Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
149Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
Salvation Army Hostel
Finally berthed in Mumbai harbour, I was all packed and ready to sign off the ship and ride into India. Then the thought occured 'I've got free board and lodging here. And air-con.' So I unpacked again, got myself a shore-pass and headed into town on foot.
Mumbai is a vast, overpopulated city, but compared to Cairo is a leafy spacious oasis. The docks are very close to the more affluent tourist areas and in early evening the temperature was pleasantly cool. I walked undisturbed by touts, beggars or other conventional tourist-zone impediments for about 40minutes from the ship to the 'Gateway Of India', the marble-arch-esque monument built to commemorate the visit, back in the day, of Prince George (later King George Nth). Through this arch the last of the British colonial troops ceremonially quitted India. Along with the nearby Taj Mahal Hotel and the 'V T' Train Station near the docks the Gateway is one of Mumbai's defining landmarks. There is a small lawn-cum-park in front of the Gateway, where some kind of festival was taking place. A lot of people had gathered, there was music and dancing, but no-one seemed to be selling anything, so I guessed it was probably a religious event. I sat on the sea-wall and watched the world go by for a while, but couldn't figure out what was going on. My attempt to ask the Indian chap sat a couple of meters from me on the same wall was met with a look of incomprehension, while the Germans beyond him had no more clue than I did. However, we teamed up to crack the puzzle, and eventually gleaned that it was a God's birthday. Possibly. We watched the show for a while, and then went in search of a bar.
I spent three days wandering Mumbai, returning to the ship at night. It was a fairly cosy arrangement, though I kept returning too late to be readmitted through the 'blue gate', right by the ship's berth, and had to walk 30mins down the dark, slum-lined road to 'yellow gate' and then back through the deserted docks. After the third day the discharge operation was nearly complete, so it was time for me to sign off. This was only slightly less fraught than signing on. It was day-time, and again my biggest role was waiting, as the agent had to do the legwork with the immigration people. But I also had to worry, because technically it is prohibited, if not illegal, for a seaman to sign off a ship and immediately go on holiday in India. So I had to give 40 of my hard-earned dollars, in 5 dollar notes, for the agent to distibute among the various bent officials. This done, my passport graced with a very unusual stamp to show off, I rode out of the docks and into the next leg of the journey.
Sort of. I rode back to Colaba and checked in to the Salvation Army Hostel, where I spent a week waiting for Yolana to come and visit me again. Most of the week was spent wandering the town and relaxing in various cafes, a luxury that seems to be limited to Mumbai, in India, though I didn't know this at the time. The hostel was a cheap and cheerful fleapit, and most of the other inmates seemed to be north-London stoners who only got out of bed to roll joints, so alone I visited the landmarks, including the house where Ghandi once lived and from which he launched the 'quit india' campaign. His mat and spinning wheels are on show, and the rest of the house exhibits photographs, diaramas and letters to illustrate his life. I happened to overhear a conversation between an American tourist and his guide:
American -So, it seems like the people really liked Ghandi, but the government didn't.
Guide -No. Everybody loved him
me, interjecting - Well, the British government weren't soo keen, were they? What with the imprisoning and him wanting to boot them out of India...
Guide - ...
American - It sounds like he was a lot like John Lennon...
I wandered out of earshot.
The day before Yols arrived I finally got approached by an agent looking for extras in a Bollywood movie (this happens all the time, and I'd been very disappointed to have gone a week without being asked.) As is the case with most people, the experience of being a Bollywood extra was far less exciting than it sounds. Most of the 12hour day was spent hanging around, or being filmed 'acting' as if we were hanging around, which isn't much different. The most extraordinary part of the day was shortly after arriving on the set. I had just changed into my 'costume' (an ill-fitting suit and silkish shirt) when Jimmy and Enda, who I had last seen in Dahab on the 1st Jan, walked into the changing room. We kept each other entertained through the otherwise tedious parts of the day, filling in the last 2 months of our respective travels and marvelling at the coincidence.
We were filming a nightclub scene, which had two important repercussions for me. The first was that I was called upon to dance, for which reason alone you should all be running to your local video store as soon as 'The Train' is released in UK (never. but to see the trailer, which is my scene, though inexplicably I seem to be just out of shot, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vs-U986XwQ0.) Footage of me throwing my best shapes is something no video collection should be without. The second consequence was that in addition to the two stunning leading-ladies, one of whom it turned out was from Portsmouth, there were numerous scantily clad and nubile dancers wandering the set. This rendered it somewhat unfortunate that that very morning a massive and extremely ginger beard had attached itself to my face, turning my otherwise cool and approachable visage into something approaching the ungodly lovechild of Brian Blessed and Chris Evans. I suspect voodoo magic being worked from Cardiff to keep me on the straight and narrow.