I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking:
This guy’s setting the bar pretty damn high with these post titles. How’s he going to keep this up?
What can I say? I’m sort of a creative wünderkind.
This post, as you’ll can tell, is about my two favourite things about India (so far) – the people and the food.
There are few cities as big and bustling and diverse as Mumbai in which you can feel genuinely safe. At first I found the relentlessness of the staring and the chatting somewhat alien and invasive. But then I met Aditya.
Recently I visited one of Mumbai’s famous Dhobi Ghats – huge and colourful open-air laundrettes – in one of the many slums bulging out from between highrises, spilling out onto roads. Before I’d even got out the car I was mobbed by a gaggle of kids, ages ranging from 4-15, and honestly, they were some of the nicest kids I’ve met.
Like a proud mother duck with her trail of ducklings, I strolled through the Ghat in awe at the colours and the higgeldy-piggeldy-ness of its slum housing. Aditya and friends wanted nothing more from me than my time. They were fascinated by my tattoos, my beard, the clothes I wore. They marvelled at Scotland’s -1 degrees celsius and were happy to hear that Messi is also my favourite footballer. We talked cricket, what they learned at school, where they stayed and what they did for fun.
I left the Ghat with a big grin and a healthy dose of calm, happier then to explore further into the city, safe in the presence of such kind, helpful people (even those trying to work you for every rupee).
Since then I’ve made countless pals, some who I’ve shared many many hours with, and others who I’ve shared little more than a cigarette with – each of whom have provided me a greater insight into India than any temple or palace ever could.
There were these lads:
I met this trio of suave mother-truckers whilst ambling along the coastline as the sun sank below the smog. As ever, they first wanted to see my tattoos, and I tried and failed to explain what/who Studio Ghibli, Nirvana, Black Flag, and elvish was and were. We ended up kicking it on the walkway watching the sunset and trading snippets of pigeon English/Hindi. Each of them wanted a billion selfies, so of course I had to get in on the action. We got onto the topic of girls (of course – ladsladslads), and who was married v who wasn’t (can you see where this is going?). They also made it clear to me that they were sorry, but they didn’t think Indian girls would fancy me. No explanation, they just wouldn’t.
There goes my hopes of being able to answer yes to the marriage question by the end of the Indian leg…
Then there was this absolute bae:
What a wonderful woman! We trudge all over the city as she catered to my nerdy history side with conversations ranging from Indian vs Scottish independence, our hometowns vs our adopted cities, to the virtues and vices of Hinduism.
Pictured is Wee Yin at a 5th century temple in the forests of Elephanta Island, a stunning and supremely peaceful place with gorgeous carvings of Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu dug into the island’s volcanic rock I-don’t-know-the-hell-how. Also there were monkeys, and a couple school teachers on a school trip both requested their pupils take pictures of them with me.
Then, then, there was Charlotte – England’s answer to Ganesh.
Charlotte and I happened upon each other at the foreign tourist window of the Mumbai CST ticket office, both trainless, hotelless, hattered and wanting to get the hell out of Dodge ASAP.
I can hardly explain in one post how much Charlotte has been my guardian angel. Without her I’d have left that station without a train ticket (‘keep pestering until you get what you want’). Returning to my previous hotel to discover all rooms were taken, I’d have likely given up and cried, but she was my rock.
Charlotte, mum of a kid about my age, had been travelling almost all her life. She’s lived on a self-sufficient organic farm in Spain, in India, travelled and worked in South America, Nepal, you name it, she’s done it. She was more well-versed in travel than anyone else I’ve met.
Thanks to her we found a wee room together when it all seemed hopeless – hotels were either charging 4000 rupees+ a night, or were fully booked – but we got there in the end.
Spending the rest of the day and this morning together, she has really showed me the ropes: how to haggle (for literally everything), to ask at least 4 different people the same question in order to get the right answer, to smile and nod and not engage touts in any way, how to find local eateries off the beaten path, how to get off the hook when la policia catch you drinking beer on the street, sorry mum.
We exchanged stories upon stories, discussed our lefty, veggie ways, laughed, frowned, turned the latter upside down.
She’s now off daan saaf towards Kerala to work on a vegan, lecky-less, alcohol-and-tobacco-less farm for a month or so, in exchange for room and food. Amazing.
With her imparted knowledge, I feel more than ready to embrace my first Indian rail experience tomorrow, and all of the wonders and trials that the North can throw at me.
Charlotte, if you’re reading this: thank you; you’ve helped and inspired me and I sincerely hope in time I can follow in your footsteps.
Here’s to more Daals and many more pals.