A Travellerspoint blog

Gateway to Panic

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To be honest the punctured tire was a relief. Having spent the afternoon in my room, resting and trying to find a contact to spend Diwali with (no luck there unfortunately) my morale had sunk a little and having not seen another traveller or hotel guest all day I wasn’t about to rely on that for company.

I got myself into this position and it was time to see what I was made of. With directions from reception, I struck out beach wards for a sunset stroll and then to procure a taxi to take me to the Gateway to India.

Dusk was settling in and street vendors, selling everything from fruit to electrical flex, were burning sweet incense, it felt so exotic and diverse. I walked down towards the main junction where I was supposed to cross the road. I am no good crossing the road at the best of times; having been hit by a bicycle in Spain (twice) and prone to looking the wrong way I knew my best bet was to follow a local. This is a whole different ball game, they move so quickly, clearly trained to see gaps in the maelstrom of cars, throwing themselves into oncoming traffic with gusto, confident that they won’t get hit. I have no such faith.

I did manage to cross some of the roads, just not the ones that would take me towards the beach. My heart was cartoon-pumping in my chest each time I stepped off the relative safety of the pavement. There are traffic lights and zebra crossings but they are clearly decorative only.

This is India and of course the poverty is prolific and the things you see are very humbling but I let out an audible gasp when I saw a woman begging with her tiny naked, lifeless baby, its frail head wrapped in a bloody bandage. I have prepared myself for such images, but they are nonetheless shocking and distressing.

Regaining my previous state of near abject terror I resolved to get a taxi. Luckily there were hundreds of them, hurtling towards me at breakneck speeds, beeping, coughing smoke and swerving like bumper cars, unluckily they were all full up, some of them with entire extended families cramped inside.

I managed to cross two more roads but this didn’t help me much as I was now standing right back where I started! One solitary taxi did stop for me but quoted me an astronomical sum (£2.50 or something) so I refused. I was determined that I could crack this. I would see something of Mumbai before the night was out. But, I couldn’t. I could not get a bloody taxi… so I got one of the hotel boys to do it for me, which is only cheating a little bit.

Now I was part of the traffic and from the inside you realize that they are not going that fast at all. There are just so many vehicles and burdened-beast pulled carts all trying to get through the bottle-neck at the same time. It feels much more overwhelming than it actually is.

Driving round the bay was when the blow-out happened, I got to sit quietly in the back whilst the driver changed the tire – he didn’t want me to get out for some reason- this gave me the chance to calm down and my thumping pulse returned to normal. At the gateway he promised to wait for me to take me back to the hotel.

I walked around the lit-up edifice trying to channel Nick, taking photos from odd angles; desperately trying to remember what aperture priority is and does. I think I managed to get one ok picture, let me know what you think.

Gateway to India, Mumbai

I returned to the pick-up point but Mr. Driver was gone. I had been abandoned. I tried to get another taxi but none of them could understand the address I had. By this point I was starting to worry as I had no idea how to get back to the hotel and apparently no one else did either. However, we were right next to the Taj Mahal Palace which is a 5-star, stunning hotel (and one of the hotels caught up in last years terrorist bombings). I had to go through airport style security to get in, but once inside the calm air-conditioned sanctuary I was saved, as you should be when you go into a sanctuary otherwise it’s not much of a sanctuary. Concierge were amazing, although I must of looked disheveled with a slightly crazed-panic in my eyes, they could not have been more helpful. They gave me water, an icy-cold flannel and more importantly the address of my hotel written in English and Hindu along with a printed map of my area to show the taxi driver.

Which worked, because I am at the hotel telling you about it rather than wandering the streets of Bombay, bedding down with the rest of the street population.

Posted by saraintrep 10:16 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Eagle has Landed


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I had managed to disregard the fact that at the end of the flight I would be arriving in India, alone. I had a great time watching terrible movies, eating better curry than I get at home generally messing about and fidgeting a great deal.

The horrible man behind me kept putting his head between the seats and staring at me which was disconcerting enough. Then a waft of cheesy feet assaulted my delicate not-India-accustomed nostrils. My first fear was that it was my feet but on investigation I discovered that he had put his foot up on my arm- rest, fairly horrified I gave him ‘a look’ and the offending appendage was moved. Satisfied I returned my attentions to ‘The Hangover’ (the film not my condition). Soon, however, a familiar stench was pervading my senses so I repeated my English reproach. I was finally moved to saying something once his big toe started nudging my elbow.

I got chatting to my nice not smelly neighbours and was so lulled into a false sense of high-flying security I was shocked when we landed quite literally with a bang in Bombay. The trepidation that I have been feeling for the last couple of days gripped my heart again but I pushed it down, got my stuff together and practically ran off the plane. Following the throng up to Swine Flu check point I was preparing myself for the long wait, bureaucratic nightmares and reams of forms. The reality was quite different. Where was the scrum, the hordes of people chattering in strange tongues, the smell, the heat? I had worked myself up for such an onslaught that when, about 7 minutes after disembarking, I was going through immigration I started to think I’d perhaps gone the wrong way. Had I snuck through a glitch in the matrix, taken an illegal shortcut and left my fellow passengers dealing with quarantine and probes whilst I was gaily skipping through to baggage claim? I hoped so.

My backpack came through safe and sound, 10th out on the carousel – so far easy peasy. I found the pre-pay taxi desk and decided to upgrade for 70 Rupee to an air- conditioned cab.

Cab no 5860 was standing waiting for me. A very cute car in blue with blacked out windows. Perfect for fresh-faced tourists who might actually like to see the cityscape!! All of this had happened in such a blur that when I found myself in the back of this little old car I got in to a proper panic. Had I made a mistake? Had I been conned? Was I about to head off to certain death? A quick appraisal of the taxi driver and I decided I could definitely take him on should he try anything. I decided to relax, my adventure had begun and I was curious to see my first glimpse of India.…

It’s exactly as it should be. 11pm at night and it’s hotter than an English summer. Cars, rickshaws, multi-passenger mopeds, brightly painted wooden trucks all weaving and vying for place on the road, no respect for lanes or the highway code, the only significant ‘signal-maneuver’ being extended honking on the horn. I saw a hairdressers called ‘big boss’, street dogs scavenging, children playing by rubbish heaps, herds of men talking by the side of the road, palm trees, slums, a petrol station dripping with festive lights, queues of taxis with their drivers lying on the bonnets. It was wonderful.

My driver asked if I wanted to get to the hotel in 10 minutes instead of 40 for an extra 100 R to go on the toll road. I went with my instincts and paid up the 100R (half of which he pocketed) and true to his word we soon pulled up outside the Hotel Royal Castle, set back from the road and up one flight of steps I had arrived at my first Indian abode.

The friendly receptionist was helping me check in when I noticed a commotion, the girls in the room next to mine were having a mouse ushered out of their room, I was thrilled-it was all so text-book!

My room is clean and has a lock. I was provided with a complementary un-sealed bottle of water (i.e poison) a small bar of soap and a white fluffy towel. I have a powerful ceiling fan which keeps whipping up stray bits of paper and plastic from my luggage and floating them round the room. My ensuite has a hybrid squat toilet and a big bucket of water, the sink drains out straight onto the floor so that when you wash your hands you wash your feet too and the shower head is right next to about four electrical outlets. I even have hot water – bliss.

I connected to the hotel wifi and spoke to mum and Nick, had a refreshing shower, inflated my amazing mattress and am now ready to start to think about sleep. Its 12pm UK time so 3.25am in Bombay. I am very proud of myself and deserve deep restful comatose sleep.

Posted by saraintrep 16:00 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Up,Up and Away

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I am writing this for your pleasure and perusal from the rather agreeable altitude of 32999ft. From that you may conclude that I have done it. I am flying to India right now, except when you read this it won’t be right now it will be then, but somehow that’s not nearly as exciting.

I have left behind all my worldly possessions, my lovely friends, my mummy, Katie and my sparkling clean flat and replaced them with one trusty rucksack, which weighed in at 16ks mainly taken up with cumbersome electrical chargers -I am a one-woman traveling Dixons and I hate to admit it but I have already hurt my back!

My seat: 27G is probably the best seat on the plane, and what a comfortable plane it is. I highly recommend Jet Airways. You should all go out and buy tickets so you can see what I mean. I have my own entertainment system which is now making me wish the flight was 13 hours long as I have a lot to squeeze into 8 hours: films, games, blogs, designing my cross stitch pattern (for which I even bought some coloured crayons – I simply couldn’t help myself; they can double up as tent pegs or something), not to mention the new Adam & Joe podcast. So yes, I am a busy girl.

My tearful goodbyes have taken it out of me somewhat, but the complementary coke and peanuts are reviving my spirits and since I promised Jenny that I wouldn’t drink on the flight they are the only sprits in my vicinity. To be honest it still hasn’t sunk in. Even last night at my impromptu leaving party the fact that I am going away for such a long time just doesn’t feel real, probably a good thing. I loved seeing everybody last night, thank you all so much for coming. I really do have the most wonderful friends in the world. I am sure everyone says that, but they are wrong and I am right.

I am now going to watch Angels and Demons (I am sorry Nick, I hope you’re not too disappointed in me, there is a French film available and I might watch that to make up for it).

Posted by saraintrep 13:09 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

A Toothy Problem (or There Will Be Blood)

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Five years ago I was advised by my dentist to have my last remaining wisdom tooth out. Today, I followed this advice.

X-rays had revealed that the little blighter was trapped under the jaw. Which would have to be cut for removal to take place. To me this sounded as if it might be a touch painful, and vivid images of twigs splitting and snapping, followed by volcanic eruptions of blood splattering the pristine dentistry walls crowded my worried mind. So, I masterfully ignored the problem and the tooth and I got along famously. Or so I thought...

On a recent Intrepid-Trip-inspired visit to the dentist, I was told in no uncertain terms that I was not to go around the world with this dental time bomb ticking away in my lower right jaw. So, I made an appointment to see Dr Anna Maciag whose impressive credentials gave me enough faith in her to place my face -- and vanity -- in her care. Quicker than I'd anticipated I was lying on my back, mouth wide open, palms sweating, gripping the arms of the chair for dear life. Following my initial dose of anaesthetic, she tried, in vain, to prise it out whole. Unfortunately, the tooth had decided it was in this for the long haul and was dying to see India. But no, the tooth had to go.

Suddenly the drilling commenced. This was the bit I'd been dreading... And although the noise of drilling against tooth and bone sounded exactly the same, in my mind the sound was horror-movieesque and I pictured tiny shards of splintered jaw flying across the room like shrapnel and embedding itself into the soft furnishings. At one point I started to feel a kind of tugging suction as the root started to move -- whereupon I was given a huge dose of a second anaesthetic... The second dose allowed me to relax. Knowing that I definitely wouldn't feel anything now, I opened my eyes, and there, reflected in the assistant's protective goggles, I could see my own personal wide open mouth and the whole gory show unfolding in front of me. I watched transfixed as the front half of the tooth was cut away and then, with growing fascination, as the second half was forcibly rent asunder.

A woozy feeling and a geyser (okay, trickle) of blood followed and I was given my souvenir -- a slightly decayed, bloodied, shattered tooth in an antiseptic surgical baggie to be added to my collection of removed body parts (okay, wisdom teeth). (Mine.)

I am now sitting in front of the TV, swaddled in my giant duvet watching pretty much anything with David Mitchell in it, on it, or endorsed. Oh yes, and ingesting huge pharmaceutically-approved quantities of morphia.

So, another thing crossed off my Intrepid To-Do list. Now I just have to retrieve my visa from the Indian Embassy, finish packing up the house, drive my stuff to my friend's loft, have a car boot sale, go to Spain, return from Spain, clean the house, pack, see all my friends one last time and, um, oh yes, go to the airport. And then get on the plane. Jet Airways have assured me that they'll take it from there....

Posted by saraintrep 11:08 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged women Comments (0)

Hello world!

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Tonight started with a shock to the system, but two phone calls and two glasses of wine later and I'm good.

After offloading a small Space NK from my nearly packed rucksack, it now weighs in at 15kgs. I've decided to brave India and all her many anticipated delights without £40 of face cream on everyday. No-one I know will see me anyway - I'll get a hat!

However, I can't promise it will stay that way. I have a few more things to go in, not to mention a laptop which even if it is the smallest netbook ever still weighs in at a kilo. Typical, now I am going to be analysing my rucksacks weight as well as my own. Monitoring every little thing that goes in it, looking at it raising my eyebrows and thinking "Rucksack, are you sure you want to eat that?"

The last thing I should be doing is writing the first page to my new 'Intrepid' blog. Notice a theme anyone?

I am going to carry on packing up the house now. Goal 1: finish bedroom tonight.

Posted by saraintrep 00:02 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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