Today has been a long day for the both of us and has had a fair few ups and downs,
It started at the airport waving farewell to our families. A strange feeling swept over me as I passed through the departure gate and it dawned on me that this was finally happening after months of planning. Nicole was equally stunned by the concept and we had a cup of tea in the departure lounge to ground ourselves. I didn’t consider it at the time but this was probably the last cup of English style tea I was going to have in quite a while,
We boarded the plane which was a large twin jet and settled in our budget seats. As I became accustomed to the cramped conditions, the lights dimmed and started changing colours as relaxing lounge style piano music rang out over the tannoy. The flight took about eight hours and contained a little drama with a passenger falling ill and an announcement for a doctor to announce himself if present playing out. Luckily for our fellow passenger, a couple of oxygen tanks and the attention of about ten cabin crew seemed to sort them out and soon enough everyone on the plane was getting some kip with the exception of Nicole and I; too wired and cramped to even attempt it.
Eventually we descended through the cloud and emerged in the bright sun of a new morning. The Mumbai landscape was stretched out below us and much to my surprise a wooded hilltop stuck out from the East of the city around which was clustered thousands of shanty buildings made of corrugated metals and splashed with flashes of blue paint. Around this very deprived area stood towering constructions of half-finished sky scrapers and commercial properties. In fact everywhere I looked huge cranes signified the massive transition that Mumbai is undergoing yet juxtaposed the obvious poverty at the same time. The sight was breathtaking and filled me with apprehension upon landing. After clearing customs and pre-booking a taxi to our hotel we had our first run-in with the constant blag that seems to go on here. A man at the taxi stand looked at our prebook form and waved us over to the relevant taxi cab. Hand on the side of our luggage cart he then demanded a tip from us as we reached the cab. I declined to give him one which drew instant ire from the man. Our driver then intervened with a bark which sent him on his way.
The following trip to our hotel was perhaps the most stressful journey I’ve ever taken. Clutching the seatbelt (which had no corresponding buckle) with white knuckles our driver tore off at high-speed along pot-holed and half paved roads. As soon as we were out onto the main streets a horde of tuctuc motorcycle-cum-taxi cabs joined us in the bustle each one overtaking then undertaking, darting in and out between each other. There was no order to this process. No lanes of traffic were observed and at times did not even exist, yet every vehicle just aimed for what little space it could see leaving just centimetres between themselves and the next car. Several times I felt my heart race as a bright red bus or a speeding taxi came swinging round a corner and luckily grinding to an abrupt halt inches away from me. It wasn’t just vehicles causing problems as pedestrians would decide to walk down the middle of busy roads and the ‘Holy Cows’ which the Indians revere would stand idly by in the centre of a carriageway as the swarm of motors would wind quickly around them.
I was ashen after just a few miles, Nicole however seemed to be quite enjoying the ride, gleefully pointing out the colourful sights along the way.
We were dropped off at the hotel about half an hour after leaving the airport. Despite the fare being paid up front for the taxi, our dour driver still hassled me for a further tip once we alighted outside our hotel. I gave him a ten rupee note which incensed him presumably for not being enough and he stormed off shouting behind him. I suspect I need to do some more research into the tip culture!
We checked into our hotel and I collapsed on the bed, tired and stressed and not having a good time. a few hours of sleep seemed to sort us both out a bit and we decided to venture out into the chaos once again, I took a few moments to accost the manager and get a power charger off of him along with the wifi password. After making a few calls we set out to find a local restaurant which had some good reviews. We didn’t realise that the monsoon had begun to pour and that it had turned dark during our down time. None the less, we set out to explore the area. We are staying in a locale called Chembur. It’s out of the way of the centre yet despite being a suburb was totally packed with people. Each street and alley was teaming with throngs of Indians putting Oxford Street on a Saturday to shame. Still despite the huge amount of people I found it great fun to walk between the various street vendors selling clothing or frying up some fantastic looking food on their small hotplates. The sheer noise of all these people and the incessant blaring of horns was initially daunting but soon grew into an exciting environment that I was keen to explore further. We reached our restaurant shortly after and settled down with the menu. Most dishes cost about 250 rupees (£2.50) so we naturally assumed that they were small dishes akin to tapas… no…
We ended up spending £12.50 on our meal and had two main courses each and a couple of large beers. It was around this time that I decided that perhaps India isn’t so bad after all!