15/10/09 - 14/10/10
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.