So, I felt compelled to say a few words more about India before we move on.
After we finished up my dental work, we hopped on a plane and spent about 30 hours in Mumbai…formerly Bombay. Mumbai is not immune to some of the problems we witnessed in Delhi but it is a grand old city with much more of it’s History still hanging around for tourists like us to snap pictures of.
There was architecture that rivaled any I have seen, and yes poverty and traffic to rival Delhi’s. They do seem to have a plan to keep garbage off the street though and The Crawford Market…Wooooweeeee.
If only we could have gotten my dad there before he became too infirmed. Orville loved a market and he would have gotten that “great sale fever” that would overtake him when he hit a good one. It seemed to breath youth into his whole body. He would have willed himself to hold together just so he could finish seeing every last retail opportunity. To accomplish this he would have needed another decade at least.
It’s hard to imagine, but it is a whole neighborhood of little windy streets that didn’t seem to care much about grid systems. These lanes are lined by ancient crumbling buildings and dotted with road construction projects. When I say “road construction” its not like what you are thinking. It’s more like an ancient man and his two slightly less ancient sons decided to improve their lot, so grabbed spoons and a hammer and went out and dug up the sewer line in front of the storefront leaving a trench and a big pile of old Bombay in the middle of the road. I think at least half of the population of India must shop these streets every night. Orange cones and caution tape seem to be a western phenomenon, so people walk down this obstacle course over the bumps through the trenches and around the heaps of rubble…nonplussed. Ron and I attracted the attention of a man who was about as big as an American seven year old with an eating disorder, who volunteered, or more accurately, insisted on being our guide and to show us where all the beads were sold. He moved fast and demanded that we keep up. Difficult as it was we were able to lean into the mass of humanity and be carried along. It was just possible. What seemed impossible was to hear one of those incessant horns blowing and look back to see some motorized vehicle making its way through the crowd. Somehow it all works and when there are treasures to be found one must buck-up. There were treasures, unfathomable treasures. Sadly we discovered Ali Babas cave just an hour before we had to start making our way to the airport so we got to have an experience but didn’t even try to shop. Well, we did get a few of those smart Indian cotton shirts I mentioned in my last entry but that hardly counts. Mostly we gawked and vowed to come back.
Mumbai was fascinating and I think there are many places in India that are more akin to Mumbai than Delhi. India is difficult and eye-popping. We have enjoyed museums, art, architecture, great food and the people. I would love to return though I would not necessarily recommend it for the first time traveler unless you have a good guide and fair warning.
We did have one last farewell experience on our way to the airport a miracle happened, traffic lightened up. You don’t know how unusual that was. We have spent the past days smashed between every manner of man, beast and vehicle rarely driving for more than and inch or two at a time and everyone sits in their car blowing the horn to pass the time. I spent a lot of energy and good humor searching for my Zen place in those moments. On an aside, in credit to the Indian people, nobody gives an inch in traffic and everyone is blasting that horn at every opportunity (did I already mention that?), but no one seems angry about it. The predicaments I witnessed in my own country would have evoked bad language, red faced screaming, fist shaking at the least and quite possibly windshield bashing or gun waving. Not so here. It is part of life in the street and you go along and get where you can as fast as you can and expect the other guy is going to do the same…all the while blowing that damned horn. Anyway, back to our final adventure.
We had negotiated with a young man from the travel and tours desk at our hotel to drive us around for a day tour of Mumbai and on to the airport where we were told to arrive three hours before our scheduled flight at 2:30 AM… BLEH. It all worked out OK, but I would have traded his ready smile and impossibly long eyelashes for a few more words of English. We spent the day nodding and smiling a lot and not ending up at the places where we thought we were going but, oh well, we had a great day and at last headed to the airport. But wait, behold… a break in the traffic and it seems like we were going to arrive an hour early, so our driver, in his halting English, suggests that he drop us off at a restaurant/bar where we can relax a bit before going to the airport. I didn’t feel right about it. I was thinking that we could find someplace at the airport to hang…I mean this is the international airport in a very large city so, there must be someplace we can make ourselves comfortable…but at his insistence, we are dropped in front of this dicey looking place and told that he will meet us back there in 40 minutes. I don’t know that I have ever felt so white and so tall as we walked up and entered this establishment. One of the things about the Indian service industry is that there is nothing surly about it. They want you there, and they want to meet your every need so someone opens the door and a team of men dressed in black and white awaits us. These men seem to be assigned only to us. Our boys bring us into this room where a woman is singing and it is LOUD! I mean loud like this may be the last music I ever hear kind of loud. Now I do not have the most sophisticated ear, and I am sure that there are subtleties missed due to my ignorance, but this singing, to me, sounded like cat-wallering. We are escorted to a sofa as there seems to be no proper tables. As we take our seats, we notice that there are girls of varying ethnicities all dressed in full sari’s leaning up against mirrored posts holding big stacks of cash and smiling a lot. Our team is bustling about attending to us, bringing us little bowls of crackers and peanuts and when they asked if I wanted a drink, I, without hesitation, answered in the affirmative. Ron ordered a beer and I ordered a gin and tonic and then another hoping it would numb my discomfort. The team brings Ron’s beer and a tray with a glass with gin in it and then asks if I want ice and how much, now tonic, then they stir it all up and then stand there and watch us have a sip of our drinks so they can ask if they can top them off or if we need something re-filled. So, we are here in this noisy, hot, den of iniquity being watched by a team of incredibly eager waiters and smiled at by a team of equally eager Indian hoochie girls and I can just remember thinking that this experience will be much more fun in the telling than the living and telling the waiter, “yes please, more ice please”…
Oh, damned, we had been so careful. We had been brushing our teeth in bottled water and avoiding any contact with liquid that didn’t come with a seal… I forgot. So, we make our escape and find our driver who I think has probably been having a good laugh with his friends telling them that he dropped those two queers off at the hoochie bar… Ha Ha Ha!
The Airport is this big overly lit series of lines and security checks with an over used PA system that gets that shrill feedback whine whenever they use it. It was the coldest hot place I have ever been. There is nothing beautiful or comforting about this place. It is a people processing plant. So we get there and make our way through the endless lines and finally go and find something to eat at the one restaurant in this country that is in direct contrast to India’s eager-to-please mentality. We sit down and I feel a lurch then a churn and a need to find some fresh air (futile). What ensued was a contest between both ends of me to see which could purge my system the fastest and a self-guided tour of the Mumbai airport toilets. This was spurred on by the thought that, surely, there must be a better one (the horrors!). The contest of my ends followed me to the plane where I went from a wild sweaty fever to a bone rattling chill and finally to South Africa where I found a down comforter, a hot water bottle and a clean bathroom. I am grateful to the innkeeper. He and Ron saved me. Ok so he tried to grope Ron (he said it was a “lakka one!”). I don’t care, I forgive him, I am better now and hallelujah.
I am feeling good, and we are off to see what we can of this place called Africa.
I’ll be in touch.