because you are a liar, I do not want to be your friend.”

Thirty minutes later he showed up to the door. “What do you mean? I am not a liar.”

I looked down at him in complete disbelief. I cannot believe he needs this reiteration again. “Okay then, show me the air conditioner.”

He tilts his head back and forth, “I explained to you that I want to have that in the future.”

“But it’s a lie to list it as a benefit now.”
“That’s your opinion.”
“No it isn’t, it’s just a fact!” I am completely exasperated. “And where’s the tv? Internet? Washer? Dryer? Pool?”
“I told you about those things, you can visit my parents home. And i can take you to the pool, it’s only 30 minutes away. . . ”

His continual refusal to even see his own deceptions infuriates me so much that I couldn’t stand it anymore. “Just leave me alone until I leave, I do not want to know you.”
“But I’m not a liar!”
“Yes you are – now just leave me alone.”
“No I’m not, it’s just your opinion!”
With that I push him out the door. He is actually fighting against me to stay inside. Him weighing all of about 140 lbs, it’s no trouble to close the door with him on the outside.

He kicks the door. “You don’t like my room, then get out of my house! I’m calling Airbnb!”

I feel very fortunate to have my own internet with me, otherwise finding alternate accommodation on the spot would have been impossible. Airbnb calls. “Your host is very upset. He said you called him a liar.”
“He is a liar, and you need to make him change his profile.” I explain how the listing does not remotely reflect that actual accommodation.
“Oh, now I see the issue. I will talk to your host and explain to him the misunderstanding.”
“It’s not a misunderstanding! I understood his profile entirely, it’s a bunch of lies to attract more foreigners to come!”

As soon as I was packed, I started the long process to transfer myself by taxi to a hotel in Bandra.

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“Your country?”

“Canada.” I look of non-recognition, I show with my hands, my left is the USA, I place my right hand, Canada, above it.

Anil, who looks to be in his late 50’s, seems to have woken-up to drink this Sunday afternoon. Around 3PM he is rather sloshed and I bet that tomorrow he will ask his friends, “Was I hanging-out with a white guy yesterday?”

I have not found it that easy to interact with locals on the street, but this time I have to my advantage that in this non-tourist area people are curious without their hands held out, and that I have an understandable reason to linger, sitting with my suitcases waiting for a taxi. I called for the taxi from outside so that I could implore the assistance of a neighbour to talk to the taxi company. A full, clear address never seems to be enough. Unless your location is itself a famous landmark, it takes a lot of work to get to your destination. I can never assume that a driver knows where he is going because he rarely does.

A little man who runs the cigarette and betel nut stand for our building comes over and stands looking at me at very close proximity. “Do you speak English?”

Head tilting, “No.”

By this point Anil has ascertained that I am friendly, like a dog he cuddles up against me, sitting next to me on a low cement wall. “Cigarette?” I offer and he readily accepts. I had purchased this pack her last night and smoked one here in an attempt to meet locals then. But, I guess it seemed too threatening and suspicious and perhaps I didn’t linger long enough. Today, it took about 20 minutes before I seemed approachable.

“He’s my friend,” Anil tells me, pointing to Manoj, the guy who helped me on the phone. “Peter Francis, he’s Christian.” In fact, he’s the only guy of many about who is wearing a head covering so I am surprised. Anil calls him over. He rolls over on his motorbike that he’s been sitting on and Anil points out a “Jesus” emblem on the front.

“Christians are friendly with Hindus,” I kind of ask, using my iPad translation app, English to Hindi. “Yes. I am a Hindu as well,” Manoj replies. “You are Christian and Hindu?” “Yes, same God.” “So, do Hindus just divide the same God into many Gods, or is the Christian God one of the many?” My question, even translated, is not understood. I am curious as to what the thinking is about this because Hindus may also be Christian but I don’t know any Christians who are also Hindu.

A small crowd is slowly gathering of curious guys who live in the building. This driveway is a hang-out during the weekend, where people smoke and chat and chew betel nut. Guys anyway, no girls hang about. They are probably visiting each other in their apartments while the men have left them to privacy. It’s a very friendly building, most doors seem to be left wide open onto the hallway apart from overnight and when people are out. Neighbours come and go between apartment and the building has a very welcome feel. English is not well-spoken in this neighbourhood though, so despite earlier attempts to meet my neighbours, during my departure is the only time I actually do.

“Is he the party guy?” I point to my new sidekick. The iPad translation app I’m using is fast and easy, and with a click it shows screen-sized translation of each sentence making it easy to communicate with a group. Another benefit of having internet from a SIM card, it only works when connected to the internet. On reading my question the group breaks into laughter. Yes, yes, he parties everyday. My little friend now has his arm over my shoulder and seems quite content to be the centre of attention. Now and again he puts his hand up as if for a high-five, when I meet his with mine he grabs my hand instead. “My friend!” he says every time.

“What is your name?” someone asks. After saying my name several times to looks of confusion, I key it in for them to see. “Full name?” I key my family name. “My family name comes from Scotland,” I key, “people in Canada come from many places.” They tend to read aloud and there is group recognition and agreement with each sentence.

There is a lull and they wait for the foreigner to entertain. “People everywhere are much more the same than they are different,” I key as way of a conversation starter during this cultural exchange.

“Not Pakistan,” one man suggests to nods of agreement.

“In Canada, Pakistani people and Indian people are friends,” I show them on my screen. This statement draws awkward looks as they glance from one to another not sure whether they should believe this crazy statement.

Change topic. “It’s hot today!” I quip. Near to 30 Celsius an da bit humid.

“No, cold, cold!” they tease. Yes, I do realise that it gets much hotter here compared to this, but no one really thinks this is cold.

“At home, now, it might be minus 15 degrees,” I key. Looks of disbelief and shock, wonderment as to how one could survive such a temperature leads to a conversation about winter clothes and how we stay warm.

I man named Rakesh introduces himself. “In high school I knew a guy named Rakesh,” I tell them, “There are many Indian people in Canada and in the U.K. too.” Nods of acknowledgement, they know this, many people emigrate to Canada.

The conversation being more like a discussion of which I am the leader, I keep moving it along. “In Canada, total people only 30 million. That’s only double this city, but Canada is the 2nd largest country in the world.” They seem to find this interesting. A country that only sounds vaguely familiar has very few people but is very large.

“Canada pictures?” someone asks and I show the very few I do have on my iPad. A birthday party, a small wedding, my brief visit to Newfoundland.

“India pictures?” I open the file from my trip to Rajasthan but they are quickly bored. “Mumbai photos?” They’d like to see photos of something familiar to them. The nearby India Gate receives approving nods and “ahhs”. I skip from pic to pic rather than showing a slideshow, I don’t want them to see the pics I find so interesting of local life. Of the neighbouring shacks, stray animals, laundry hanging in the street draped over public fences, rubbish, people going about daily activities.

An hour of interacting and I am grateful when my taxi arrives. It was great, but tiring. Like a performance. I leave Anil my cigarettes, which he had already pocketed anyway.

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Bandra is well-known as the “Queen of the Suburbs” in Mumbai. Actually very central to all the action, I’m not sure why it’s known as a suburb at all. Perhaps they just mean, “residential neighbourhood”. But neither term gives any semblance of understanding to a foreigner because the reality is that Bandra is a hectic, noisy, trendy zone, busier than any neighbourhood in Manhattan it seems to me. The term “suburb” does not adequately capture the chaos, even if it is a chosen domicile for multitudes.

With one of the priciest property rates in Mumbai, Bandra is a desirable neighbourhood and many Bollywood actors choose to call it home. With a long and interesting history, many Christians remain from the era of Portuguese rule when commenced in 1532. During the time of British rule many Bandrites became employees of the East India Company. At that time very few Indians could read or write Roman letters so this gave the Christians a definite career advantage.

Earlier in my stay I had asked a gentlemen what the word is for someone from Mumbai. “Mumbiker, ” he replied, “but I call myself a Bandrite”. Even though Bandra is a neighbourhood within Mumbai, pride of residing in that neighbourhood has coined this even more local handle distinguishing the residents from other Mumbikers.

Bandra has a trendy and fashionable selection of shops, clubs, bars, hotels, and restaurants but it still has it’s problems. Street congestion is compounded by roads narrowed by illegal street hawkers setting up for trade right on the street. The city seems to be aggressively targeting these activities. According to an article I read in the newspaper during my visit, only 8000 of 32,000 vendors are actually legally licensed. There is talk about designating more space and legalising more hawkers so that the government will at least have some control. At present, the illegal vendors pay bribes to the local police and other officials to be overlooked, creating a substantial income for the generally-accepted-to-be-corrupt police force. Since they are there, licensed or not, might as well charge a small tax to pay for the administration and better organisation while reducing corruption. (Legally, a police officer should force the closure and removal of an unlicensed vendor. But honestly, the police officer does not really want to take away someone’s livelihood. But since the vendor is willing to pay a bribe in lieu of removal, the officer accepts. In a way it is a win-win situation, but the government might as well just grant more licences.) Vendors would surely welcome this tax in lieu of bribes. All they want to do is to make a living; whatever taxes they are charged would most likely be far less than the bribes they pay out anyway.

For a prestigious district, Bandra is a surprising disaster. A mess of unplanned construction. A torn-down bungalow replaced by a skyscraper here, a random mega store there, new and old and in between not quite working together. Instead of interesting, it’s just messy.

I check in to my hotel on Hill Road, one of the main original streets renamed by the British. Not a quiet oasis due to it’s location in this very loud, congested neighbourhood, but I felt I would be an interesting base for 3 days of local wanderings. Hotel Metro Palace has 3 restaurants the day I check-in, all of them somewhat party-like serving alcohol and blasting dance music. I knew this to the be the case from customer reviews though, my earplugs are ready to go.

Still shaken from my “home stay” gone wrong in Mulund from which coming here was a sudden unplanned early escape, I do nothing the first evening apart from ordering room service, facebooking, and researching my surrounds.

In the morning the next day, I am somewhat surprised to discover that all three restaurants that had been so alive with loud music and drinking mere hours before were now being literally torn apart. Walls were coming down, metal supports were being sawed through creating that incredibly ear-grating noises of metal teeth cutting metal. Piles of rubble were accumulating, as was dust and dirt.

I hit the fashionable neighbourhood in food and at no place I encounter with actual nourishment do I fee safe to eat. I have had the “runs” for a full week now, and taking chances on food hygiene i snot on my bucket list. I find some white sugar, white flour, and trans fat at a coffee shop chain in the form of a “banana muffin”; basically a greasy ball of white cake with a hint of banana. By 4PM I have circled-back to the hotel now desperate for something edible, surely they can help.

“You may eat on the 1st floor terrace,” I am told at the front desk. Arriving to the spectacle that was once the 1st floor terrace (2nd floor for us North Americans) his misinformation is obvious. “I’m sorry Sir, but you cannot eat here,” I am told by a young, hip-looking manager as he watches his terrace cafe being filled with debris.

“Clearly,” I agree, “but downstairs they do think you’re open.”

“They are mistaken, Sir. Sorry, Sir.”

“Yes, I can see that.”

“Our restaurants are combining to make a KFC.”

“Sorry?”

“What country are you?”

“Canada.”

“You don’t have KFC?”

“Yes, I know it. So, could you possibly show me somewhere that I can find food nearby?”

“Yes, I will show you, Sir.”

He leads me downstairs to the street and points to a double-entry with “RUDE” above the doors. “You can eat there, Sir. The food will be good for you there, Sir.”

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I cap-off three weeks in Mumbai with a 5-star hotel stay. I looked into the famous Taj located at Mumbai’s India Gate. It is by far the most famous luxury hotel in the city but they have no rooms available in the original palace wing. I’m not interested in being in that busy location, I’ve already spent time there, to stay in the new wing which has been reviewed as being far less interesting and not that special. Instead I choose a hotel chain that I was very impressed with before, the Leela Kempsinki Hotel.

I previously stayed with this chain last year at the Leela Palace in Udaipur. Our driver deposited us at a small ferry dock where we were greeted by fancily-uniformed guards who helped us onto a small canopy-covered boat which transported us across the lovely lake, for which Udaipur is famous, to our palace hotel Intricately-costumed men holding large elaborate parasols protected us from the 30 seconds of skin-damaging sunshine from the dock to the threshold. Upon our entrance, a Rajasthani band serenaded us as rose petals fell from above. We were greeted directly by name and guided straight-forth to our room without pause, moving through the gorgeous interior replete with antiques and ornamentation suitable for a Maharajah’s palace.

The room itself was sumptuous. I loved the oversized mahogany dressing room and 4-part bathroom. A toilet room, a central double-sink make-up area, a shower room, and across the hall, a separate bathing room.

A lovely large carved desk flanked the headboard of a very comfy bed, with a sofa sitting-area nestled around the view of the lake. The entire room was furnished with antiques and reproductions, vibrant jewel tones, luxurious hand-woven rugs, tasteful paintings, and wall hangings.

There was an open central atrium that featured live dancing and music in the evenings, lit by dozens of receded candles. The exterior terrace was gorgeous, featuring water features, lovely restaurants, and all overlooking the gorgeous views of the Lake Palace.

So ti was with some anticipation that I booked the equally-priced Leela Kempsinki Hotel Mumbai.
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Keeping in mind that I have no plans to leave this hotel for 5 days, I booked the most exclusive class of room, the “Royal Club”. Located on the top floor, these rooms have an exclusive all-inclusive lounge, private check-in, butler service, and private concierge. This would possibly be a wasteful splash if just using the hotel as a base, but it’s a real asset when calling the hotel “home” for the duration of my visit. It is a little mini-break from my travels in India.

The arrival was promising. Set on 11 acres of gardens, the gated entry is far enough from the hotel that it’s existence from the road is obscured by the trees. The routine of open hood, open trunk, inspect interior, roll mirror under car to check the underside, is no longer surprising to me.

Surprising is the lack of staff at the entrance. I help my driver with my luggage and deposit it myself at the x-ray machine. After going through the metal detection and being thoroughly frisked, I collect my handbag but leave my other bags. I stand waiting for reception and watch other bags trying to come through the x-ray machine, pushing mine into a pile. I am thinking I should overstep boundaries to go save my own luggage when finally someone goes over to attend to them. I don’t mind to carry my own suitcases, but somewhere like this it should creat a stir to see a customer so unattended.

I know that I have priority check-in due to the class of my room, but there is no one available to inquire where I am meant to proceed. I wait for my turn at the understaffed reception counter and two separate Indian guests barge past me to be served first. When I finally get to the counter, I show my hotel voucher. The young man keys into the computer, in that mysterious seeming to be more official or complicated than it actually is sort-of-way, and recognises, “You have private express check-in.” Seems a bit late to be private or to be express with the lack of attention given to new arrivals. Now it just means that even though I was made to wait a long time for the regular check-in process due to there being no staff there to direct me otherwise, instead of now being checked-in, they will make me wait all over again upstairs for my special express check-in. The irony of this “special service” is lost on the Indian staff. The way they have carried-out this service, it’s not better than ordinary check-in, it is twice as bad. But I am supposed to know where to go on entry I suppose, this is a benefit only to those who have already stayed in this hotel, but I never will again. The lobby is shockingly noisy. Despite there being few people about, the marble and hard surfaces reverberate the little commotion there is into being a loud cacophony. There has been no thought whatsoever to the acoustics. A water feature masks the noise with water noise, not the usual relaxing feeling generated by splashing water.

I am now ushered up to to the top floor. I express my annoyance and am disregarded with, “Sorry, Sir, we are fully booked, very busy, Sir.” I think that if they are fully-booked then they can well-afford the very cheap labour to be well-staffed.

The 8th floor is the “Royal Club” top floor with private concierge called, “butler service” and a private lounge that has inclusive snack and drink benefits. I am passed-off to my butler, Gerard, who takes my hotel and pre-paid hotel voucher as well as any requests for coffee, tea, or soft drinks. The “welcome champagne” as described as part of club room benefits is not offered, even though I now could use it given my annoyance checking-in. My coffee takes some time to arrive so that it does not fill my waiting time, it arrives at the same time my passport is returned so I only take a few sips before asking to be shown to my room.

The room is nice, no reason to complain really, but it is disappointingly boring. Stream-lined and traditionally modern, the only interesting touch is the colourful rug on the hardwood floor. The furnishings are nice in a non-offensive anyone-would-be-okay-with-them sort of way. The colours are typically muted, ivory woodwork and beige plain fabric textured wallpaper. There’s a minibar that would be overpriced in Europe let alone in Asia, an oldish flat screen tv (the kind that was 4″ deep rather than the 1″ nowadays), a writing desk and chair, a round table in the bay window with a comfy chair and ottoman. There is a view of the hotel grounds as well as two very large taxi depots, one for the black and yellow regular cabs, another for the blue and white aircon cabs.

A queen bed with – a real mattress. I’ve been on the super-hard, super-thin Indian-style mattresses for the past few weeks, so a real bed is quite a treat.

“May I take breakfast in my room?” I inquire of my butler, who I rarely see again except at the concierge desk. “No Sir, if you want to upgrade to a suite for only . . . .”

I guess they’re not completely full.

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I hope you found this story about the places I stayed in Mumbai to be interesting. If you did, please follow my blog! Click on “Follow” on the bottom right of your screen and enter your email address to receive my posts as emails. You can remove your following at time. To share a link in facebook, click on the facebook button, or share a link on Twitter. Thanks for reading! The next posting will tell some stories of things I did when I stayed in the places you just read about. Cheers! Darren http://www.PersonalTravelStories.com

Mumbai – Story – My Wacky Party Life

My wacky party-life

I’m staying at a hotel in Bandra that has three restaurants within. They were all open and operating at loud full-swing yesterday. Today, they are being torn-apart, all three are closed. Apparently they are to be joined together to form a multi-level KFC.

After several hours of local wanderings all I have found to eat so far today was a stale, greasy muffin at a coffee chain. They had other food items, but I recently found myself quite ill from eating a pre-packaged sandwich at a competitor. I cannot assume adequate freshness even when it comes to expensive coffee shops that cater to foreigners. If that nice-looking wrapped sandwich was made a week ago, I would be the one who pays. I had left the hotel in search of sustenance, and finally I have circled back. It’s after 3pm and I am hungry.

The front desk manager tells me that I can, in fact, have lunch upstairs on the terrace. I find my way there and find the terrace is piling-up with debris and is rather in the centre of a construction zone. I am approached by the restaurant manager who explains at length why I cannot eat there, as if it were not obvious. I beg him to help me find food and lucky for me he knows the perfect place. He walks with me down to the street and points across the intersection to a doorway flanked with speakers with the sign, “Rude Nightclub” above. Well, how did I ever miss that?

Two little guys guard the door and don’t speak a word of English when I try to ask them if they serve food. (I still can’t quite conceive it, and the bar music is loud on the sidewalk.). I’ll see for myself. I’m led up a staircase into a dark, hyper-noisy nightclub which, oddly at just after 3pm, is at about one third capacity. I put-in my noise reducing ear plugs and take a seat. I take a photo of the ceiling, which is covered with broken table legs and rolls of barbed wire. A huge banner, “spoils ur bad mood,” fills the far wall.

The volume, even with my dense earplugs, is incredibly loud. The powerful bass thumps my whole body. My chest especially is reverberating. Even if my ears are protected from abuse, it seems like the rest of my body isn’t. I am completely mystified what makes this an appropriate venue to recommend me. I’m wearing shoes, slacks, a button shirt, and a fedora. I look neither like a party animal nor a hippie by any stretch. Is this really the only nearby food source appropriate for a foreign digestive tract?

Upholstery fabric covering the chairs simulate newspaper pages except that all the topics are definitional and relate to pop culture. “iPod is a line of portable media players invented and marketed by Apple. . . . . .An automobile, auto car, motor car, or car is a wheeled motor vehicle used for transporting passengers . . . .” Additionally, there are joke sections, which are terrible, “Why are you stupid today? Anyway, I think that’s very typical of you.”

Chinese food is somewhat common in India, and I am pleased to order lemon chicken since my body doesn’t always welcome spice for my first meal of the day. What arrives is a creamy, lemony curry concoction unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. The waiter serves it from bowl to plate as if serving for the first time ever. It must be nerves, I think, that everywhere I dine my server is so slow, awkward, and clumsy. Or perhaps they always make the new guy serve the foreigner because no one else wants to. That creates a repeating experience of continually being served by novices on their first day.

I watch the crowd around me as I eat. With a corner table, I can view the entire room. The music is so loud, I eat quickly so I can leave soon.

How much fun is this daytime nightclub? I never once saw any group mingle with any other group. Groups of 2,3,4,6,10, all completely separate. No one dancing and too noisy to chat. People are drinking and having snacks. Who likes this?

January, 2013.

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Mumbai – Story – My Gateway to India 2013

The Megatropolis of Mumbai (Formerly Bombay)

The Beginning

I hired a pre-paid taxi inside the airport, which one should always do if disputes over the fare want to be avoided. After long deliberation between my driver and various other drivers as to how to get to the destination (the general direction anyway), we set out.

Streets are a cacophony of movement in India. Various forms of mobility weave and mingle forming a mass of random-looking motion. Three lanes become five, as cars, auto rickshaws, buses, ox-carts, trucks, scooters, motorcycles, bicycles weave in and out, crowd in together, and entirely disregard the notion or existence of lanes. The vehicles don’t drive one-behind-another, instead the moving mass fits together like a large, ever-changing jigsaw puzzle moving its way slowly forward. The noise created is deafening, engine noises of all sorts and incessant horn blowing in a range of pitches and volumes. Bollywood music blares here and there, both from vehicles as well as from little vending shacks. The louder the better.

This is the beginning of my second trip to India and my first visit to Mumbai. From the airport to my first destination involves more than an hour of intense navigation. After we leave the heaving mass of movement that seems to be a highway, we enter smaller roads that meander through endless neighbourhoods, some ordinary, others maze-like. These smaller roads are still messes of confused congestion, on a smaller scale. There is more stimulation from the roadside now, with mostly shack-businesses lining the side streets. Rubbish is strewn anywhere, laundry hangs from string and if available on roadside fencing. Vendors sit on the ground surrounded by their wares, usually produce. Cows linger with dogs. People are everywhere, waking on the streets, sitting on the streets, selling, buying, waiting, going. Smells emanate continually, it smells like farm, now fish, now burning rubbish, now open sewer, now just traffic pollution. Heaps of rotting discards, hot from the sun, smell earthy. Cows pick through. So do people.

I feel myself becoming entirely engulfed by the chaotic humanity. Going deeper and deeper into the urban jungle; there is no quick escape from this place. This realization makes me feel claustrophobic. I am absolutely surrounded by high-density life for miles in every direction. This city will be my home for the next three weeks, from four different vantage points.

My first situation is a homestay in Charkop Sector 8, a North-West suburb. As we approach the general region the driver stops for directions. Not that we’re lost, this is actually the modus operandi of taxi drivers. I have found that addresses are of little interest to drivers, they just want to know the nearby landmarks. In fact, addresses very often include landmarks, officially as part of the address. (Whenever possible) My address here includes “behind MTNL”, a large telephone exchange. So it will be this, and not the actual address, that the driver asks for each time we stop. After three such stops and one U-turn, we have found the landmark. At this stage we phone my host, who now guides us in like an air traffic controller.

Well, nearly. Now behind the telephone exchange with street-side locals scratching their heads, we connect with the host one last time using the mobile. Another u-turn and a bit more searching and I am finally introduced to my new friend and host who is flagging us down from the sidewalk.

“I will never find my way home,” I think as he helps me into the building. During my first trip to India I stayed in hotels that were the landmarks of directions. Also, I was not travelling alone and our driver was always with us.

I am in for quite a local adventure.

January, 2013.

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Mumbai – Photos with Narration – Megatropolis of Bombay

With more than 15 million residents, this sprawling city is also a haven of interest for the foreign traveller. I stayed in four locations over three weeks and experienced sensory overload every day. A brilliant adventure for my brand of interests.

20130212-130116.jpgMy first Indian commuter train ride. People start to disembark before the train comes to a stop!

20130212-130323.jpgInside a train going from Kandivili to Juhu. The Indian railway is the largest employer in the world with 1,600,000 employees! 55,000 trains at the edge of their lifespans move millions of passengers every day.

20130212-130712.jpgThere are quite a few people who live in India.

20130212-134724.jpgThe Gateway of India is Mumbai’s most iconic landmark.

20130212-134958.jpgElephanta Island is a ferry-ride away from the India Gate. Famous for the Elephanta caves, so named because the Portuguese found an ancient elephant statue here.

20130212-135214.jpgAlways cute but mischevous!

20130212-135402.jpgThe Elephanta caves are elaborately carved into the rocks.

20130212-135545.jpgI wrote a story about my visit to Elephanta. I spent the day with German friend, Martin, and Indian friend Gautam.

20130212-135758.jpgThe docks of Elephanta.

20130212-135900.jpgSeagulls flying with us during our return to Mumbai. Check out the videos I made of them!

20130212-140055.jpgMen gather before going to temple on Sunday Morning at Vile Parle, Mumbai.

20130212-140227.jpgOops! I did not notice the instruction at the bottom of this sign until after I had broken it during my visit.

20130212-140440.jpgIt’s difficult to see through the bug screens into the nursery of this orphanage, but my videos are easier to see.

20130212-140751.jpgThe beaches in Mumbai are not for swimming, they are for taking strolls in the cool breeze. Juhu beach is one of several havens to escape the enormous city and is very convenient. It is also a venue for illicit trades in the evening, which were very out in the open.

20130212-141310.jpgLocal colourful.

20130212-141434.jpgCreative wiring at my flat rental in Mulund. (In the building entrance.)

20130212-141635.jpgThe kitchen of my flat rental in Mulund, Mumbai.

20130212-141813.jpgThe squat toilet of my flat in Mulund, Mumbai.

20130212-142101.jpgColourful laundry hangs wherever it finds a place. Visual stimulation is everywhere and I will miss this kind of interest when I return to Canada.

20130212-142359.jpgMy neighbors in Mulund, Mumbai. Wherever there is an empty space, people will set-up home. Come to think of it, there is no empty space.

20130212-142613.jpgThere was a really nice feeling of community in the building where I had my flat rental. People kept their doors open to the hallway whenever they were home to come and go from each others flats. These flats were all one-room plus kitchen and bath, so the families were completely visible from the hallway. They only closed their doors when sleeping or when not at home.

20130212-142950.jpgThe open sewers don’t smell pretty.

20130212-143106.jpgFriendly stray dogs lounge in the street.

20130212-143223.jpgI rarely saw rubbish inside bins anywhere in India.

20130212-143412.jpgSuch a fun name for a dairy!

20130212-143715.jpgSmell the dairy freshness! Yummy!

20130212-143851.jpgBlending in with locals and with the sign at these caves in Sanjay Ghandi National Park.

20130212-144138.jpgMore ancient caves carved into rocks in this large park that separates the Western and Eastern suburbs of North Mumbai.

20130212-144519.jpgThe “lung” of Mumbai, Sanjay Ghandi National Park.

20130212-144655.jpgCrowds on the streets near Mulund station, Mumbai.

20130212-144926.jpgCheerful street art in the small back-streets of Bandra, a fashionable district of Mumbai.

20130212-145634.jpgBandra, Mumbai.

20130212-145739.jpgBandra backstreets, Mumbai.

20130212-145859.jpgHidden backstreets in Bandra, Mumbai.

20130212-150022.jpgI retreat to a five star to take a few days break away from the excitement and chaos of India.