Sticking with the Hobbit theme for a minute here: remember that chapter where Bilbo finally escapes the dark, twisting mountain tunnels, only to walk head-first into a battle with Orcs and Wolves and Eagles? Yeah? Welcome to Mumbai.
After a delay in Edinburgh, and a further, longer delay in Istanbul (because of an insane snow storm… in Turkey… obviously), I made it at long last to Mumbai airport, just as the sun was beggining to illuminate the haar out at sea. Glorious as it sounds, 5 and a half hours of jetlag, a relatively sleepless plane journey, an arduous procession through immigartion, and my bag coming through sans sleeping bag (don’t worry – recovered it just before my heart sank all the way to my toes), meant that the sounds, smells, and sights of the city swam by me like a banana-leaf water-colour being dragged through the Arabian sea. All the while my taxi driver tried to solve one of the world’s great mysteries – why I wasn’t married and/or didn’t have a girlfriend. I ask myself the same thing every day, my friend.
Arriving at the hotel I sat in the lobby waiting for my room to become available, and in the meantime got chatting to a lovely elderly Canadian couple about their travels, interupted intermittently by the lady trying to facetime someone with her mouth to the camera. Maybe it was was her dentist on the other end.
A brief nap to curb some of that dreaded lag, and I felt nearly as good as Xbox Live does on its bad days, but nevertheless, decided to drag my sorry ass into the shower and out onto the streets, before the agoraphobia kept me inside the rest of the day.
Holy hell, ‘into the fire’ alright. Mumbai is mental. The colours are stunning, the sun (even though apparently 28 degrees is their winter chill) beats down on my Scottish skin like a jackhammer, the ocean breeze aleviates this somewhat and clears the pollution from the air, the roads are like one giant car horn and crossing them is nothing short of an art form.
I set out with no real destination in mind, map in my back pocket my lifeline, and soon found myself in the company of Rajistani shoe fixer Suresh (or Babu, for short). Wary as I was (and still am) of scams, I tiptoed in his shadow with a mix of trepidation and bewilderment. Suresh became ny guide for the day, showing me Colaba market, how to cross roads in relative safety, teaching me simple Hindi phrases such as Namaste, and shukria (thank you). Sharing cigarettes along the way, Suresh wanted to show me a traditional dress wholesalers, where, like the sucker-of-a-tourist I am, I failed spectacularly to haggle, but ended up coming away with a pretty damn fleek set of garments for around £16. I’m happy with the purchase, and trust Suresh in his assurance that wearing them in the North and/or South of the country will make me look somewhat less of a sucker-of-a-tourist. However, I’ve decided that either I learn to haggle much better, or I make that the first and last luxury purchase for the rest of my stay in India – especially given that my standard budget is only around £16 a day.
After this, to cut a long story short, I managed to wrangle my way out of a dodgy travel deal in a back-alley office, before taking Suresh out to lunch to say thank you for his guidance. Now I’m not so much of a mug not to realise that probably he was expecting, or at least hoping for something along these lines, (though maybe I’m a mug for doing it), but hell, I had a banging Dosa and he had a cheese sandwich for all in all £1.20, set against the backdrop of a wee local restaurant I’d never have stumbled across elsewise.
With a parting shake we got on our seperate ways. Returning to the hotel just to get out of the crazy for a second, I had my tattoos and pale skin man-handled, my picture taken with a couple locals because apparently “you are a film star in India”, and spied a spot by the bay to read my book this evening as the sun goes down.
All this and more happened from just 8am this morning to 6pm tonight. And I think, as far as I can tell, this is the nature of Mumbai. Nothing happens at a slow pace, nothing ever stops to rest.
Tonight I’ll find a bite to eat, and make some plans for post-Mumbai, because as much as this is all incredibly exciting, I think I’ll be needing a little respite come soon enough.
Thinking of everyone back home,