Saturday, November 10, 2012

India - Day 1

day 1 - mumbai (bombay)

I arrived in Bombay at 2 am and gradually eased out into the city. I really didn't have a plan for what I was going to do with my day (going along with the whole "i'll just feel it out" deal) and that hit me square in the face when a guy came up and asked me where I was going. I was like...ummm...I don't really know. I changed some money and got in line for a prepaid taxi and really wasn't certain where I was going to start my day (at 3 am) as most things would still be closed. I settled on going to my hostel even though I wasn't actually going to check in until 3 pm for the night. The ride out of the airport and through the various districts of the city shattered my preconceived view of the city and left me feeling horrible, naked...raw. Coming out of the airport, the slums were overwhelming, overflowing onto the streets, burning trash here and there with tons of stray dogs wandering around cleaning up after the day, searching for food.
Mumbai Slums
The slums are not so much an area of Mumbai, but more of the idea that where ever there is land that nobody else wants to live on for one reason or another, there will be slums. they are packed in around the airport, next to the train tracks, behind businesses...the overflow of human life, finding, creating a home where none was before. Rolling out of that, we hit the freeway and toured through the night. I felt lost in the sprawl of it all. I hadn't done my research on Mumbai and really didn't know if my driver was taking me somewhere to be beaten and mugged or to my hostel. truthfully, i wasn't sure I would know any difference between the two. We exited the freeway and pulled off into the area of the city where my hostel was. I realized that my intention to abandon as much of the western world as possible was a screaming success as I was greeted by more slums and peopled lined up sleeping on the streets. Back in Ventura, we have homeless people...quite a few in fact...sleeping on the streets but this was different. At home, we assume and are mostly correct in doing so, that most are drunks or crazy or druggies...and have come to grips with that.

Here in the "Fort" area of Mumbai, there were families lined up on the streets. there were working dads who live so far away from home, that they sleep on the streets where they will setup their vending stands in the morning, there are moms, dads and babies just crashed right there in front of me. and they have nothing. at home, homeless people have jackets and carts of, they are just curled up with a blanket and a simple bag of necessities right on the sidewalk. not tucked in a corner, but lined up as if they had rented that slab of concrete/dirt/asphalt and it was theirs.

After a bit of searching we found my hostel. the guys were asleep and the bars across the door were locked but my driver didn't even hesitate to go ring the bell and wake them. I went in and the only available sitting area in the place was where one of the staff normally slept on the hard floor and actually where I'm typing at this very moment. I felt horrible and only managed a few awkward apologies before sitting down to do who knows what.

It was 5 am and all I had was lots of jet lag, a reservation for a bed later that day and my backpack. I dug through my papers and found some notes that I had brought to hopefully put some sort of shape to my perspective of the trip. I found a map and gladly reviewed that and got my bearings...I realized where my hostel was in relation to the rest of the city and read up on some of the things to do. After applying a liberal amount of bug spray, I finally ventured out into the city and started walking. It was 7 am and nothing was open. a few people were waking up from their sidewalk beds and brushing their teeth, scratching themselves in totally appropriate areas for everyone to see and basically doing exactly what I would do on a normal Saturday my bedroom.

After walking several blocks, I managed to discern that the direction i thought was north was south and vice-versa and hastily retreated to the home beacon that was my hostel. everyone there was still sleeping so i ventured back out, intent on making a day of this. I hit a few points that reaffirmed the direction i was going was correct and started feeling better about things. I stopped and bought some bottled water, then stopped at another spot for some tea and fried bread things which I later found were filled with a delicious spicy vegetable curry mix. The sun was rising and I had warm food in ma belle...things were improving. I meandered around and found my way to the famous Taj Mahal Hotel where I encountered a gentleman who offered to give me a tour.

The Famous Victoria Terminus

Given that I was running on some hybrid of zombie airplane sleep, jet lag and Chai tea and knowing that the day was only going to continue to get warmer (it was ~70 when I arrived and expected to hit highs in the mid-90's), I gladly negotiated a deal for a 3-4 hr tour of some of the typical tourist sights in Mumbai. We went from place to place seeing some amazing sights...but I felt like I was back in tourist mode, consuming this rich culture just for a photo. I accepted that given that I really wanted to see some of the sights and didn't want to walk to all of them. After a bit of that (I'll post pics and more thoughts later), he took me to one of his favorite food joints and shared a meal for 360 rupees ($6.50) including extra naan, rice and 2 sodas (no ice).

An Elaborate Jain Temple
The Mumbai Coastline

He dropped my at my hostel where the friendly staff checked me in and I settled into my bed. The room is a bit of a prison in that they offer a minimalist bed, blanket and have bars on the very small windows. I share a room with 2 other guys and have lockers for our things. I slept for a few hrs and woke at 9 not sure what mode my body is in or what i'm supposed to do. onward and upward...another adventure is just around the corner...actually, i heard the place on the corner has reasonable rates on cold beverages. :)

Traveller's Inn Dorm 

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