Posted 24.2.2009, updated 28.2.2009
20.02.2009 - 27.02.2009 30 °C
India India India! So far I love it!
Three days before I flew to India I decided I needed at least a plan B for my first night in Mumbai. So I went on the couchsurfing website (a community that had been a big disappointment so far) and asked one of the guys there if I could crash on his couch. What I didn't know is that I wrote to Akhil, who must be the kindest person in Mumbai. Anyway, he wrote back one day before my departure that he was expecting other couchsurfers on the 21st, but I was welcome to stay the night of the 20th. Perfect! He also gave me the address but due to a malfunction of the couchsurfing-messaging we both missed some messages and on my arrival in Mumbai at 3am I still didn't know where to meet him. I decided to spend the rest of the night on an (uncomfortable) chair in the (cold) Mumbai airport (which is a dump, considering it's the biggest airport in India, they don't even have an internet station!). In the morning I took a tuktuk to the general area where Akhil lives. I also found his flat after some asking around. It's in Versova, a quarter in Northern Mumbai, close to the sea. Here's a picture of the lock on the outside of his outer door. There's an inherent mistake in this construction, can you spot it? For reasons I don't understand this kind of construction seems to be quite widespread around here.
I think I'm the only tourist and anyway the only white person in the area. I found myself actually walking around with a smile on my face! I must be getting soft in my old age (after all I'm 30 now). Seriously, I really like it here, I think I'm going to enjoy India a lot!
Akhil wasn't home, so I went to an internet shop and found an email saying he had to stay in Delhi for a few days, that I should check with the caretaker of the house who would give me the keys to the apartment, and that I could stay there. That's a very nice example of trust in your fellow human being... After some searching I found the caretaker's brother who organized the keys. I've been living in Akhil's apartment for four days now (I don't know what happened to the other CS's, but they never showed up, so I can stay here). He and the caretakers also helped me get an Indian SIM card, and I must say, so far everybody here has been incredibly helpful.
Here's a picture of me in Akhil's apartment:
I had just bought grapes, which brought up the issue of food-related health problems. There's this cook it, peel it, or leave it rule. It's rather difficult to cook or peel raisins, and I really wanted to eat them. Thus I decided to spend the first days getting biologically acclimatized (meaning that instead of always watching what I'm eating and drinking I spend a few days getting sick to be then hopefully immune against the local bacteriae). So I ate from street stalls and drank any kind of water. I also slept a lot, sometimes I could feel my body burning up, which reminded me of the days after I got my 12 shots before I went on this trip. Wow, that's already 16 months ago! Anyway, I think it must have worked, I didn't actually get really sick like in Iran 5 years ago, or in China 4 years ago, I guess I must have some residual immunity from my former travels, and those shots were probably worth the money.
Sunday, is the day off for everybody in India (regardless of religion). So I decided to take a stroll and get a look at Versova. Here's Versova village, it was around before the location got engulfed by the expanding city:
People living here are on the lower end of the social ladder, unfortunately very few of them speak English. The black thing in front is one of the innumerable tuk-tuks roaming the city. It's the easiest and most entertaining way to move around. Fortunately there's so much traffic that you rarely reach a speed that would make an accident fatal.
Here's a part of the coast:
I'm not sure, but I think people live in these boats as well. Real estate is expensive in Mumbai.
The national sport. Cricket! Damn the British and their weird systems and pastimes:
I'm afraid I will have to learn the rules of this incredibly boring sport sooner or later. Even the local kids seem to have grasped the logic of this horrible activity.
On the next day I took a stroll in Southern Mumbai, which is the touristic center. Here's the Gateway to India, at the southern tip of the island (Mumbai is actually located on an island). It was constructed by the British a short time before they left the country (through this gate).
This is the now (in)famous Taj Mahal Hotel right next to the Gateway. Repairs are almost finished.
Here's one of the bigger streets. Note the Victorian style buildings (at least that's what Akhil's guidebook says, I wouldn't know...)
This is the Victoria Terminal, a train station. The British might have their shortcomings, but they do build with style! The station has now been renamed after some Indian hero with an unpronounceable name (for westerners). Fortunately VT is still widely used.
This is a building right next to VT. I don't know what it is, but this is a typical view of Southern Mumbai. Victorian style buildings and the black and yellow taxis...
The Mumbai waterfront. Notice the smog we're all happily breathing.
Here's Akhil in the kitchen with two russian couchsurfers that cooked some russian stew. Yummy!
That's me chilling on the couch with some Indian beer. The beer's not exactly good, but the hot and humid climate enhances it's value a great deal :-)
Yesterday was a festival day for Shiva. So I went to an Indian classical music concert that happened to be free for this special day. Here's an extract:
A few things about Indian classical music:
- It's rather lengthy. The first half an hour was entertaining. After the second I had the feeling I had seen it all during the first. After two hours I gave up and left.
- They like cheap screen savers in the background (occasionally spiked with wannabe subliminal, but actually in your face, commercials, but I guess that's par for the course for a free concert)
- They take it seriously, but not too seriously, as one of the musicians was a 3 years old kid (on the right in the back). he did gave a solo at one time...
- The guys at the keyboard never used his left hand. I think that's because on the traditional instrument (which is a kind of accordion played by the guy on the left in front), you need your left hand to continuously pump air into the instrument. How come it didn't occur to anyone over the course of the centuries to modify the instrument so as to activate the pump with your feet for example, thus freeing your left hand for musical duties, remains a mystery to me.
So, I am now in Mumbai and I have to decide where I go from here. This proves to be more problematic than I anticipated, I have no idea what direction i should take. India is so big it would take years to visit it all. Where to go, where to go?
So, I've made up my mind. I'll go to Goa for a few days and then I'll go north towards the Himalaya range, beginning with Dharamsala, the home of the Tibetan capital in exile. I met the head translator of buddhist texts that works there, and we had a good discussion about climate change and Buddhism. I'm looking forward to talk some more with this guy.
You know how people sometimes ask you whether you are a cat or dog person? Well, there's an easy way to find out. Imagine you need to walk through an empty street. Empty of humans that is, it's full of wild, or even feral cats. Ok, it's not that much of a pain, you can do that. Now imagine you have to walk through the same street, but this time it's full of wild dogs that howl in anger at your sight and all come barking at you. Well, I don't know about you, but I am decidedly a cat person! Curse those dogs, they don't even have the courage to actually fight me! They bark like crazy at my back, but as soon as I face them they run away and bark at me from a distance. Cowards!
Upon arrival, while pondering the question “What on Earth am I doing here, why did I leave my comfortable couch in Switzerland?!”, I thought about my approach to people while traveling. I usually use a (slightly paradoxical) mix of paranoia and blind trust. Everybody is a potential thief, but everybody is also a potential friend who can help you. And some can also be both. I feel I have to expand this train of thought, but i can't put it into words for now. I'll add some point to this section on another day.
I finished Proust's “A la recherche du temps perdu” in Egypt already. It was incredibly boring and so complicated there's no arguing the guy's a genius. I, however, decided to hone my English skills since I am writing this blog in that language, and turn my attention to English literature. I had a good start with “The Wizard of Oz” (starting small this time...) and I'm now through Melville's “Moby Dick”, which is nearly as boring as Proust and a little bit less complicated, although it presents the added difficulty of being occasionally written in what I presume to be old sailor English. Aye my hearties, it's tedious work to plough through these heavy literary works, but I hope there's a discernible result in my writing style.
This has been a rather prolific entry. It's because I can now freely write on my beloved EeePC and upload all my entries at once. I'd like to try to be a little bit more detailed in the diary-aspect of this blog. Sorry about that, i hope it's not too boring. Anyway I imagine I'll get lazy quite soon and we'll be back to the pictures with small comments in no time...