The end of India

The new year and last few days in Goa passed fairly quickly. We did a lot of work with John and Richard for the Centre, and mixed in plenty of time to see friends and New Year. There were fireworks and dancing on the beach on NYE, and the whole of Goa was rammed with Indian’s who’d come down from Mumbai and Bangalore to party. I’m not sure that many made to to midnight, judging by the carnage lying strewn across the beach!!!

Our last day in Goa was really nice – we went to the beach with Ivan to catch some rays and drink some Kings, and everyone else popped down to say goodbye. It was quite sad a way, but as I said then, goodbye’s are never goodbyes forever in this world and I’d be surprised if we don’t see many of the people we’ve met in our time here again in the future.

John took us to the railway station for the nighttrain to Mumbai, and it was a very differnt crowd to what we were used to seeing on the Indian Railways normally. There were women wearing sleeveless tops, couples cuddling on the platform. Even people kissing in public! The cosmopolitan crowd returning to the big cities from their Christmas shenanigans were clearly still in Goan-mode. It would be interesting to see how people behaved in Mumbai.

The sleeper train was pretty comfortable. We’d opted for third-class a/c, which was a class higher than we’d previously used. I don’t know if it was that or simply that the crowds on the train had been surrounded by westerners for the last week, but we were no novelty and even managed to share a bunk for some of the evening – how risqué of us 😉

We arrived in Mumbai at 6am, it was smelly but very quiet and we got a taxi to Colaba at the right price for very little hassle. The taxis in Mumbai are little Indian cars that looked about fifty years old and are designed for midgets. I considered opening the window to stick my head out and stretch my neck! 
We arrived at the Salvation Army hostel, which was no salvation as they told us we couldn’t check in for over an hour. So after a chai from a streetside chai stall, we wandered the dusky, empty streets to the east-facing port at Gate of India. I can’t remember the last time I saw a sunrise, it was rather beautiful and only emthasised the tranquility that we were experiencing. Everything that we’d been told or had read about Bombay was that it was loud, hectic, had no sense of personal space, and it stank. We weren’t experiencing any of this, and wondered if we were in the same city!

Eventually we checked our bags into the hostel, and it was a bit of a shock to be back into backpacking after the luxury of John’s mansion! I chased the cockroches under the dresser, and ordered a boy to actually clean the room and change the sheets. The funniest thing about this place was that it was supposedly a luxurious double room with private bathroom. Private of course doesn’t necssarily meet en-suite, and it made for some rather desperate key fumbling in the mornings as we ran across the corridor half naked to go to the toilet!!!

On our first day in Mumbai, we treated ourselves. Staying in a scummy hotel didn’t mean we had to slum it. We went to a modern art gallery, went to a posh restaurant where they force fed us thalis and breads and desserts to the point of popping. We took afternoon tea at the Taj – the poshest hotel in town, spending three times our accomodation costs on tea and cake! And later that evening we went to The restaurant to be seen at – Indigo – and splashed out on lobster. Hard times! 

The next day we went the other way, and literally slummed it – with a tour of Darvani. We met up with Ben, one of the guys we’d made friends with in Goa, and after watching some cricket at the Oval and some buffet lunch, we met our guide at Churchgate station. Whilst waiting for the rest of the group to arrive, I jumped onto a ‘psychic’ weighing machine and put a rupee into the slot. After some whirring and flashing lights, it gave me my weight of 82kg and told me:-
“You have self control, high tastes, and self confidence”. Freud couldn’t have analysed me better….
Arriving at the slum (it has it’s own station), the first thing we noted was how well laid out it was. All of the streets were wide and straight, and there was lots of room for the traffic. Nothing like Delhi then! We were taken around a number of he manufacturing factories there and saw how they recycle vast quantities of plastics and metals, for resale. Apparently a  lot of their materials come from overseas, if only they’d get in touch with the councils in Goa, they’d have plenty more local stuff too…

It was a very interesting tour, and to Rachel’s relief, I didn’t ask (m)any silly questions. The leather processing area made many of the group retch – fortunately I had a cold so couldn’t smell anything 🙂 Apparently the rotting smell was enough to put Rachel off of buying leather again!
One major thing that we noted was that there wasn’t poverty in the slum. Well I guess it depends on your definition of poverty, but we’ve seen a lot worse buildings wise, and there was a high level of employment and general happyness in the faces of the slum-dwellers.

The tour started to drag a litle after two hours and by the time we’d been through the residential quarters and the pottery area, we were ready to head back to Colaba. However, we were dumped on the edge of the slum and told it’s a 10 minute walk back to the station. Should have taken a taxi really, realising with hindsight that that was an Indian 10 minutes, which usually means between 20 minutes to an hour! 40 minutes later we boarded the train, which stopped at the first stop before waiting 15 minutes, filling with passengers and then…… returned the other way! The guys next to us explained we needed to change at that station, so we had to get off and wait for the next train. We were really knackered but made it back to Churchgate (after being told to leave the handicapped coach by a large group of grumpy men who’s only obvious handicap was mental). We power walked back home, cutting through the Oval park to save time, only to find that the entire park had a spikey fence all the way round, with only one exit about 1/2 mile back toward the station. Finding the least spikey section, we clambered over the fence, much to the delight of some locals, and at long last ordered our much needed Kingfishers at Leopolds.

The following morning we had a final shop, and i had my first ever wet shave. It wasn’t as worrying as first feared – the guy wasn’t Sweeny Todd – although I’d have been more nervous (and far less relaxed) if I’d known that he’d been perving on Rach during most of it! As I opened my eyes I was shocked to see that I appeared to have lost the last three month’s sun tan, looking like Mr Dead (the Talking Corpse)! In India, everyone obsesses with being wanting to be white, so the bugger hand had doused me with foundation and talc! I hoped it wasn’t bleach! As we went to leave, the guy asked for a tip. Rach gave him a very loud tip on how to treat women…..

So that was India. Lot’s of ups, a few downs, some amazing experiences and some very crazy memories. Not somewhere we’d want to live permanently, but definitely somewhere to visit again when we’ve ready for it!

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