Saturday, 25 June 2011

It takes more than one sentence to describe Mumbai

Spending 24 hours in airplanes and airports are never the best way to
prepare for anywhere - let alone somewhere like this place.
Accommodation more than adequate - my biggest critique of the hotel
would be the fact that the survey they gave me to fill out afterwards
was not a Likert scale of bad to good but a likert scale of below
expectations to above expectations ... my expectations were not that
high and therefore they met and even exceeded what they were (I do
dream of a day when I can eat 5-star scrambled eggs but it was not
this day).
Despite being somewhat inured to poverty after brief and extended
stays in places like phnom penh or vancouver this place takes a lot to
get used to. The slums are inescapable - they're at the airport, the
new city, the old city, even the national park (though luckily not in
the tiger and lion pens ... at least not now) - a bit of confusion
arose on the first day and Rakesh replaced Remminder as my personal
"driver" (note to self, you do not need a driver to negotiate a city,
even one like mumbai!) his english wasn't great and there's nothing
wrong with that (unless you're going to be a travel guide for an
Australian) - he did the obligatory shuttle towards a carpet salesman
but when sales weren't provided we moved on - saw a couple of the
sites (Gateway to India, that Mumbai hotel, the shopping mall! (which
like any good shopping mall in a developing country had metal
detectors and mirrors under the cars to ensure that the shopping
experience was the least explosive it could be). Like other
developing countries with cities with large populations the traffic is
something that has to be seen to be believed - my head was swimming
just trying to contemplate the Ehrlang calculations required to make
sense of it all, everyone keeps on moving, sometimes obeying the road
rules, often not, sometimes the cops were on hand to give a bit of
forceful direction and red lights were mostly obeyed. A three lane
road could take up to six vehicles, more if you include the bicycles -
and people would continually weave in and out, oblivious to the
honking (which was nowhere near as bad as some other places I've
experienced so that was a welcome relief). Saw Indian bureaucracy in
action - I suppose its good that helmets are compulsory ... for the
rider, they are, of course, forbidden for all of the other passengers
(often just one but I did see up to five although they were very small
passengers). The other rule which I managed to flout with surprising
little difficulty was the law around foreigners not being able to get
a SIM card without going through a mountain of paperwork - I started
the ball rolling with a Chinese phone salesman and even he decided it
was too much trouble and put it under his own name with strict
instructions for me to destroy it once I left the country. I know its
good to get away from the connection when I'm on holiday but
travelling with connectivity has its advantages - maps are much easier
to follow when you know where you are on one and Lonely Planet has no
place in my heart (Google does ... kind of). And once I did have a
phone I found it gave Raj (the only person who knows the number) ample
opportunity to check with me to ensure that everything was okay and
also to ensure he was able to give me constant instructions on how to
minimise the pain of dealing with India (thus far, not too bad).
In between my criss-crossing of the city in air conditioned comfort
(??) there were some interesting sites, and some interesting foods
(cheap restaurants were excellent - even though I was convinced i was
getting dirty looks for eating with my left hand, Indian ice cream was
pretty good, the palm leaves with lots of weird stuff smeared on them
by hand did leave a bit to be desired (everything about them was
against Dr Bhatt's rule book), perhaps it was them that required
infusion of immodium the next day but i wont blame anyone but myself.
The beaches are pretty (although dirty), the National Park was
beautiful (lion and tiger safari less so) and the birthday wishes
being plastered all over town to a very smug looking local politician
were very amusing (... our Dashing and Dynamic Leader). Did I like
this place? I don't know. Is it fascinating? Absolutely.
Depressing? For sure. Will I come back? ... maybe ...

No comments: