Monday, August 29, 2005

My Mumbai and Goa

Ready for our first day in Mumbai!

We had booked another hotel for the second night. We had been told that India was cheap and we had booked accordingly. After one night in Mumbai, we had seen the state of the first hotel and we were slightly worried to go to the second (cheaper) one.

And then, Mumbai! My first impression was that everything was taking so long to achieve: going from place to place, getting an Indian number, getting roupies. Also, the traffic was completely crazy and the pollution level was quite bad.

India makes us so lunatic. I love, hate, love, hate this country.

Foreigners are obviously not welcome in Mumbai. We were even booed in the streets. At first, we thought it was because of our skin, hair, bared shoulders but, according to the educated people we met, many people in Mumbai still have in mind the (negative) image of the British/white colonists.

After what happened in a park (being circled by hundreds of people when we were peacefully sitting in the grass), I sent a text to my dad: “Emergency. Please call…”. He did so the next day (no rush). He was obviously expecting a material kind of emergency (visa, passport loss…) and didn’t seem to understand that mood/mind matters more. I think it's difficult for others to grasp what we are going through.

I expected a bit of curiosity but no animosity.

The second day, we were roaming around in Mumbai and ended up in a book market. It was completely amazing. One can find books like “corporate finance” or “futures, options and derivatives” for 300Rs as copied books are allowed in India. The sales person told us he used to sell such books every day. People, here, are so eager to learn.

We then headed to a Jain temple where we were immediately asked the following question:“Do you have your period?” :o$ We should have known that Jain temples (as well as Hindus ones) typically deny entry to menstruating women to preserve the sanctity of the temple.

A guy offered us (for free!) to be our guide. Among others, he told us that no one is supposed to show his back to the idols.

Our guide then took us to a small lake. It was quite paradoxal. He wanted to be our friend but was so scared of being seen with us that we were asked to walk 20 meters behind him.

We still had a couple of hours to kill before taking the train to Goa (12 hour journey). Interestingly, we met an old university professor who was extremely knowledgeable about Belgium. We headed to a pub and had a few Indian beers with him (in India, you'll get 650 ml bottles!).

At the train station, it took us 20 minutes to understand which wagon we had to get in. And then, surprise! There was no door between compartments. One of us started crying. The beginning of our journey had been stressful and the lack of privacy in the train (and maybe the cockroaches) was the last straw. Also, trains are quite noisy as sellers are yelling “chai, chai, chai (Indian tea)” all night long.

I attached my bags and quickly felt asleep. In the morning, I wanted to enjoy the landscape. Sat at the wagon door, legs hanging into the air.

In Goa, a nice old lady was waiting for us at the hotel. We called her “mamy Goa”.

Love the place! Just relax and enjoy the sun. Had tasty crab for lunch. Time is running fast. Went to the beach at 11pm. Just the two of us, sitting peacefully on the sand.

We learned the next day that there were snakes coming out of the sand at night. Lesson learned!

The next day, we decided to visit the Basilica of Bom Jesus which holds the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier and is considered as one of the best examples of baroque architecture in India.

On the way back, we met two tourists/Frenchmen acting like conquistadors: speaking loudly, criticising the food and making jokes about Indians. I'm tempted to say... If you dont have an open mind, stay home!

We also tried the feni, a strong local alcohol. The cashew feni is made from the fermentation of the fruit of the cashew tree, while the coconut feni is made from the sap of toddy palms.

Alcohol seems to be a powerful medicine against germs as only one of us got (badly) sick. The one who didn't drink!

Two of us came back from Goa. The 3rd one was left in the care of "Mamy Goa".

To go from Mumbai to Goa, we bought an AC3 ticket. In other words, we had AC as well as a bit of comfort in the train (such as blankets). Cost: Rs800. For the way back, we didn’t book on time and the only available seats were non-AC sleeper ones. Cost: Rs400.

Given the difference in cost, we didn't know what to expect. Two white girls with laptops, digicams and huge bags as well as locks, chains, knifes! I'm only half joking.

Ultimately, we made (Indian) friends in the train and we had a lot of fun. When we arrived in Mumbai, one of them helped us finding a hotel. He bargained for us while we were waiting in another street (foreigners are often charged higher).

It was already our last day in Mumbai. We went to the house of one of the guys from the train. The neighbourhood was quite unsafe (even the taxi driver didn’t want to drop us there). His friends and family were welcoming but it was difficult to communicate (I used to think that Indians have a good English but an incomprehensible accent. The reality is quite different as only a small fraction of the population knows English). These people didn’t have much but they offered us a chai. We sat in/on their temple, a simple wooden plank. The guy from the train was a reporter for an Indian newspaper. I can't understand such low wages for such profession. At least, they had a house which is not the case of half the population in Mumbai.

I'm still scared of bugs/animals and I still dont like the way some Indians stare at us but everything is under control and I know, for sure, that I'll have a wonderful time in India!

One regret! I didn’t manage to see my Indian online friends given a busy schedule.

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