Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
149Trip End Ongoing
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Waking up a week before Tim's birthday to be greeted by the ubiquitous Cardiff rain, the decision to book a last-minute flight to India was a simple one. As our birthdays fall within a fortnight of each other, the trip was intended as a chance to celebrate together, and if that had to take place on a palm-fringed beach on the Arabian Sea, so it had to be.
Mumbai is easily the most Western of all Indian cities, with the central tourist area, Colaba, having retained a distinctly European appearance from the colonial era. Indeed, after passing through the slums surrounding the airport on the outskirts of the city, there is little in the upmarket bars and boutiques of Colaba to suggest that one is thousands of miles away from Paris or Barcelona. With prices to match, I felt welcomed by Tim's insistence that I pay for our first night out, even if I had lost a stupid bet months before. We spent this in a trendy student hang-out called Mocha, drinking wine, smoking shisha and fighting over a pile of brownies and ice cream. The bill totalled more than our entire stay in Murud.
Murud was our destination for the following day - Tim's birthday. Unable to resist, I had already given Tim the cards and presents from various friends almost as soon as I'd arrived, so there was none of the usual birthday routine. Instead, we met up with a few traveller friends of Tim's, and headed to Murud, a sleepy little fishing village five hours south of Mumbai. The journey was breathtaking, involving a ferry along the coast and a ride in a giant autorickshaw through Jungle Book forests. And if the ride wasn't enough, Murud itself was just perfect. The beach was indeed palm-fringed, on the Arabian Sea, and practically deserted.
Our first stop was obviously the sea, to cool down, wash off the Mumbai grime, and jump a few waves. As Murud is primarily Muslim and very conservative, Nicole, Hannah and I bathed wearing sarongs and other clothes. Walking back from the beach soaking wet was not a problem, however, due to the amazing house the others were renting. On the market for the equivalent of £5,000, if ever I've been tempted to sell my car, it was for this. A cute little pink house complete with a houseboy, this place had a long sandy garden leading right onto the beach. Tim and I stayed in a similarly priced apartment opposite the house - brand new, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a balcony looking down onto the beach. For 400 rupees a night (about a fiver), we felt we'd done really quite well.
Ben, a Londoner / coin collector / convicted murderer / millionaire (the stories got more fantastic as the week went on...), had visited the area many times before, and was to thank for our accommodation arrangements. More importantly, however, he introduced us to an amazing local restaurant serving fish and prawn thalis. Thalis, for those who don't know, are a complete Indian meal, usually served in small bowls on a round tray, including a main dish (vegetables, meat or fish), rice, chapatti, papad, dahl and a little chutney or pickle. The fish thali at this restaurant was divine. In fact, most of the food we had in Murud was pretty good, with many dishes costing less than a packet of crisps.
The evening of Tim's birthday was spent drinking by the beach with Ben, Nicole, Hannah, Jimmy and Enda until we ran out of booze (roughly 4am), and Tim was unable to stand in the sand without falling and pulling me over (completing a four year birthday tradition). In Tim's words, 'a pretty good birthday'.
The next few days were spent following an exhausting regime of activities: sleeping, watching Black Books and Family Guy, eating fish thalis, riding waves, and playing backgammon on the beach. The others, in contrast, chose to rent bikes and explore the local area, something, we all felt, Tim deserved a break from. Enda, Jimmy, Nicole and Hannah returned to Mumbai after two days, the girls to move on to Thailand, the boys realising that if they stayed any longer, they would never leave. Unable to move from our little paradise, Tim and I stayed, deciding to take our chances with the friendly, albeit amusingly homicidal Ben.
After a few days Tim and I summoned the energy to visit the fort Murud is famous for (Murud-Janjira). Constructed by the Sultan of Ahmednagar at the end of the seventeenth century, the fort was never conquered until it became part of Indian territory after independence from the British in 1947. The fort itself appears to rise up from the sea, with the only access being via local fishing boats. Our trip coincided with the first day of the Hindu festival of Holi, so the boats were full of paint splattered Indian tourists, some of whom were keen to let us join in, by reddening our cheeks. We had an hour on the fort itself, which was plenty of time to walk around and sit on a few giant cannons. With all that stress, we took a well deserved recovery swim upon our return to the beach.
We headed back to Mumbai two days before my flight home. This time was passed spending more money, smoking shisha, and relaxing amidst the bustle of the city. Oh yes, and visiting the surprisingly plush and marble floored Bombay Hospital three hours before my flight left. Annoyingly, undiagnosed kidney problems requiring morphine shots were not enough to convince the doctor that I should postpone my flight home. So off I went, leaving Tim to the rest of India. He's well prepared, toned and fit from his journey so far. (All things are relative. I am, technically, still overweight. Ed) And as long as he doesn't revert back to using dishwasher liquid as shower gel I'm positive he'll be absolutely fine. [If it can clean dishes it can clean me! ed.]