Mumbai & Mehndi
After a lazy and amazing week on the beach in Varkala, Dan and I flew from Trivandrum to Mumbai. We didn’t have a lot of expectations for Mumbai and accepted that it would be pretty chaotic after a week of sun, sand and Kingfishers; but after a few days of hitting the streets and taking in all the sights (Flora Fountain, Crawford Market, Colaba Causeway, Elephanta Island, Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel, Gateway of India, Victoria Terminus Train Station and Chowpatty Beach) our experience in Mumbai was quite positive. While it is chaotic, there seems to be some order within the ebb and flow of the city… for one there are cross walks with working lights that people actually abide by! Mind blowing!!! Also, the city is very clean (and even green in some places) and people go about their daily business in a hurried but purposeful pace. The city is an interesting mix of old architecture and new development and to us it was very apparent that Mumbai is the centre for business, banking and development in modern day India.
So, funny story… after 3 busy days in Mumbai we were scheduled to leave on a night train for Ahmedabad. We had purchased our tickets WAY in advance to avoid our last train “experience” so we basically had a whole day to kill before our train departed at 9:45pm. After a full day of pounding the pavement and seeing the last few sights we still had about 5 hours to kill. So I thought it would be a good idea to get traditional “Mehndi Henna” done on my hands which includes your palms and about a 1/3 of the way up your arm. In India women usually have Mhendi done for a special occasion like their wedding… but, I thought… “when in Rome”…
So I find this small little hole in the wall “beauty parlour” that says that they would be happy to do it for me. They act a little startled that I want both hands done but we talk (in broken English) about how long it is going to take, the process, and agree on a price. So this lovely young Indian girl (probably 20 years old) who doesn’t speak a word of English starts out on my hands. After 2 hours of intricate detailing both arms are finished. And you should see it… WOW!!! But I am starting to get a little antsy because we need to leave on a train in a few hours and Dan and I still need to grab a bite to eat, go back to the hotel to pick up our bags then make our way to the train station which is at least a 20-minute walk and I am covered in henna paste and sticky syrup (they put a sugar, lemon and water syrup on top of the henna paste to set the colour). I’m thinking… Ok, time to wash this off I need go and meet Dan, when the owner of the salon proceeds to tell me that I can’t touch anything or wash my hands for 24 HOURS!!! 24 HOURS… WHAT?!?!? I am totally confused because none of this was mentioned in our discussion at the beginning and before we started the whole process I told them that I was leaving on a night train… TONIGHT!!!! Anyway, I awkwardly pay (with assistance) put my backpack on (with assistance) and walk to meet Dan who’s using the Wi-Fi at McDonalds on the Colaba Causeway. When I finally get into McDonalds, because I have to wait outside until someone opens the door for me, Dan thinks it is the coolest thing he has ever seen but I am freaking out. If I rub it off or try to wash the henna with water it will smear together and my hands will be dyed dark brown for God knows how long but leaving them as they are especially for 24 hours is NOT an option… Oh, and I am starting to draw A LOT of attention from all the local Indians who are curiously peering around their McDonald’s booths. So, Dan takes some pictures and tells me to be patient and not to pick (which for those who know me is not exactly by biggest strength) and then he calmly proceeds to ask what my option are. My options?!?! Are you kidding me… its not like I’m exactly an expert in Mehndi!!! So after an hour passes I decide… “F*** IT“!!! I’ll chalk this one up on the experience list and go to the washroom to wash it off because regardless of the outcome we need to get a serious move on if we are going to catch our train. So I awkwardly make my way to the washroom (which isn’t actually in the McDonalds it is in a plaza area and I have to pass through a labyrinth of closed doors to get there!!!). When I successfully make it to the washroom the washroom attendant looks at me with knowing but compassionate eyes like… “you had no idea what you were getting yourself into, did you?” I smile awkwardly and think “shit… what a dumb ass idea, Kelsey!!!” And come to the conclusion that this is the reason most tourists get a small design on the TOP of their hand not the full meal deal.
Anyway, I start to wash it off and surprisingly the colour has already set quite well and it is not smearing together BUT the washroom sink and counter look like I just murdered someone and I am trying in vain to cover the evidence… what a nightmare!!! The attendant peeks his head in a few times, a couple local girls (again!!!) give me that knowing look and a tourist using the facilities just stares and says nothing. By this point I am utterly embarrassed and Dan is literally in hysterics outside the door. Finally after 10 minutes of rubbing and copious amounts of water all the henna is off and the brilliant design just remains… GREAT, I think!!! Wrong!!! It is unreal how much attention the Mehndi ended up by drawing over the next few days. Men, women and children just can’t stop staring. In one local market a bangle seller asked why I was with Dan and not my husband? Serious!!! Dan and I have conjured up all sorts of theories as to what the locals think (the most popular theory is that I just married an Indian man but am already having an affair with Dan before the Mehndi has worn off… ha,ha,ha!!) but overall I think most are just sort of dumbfounded at the extent of it on a tourist, escpecially in the smaller cities that do not see alot of travellers. Actually as time goes on I have received a lot of compliments on the traditional style, design and quality of the art.
So in the end all is well… we made it to the train without too much drama, but just think my original plan was to get both feet done as well… ha, ha, ha!!! Sometimes “when in Rome” isn’t always the best motto to live by but my “Mehndi in Mumbai” experience was hilarious none the less… and the evidence of the whole episode still lingers because I forgot to ask how long the Mehndi actually lasts for… OPPS!!!
Until next time…