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Mumbai Travel Blog

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This is a diary of my recent trip to India with my 75 year old Dutch friend, Henry.

 

20th November 2008

We are in India. It is 6:50 am Indian Standard Time (Indian Stretchable Time) and we're at the Salvation Army Red Shield Hostel, 30 Mereweather Street, Colaba, Mumbai.

 

I haven't slept for 40 hours now because I was too uncomfortable on the plane and Henry snored very loudly all last night. As well, the three beds in our room were touching each other and every time he turned over he shook my bed.

 

The plane was delayed for a few minutes and was almost full. There were not enough stewards to serve the passengers, but we all coped well. I drank copious amounts of fluid during the flight. Henry and I played two games of Scrabble, winning one each. I watched two in-flight movies.

 

We arrived at 5 pm Indian time, after 12 hours cooped up in the plane. The officials were all very good and we got our luggage quickly. We changed some of our dollars into rupees. The man representing Indian Tourism was very helpful. He rang the Hostel for us but they said they only had dormitory accommodation.

 

I've finally worked out one of the smells of India - it's moist mouldy concrete (no dampcourse) then of course, when you leave the airport it's human and animal faeces and diesel fumes mixed in with some unidentified natural floral fragrances.

 

We got a prepaid taxi and were soon on our way. The driver was a good-humoured chap but he hit a fairly insignificant bump in the road and broke a front tie rod, which immobilised the car and we couldn't go any further. Some local boys came out to look, and we had a great conversation with them - mostly about cricket.

 

After a bit of negotiation the driver put us in another taxi and we were on our way again. This driver couldn't speak a word of English so I just told him "Backside of Taj Mahal Hotel -Colaba" and when we got to the hotel I pointed out the directions to him.

 

When we arrived we were given a three-bed room. I had to go straight up and go to the toilet and did the biggest bladder empty ever! Our room was three floors up and it took Henry forever to get there, but I was patient with him.

 

We went to the Gateway of India (built in 1911 to commemorate the visit of King George), looked around, got organised, and I went to bed at 10:30 and up at 5 the next morning, having not slept all night.

 

The Hostel boy opened the internet centre at 6.50 am. They finished their rituals and served breakfast. Henry was emailing and lost the letter he sent to his girlfriend due to a server error. I saved mine to a text document and put it on the task bar just in case. The computer boys looked into it so I kept typing so that my account didn't expire through lack of use!

 

I began planning the day during the wee hours of the morning. We went to a chemist for some Lipital for Henry's cholesterol. He got his girlfriend to pack his stuff for him but she left it out. We then went to the tourist bureau at Church Gate Station. We organised to go to Elephanta Caves. We paid for three more days here so we could see Bombay thoroughly.

 

I was gradually getting more sleep each night. Henry’s snoring is so loud!! He didn’t like the fan, so I got right under it and he got as far away from it as he could. As a result, the noise of the fan drowned out the noise of his snoring, and I got a better night’s sleep!

 

Monday 21st November:

We went by taxi to Church Gate Station to find the Tourist Bureau to get some information. They weren't very helpful, everything is so hard to find and the maps don't have grids or use grid references. Customer service is unheard of in India. They have so many customers that they don’t bother; there will always be another one.

 

We went on a tour by car with a guide to the Hanging Gardens, Marine Drive, Jain Temple, Dhobi Ghats, Towers of Silence (Parsi funeral place), Victoria Terminus, Ghandi Museum, and a Fishing Village. It lasted about three hours and was a bit of a rip-off. I left Henry at a restaurant, walked back to the hostel to eat up some leftover airline food, freshen up, and get organised. When I went looking for him it took me an hour to find where I'd left him!

 

We then took a taxi to the ship-breaking yards at Dharukhana, but unfortunately they aren't being used any more because the ones in Bangla Desh have put them, and all the other competition, out of business. It was interesting to see the steel industries in the vicinity all the same. The taxi driver took us through the poorer parts of town and asked what we thought of the “smuls”? After he said this word a few times I realised that he meant “slums” and was able to use the word in a sentence to help him. We have been spending too much on taxis, so we will try to use buses more.

 

I went to bed at 8:30, dead tired, and slept till 1 in the morning; I still hadn't adjusted to Indian time. The coir mattress and pillow were too hard.

 

22nd November:

Henry went to a barber’s and had a shave and then we caught the ferry to Elephanta Island. The caves have been carved out of the rock and were quite fascinating. Henry bought some magic tricks at a stall. We had a lunch of masala dosa and biryani, which was excellent.

 

Henry didn't go to the caves, as the walk up the stairs was too strenuous. They have men who carry you on a chair if you want, but it was too expensive. There was an Australian lady there who didn't have enough money with her to pay for this service so I gave her the money and she paid me back later (she was staying at a hotel nearby).

 

After tea, which was all tinned European food, we caught a taxi to the cinema, but the movie wasn't going to start till 9:30 pm, so we walked to Victoria Station which looked magnificent all lit up at night. It is also a World Heritage Site.

 

We played Scrabble at night and I beat him again by 150 but I must admit that I had a good hand. I won't do so well next time. (I'm two games ahead at the moment.) I put two mattresses together last night but it didn't help as the hard one was on top and the soft one was underneath.

 

Today we resolved to use buses more. We waited 45 minutes for the correct one and then walked for half an hour to get to a musical instrument shop. They sold Givson, Gibtone, Hobner and Epetone guitars! We went to a film studio but there wasn't anything going on as they are putting in air conditioning in the big sound stage. It turned out that we should have gone to “Flim City”!

 

We caught a cycle rickshaw to Thomas Cook and changed most of my cash into rupees. The pile was too thick to put into my wallet! We then caught another auto rickshaw to a station and caught a train to Victoria Station where we booked our tickets for our trip tomorrow. (We had wanted to go to a hill station called Matheran, but the rail line has been washed away by monsoon rain.) We then caught a taxi to the Prince of Wales Museum. Entry was six times more for foreigners than for Indians! We spent 2-3 hours there and I filled in the complaints book citing Gandhi’s ideals of non-discrimination etc. So today we went by bus, taxi, auto rickshaw, train and foot.

 

The evening meal was potatoes, bread, soup, carrots, tiny sausages and jelly; everything out of cans. I bought a Salvation Army Relief Gujrat Earth Quack (sic) bag. I put all my unneeded stuff for the trip ahead in it and had it sewn up, took it to the railway station but had a bit of trouble getting it accepted at the cloak room because it was too big!! After a while one of the big knobs came and okayed it.

 

24th November:

Caught a 2nd Class AC seat to Pune and settled in to the Woodland Hotel close to the station. It wasn't great. The shower and hot water didn't work and the toilet stank so much that we had to get them to clean it. I have since bought some air freshener. My backpacker’s shower, immersion heater and billy came in handy.

 

We went to the Osho Ashram (Raj Neesh-Orange people-Sai Baba). They all wear maroon now and the place was very neat and tidy. Henry used his fake press pass and we got in free, didn't have to wait, and had our own personal guide, Sarita. They even have dance parties, movies and an excellent swimming pool. Casual accommodation in the guest house was cheap (by American standards). The architecture was modern and very interesting. The whole place was covered by shady trees.

 

That night I watched the start and finish of the Mel Gibson Movie "The Patriot" on the TV in our room. Television here is absolutely pathetic. They have nearly one hundred channels but they are complete rubbish – mostly Bollywood. Indians are drawn to their escapist drama, which ignores social issues, slums, poverty, beggars, stray cows, feral dogs, gigantic rats, clogged and unsafe roads, auto rickshaws, overcrowded buses, cars, bikes, and trains Their advertisements for cars show empty highways with cars travelling at speeds of over 100 kph, ignoring the fact that such scenes are impossible in India, under normal conditions. BBC World is very parochial and strongly self-promoting, as is CNN. The only news you get is what concerns India. Indians must be unaware of (and uninterested in) what is happening in the rest of the world. We should be thankful for our government funded radio and TV.

 

I had another dose of diarrhoea that night so I used the Lomotil again. After much searching the next morning we found the correct bus stop and caught a fast bus north to Aurangabad, getting there at 1pm. It was a Volvo, very powerful and went as fast as the driver could go (sometimes about 60 kph). Some roads were toll roads and were even two lanes on each side, for part of the way. It was air-conditioned too much. At the half way stop I had to get my jumper out. Henry had a huge dosa. He is not really keen on Indian food and his angina last night was bad, so bad that he was seriously thinking of going home, but I talked him out of it.

 

We hired an auto rickshaw for the day to take us to the Ellora caves and the driver was very good, very accommodating. Once again, Henry got us into the caves free. They were outstanding, one of the Wonders of the World, again, World Heritage listed.

 

We had a pretty ordinary Chinese meal and walked around Aurangabad at night. We caught the 11:30 pm sleeper bus back to Pune. He was an excellent driver. Everyone slept; he only blew his horn once just as we were leaving Aurangabad!

 

We bought our train tickets to get to the orphanage and had breakfast. I used the Cyber Cafe above the railway station restaurant. The window on the computer was smaller than a postcard. It made it very difficult to write

 

26th November:

We were warmly welcomed at the orphanage. They took our luggage straight to our room, didn't even ask if we staying. Henry was not well, with a sore jaw, and slept most of the morning. They even brought us breakfast, which we couldn't eat because we’d already eaten.

 

I took Henry to a doctor and he diagnosed blocked Eustachian tubes. He was given medicine from the dispensary, had an excellent lunch and slept for the afternoon.

 

I was taken to my sponsor child’s dormitory. She ran out to greet me, and I gave her the gifts and of course the girls did a song and dance for me. She was very affectionate and cried when I had to leave for a little while. She was fascinated by my hairy arms and kept stroking them.

 

Some camel wallahs were at the front gate and they took all the children for a ride around the compound. I was the last to have a ride and took my sponsor child with me around the block. I paid for that part of the ride. I think the school must have engaged them especially for the event.

 

Henry played Scrabble with Jessica, a young American student who was there. Jessica left later with a lady who invited us to stay with her in Bangalore. We will most likely take up her offer. I the room next door to us were an elderly couple from NZ, (originally from Holland). They come every year for three months and do what ever they can to help at the orphanage. She was Willy and he was also Henry!

 

After dinner (7 pm) we filled in our accommodation forms, paid our board and packed. We went to bed at 10 and slept for 8 hours, with one break for toilet (still diarrhoea).

 

Against my better judgment we were advised to go back to Pune and book our trip to Bangalore. I would have been happier to just catch the first rain and then upgrade or change, somewhere down the line. When we got here we were told there was no reservation available, so we bought tickets on a train which left at 11:30 and took our chances with unreserved. (We're then four hours behind where we would have been!)

 

I went for a quick trip to the Empress Gardens where there are lots of trees such as the Rain Tree, Mahogany, Ebony, Poinciana, etc. It was very quiet and clean. I talked to a boy who was studying an English book. I left Henry at the Cyber Cafe.

 

29th November:

In Mysore I got on a dodgy computer that had all the letters rubbed off the keyboard! Two days before we got unreserved tickets to Bangalore but there wasn’t even standing room in 3rd class so we went into a 2nd class 3 tier with some students on their way back to boarding school who let us sit with them. Henry made himself at home on their top bunk early in the night.

 

I left my pack with Rajur, the carriage attendant, to look after it for me. I paid Rs600 to the TC (Ticket Collector) to upgrade to a sleeper, plus the Rs200 baksheesh that he asked for. While Henry slept I sat and talked to an educated man on Rajur’s bench seat. He was very interested in systems of government around the world and we talked about the upper and lower houses in the Westminster system, but he couldn’t tell me the name of the Indian lower house. I knew, but just couldn’t recall at that moment. I remembered later that it was the Loc Sabah.

 

As I was to confirm during this trip, most Indians hold peculiar bits of trivia related to their understanding of the world and of India. This man’s gem was that 5% of Indians have AIDS. He wanted to know what the figure was in NZ. I assured him that AIDS was not my speciality and that I thought the figure for NZ would have been similar to India, but that his figure for India seemed rather high. I found out later on reading the Hindu newspaper that India’s AIDS rate was 0.5%!

 

The students and the man got off at 3 am and I noticed all our luggage had been put on the platform! The students thought it was part of theirs! I quickly got it back on board and was able to sleep for a couple of hours. We arrived at Bangalore on Monday at 9 am and caught an auto rickshaw to Ashan Kira, a special needs school. I saw Jessica and gave her the words to “Ag Pleez Deddie”, a song by Jeremy Taylor we had been singing earlier. As we are a day behind schedule, we decided not to stay.

 

We caught a coach to Mysore and stayed at the Ganesh Hotel. We had a big meal at the Ritz and got ready for the trip to Mudumalai tomorrow.

 

29th November:

We walked to the Maharaja’s palace and then went by Ambassador taxi to Chamundi Hill, saw a temple and the statue of the demon Mahishasurand, who was slaughtered by Chamundi, and of course Nandi, Shiva’s bull. The recent monsoon had washed out part of the road, but that didn’t deter our driver so we inspected the repairs first hand. We then went back to town and looked over the Maharaja’s palace.

 

We went back to the hotel and caught a bus to Mudumalai. On the way a Hindu priest came in and blessed the bus. We later saw the results of a motor bike swiping the side of a small car.

 

The only accommodation available at Mudumalai was a four-bed room in a government lodge called the Hotel Tamil Nadu. We went to the Elephant camp and I asked about Evelyn the elephant that I saw there in 1974, but she had been sold on. We played Scrabble and had a meal.

 

I heard three extraordinary statements about India from the fairly educated Army man in the room next to us:

 

1. India has many centenarians. Many people in India live to be 135 years old.

 

2. Seven Australian women have married Indian kings.

 

3. Elephants migrate annually from the Western Ghats to the Eastern Ghats.

 

We got up early the next morning to go on a safari but no-one else turned up so it was called off. We hired our own jeep to take us to Ooty -  the short way via the 36 hairpin bends. On the way the front springs of the jeep broke and the driver’s little brother picked up the pieces.

 

30 November:

Henry went to the Udagamandalam (Ooty) railway station and arranged (using his pres pass) with a Mr Nataraj for us to be special guests of the Nilgiri Railway, with privileged access to the engine, yards and shunting etc. We stayed at Metupalayam the next night night and came back up by train again the next day. I bought a magic coin trick from a stall nearby.

 

This is my third trip to Ooty. It is a horrible place now, full of honeymooners and yuppie Indians, so is Coonoor. If is almost impossible to find a twin room, they’re all double beds here!

 

I went to the station, the markets, to the Ooty Club (they wouldn't let me in) and to Aramby Shola to see the blue gum I looked at in 1974. There are houses nearly all the way to the plantation. The whole place is becoming overpopulated. They don’t strip the bottom branches off the gum trees now; they simply rake up the leaves and then distil them.

 

1st December:

We caught the morning train to Coonoor and took a sightseeing tour, but it was so misty that we couldn't see Lamb’s Rock, Dolphin’s Nose etc but were able to see Sim's Park, which is well maintained. At Lambs Rock a man came and asked for five rupees parking charge. He had a nicely printed book of tickets but they didn’t look official enough so I called him a “cheating man” and refused to pay him. He persisted, so I said that the driver of the auto could pay. He gave up and disappeared.

 

I had books and pamphlets with me that I had brought for a furniture making man. I thought he was at Coonoor, but I eventually came to the realisation that he was in fact at Ooty. As we just didn't have time to go back I found a carpenter called Joseph in Coonoor. His 80 year old father (also Joseph) also there and I gave the pamphlets to them. He gave me some wood samples and sold me a plane (minus its blade) made of ebony for Rs200. He nearly cried when I had to go.

 

We caught the evening steam train to Metupalayam and were greeted by the Station Master and treated like royalty. We talked with him for an hour or so and he let us have a Railway Retiring Room for the night. He told us that he lived in Coimbatore and when I told him that we were going to stay at a friend’s place he asked me for his number and phoned him. He insisted that we stay at his place and I told him when would be arriving. The stationmaster let us into the footplate of the train that night as they were shunting it. We had a good look around the loco sheds as well. We gave our washing to a dhobi and arranged to pick it up in two day's time.

 

2nd December:

We took the train back up to Coonoor and we had the best seats, Number 1 and 4, with no one in 2 and 3! Henry even sat right on the front step and had some spectacular views. He was very pleased.

 

That night we stayed at a Guest House. We had an Indian meal and a few games of Scrabble. I was then about five games ahead of Henry but I think I was lucky. He knows some amazing words but didn't know the meaning of any of them!

 

The next day we hired a taxi to take us to hairpin #9 to video the train going by, which we did, but when we went uphill to the next place to wait for the train to go by, after 40 minute’s wait we realised that the train had beaten us and that was the end of it, a bit of a disaster!

 

I had wanted to catch an ordinary bus back to Metupalyam but Henry insisted, and paid for a taxi. We picked up our washing and my bush shower, which I had left in the retiring room at Metupalyam. I was glad it was still there. I nearly always leave something behind, usually bottled water. We caught the city bus to Coimbatore and then the #5 bus to the Chintamani bus stop and walked to Vijay’s. There are lots of new buildings including blocks of flats around her house.

 

When I went through the washing, my trousers and some of Henry’s shirts were missing. Always check that you get everything back from the dhobi wallah! So Vijay arranged for one of his orphan boys who has a shop to bring and show us some “clothings”, but we ran out of time so Vijay’s son took us shopping in the main street and I bought a pair of trousers. I think he took us to the most expensive shop in Coimbatore, the trousers were ver expensive! We stayed another night and the next day went to Munnar.

 

Vijay’s son has a very nice wife called Subah. They have a son who is nearly two. Vijay showed us the place where his wife was killed. He is coping well but is having trouble with the courts etc regarding the will and the insurance and has had to employ a lawyer.

 

When we left I asked Vijay’s daughter Subah when their next baby was due (she had a big tummy) and I put my foot in it! They didn't mind because Vijay is trying to get her to do exercises, but Subah is resisting. Her big tummy was because of the Caesarean. We gave him a few thousand rupees for their hospital and charitable work.

 

We left very early after a breakfast of upuma and caught the bus to Palani. We took the gondola to the temple mount and the trolley back to the bottom. I remember going past it in 1999, on my way from Kodaikanal to Munnar). We had to leave our shoes at the bottom, and because we came down a different way, had to catch an auto rickshaw back to pick up our shoes. Next time, I’ll wear jandals and carry them with me!

 

Then we caught the bus back to Udumalpet, and a bus to Munnar through some spectacular scenery. We stayed the night at a “homestay”, the Westend. It is very misty this time of the year and the views were not as spectacular as when I was here last time.

 

6th December:

This morning a man took me to his sawmill, furniture factory, pepper/banana/coffee plantation. I bought a piece of rosewood from him I shared an auto rickshaw on the way back with a large family.

 

We left Munnar at 1 o'clock and caught a five-hour bus to Kochi (Cochin). The driver was a mad man! One bus passed him going up a hill and he then passed that bus as soon as he could. We played leapfrog with another bus as we stopped at different places and overtook each other a number of times. It was a hair-raising trip.

 

My runny nose dried up in India - different flowers I suppose. Henry is coping well, he was very impressed with the orphanage, the special needs school in Bangalore, and of course Vijay’s work. He shuffled along very slowly and if I didn’t keep my eye on him he would disappear very quickly. I lost him a few times.

 

We went by ferry to Fort Cochin and got there late. We found accommodation and the next day took an auto rickshaw tour of churches, museums, Chinese fishing nets and handicraft shops, where we bought some souvenirs. I bought some lapis lazuli and a silver necklace. This hotel is the first hotel in India that we have stayed at with a proper working toilet and shower! We had a late lunch; I had fish, which was too much for one person, but I persisted, so I didn't eat for the next 20 hours. This meal at the Seagull Restaurant cost Rs900 for the two of us! At night we went to a Kathakali performance, which included the putting on of makeup.

 

8th December:

We got up very early and caught a couple of buses to Alappuzha (Allepy) and the ferry to Kollam (Quilon). It took 7 hours and it was very relaxing going through the backwaters.

 

We then caught two buses to Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin) arriving at midnight. We met up with three friendly young men from Bombay and found cheap accommodation near the water.

 

I got up early to watch the sunrise but it was overcast. We all had breakfast together and caught the ferry to the two offshore islands. One had a temple and the other a statue of a famous Tamil poet.

 

We said our goodbyes to our Bombay friends and got an auto rickshaw to Nagarcoil railway station. I changed my traveller’s cheques in the town. We caught a three tier to Madurai. A man in our compartment helped us with accommodation here late last night. Henry was spending big with separate AC room. A bit different from his original idea of staying at backpackers!

 

10th December:

We had breakfast next to three Australian women who were in India for a few months and visited their World Vision sponsor child.

 

The rain was getting heavier. My plan to go to the west coast for a few days to avoid the monsoon rains only partially worked. These rains were not normal for this time of the year.

 

We stayed another night then went to Coimbatore again and across to Kozhikode (Calicut) next, unfortunately by sleeper, so we didn’t see any scenery just like my last time, but this time in the opposite direction.

 

I took my three full memory sticks to a shop called “Photo Digie Plus” and had them all printed and put on a CD. The lady who did the job asked the inevitable question about what country I was coming from. I replied that I was from New Zealand, upon which she searched her brain for a piece of trivia. “New Zealand is famous for its diaries.” As it happened, I had my travel diary with me and pointed to it saying, “This is a diary”. I then gesticulated hand-milking a cow and said “This is a dairy”!

 

We went to Sivakasi, southwest of Madurai, and visited the Standard Fireworks factory. The manager treated us like royalty but was unable to show us over the factory because of the rain and humidity, which makes it dangerous.

 

11th December:

We went to a place offering “Traditional South Indian Breakfast” the next morning and Henry had an English breakfast while I had the Indian. I liked the Pongal. I can't get him to eat Indian food. He always orders “omlet”, American chop suey, or English breakfast. He is having problems with his dentures. We were in a bar and the barman suggested that he go to a “dental kilnic”. (He meant “clinic”). Later I worked out that because he had heard that Indians got “film” wrong, by saying “flim” so therefore “clinic” was also wrong and should be “kilnic”. (The same with smul - slum).

 

We visited the big Sri Meenasshi temple in Madurai covering 17 acres, crossed paths with the three Australian women again, and then caught a six hour bus back to Vijay’s in Coimbatore. Henry swore he will never catch a Tata bus again - trains or luxury coaches only! 

 

I showed Vijay how to make marmalade with fruit from his own citrus tree. They eat late here so I went to the cyber room while Henry was sleeping - he could sleep 20 hours per day! Tomorrow we'll book some more train journeys and do some washing and shopping.

 

I’ve made some interesting observations:

 

1. Indians are very patient - except when they get behind the wheel of a car!

 

2. Indian women never smile at you – unless they are beggars or are trying to sell you something.

 

11th December:

We took the Vijay’s family to a Chinese restaurant that had just opened up. On the way back we saw a man painting a banner and Henry ordered a banner for his Scrabble club. It worked out about one tenth the cost of what he could get done at home.

 

The next morning we went to the station to book some train trips and were served by an enthusiastic young woman who had good advice and was very helpful and courteous. I went to the Mohamed Ali Markets near Ukudam and bought some tools, while Henry had a shave and emailed his girlfriend.

 

The signwriting wallah brought the banner to Henry and it was excellent.

 

We left Coimbatore at 7 pm sharing our compartment with a Dutch couple and their 10 year old daughter. Henry’s Dutch was so strange that she asked him if he was from Norway! We changed trains at Mangalore the next morning and arrived in Goa at about 1 pm. In the rush Henry left some of his magic tricks behind on the top bunk of our compartment.

 

We shared a taxi with the Dutchies and found accommodation on North Anjuna beach at the White Negro. We had our first meal in 20 hours, of pork vindaloo, walked down the beach, and watched the sunset and the moonrise. We went to bed at 9 and woke very early the next morning. A whingeing English woman in the room next to us complained to us about our our being awake a couple of times.

 

14th December:

We walked down the beach again and watched the sunrise. It turned out that we could have found a better place for half the price. The Wednesday markets were mostly clothing and souvenirs, but I managed to find some things for Christmas presents. My pack weighed about 25 kg!

 

We checked out of the White Negro and caught two buses to the capital Panjim, where we stayed at the Hotel Rego. We took the “Paradise” harbour cruise that night but it was a bit of a waste of time. We were the only foreigners and the show was aimed more at young Indians. They had a band that had sequenced percussion and played Bollywood music. The dancing show they put on was a very lame imitation of Portuguese dancing. That night Henry put his bed against the open door to get as far from the fan as possible but got badly bitten by mosquitos on his arms.

 

Thursday 15th December:

Henry handed his washing to a laundry service and then we went on a bus tour of South Goa and it wasn't quite as bad as we had been told. We saw two churches, two temples, four beaches and a pretty tacky place called “Ancestral Goa”, that would be hard to describe. When we got back we collected Henry’s washing and the bill came to Rs500. Afterwards he thought about it and realised that he’d been charged Rs50 per article (including socks and hankies)

 

16th December:

We went back to the washerwoman to complain and get a bit of a refund but to no avail. Today was the day for our “Backwater Thrills” tour! Once again, they don’t know anything about customer service. The seats were facing backwards, the knob from the toilet door was on a seat, the ladies’ toilet couldn’t be locked from the inside, they advertised certain beverages which they couldn’t supply, the beer was room temperature and they didn’t even have a bottle opener. They handed out water and samosas on serviettes for morning tea but only had one cardboard box (that the drinks came in) to use as a rubbish bin.

 

The participants in the trip were not warned that they would be walking on dirt tracks through mud and water and climbing jungle trails, so they should wear suitable footwear. There were some ladies wearing high-heel chappals who may have heeded the warning and put on something more suitable. We also walked through narrow cattle-proof fence openings, which proved difficult for the inevitable fat person.

 

On this trip we sailed past mangrove flats, iron ore loading facilities and iron ore barges. We visited a spice plantation and saw cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, pepper, betel nut, clove, coconut, banana, pan leaves, cocoa, ginger, turmeric, breadfruit, jackfruit, mango, cashew, curry leaves, vanilla, basil, pawpaw, cardamom, pineapple, and a plant with leaves that impart a flavour like basmati, to rice.

 

I got into conversation with one gentleman on the boat who had returned to Goa from Australia, where he now lives with his two daughters. The conversation touched on the poor quality of customer service, the non-pursuit of excellence and the lack of maintenance in India. His explanation was that Australia and New Zealand are a young countries and that India is an old civilisation! He also made two interesting statements:

 

1. Indian Railways had recently been invited to Britain to advise British Rail on how to run their railway system. (I wonder if they were going to lecture them on customer service!)

 

2. Mercedes Benz pay huge royalties to Tata Industries for some processes that Tata have developed.

 

Travelling around India I saw a few motor garages with signs saying “trained mechanic”, but never “qualified mechanic”. There doesn’t appear to be any proper training scheme for tradesmen. The carpenters, painters, and tilers I saw working looked like they’d been self-trained. It was a matter of cut it and see if it fits, then cut off a bit more, until it’s too small, then stick it in place and hope that no-one notices!

 

The workmanship evident in Indian construction is appalling. I noticed that the aluminium angle cornice in the ceiling of the toilets on Indian trains were all different and all very badly done. They were never mitred or scribed. The person who did the work never tried to improve his workmanship and they had no quality control or inspection system. I never saw an Indian worker using a tape measure.

 

Beer is served in chunky, warm, wet glasses and goes flat immediately. There seems to be an idea here that if it’s wet, that means that it’s been cleaned. Toilets floors, plates and cutlery are always wet!

 

If they do build anything half decent then they don’t maintain it so that eventually it becomes so decrepit that it has to be repaired, or demolished and replaced. Indians must have some type of sensory blockage so that they don’t perceive the atrophy around them.

 

Lunch was at the plantation and it was very nice; all you could eat traditional Goan. I could see that time was getting away and that we might not get back in time for the movie that we wanted to see that evening so I got everyone moving with “jeldi” and “chello”. One part of the group up ahead got lost but I managed to herd them back. Because the tide was with us we got back in time.

 

That night we went to see a movie at the Onix cinema in Old Panjim, Rs130 each. We stood for the national anthem, Jaya Hai, and they had an interval part of the way through the film. There would have been only 20 people there, some walked out during the movie, and everyone, except us, left during the credits.

 

17th December:

Henry switched the lights on at 3:30 am and again at 5:30 so I eventually had to get up. There are about two dozen people sleeping on the concrete roof of the bus stand below our window. They sleep on bits of cardboard and cover themselves completely in blankets. We threw out a few bits of unnecessary stuff to lighten our loads and left at seven to get on the bus to Margao. I saw my first smoking woman this morning! Henry realised that he had left his ring behind. The bus was about to go, so he got out and went back to the hotel while I continued on with his pack. We met up again at the canteen on the railway station where he had the “English breakfast” while I had the Indian. My supply of Indian money was getting low.

 

We caught the Mandovi Express which, despite its name, stopped at almost every station on the way. The Konkan railway has lots of long tunnels, bridges and embankments. The countryside was spectacular all the way. It travelled over some very remote places where the population density would have been very low.

 

We arrived at Victoria Terminus fairly late and I claimed my left luggage from the cloak room. We arrived at the Red Shield but the room we had reserved had been given to someone else, we couldn’t even get a dormitory bed so we had to stay at the Carlton Hotel, more expensive, no meals and an external toilet!

 

Henry was great company and knew lots of jokes, which he told well for a Dutchman. They are still funny, even when I hear them over again! Once he made the mistake of telling a joke to a German, who didn’t get it. That made it even funnier for me!

 

18th December:

We walked past the Taj Mahal Hotel (Built by JN Tata in 1903) to the Gateway and watched the sunrise and the locals doing their exercises. We went back to Red Shield to complain about our accommodation stuff-up, but to no avail. I made a complaint in the visitors’ book. Henry had the English breakfast. I bought some fruit. The last thing we wanted to buy before we left India was some sandals and some magic tricks. We were told that there was a magic shop at Mahim, so we caught a taxi there, but couldn’t find it.

 

You have to be very careful when taking advice from Indians. They often don’t know much about their own surroundings and will tell you things that they think you want to hear. Don’t ever show a map to an Indian, they’ve probably never seen one before and are so fascinated by them that they’ll want to look at it for hours, you might not get even it back. Don’t ask them how far away somewhere is, or low long it takes to get there, their answer will almost invariably be “Yes”!

 

We had a light morning meal at Mahim and then I had to walk 700 metres to the most disgusting toilet in India, and then wait 15 minutes before it was vacant.

 

I found a shoe store opposite the station and bought five pairs of Bata chappals. The owner, Vijay, bought me a cup of tea and a pomegranate for my runny tummy. He looked after my luggage while I went to find Henry. He even bought us the train tickets to Andheri, the closest railway station to the airport. It was five stops away in a suburban train. We had to force our way into the strain. It was so crowded that I didn’t have to hold on, I was firmly wedged in. At the final stop we had to force our way out again; I pushed Henry towards the open door and when he got onto the platform I had to hold on to him to stop us both falling over. This was to be our farewell train, and from there we caught our last auto rickshaw to the airport.

 

Even though we were many hours early, we missed out on getting good seats because of a game of Scrabble. Henry has caught up to and overtaken me in wins now. I haven’t had one good hand in the last twelve games. He somehow manages to pick the closest tile to “A”, and therefore always gets the first double word square.

 

We didn’t get very good seats on the plane and I had to sit behind a man who reclined his seat for the whole time we were in the air. We had a female pilot. The plane was a little bit late to take off but she made up time. We had excellent stewards on the plane. I watched the same movie three times but fell asleep for a few minutes each time, so I don’t think I saw it all the way through.

 

It’s great to be back where you can drink the tap water, where there is a plug in the sink, a hot shower with decent pressure, the toilet works, has a toilet brush, fills up quickly again, and where the floors are dry, clean and odour free!

 

21st December:

That night I got up at about 2:30 for my regular trip to the toilet. In a stupor I thought I was still in India, somewhere in Kashmir, Darjeeling, or Munnar perhaps. I thought that I could see people sleeping on the floor at the foot of my bed, the pew beside my bed, and the chaise lounge on the landing. I went searching for the toilet, making sure I didn’t walk on top of anyone. I opened the walk-in wardrobe door, but couldn't see or smell anything remotely like a toilet! I looked behind the curtain on the window and saw that I was on the second floor! I wondered how I’d got to this very delightful upstairs room in this very homely hotel. I couldn’t remember booking in. It felt more like a home than a hotel, maybe I was at Vijay's in Coimbatore? I thought the best thing to do would be to go back to sleep and put up with the discomfort. That was when I woke up properly and realised where I really was, and went to the toilet. 
 

It takes a lot to get India out of your system.

jethanad says:
:) it is even more enjoyable the second time around !
Posted on: Apr 14, 2014
jethanad says:
This is a very good authentic blog - you have very nicely buried a lot of tips in here. I enjoyed reading it all the way.
Posted on: Dec 14, 2009
sylviandavid says:
What a long and fun blog.... I hope you'll post pictures later....
Posted on: Oct 26, 2009
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