Today I woke up not really refreshed. I am sleeping on a bed per se, but it is really just a thin mat on a steel mattress, not much give so my back and neck hurts quite a bit. I decided though to go with Rahul my couchsurfing host to his job in South Mumbai. We took an autorickshaw to Bandra train station and hopped on a local train to Mumbai Central Station (CST). The local trains are open-aired and open doored so when the train gets full people basically hold on to the railing and hang out the side of the train.
It was nine stops to Mumbai Central Station, and the ride was definitely an eye opener. On my journey I saw so many slums, people walking on the tracks, going to the bathroom outside in public, and it was awful to see how poor some of these people really are. Also the trains are not air conditioned so I was sweating profusely as well. It is really hot here, but not dry heat like in Arizona, but so hot and humid it makes Florida in the summer feel dry.
After our thirty minute ride to Mumbai Central, Rahul and I walked to his office which was only five minutes away. We said goodbye and he told me he would call me in 1.5 hours to get some lunch. This gave me some time to finally get to an internet cafe and get some blogging in. Rahul and his roommates have a communal laptop but for some reason the website I use for my blog is blocked. Go figure. I know there is a way to blog via email, but I never looked in to it and don’t have the time now.
So after spending about one hour at the cool, air conditioned internet cafe I still had about an hour to kill. At this point I didn’t really know where I was or where I was going, so I basically just wondered around snapping some photos, picked up some water and soda and just observed the way of life here in South Mumbai. At one point I tried to take a picture of some lady on the sidewalk across the street, but I was spotted by someone nearby and he jumped in front of her waving his hands. I knew I shouldn’t have tried to take a picture of this lady and was a little nervous as to what this guy might do. Luckily he stayed on his side of the street and I continued walking.
Finally after about an hour, I was really hot, tired and hungry, the fearsome threesome. I called Rahul and told him that I wanted to get some food, he said no problem and met me downstairs outside his office. He took me to this corner shop, and luckily it had an air conditioned upstairs. I guess its quite common for places to have AC and non AC halls. I ordered some rice and curry and he got egg fried rice. One thing I will say about the Chinese food in India is that it is wayyyyy better than the food in China! I don’t know why but it rivals Chinese food anywhere in the world that is for sure.
After lunch I said goodbye once again to Rahul I decided I would check out my first real tourist attraction, the Gateway to India. This is a structure on the coast that was constructed in honor of the King and Queen of England on their arrival I believe to India. It was a real tourist trap. I had kids, adults and whoever asking me for money or the best scam is the anti-scam scam. One girl came up to me said hello and told me that she didn’t want money. She asked me where I was from and I was doing my best to make it clear I didn’t want to talk to her. She followed me around as I took some photos, and continued trying to work me for money. You know every great scam starts out with “Hi, what’s your name? Followed by: “Where are you from?” This gets them talking to you and working you for whatever they want. Eventually she said “I don’t want money, but can you buy me milk for my baby?” So there you have it, she did want some form of money but she just framed it in another way.
I walked around the Gateway for a little bit, but then something happened. This really little girl started laughing and pointing to my shoulder on the back on my shirt. I had no idea what she was saying but then I pulled my shirt around and saw some beige milky chunky substance all over my shoulder and backpack. Some bird had shitted all over me! Now I know this is supposed to be good luck, but I already have natural good luck and I certainly don’t need a bird shitting on me for more luck.
I took off my shirt in front of everyone, and rubbed some dirt on the shirt to absorb the poop. Lucky for me the very famous Taj Mahal Hotel was right across the street so I figured that since I was white and this was an expensive hotel, they wouldn’t stop me and they didn’t. I walked in and found the restroom which was a lovely bathroom might I add, took off my soccer jersey yet again and started to clean it with soap and water. Unfortunately the jersey is white with black lettering, but after using hot water and some soap the shit came right out! I guess the material the jersey is made out of did not absorb the mess so it was good as new.
Once I left the hotel I just started to walk. I didn’t have my lonely planet and I wasn’t supposed to meet Piya another couchsurfing friend till five pm and it was only like 130pm! Well I walked and walked and walked until I got to a bus station. Now at this point I was really hot and tired, so I actually wanted to go back home and get the bus to Mumbai Central to take the train back. So I got on the bus, it cost me 4 rupees which is like 4 cents and I told the ticket collector I wanted to go to Mumbai Central or CST. Eventually the collector told me to get off at the next stop, I thanked him and was on my way. Well unfortunately the dude assumed I knew where I was going. I thought I would get off the bus and the train station would be in front of me, oh no, I didnt see the station anywhere and really could find someone to ask.
I decided to just walk down the street I was on to hopefully see the station anywhere. But I did not. I believe that everything happens for a reason because I finally stopped and took a deep breath and what did I see across the street, the 35th criminal court a remand court in Esplanade South Mumbai. Now one of the things I wanted to do when I was here was see a court and maybe some proceedings. Well I first walked up to this little booth and asked if I could go in. After some broken english back and forth he said “go go.” So I did. I went upstairs this old building, probably built in the mid-late 1800′s and walked in to the court room. The police on guard there said I could sit down and watch. So I sat and waited for something to happen. After about twenty minutes, I noticed one of the clerks look to the rightside entrance in to the courtroom, at that point I knew that the judge was on his/her way in. As it turns out that judge was a female, I rose as did everyone else and the proceedings began. Unfortunately the proceedings were not in English, but I still enjoyed observing how the system worked. I did find the listing of cases on the docket which was in English and just about all of them involved some criminal incident with police. So the clerk would call out the parties charged they would come up assisted by the police, and the officer who arrested the person or who witnessed it pled his case, and the attorney representing the charged party would say something in response. They did seem to have their version of a public defender because I noticed the same attorney standing beside each charged individual. After four or five different cases I got up and left. It was nearly 4PM and while Piya said she would call me at 3PM to arrange a meet-up I figured I would leave the courthouse, give her a call, and see where she wanted to meet.
I got in touch with Piya and she said 5:30PM at Churchgate station. She told me to just ask anyone around where the Churchgate station was and that someone would direct me. I told her, no worries and would see her at 530PM. Great, so now I had another hour and a half to kill, didn’t know where I was or where I was going and it was really hot out. Again I wondered around the streets, looked in to some cricket fields and watched locals playing their much beloved sport and continued walking.
I eventually got to a street with tons of shops selling clothing. Anything from pants, jeans, shorts, tshirts, footwear, you name it they were selling it. Now something interesting I have seen so far here in Mumbai is that some vendors have a sign that says “125r, fixed price.” This means that bargaining is not allowed but the price will be good. The ones that don’t have the signs are basically looking to bargain and rip you off. I found this out by trying to buy a pair of cotton, thin 3/4 shorts. When I asked the guy how much he whispered to me “750.” 750 I exclaimed are you serious? 750 Rupees is almost 20 bucks which is a lot of money for anything in india and a lot even in a place like Mumbai where most things are about 4-5 times more than any other place in India. I told the guy forget it, he said how much I told him 100 he laughed, he said ok ok how much you want to pay, I said I didn’t know but 750 was way too much. I walked away, he yelled at me to comeback and I clearly knew he saw a white tourist and wanted to cash in. Just to give you an idea of how much 750 Rupees is, in a nice mall you can buy nice button down shirts, pants etc for less than 750 Rupees, so 750 for a 3/4 shitty pair of cotton cargo shorts is such a rip off it is not even funny.
I walked basically the entire road and saw that it was M. Ghandi Road. I took my camera out and snapped a photo of it as this road is naturally quite famous. When I got to the end of the road it was close to 500PM and I didn’t know how to get to Churchgate station, so as it turns out there was a bus station and the first place listed was churchgate station! How lucky of me! I guess the bird poop worked. I got on the bus and asked some guy where Churchgate station was. He responded with very little english, speaking mostly in Hindi, but by his hand gestures it appeared that the station was like a few blocks straight down the road I happened to turn right on. So after getting off a bus in the middle of South Mumbai, I saw a famous road, the criminal court and somehow found my way to the station with no map and no sense of direction! I still had about twenty minutes to kill before Piya would meet me, so I walked in to a mall type building and found a pharmacy in the back. I needed a toothbrush since I happened to leave mine at home. I also picked up cream for my athletes foot that I somehow got the first day of traveling and some real tigerbalm from Thailand. It all came out to be like less than 4 dollars and this had been my big splurge of the day so far.
After leaving the mall I got a call from Piya who asked me where I was. She told me to meet her at this famous movie theater called Eros. It was shaped like a wedding cake and was the oldest and most famous movie theater in Mumbai. Piya was a tad late meeting me, but I was sitting down, in the shade of the movie theater steps so I was fine.
After meeting Piya she asked me if I wanted to sit down to chat and rest for a little. I said that would be perfect so we found like a beer bar type shop, I had my first taste of local indian beer, Kingfisher and Piya had water. Piya explained to me that me paying 45r for the glass of beer was such a ripoff. She said in many places outside this city that glass would only be 8 or 10r. That is when she explained to me that Mumbai is extremely overpriced and sine housing is so expensive, that is why you see many slums. People may not be as poor as their shanty house appears to be, they might have a nice TV inside, air conditioned etc, but because the housing is so expensive relative to the standard of living in India that people must live this way.
After about thirty minute or more, Piya and I were more acquainted with one another so she said lets go, and she wanted to take me on a walking tour of the area. I said thats great lets go. Piya took me to a bunch of great places. A building that looked just like Big Ben in England, which was modeled after it. It had some really long indian name so I just referred to it as Big Ben 2. We also went to the prestigious University of Mumbai, and walked right in to the library. It had really nice stain glass windows throughout and the school itself was built in the late 1800′s. By this time it was getting dark so Piya decided to end the tour. She asked where I wanted to go now, and if I was up to the challenge. She clearly saw the degree of my tiredness in my eyes, but I said lets go. We walked towards Marine Drive which is on the coast right along the Arabian Sea. It was nice to sit on the concrete wall and chat.
After relaxing, with the warm summer breeze on our backs, Piya took me to this incredible ice cream shop. It was natural ice cream made from fruits. I got tender coconut and Mango. It was probably the best ice cream i’ve ever had. She got Lychee and I picked up the bill for the both of us. Her ice cream was only about 25 rupees or like 50 cents, no big deal. I insisted to pay and she finally relented and said fine.
Oh but before we got ice cream and got to the water, we stopped at this famous revolving restaurant in this swanky hotel. Piya was a little reluctant to walk in, but we both agreed that the worst that could happen was that they would kick us out. We walked right in, right into the elevator and up to the 12th floor. When we got up there the host greeted us warmly, and I just leveled with the guy and said “listen we just want to look at the view.” He said no problem and I thanked him. Piya herself had neven been up to the top of this hotel so it felt good to experience something new with her in the place where she lives.
So after the hotel that’s when we got to the water, then had ice cream, and then she asked if I wanted to get some dinner. Now I really wasn’t that hungry, but to say no would have been rude. Also since it is so hot, I really have not had the biggest appetite. She took me to this really good Iranian restaurant. There I ordered Kheema Gotala. This was minced meet and some other things mixed in. It was served with two huge pieces of white bread, but I forgot the Indian name for it.
I was so tired at this point I almost fell asleep in my food, but it was good, and after that I told her I was down for the count and wanted to take a cab back home. The ride would be quite far, but how much could it cost really? The most it was going to be was five whole dollars which I actually had no spent in total up to that point for the day. Even though things are overpriced here in Mumbai, things are still pretty cheap with the exchange rate at 43 to 1. At one point it had been above 50 to 1, but i’ll take 43 to 1 of any currency this day in age.
Piya came with me since she did not live that far from Rahul’s place in Bandra West. She told the cab driver what the deal was, he agreed and we were on our way. On our way home something weird happened. We stopped randomly due to traffic ahead and watched some guy get out of the back of a taxi and start punching the driver of another taxi in the head through the open window. At that point our driver took off, and I looked back and saw some other guy get out of the cab who’s driver was getting hit and he started to push and punch the first guy who hit the cab driver. Piya asked the driver in Hindi what was going on and he explained that this sort of thing happens all the time and it was basically a form of road rage or something.
I was like sweet, fight, fight, fight! On the way home, before I passed out, Piya pointed out some things to me and we also saw one of the larger slums in Mumbai. It was crazy to see, again how the lack of money and being poor just hits you right in the face here in India. She also pointed out a place called Bycula which she claims has Jewish synagogues within its walls. It looked like some enclosed village and I told her we should check it out before I leave. She agreed and told me that she is currently writing an article on the Jewish culture here in Mumbai, to which I responded that I would be very interested in reading it when she was finished. She said she would send it to me.
After that exchange I passed out in the cab until Piya woke me up when it was her time to get out of the cab. Before getting out she gave me some money and said to call her to meet up again. She offered to take me to a small fishing village near where she lives and I said I definitely wanted to check that out. This next part of the day starts a chapter in which I call “How did I get ripped off today?” Well I got ripped off this day by the cab driver. When I got back home, the driver said 200 rupees. I told him I wanted to see his card. So taxi drivers have a card which calculates the taxi fare amount. I’m guessing that since the meters are so old they don’t really calculate the fare in present day. He pretended to look around for it, then I told him to turn his light on so I could look at the meter. It was really hard to see, so I had no choice but to hand him 200 rupees and get out. I think I was supposed to pay 160. So I got ripped off by a dollar, not bad could have been worse.
Rahul’s brother picked me up from Globus Mall which is where I usually get dropped off because drivers know this place. I got back to the apartment and crashed on the bed. The three amigos were all in the bedroom, Rahul checking the internet and Rageev and V where on their phones futzing around. I asked Rahul if I could use the laptop after him, to which he said fine, but I never made it that far. I passed out and that was it.