Outta of the boat - Welcome to India

Trip Start May 03, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Friday, May 12, 2006

...Well I got outta of the boat alright but there's been a few times I almost wished I was back in it, paddle firmly in hand! So its been over three weeks since I left the UK. My route so far has been from the City of Hell (Mumbai) to some dark coastal village in Maharashtra (Murud) and then after a nightmare journey I'm now holed up in what seems like a different country - namely Goa, at the quiet costal resort of Benaulim in the south - what a relief! I am actually writing a separate diary with all the trials and tribulations in some depth - what follows here will be a summary of my time spent so far with a few diary extracts chucked in for added interest.

3rd & 4th May '06:
'(Diary)...Back on the road and back to the ramblings. Took the 11.25 loser cruiser from Bristol to Heathrow. Killed a few hours wandering around and half enjoying a pint before checking in. No real thoughts, just a bit fazed by it all, still in some sort of work mode and so just getting on with things...I'd been told that this flight would be quiet - this was confirmed when I found I had a window row to myself - nice!

An Indian family spread themselves out in the middle with the mother and youngest brat transferring to the window seats in front of me for take-off and eventual landing (Note: The husband during these 'tense' moments pulled on a dark grey anorak, flipped the hood over, tied the cord strings tight under his chin and proceeded to rock back and forth mumbling some strange, foreign language!) OK - the flight was fairly non-eventual, I played 'Millionaire' on the entertainment system in front of me for what seemed most of the journey (whilst I was awake) at the expense of the crap movies that were showing - I couldn't believe I won the million only once and got increasingly frustrated at the rock-hard questions for low amounts!!

Flight took eight hours - the food was terrible. It was kinda exciting charting my progress through Europe into Russia and down over Iran and Pakistan - I was surprised to see so many lights over Iran but I'm not sure why. Actually after all the beer and wine I had consumed I must have passed out somewhere still in Iranian airspace. Awoke and there was the Arabian sea and India! As we descended over the Western Ghats, Mumbai appeared - Mumbai looked like Hell on Earth - what was I thinking? Several open-fires spouted black smoke into the morning air - they were huge to be able to see them from our height - no chimneys - just rubbish I guess. As we came into land the 'slums' came into view. We bumped down and walked for miles round some grotty terminal - after a few queues I picked up my kit that was on the floor next to the luggage reclaim thingy - everyones luggage was on the floor - maybe the machine was bust! After a couple of more checks I finally walked out into the main airport hall. Walking through into one last foyer before the streets I was greeted with surliness from chappies lounging around, this was brightened only by the cute Indian air hostess from my fight who turned round to me in the pre-paid taxi queue and said 'have a nice time in Bombay'.

I got my taxi ticket and walked outside. WHOOSH! I walked out into a moist oven, ripped my sweatshirt off, perspiration dripping off my face. Some kid hassled me for money through the window of the prepaid taxi before we set off - I told him to hop it. Soon we were off into utter mayhem, a dodgem car ride through the chaotic traffic passing through Mumbai's poorer districts. No need for any description here - I saw it all - the poverty was my first impression, then it soon became apparent that although it was of slum appearance to a westerner - it was infact fairly organised, low, low quality housing - albeit with a few down and out chappies asleep on the side of the road. The only thing that alarmed was the closeness folk lived, worked, performed they're everyday routine and walked - so close to the traffic - it was crazy - whatever faith they had was a blind one! I was cold to the situation as I looked outside the window - I wasn't here to compare, that would lead to negativity, no, I was here to observe.

After an hour I checked into Bentley's hotel in the hellhole district of Colaba. The hotel had zero facilities apart from the reception and a rather attentive porter who duly set off to some nearby bar or shop for two 'ice-cold' beers at my request. The A/C room which looked bleak on arrival became more comfortable after a shower and a snooze. It was time for an outing - truth be known I didn't care to leave my sanctuary and the repeat of some premiership match I got caught up in on the TV, but I needed to stretch my legs. Sweat started pouring off me the moment I poked my nose out the door. I staggered out and around the nearby Gateway To India, got hawked/touted continuously and was in discomfort from my clingy trousers. Found some sports bar and slumped into a corner for a bite to eat - nothing too ambitious - a cheese toastie. Walked back along Colaba causeway - and was shouted at every two seconds from some chappie or other trying to sell something. Whacked the A/C on and settled back to watch TV with a few drinks. What a couple of days!...'

5th - 7th May '06:
(Summary) So I spent the next few days doing a bit of exploring and getting adjusted. I got some information about my next destination and ways in which to get there. I wanted to check out a few places on the coast of Mumbai's state - Maharashtra. The first day I had a walk round - through all the crazy traffic and noise one could see some sort of appeal in the wide tree lined streets, the architecture of some of the buildings and the pace of life. I visited some the restaurants/bars in Colaba from my Rough Guide purely for reasonable western(ish) food - there would be plenty of time for regional cuisine to come so veg burgers and toasties were the order of the day. I walked passed the Prince Of Wales Musuem - an impressive building but decided against going in. From the size of the place and the information I had on it - it demanded far more attention than I was willing to give at the time. Spent evenings watching TV in the chill of my room - on one evening sat through 'Back to the Future' - it seemed absurd that here I was watching such a movie in a familiar comfort zone when all around seemed so mad. Culture shock for sure. Picked up my bus ticket to Murud-Janjira - a hassle in itself - I was reserving a seat on what I thought to be a semi-luxury coach - and ended up queuing for forty minutes whilst the idiots behind the counter went through outdated bureaucratic procedures.

'(Diary)...After the bus station performance got a taxi driven by some wispy, long haired old freak who did his best to give me whiplash and dropped me off on Marine Drive - not to far from Chowpatty beach. Walked past Mumbai's main cricket ground, glimpses of the various entrances down side streets and floodlights towering above the supposedly 'luxury' maine-drive dwellings. Sweated buckets, began to feel weak and after an hour found myself drifting along in what seemed to be the city's financial district - nothing to shout about - still grotty as hell but with a few chappies knocking around in shirts and ties. I finally threw in the towel and hailed a taxi - the ubiquitous Mumbai black and yellow cab. I was relived to find out that my sense of direction was still pretty much spot-on as the taxi turned a corner into familiar territory...Later sent some e-mails and went and got a McDonalds Veg burger and fries which I feasted on back in my room. Soon felt sick, bloated and queasy and so spent the reminder of the evening slowly supping on beer, chewing windese tablets and taking swigs of an Andrews Original Salts mixture I'd made up. Half-way through the movie 'Lost Boys' I felt as right as rain and so tucked into another couple of beers that I had left chilling in the corridor's fridge. Night!....'

'(Diary - Sunday 7th May)...A/C packed up at some point in the night and I had to resort to the fan. Up and out eventually and paid at reception. The porter who had got me beers the first day hovered outside - I didn't tip him - you see I had found the grog shop close by - the kid had already ripped me off!...(later)..Boarded the 'semi-luxury' coach - and wondered what a normal coach would be like since this looked identical to any other battered, rusted, excuse of a bus'

(Summary) The bus journey south to Murud took around 5/6 hrs - it took at least an 90 minutes just to get out of Mumbai, crossing from the island on which it stands to the mainland. I felt a lot fresher and the scenery picked up big style. I was glad I had an obstructed view of the road ahead as every time I looked round from my seat the driver was seemingly playing chicken as fast as possible in the middle of the road.

'(Diary)...I'll spare you a detailed journey, listened to a few tunes and just looked out of the railed, open window: trees, villages, token elephant, monkeys, rivers, more trees, brick making, cows, rickshaws, toll stops, sleeping man next to me, hills (cooler), palms, proper sea, folk shitting in rivers, golden beaches, cool coastline, castle, Murud-Janjira! Bus rattled to a stop and I was turfed out on Durbhar road just behind the beach....Consulted my RG (Rough Guide) and walked a few yards to my number one choice a small bungalow with nice enough garden/sand pit leading directly onto the beach. A round chappie wearing a prayer cap waddled up to me and after a brief conversation showed me a large room with two double beds and said it would cost 500rps. He asked me if I thought it was expensive - I replied asking if HE thought it was expensive - he nodded and showed me a smaller room, fan, en suite - very basic but good enough and said 250rps. Deal done.

7th - 13th May '06:
(Summary) Murud seemed such a relief after Mumbai - it was so much quieter. I felt my tour had finally began - Mumbai like some other 'starting point cities' was almost enough to send me right back home again! I decided to stay in Murud for six nights and gently immerse myself into Indian life. It also sported an apparently stunning fort in an estuary just round the headland - that would have to wait - I was determined to make full use of the hammocks in the back garden and relax. I was sort of surprised to find the village had a large Muslim population, indeed the family I was staying with were Muslim - there was a clean, simple mosque next door and over the week I appreciated the differences between the quiet, self-reserved Muslims and the brash, excitable Hindus.

Every morning I awoke to some chap wailing through a loud speaker from the mosque next door at 6am, at first it haunted my big style - but it soon became familiar and no problem. The influence of Islam n the village also meant that this was very almost a dry place!! There was one restaurant along the front that was really a front for a bar - and I think there was some grog shop down in the fishing, Hindu side of the village that I found one night in the dark and got scared off by dodgy looking drunks and stray dogs that looked seriously diseased. I frequented the restaurant along the front later in the afternoons for a cold beer and to write up my diary - but I seemed to be drinking in sin. Locals and Maharashtrian holiday-makers would sneak in and consume strong beer and spirits, all men of course, out to get drunk as quick as possible. It seemed there was no pleasure enjoying a cold beer or two.

Me eating patterns changed and I was soon tucking into veg thalis (literal meaning meal) in a few locations round town. It seemed the entire restaurant's eyes were on me as I spooned in the grub, normally consisting of rice, a popadom, a chapati, some veggies, dhal and some other sauce all presented on a silver plate - cost usually around 50p. Didn't do much for a few days - found it tricky to sleep with just a fan, bought a few items of clothing and some cheap flip-flops that subsequently produced a blister just behind my right toe. The sea looked tempting but having witnessed folk squat at the water's edge I initially didn't fancy a dip.

'(Diary - Wednesday 10th May '06)...Better night's sleep last night perhaps it was that extra bottle of KingFisher that did the trick? The Prop (Proprietor) had kept asking me when I was going to the fort - I couldn't get put it off any further, got my act together and went. Soon found myself bombing along in the back of some rickshaw - those yellow three wheeler jobs you find all over this country and which I believe featured in a Bond chase (Octopussy?)

Went up over the headland and there standing proud in the estuary was the Janjira fort - an impressive sight for sure with some fishing village below and a few palms swaying. We soon arrived at the fishing village called Rajapuri, the departure point - the one side totally dedicated to its fishing industry with women sifting through what on closer inspection seemed to be a mixture of fish scales and other parts, nets sprawled everywhere, kids swimming in filth and the menfolk lazing around idly chatting and drinking tea.

On the leeward side I sorted out my ticket after another ridiculous stage show from the 'officials' selling it to me and walked down some steep steps and hopped on a small crowded wooden sailing craft with a triangular sail (well this is the Arabian sea!), no seats - sat on the raised floor in some discomfort whilst we slowly flapped our way in two slow tacks to the fort and its 'secret entrance' (meaning it wasn't visible from shore). It suddenly became apparent that the pre-monsoon swell would make disembarking slightly hazardous on the slippery stone steps that led down into the sea. I went native for the first time this tour, barged my way to the front of the vessel, saw my chance and in unison with an upward swell leapt across and safely onto dry land or in this case a damp step that thankfully wasn't too slippery. Relieved I wandered up through some vast roofed passageway into the fort proper.

Some Indian chappie and a rather scruffy one at that, rose to a sitting position from his slumber on shaded ledge and offered to be my guide for a few rupees - I laughed at him and waved him back to sleep. Apparently we had around an hour to explore before the boat back - which was about enough time for me to stagger around the impressive ramparts in serious heat. I stopped every now and again to sit in one the dark window ledges that lined the wall and appreciate a cooling sea breeze. The fort was built in the 16 century and looked the part, it had a huge open well that the locals couldn't stop going about as they astonishingly told me that it contained 'sweet water' (fresh to boot!) and yet the fort was surrounded by sea - to them it seemed a miracle. From my point of view it resembled an industrial vat containing the sort of foul liquid you might have seen in the ditches around Avonmouth before the environmental agency stepped in!

Anwyways this water was obviously invaluable to the fort's occupants as they/it never got breached...after sweating my way round I nervously approached the 'steps' and stupidly asked one of the 'helpers' if folk fell in - 'all the time', he replied. I admit - I felt slightly anxious at the prospect of taking an early bath - I had my small ruckasack that a held a few important items that were not waterproof. Boat appeared and even though I was first on the steps and in a favorable position - Indians began flying in from all over the place and before I knew it was packed - 'sod it' I muttered and jumped. I leapt across just as some chappie dropped his flip-flop and sent a searching foot back to reclaim it, what it didn't expect was me landing on it. There was a howl of anguish and I very nearly fell back into the water dragging him in with me. I think one of the helpers saved us both - and I begrudgingly tipped him when he sent his hat round. Quite a lucrative trade I thought as he pocketed the notes and promptly dived off the departing boat back to the fort where I'd noticed them drying cash earlier.

(Summary cont..)
Time went fairly slowly in Murud - the 'Prop' took me on a couple of excursions through the countryside, firstly a visit to some caves that folk lived in - back in the day, complete with a few buddhist carvings, and the overpowering stench of bats and their droppings. The caves were infact rooms etched into the rock - quite a feat. It was a fair old ride on the back of the 'Prop's' motorbike and my lower back ached as a result of the back rest digging into it on the bumpy roads.

The second excursion was to some waterfall which I found puzzling, considering we were right at the end of the dry season. Anyways the waterfalls that I eventually saw, set amongst some woodland/jungle reserve a few hundred feet above the plains turned out to be slabs of rock with a series of dammed pools containing green water. The 'Prop' explained how impressive they were in the rainly season - great! There were strange noises down in this thick woodland and I started asking the 'Prop' about wild animals, he told me about tiger, lions, monkeys, snakes and bandits. He insisted on walking further and further away from the road and I got a bit spooked, especially when I noticed a number of animal tracks leading into one water-hole. I pointed these out and suggested tongue-in-cheek they might be tiger prints - the 'Prop' started laughing and said they were from cows and that tigers and lions only came down at dawn and dusk. Thing was - on closer inspection - these were definately not hoof marks, definately padded paws without a shadow of a doubt and alarmingly it was also starting to get dark!! Thankfully we turned around for the bike - I took the lead and scurried up the path convincing myself that if the impossible really did happen - the 'Prop' stood out as the obvious target being fatter and slower!
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Naresh Sukhani on

Hey Guys Next time you come ....pls call me 9833363601...
I have started a new venture which includes visiting along with the tourists friends....& Guiding them in & around Mumbai(India...)

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