So I know it’s been a while since my last post – we were in Udaipur at the time and it seems like a world away now – but we’ve been super busy! Seriously! In the last two weeks we’ve visited Mumbai, Anjuna beach in Goa, Om beach in Gokarna, Hampi, Mysore and have now just made it to Kerala, getting an overnight bus to Kochi and then an early morning bus to Aleppey (Alappuzha) which is where we are now! Needless to say, this amount of travel has involved quite a bit of logistical planning and much of our ‘chill out’ time has been spent figuring out how we can get to the next place on our itinerary and still make it back to Dehli in time to fly on the 30th! I posted on my Facebook status yesterday that I was interested to see how far we had come (by the time we reached Mysore), and at that point, we were a two day/two night train ride away from Delhi. We’re now a good few hours further south – Kerala is on the South Western tip of India…Helena’s booking a flight back north as I type.
Well, that’s the logistics out of the way, now to the interesting stuff…although there’s far too much to write here…
Mumbai – We arrived into Bandra Terminus, the end of the main line into Mumbai, which was helpfully nowhere near Colaba, our preferred destination. After fending off the usual barrage of offers for rickshaws and taxis, and repeated assurances that ‘There are no more train stations in Mumbai, sir. You must take a taxi’, we made it to the local Bandra terminus which meant that we could catch a local train to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (once named Victoria Terminus after Queen Victoria). The super friendly and helpful ticket guy smiled, shook my hand and sold me a pair of ten-rupee tickets to VT. ‘Platform seven’, he said. We were pretty pleased with ourselves for saving a few hundred rupees of potential taxi fair but… could we find platform seven..? Not a chance! There were clearly labelled platforms one to six…. but as for seven, nowhere to be seen! Until another helpful guy pointed down some stairs, along a platform, up and over another footbridge to platform seven. It could have been platform 9 3/4 it was that hard to find!
And so we sat, waiting patiently, as the crowds built steadily around us and there was no train. Another traveller, a girl from Brazil whose name escapes me, approached us and asked if we were getting the same train, which we were, so we waited in trepidation as the crowds continued to grow. And then the train arrived. There was a full on scrum to get on, nothing unusual in India, but as three westerners with heavy bags, it looked like we had no chance. I was about to give up hope when I spotted a carriage in the crowds that seemed quieter than all the rest. A merciful break in the pack! ‘There’, I pointed (and shouted), and ran towards the carriage. I just about made it on as the train began to pull away. The Brazilian girl had one hand on the post inside the carriage and was jogging alongside the train. I pulled her on board and realised that Helena was still on the platform… running alongside the train as it was picking up speed! ‘Run!!’ I shouted, knowing that we had little or no chance of finding each other if we became separated. And fair play to her, she caught up with the train and jumped on (it didn’t have any ‘doors’ as such, just open gaps on the side of the carriages that were never closed, a health and safety nightmare in the UK!). I was so relieved. I can’t remember if we high-fived our great success or just looked at each other with relief. But we were on the train, we were sorted. It was only at that point that the reason for the quieter carriage entry became apparent. It was a ‘women-only’ carriage. Every single other occupant was female. And they were all staring at me. I almost jumped right back off again! I rectified the situation at the next platform but running down a carriage, but it was an amusing sequence of events nonetheless!
Wow – need to condense this account, we’re not even in Mumbai yet!
We’d heard about a blog called ‘Mumbai Magic’ and looked it up while we were in Udaipur. We found a tour called ‘Mumbai Local’ which was about getting local transport and seeing the more down-to-earth side of Mumbai and the guides were young students who were learning English. It sounded awesome and lived up to expectations. Pranali and Renu met us on the steps of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Monument (they name a lot of stuff after this guy!) opposite the Gateway to India – not to be confused with India Gate which is in Delhi.
They were a really well spoken, enthusiastic and helpful pair of girls who took us on a walking, talking, bus-taking, train-catching, taxi-riding, snack-eating tour of Mumbai. It was well worth it and a great way to get around and see a bit of the city. One of the highlights for me was a park that we visited next to the University. It was an elongated oval shaped park and everywhere you looked there was cricket. The Indians are cricket MAD! This park was big enough to comfortably house probably 6-8 games of cricket, at a push. However, there were probably 70-80 games of cricket going on simultaneously. Each set of stumps was merely yards from another set and the pitches all overlapped each other over and over. How each batsman knew which fielders he was trying to avoid I have no idea, but by some cosmic force of organisation it all seemed to work. And it was great to see.
In the Colaba district and surrounding areas, Mumbai feels like a much more cosmopolitan city than Delhi. I mean, they have pavements, traffic lights, and even some roundabouts – which people drive around in the correct direction – not something to be sniffed at I can tell you! Having finished Shantaram, we did indeed find Leopold’s and had a drink, and Cafe Mondegar where we had the most incredible chicken tandoori ever! We were sat there eating it on our first day, Kingfisher in hand, and somebody walked over to the jukebox and put on Hotel California. I can’t remember why, but I’d been listening to it just before we left for India (thinking that The Reggaelators should add it to the set probably). It has just such a chilled out but rhythmic groove to it that it fitted the moment perfectly. Despite the clash of cultures, we were loving the moment right there, right then.
I’m going to have to sign off this blog now as it’s getting to be a bit on the long side…! I’ll add some selected shots from my camera when we’re back at our guest house. I’m yet to finish Mumbai and get on to the rest of the places…!!! And we haven’t even had time really to write in our handwritten diary either. We have both been reading voraciously though and it’s good to get back into the habit. I’m currently on Engleby by Sebastian Faulks (picked up from a shelf in Gokarna) while Hels tackles Shantaram.
Just as a final point, I’ve been thinking about how to write this blog and have been constructing some ‘thematic’ blog posts in my head rather than the kind of ‘diary-entry’ posts I’ve done so far. You can look forward to ‘Chris and Helena’s Top Ten Indian Observations’. We’ve been making a list … we’re up to about 30… I’ll condense 😉