After months of hard work and preparation, frustratingly slow Skype chats, being poked and prodded by a nurse who seemed just a bit crazy along with the usual fear mongering from everyone that goes part and parcel with a planning a trip to a destination such as this. I was finally about to board the plane from London to Mumbai. Fantasy and reality had finally aligned and the reality of what London life has done to me became evident with my frustration as these two Indian ladies in Saris walked painfully slow in front of me down the gangway onto the plane. It was then that I began to realize that I was on Indian time now, and about to enter a world so different from the one I had adapted to. I was to be a guest in this fascinatingly mysterious land. A silent onlooker dissolving into the crowds and letting them wash over me.
Arriving into Colombo in Sri Lanka after a brief layover in Mumbai, even at 4:30 in the morning the humidity hit me as soon as I stepped off the plane. After the drizzly grey weather I left in London the feeling of that kind of heat was quite comforting, almost a reminder of home. The exhaustion from the massive build up started to fade as the excitement kicked in. Colombo had a tiny little airport with duty-free shops that reminded me of Eastwood shopping centre in the nineties. I got my first glimpse of Glen after I grabbed my bag and made my way towards an automatic sliding door that periodically opened revealing all the people outside waiting at arrivals. There was something so foreign yet so familiar about seeing his face there. After negotiating with some taxi drivers we were soon hurtling our way through the dark streets of Colombo. All we could make out was palm trees and lit up shrines on every corner – symbols of the many and varied religions of the country and the people’s devotion to them.
Arriving at our hotel in the early hours of the morning we weren’t allowed to check in until 1pm so we decided to leave our bags and wander around the streets in a daze as the sun rose and the rats were just starting to wake up. The beach across the road turned out to be a tiny stretch of sand and rocks sidelined by train tracks. The streets were eerily quiet and as we walked along the road we had our first whiff of sewerage just as a train came hurtling past with no doors and people standing in the doorway. The city was dead at this time of a morning as it was a Sunday. Nothing was open so we wandered back to the hotel and fell asleep on the couch in the common room. When we awoke later that afternoon we were starving so we headed down the now busy streets in the blistering sun, the sun was at its hottest point. And we were already beginning to be steeped in sweat, scuttling towards patches of shade like little crabs. We sat in this dingy restaurant waiting to be served for ages then realized we had to go up to be served. The air was thick and the small cafe (or hotel as they call them in Sri Lanka) only had a whirring fan above our heads moaning as if it was weary from the heat. My stomach began to churn and the colour drained from my face. My body clammy as a wave of unexpected nausea hit me, my mind reeled. I had only just arrived in the country and I was already sick! What had I eaten? Just at that moment the Mee goreng was placed in front of me. The smell of egg turned my stomach and I looked down at this huge plate of food wondering how on earth I could stomach it. I took a few little nibbles swallowed hard, willing myself to keep it down. Took a deep breath – admitted defeat and walked outside desperate for fresh air. I sat outside the restaurant by the side of the road. Let me tell you there is nothing worse than being sick in a foreign country. Those few moments of excruciating sickness, my heart pounding, my mind kicking into overdrive were made all the worse by feeling completely out of my comfort zone. I must not have looked sick because while I sat there people kept walking past and saying hello, maybe they thought I was a homeless albino girl? After a few more moments I returned inside, feeling ill still but not as though I was about to vomit. Later that day I concluded that I had waited too long after I had eaten to take my anti malarial tablet – a mistake I never made again on the trip, never wanting to feel that way again. It was a reminder not to let my guard down too much, something we did do later on that day when we were conned by a guy in the street.
We were just walking along minding our own business when a guy walking nearby asked us where we were from (a classic opening line to build rapport) he then asked us what we had done so far and mentioned it was a special day because there was some festival on. We really hadn’t planned this portion of the trip so were open to suggestions. He told us it wasn’t walking distance so he hailed a tuk tuk, said something to the guy in Singhalese and we jumped in. The Buddhist temple itself was beautiful and tranquil and we got up close to a beautiful elephant taking a bath. I couldn’t help but feel bad for it though as they had a chain around its foot and it had a sad look in its eyes. He seemed quite relaxed when he was getting bathed though shooting out multiple yellow nuggets of pooh into the water. I’ll never forget his eyes though as I knelt down beside him and spoke to him while he lay in the water. Ever since that day and throughout the rest of the trip I developed a mini obsession with elephants. Even Glen ended up buying a huge Ganesha statue and having it shipped to Australia. Our tuk tuk driver took us around the temple and explained what they did there which was nice but then he drove us to another temple on the water and we got out and there just so happened to be a snake charmer there. Before I knew it Glen had the python on his shoulders and was arguing with the man about how many rupees he should get. We were a little annoyed that this ‘chance encounter’ earlier started to look like an elaborate set up to con us into going around paying for things. The tuk tuk driver then proceeded to drive us to a gem shop. I still wasn’t feeling 100% and was starting to get tired and cranky and didn’t appreciatte being led into a gem shop and having the door closed behind us. Then these guys pounced on us trying to sell us this jewellery that we had no interest in buying. We felt silly for being such easy targets and vowed to be more careful in the future. But as we were about to learn this thing happens a lot in India too. Colombo became a sort of training ground for the challenges that lie ahead.
That night after a not so successful first day we caught the bus into the markets downtown. The buses in Colombo come storming past and a guy hangs out the window yelling out what I imagine are the destinations in Singhalese. We jump on and hope for the best. The buses aren’t as easy as the tuk tuks, the men on them don’t seem to really speak English so it’s hard to know where they are going but they are cheap. About 50p each from memory. Tuk tuks on the other hand are a dime a dozen and of all the phrases I remember from Sri Lanka one of the most commonly heard is ‘Tuk tuk?’ we’d literally be getting out of a tuk tuk when another tuk tuk would come over and ask ‘Tuk tuk?’ We developed this non-verbal gesture we would use as soon as one would approach.
We had our second meal not far from the markets in another dive place (these places seem to always have the best food. And to be fair most places looked like dives compared to what we were used to from home) But they were full of character, this particular one there was a chef out front preparing the food in full view so it looked quite interesting. We felt confident we knew how it worked this time, I even got the courage to try out a few Singhalese words that we had practised. We were desperate for a cold beer after our long day and had scanned the streets earlier for a bar or a restaurant that served beer, and quickly learnt that not only is alcohol not permitted outside but also that very few restaurant had bars. Coming from London where there’s an off licence on every street corner to a city that seemed virtually dry was crazy.Triumphantly we managed to locate a bar with Texas saloon style swinging doors out the front. As we entered about 25 men in a cloud of smoke peered up from their beers at us. Not a female in sight – but that didn’t bother me, it was just a reflection of a different culture. It looked like the kind of place lonely men or social pariahs would spend an evening or even an entire day hiding out not wanting to return home to their mortages and their unappreciative wives. It was there that night that I drunkenly used a squat toilet for the first time in the hostel upstairs. In my inebriated state I considered it a job well done after I managed to avoid pissing on myself or falling in. I’ve also learnt to carry hand sanitizer on me and to avoid breathing through my nose when using a squat. When I returned to the bar some men had been chatting to Glen and had written down some things for him to ask the barman for in Singhalese. Glen said they were snickering and he was sure the words translated to Pooh wee, or bum. We later confirmed they were just names of drinks.
After goodness knows how many pints Glen and I started to properly catch up. It dawned on me that even though I knew this man well once, and had been in touch with him for a year, we had been living very different lives. And the man sitting opposite me looked different. Perhaps because after being out of contact so long I had been forced to paint a picture in my mind of him and when the reality is sitting in front of me it doesn’t always match up. I don’t mean this in a negative way, and I’m sure he noticed differences in me too. There’s something so strange and wonderful about finding something familiar in the midst of a foreign place. And as we weaved our way through the crowds and the beggars, the perpetual sound of honking horns trying to take everything in, I clung to him like a lost child that night before it was all too much and we retired for the night.
The next day we tackled the markets. My first time bartering – well trying to barter. Being white skinned puts you at an immediate disadvantage straight away as the price gets doubled as soon as you are spotted, and it’s really easy to spot us. Even though I was covered up most of the time, my skin was still quite pale at this stage, and Glen with his factor 50+ sunscreen looked like someone had actually painted him in ‘white face’. Everything was okay and we started relaxing until we rounded a corner – deciding to go down a backstreet to explore other markets the streets started closing in on us. People emerged from every street corner wheeling huge sacks of goods, tuk tuks weaved through the teaming crowd, horns beeped everyone yelled over the top of them to each other in Singhalese and all of a sudden we were lost in a sea of people. This was the first time we looked around and really felt like we had stepped into a truly foreign land. I managed to keep my cool and even though my hands were clammy it was a fascinating scene. These people were just going about their daily business. Shop owners, seamstresses, welders, tradesmen, salesmen, from the outside it looked like chaos yet no one seemed stressed like in London and things just kept plodding along amongst the craziness. Regardless of how we felt, we just had to go with it otherwise it would be incredibly easy to panic and lose our senses.
That afternoon we went by tuk tuk to Mt Lavinia famous for its beach. All of the women were fully clothed prancing around in the shallow parts of the water and screaming as the waves crashed against them. I went in, in a one piece and came out shortly after feeling a bit too exposed conscious of offending the locals. The water was lovely and warm though and the beach lined with boutique restaurants and bars. It was nice to be able to relax away from the crazy streets of Colombo. A guy who introduced himself as Malley began asking us about our trip and explained he was a fisherman in the area. We ended up talking to him at great length and when we said we were looking for dinner he insisted on taking us to a seafood restaurant so we followed him knowing that his mate probably ran it but we weren’t too concerned and apparently it wasn’t too far along the beach.
It felt like we walked for ages past all the larger restaurants. It was then that all the paranoia in me started to kick in. Where was he taking us? Was he planning on raping us? Mugging us? Both? We finally arrived at a dimly lit restaurant with basic wooden tables and stools, a few people smoking in darkness and Bob Marley crooning in the background. We sat down and Malley explained they didn’t have a menu. In my head I thought ‘It’s because this is a drug den and you’re going to sell us into the sex trade – how did we go from discussing turtles to this?’ The owner came out and they said something to each other – ‘Here’s another two suckers boss’ He disappeared into the kitchen and reappeared with two fresh fish, showed us and asked if they looked alright. As soon as they were out of sight I turned to Glen in a hushed tone and said ‘I feel nervous, I don’t know about this.’ Glen reassured me that this guy was probably just getting a commission for taking us to his mates restaurant. We ordered a couple of beers and they wiped the rims of the glasses before pouring them for us. I was afraid they had wiped drugs onto the glass, and waited for Glen to finish his drink first before I even touched mine. It sounds ridiculous and funny but I was quite scared at that point. What this trip has taught me is to use a reasonable amount of caution and I guess common sense. It wasn’t the first time I felt nervous or uncomfortable on this trip and it’s been great training for future travel. It turned out the beer wasn’t drugged and the fish was lovely and crisp.
We ended up buying Malley a beer taking photo’s and exchanging numbers. He taught us some more Singhalese and a bit about the civil war over there. The real challenge is to be able to judge the genuine people from the scammers, and there were plenty of both on this trip. We never ended up going to Kandy to see the tea plantations, we weren’t planned enough which was a shame because there is a lot of natural beauty to be seen. The good news however is that Glen had been converting things to Indian rupees which meant everything was so much cheaper then we first thought.
Especially when converting from pound. For instance we could take an hour-long tuk tuk ride for about the equivalent of 5 pound. Meals ranged from 50p for one dish to about 2 pound. For a three course meal for the two of us we paid about 12 pound in a lovely restaurant called The Green cabin a few doors down from our hotel. Set in a heritage style building and positioned within a courtyard for dining outside on hot balmy nights it had a wonderful resort like feel sprinkled with a few complete power outages during the duration of our meal just to remind us we were in Colombo. Food was medium spiced curries, finely diced/shredded meat for Glen. Chillies and fresh Seafood and these wonderful things called hoppers which are like thin savoury pancakes that are crispy and form a sort of bowl to put other curry in so you can break off the edges and dip it in. They have different things in the bottom of the hopper like fried egg and cheese. They also have beautiful tea and bakeries with cream puffs and other tasty treats.Providing you were good at bartering you could get a lot of things down. It’s always helpful if you know the exchange rate though!
After our brief Sri Lankan experience we were ready and raring for our first taste of India. After contacting Michelle they had confirmed that they had booked into the same hostel in Fort Kochi and in the same dorm room as us, which would mean cutting out a lot of the drama of finding each other in this huge state. The heat was a lot drier in Kochi and less intense than in Sri Lanka which was a relief. I always felt like icecream in the heat so bought one at a cafeteria just outside the airport. It was in a cup just like a sundae with fruit and crunchy bits swirled through it and the icecream was so creamy, so different from the icecream you get in the UK. A small group of women watched me eating the ice cream intently and smiled. It was an interesting experience having strangers happy to see you in that way.
Kochi is beautiful and lush with swaying palm trees and a slight Chinese influence. The first thing that really struck me was the amount of Western people appearing on billboards and advertisements adorned in traditional clothing promoting Indian companies and brands. And also the amount of English signage. Which seeing as we were in the country with the highest population of English speakers in the world shouldn’t really have come as a surprise.
Fort Kochi is a massive tourist area. The streets were very clean compared to other parts of India and were lined with 5 star British raj style hotels which gleamed with smartly dressed workers, glittering festoon lights and the tinkling sound of laughing and chatting of tourists into the wee hours. People seemed a lot friendlier. In fact, we were approached by a few gentleman one on the bus and one as we got off the bus. Both of whom owned guesthouses in the area but who were only too happy to direct us to our chosen hostel after we explained we had already booked. We were right by the backwaters, near markets selling street food, fisherman selling their catch of the day and every number of other goodies. As the sun sets you can watch the fisherman reeling in their fish with these huge man-made contraptions built by the chinese many years ago. We had a lovely meal that evening near the hostel which probably only cost about 10 pound for the two of us including beer. Which we considered really cheap until we spoke to the girls back at the hostel.
It was such a treat to see Michelle again, our second time meeting in a foreign country. And of course to see Alice, Jacinda, and Hodan. Whom had experienced Shankars wedding and were adorned with so much knowledge and wisdom about India and travel in general. We marvelled as they shared their tales of having strangers asking for photos and even following them filming them on their cameras down the street in a non touristy area of Tamil Nadu. Hearing these things made me nervous and excited to see more of India to witness these things for myself and to attempt to describe the indescribable to people back home.
The hostel was quite nice, the building and surrounding gardens had an oriental feel, the dorm rooms were quite basic but clean and for some reason we were never given a room key. They lock the hostel at night so if you want to go outside you have to wake up one of the workers sleeping on the couch in the common room. Most toilets in India don’t have a large enough sewerage system to cope with toilet paper being flushed down the toilet so instead they have a high-powered spray which you spray your bum with after going and a small roll of toilet paper so you can dry the excess with it, then the paper gets thrown in the bin provided. The toilet in our hostel didn’t flush however and there was no toilet paper. The shower was cold and had no pressure, but we were soon to discover this sort of thing was common in hotels around India. Another common problem is frequent power outages across the country. Embarrassingly when the lights went out in our room we called the guy upstairs as they kept flickering. Only for him to point out that there was a switch next to the bed that I was unaware of and I was leaning against while we we’re all chatting.
The Next day we went on a day trip through the lush bushlands to some beautiful waterfalls. Where the water was clear and cool and people came from miles around to bathe in the water as a glorious relief from the heat. Men and Women in separate areas of course which is quite common in India. Glen went and sat in the water with a big group of men laughing and carrying on and splashing each other like a group of girls. The girls and I dipped our feet in the water and just sat and chatted and enjoyed the peace of the place. Something so cherished I imagine in such a densely populated country.
On the way back up to the shops these monkeys appeared and one in particular spotted me and waltzed right up to me and before I knew what was happening he snatched my lemon lime drink out of my hands jumped up onto the gate and proceeded to screw open the bottle and drink it right in front of me.
We then got our driver to drop us at a hiking trail not far away – or what we thought was a hiking trail but when we arrived looked more like a properly paved road. Michelle got a nasty shock when she went to the nearby toilets and a frog jumped out of the bowl and a spider fled as if escaping a crime scene.We were walking for about 20 minutes or so before we noticed a sign that said ‘Elephant and Tiger Crossing’ It was only then that we realised why we hadn’t seen anyone walking down this way. We all collectively decided to get the hell out of there. I clung to my rape alarm hoping that would be enough to deter any tigers if they approached. And Glen later told me he had a pen in his pocket and in his mind he thought about having to take down a tiger with that! Every rustle in the bush had us jumping on that long walk back.
Once we were safely back in the car the driver pulled over and pointed out what he explained in broken English was a cashew nut-tree. It had this really unusual fruit protruding from it which we picked straight off the tree and we eagerly passed around. The cashew nut itself was inside a rather hard shell that was difficult to pry open. Glen however, quite proud of his chompers decided to bite it only to find it produced a terrible taste in his mouth and made one side of his face numb for days afterwards.
The state of Kerala situated right at the bottom of India is very lush and produces some beautiful fresh fruit and vegetables, spices, as well as tea. We enjoyed fresh fruit smoothies, lime juice and sugarcane juice all over India. Kerala is also famous for its backwaters which is a series of canals that run the length of the state where you can simply drift along the calm waters and see the thriving communities living off the water and the land in this tropical oasis. It’s very popular to rent a houseboat to drift along the waters and listen to the sounds of the wildlife. We took a backwater tour along the famous canals powered only by two men paddling with two long oars either side. It was beautiful and tranquil so much so that we struggled to stay awake as the boat drifted so slowly along the waters. People were going about their daily routines, washing their clothes in the river, brushing their teeth, showering. Kids emerged from huts ready for school and waved to us and smiled. It was a glimpse of a much simpler life. Far from the hustle and bustle of the cities. We also got to visit one of the villages on the backwaters and had a nice lunch served on banana leaves.
Back in Fort Kochi we took many strolls along the beach at night, walked up and down the markets and soaked up the atmosphere. Michelle, Alice and I treated ourselves to an early morning yoga class run by one of the fancy hotels then afterwards had a wonderful breakfast with fresh fruit followed by an Ayurvedic massage. Which involved me stripping down to barely nothing and being lathered with so much oil that I was sliding around on the massage table.
That afternoon we visited the nearby town of Ernakulum – and although it was less touristy there was far less to do there as we discovered after wandering the streets for some time. Glen and I decided to seek out a toddy bar – something I had been looking for since we arrived. Toddy is an alcoholic drink made from fermented coconut sap and is said to be quite potent but without having that alcoholic taste of most spirits. Apparently the best Toddy can be found in Kerala whereas in other states it has a bad name because people put other stuff in it like elephant tranquilizer to give it that extra kick. Only problem was the locals in Fort Kochi didn’t seem to have a clue what we were talking about. After an extensive internet search we saw there was a bar on the neighbouring island so we caught a ferry over for about 8p. The island of Vipin seemed less touristy but still quite nice. We were directed to an English speaking tuk tuk driver. It turned out to be quite a trek as we travelled into the backstreets past main shops and weaved our way through small villages before pulling up to this tiny shack by the water. All that was inside was a small table and a few chairs and a section cordoned off with bamboo. The man didn’t speak English so luckily our driver spoke to him and we were presented with two large glass bottles full of a milky white looking water.
We were informed that the optimum time of day to drink Toddy is early in the morning while it’s sweet. As the day progresses it becomes more potent and needs to be mixed with water in order to be fit for consumption. We had come all this way so even though it was in the afternoon we were determined to try the stuff. The first sip tasted yeasty like a beer but with a slight coconut taste and was quite easy to drink. But then gradually became quite sour and not as pleasant. We finished almost a bottle each before we could drink no more, paid and left only to find the tuk tuk driver outside talking to the locals who were all looking at us excitedly, curious to hear about what we thought of it.They didn’t speak English so again our driver translated. They called more friends out to come and see us and asked if we would bring more people around. They also joked that they are in the sun for one hour and their skin goes brown, but we’re in the sun all day and are still white.
We later visited the beach – we had a little buzz from the Toddy but different again to an alcoholic buzz. The beach was packed with locals and their families. A young boy approached us after being coaxed by his parents to say hello to us. He shook our hands while his parents looked on proudly. We also chatted to an English expat who was there as a volunteer who could talk the arms off a chair before heading back to Fort Kochi. The calm before the storm that was to be Mumbai.
I’ll never forget flying into Mumbai it was a clear blue day as the city unveiled itself before us. We were so high up in the sky one could look at it objectively without prejudice or judgement. From the initial descent it could’ve been any city in the world. It wasn’t until we really got closer that we could see the sprawling metropolis, the slums, the broken down buildings, the opulence, the apartments almost on top of each other fighting for space that it really dawned on us how different Mumbai was going to be. We soared high above it like angels looking down on it in awe – a city with a higher population than the whole of Australia. Nothing could prepare us for what we were about to see, hear, smell, touch and feel.
Finally on the ground I can still remember the excitement and nervousness I felt as we boarded that bus to the terminal. After some confusion we found a taxi to take us to our hotel. On our way we drove past some of the famous slums. It was fascinating to see the thriving businesses working out of them and all those people that didnt have much at all in the world that were simply just doing the best they can with what they have. It’s quite a surreal feeling whizzing past all the chaos in an air-conditioned cab. A little unsettling in a way. Knowing that I was being privatley couriered to my hotel where I would sleep comfortably that night when there were literally thousands of people within walking distance of our hotel living in makeshift housing begging for money. When we stepped out of the safety of the cab the first thing that hits you is the noise. We were surrounded by traffic on the way in but suddenly there was no barrier and the horns were constant. Horns over in India are used in place of signs, traffic lights, telling someone you’re taking over, about to turn, about to stop, going through an intersection, in fact for many reasons and the system works it seems. For such a huge number of people on the roads at once you would expect more road traffic accidents – not that we didn’t see any (we saw two in the short time we were there) but if you saw the way people drive you would expect alot more. On these unpaved roads full of congestion and traffic in every direction the horns are doing alot of the hazard perception work. Imagine all of these horns sounding for all of these reasons, all at once, all day until a few solitary hours in the middle of the night when it stops and finally Mumbai can breathe for a moment. The overwhelming experience of Mumbai was further punctuated by the fact we had just come from sleepy laid back Kochi to one of the biggest cities in India if not the world. Our hotel was located in an old rundown building with restaurants and businesses below. At any given time of day the workers would stare at us as we entered and exited the building. On the inside the hotel was quite nice with pristine white floors. Apart from the weak shower and the rat in the ceiling that kept me awake at night when it sounded like he must’ve been moving furniture in there. Our hotel was an oasis from the madness of Mumbai. Even walking down the street to the train station was an adventure in itself as there were no footpaths so we were forced to walk amongst the heavy traffic in order to get anywhere. There was the constant feeling of not knowing what was around the next corner.
We managed to make it to the train station unscathed and it was full of people who looked like they’d been camping out for days. A guy made a beeline for us and tried to convince us that there were no trains available and to book a bus with them. My bullshit alarm went off – and just as well because the next day we approached the foreign travellers window and had no trouble booking at all. Fighting our way through the streets there was a beggar every 20 metres or someone out to get your money. Just walking out of McDonalds a man was in Glen’s face begging him for money he actually followed us down the street until we finally had to hail a cab to get away. Once in the cab people would approach the windows; mothers with babies, kids selling things. It was heartbreaking and just so in your face all the time. It was hard because you had to keep your guard up all the time.
We went to the gateway of India which was teaming with people. We had to go through airport like security just to get up close to it. This sort of thing is common in India even when entering the cinemas and some shopping malls, there’s a great deal of paranoia since the Mumbai bombings in 2008. At the gateway a man approached me asking if I wanted to do a tour and we said we had just arrived and weren’t looking to do any tours yet and he backed off which was fine. Then the next thing we knew someone had grabbed us both by the hand and tied a bracelet around our wrist and placed a coloured dot on our forehead then made us eat some mint things and this guy explained it was a blessing from a local temple and we needed to pay them 200 rupee each. Then this other man started asking us all these questions about our trip so far. These guys are master salesman and you genuinely have to ignore alot of people to avoid getting sucked into things. This guy talked us into doing a guided tour of Mumbai with him and as we knew virtually nothing about the sights we decided to do it. As we walked off with the guy I again began to feel nevous, you can never really be sure what’s going to happen and whether or not you can trust a person. Just at that moment a man interrupted us and said ‘Remember me?’ I looked at him puzzled he then continued ‘I approached you before and you said that you had just arrived…’ either he worked for the same company or a competing tour company and he was pissed off . Then they started yelling at each other in Hindi while Glen and I just stood there in the middle of the crowd in disbelief as the situation had escalated out of nowhere. At that point I didn’t really want to go with either of them. I was scared but I put my trust in Glen that everything would be okay. A third man (I assume it was it was their boss) appeared and arranged a truce. I managed to say ‘Yes he did see us first’ and pointed to the first guy but it was somehow decided we would go with the second guy.
Our driver took us to apart of the slums that is like a huge laundry where all the uniforms get washed for the 5 star hotels. The crisp white sheets and uniforms were contrasted against the gritty backdrop of the slums.
Next stop on the tour we visited Ghandis house when he lived in Mumbai now a memorial site. Glen was quite taken aback while we there, I have never seen something affect him like that. On the way in a child followed me down the street trying to sell me a bracelet. I kept saying no but because I wasn’t firm he kept trying. Sure enough as we were leaving he was outside waiting this time with his mother. I tried to explain that I had just donated my last couple of rupees to the memorial. The mother argued with me that it was only 100 rupee like I was this terrible person for not even sparing 100 rupee. We got back in the car and the boy stood in the door so I couldn’t close it he wouldnt leave me alone it was awful. He got too close and I accidently shut the door on him. He opened it and gave me this look of disgust, a look I never thought I would see on a child then slammed the door shut. I remained silent as we drove off – I’ve never in my life felt privileged until I came to India and saw how other people lived elsewhere in the world. I’ve also never felt like a bad person until that day.
We drove past the tower of silence which is set on top of a mountain overlooking Mumbai and is where the parsis go when they die and their bodies are left in the open to rot away and be taken be taken by crows. Eerily all we could see from the road was the crows circling high up above.
We also stopped briefly at a temple but I wasn’t allowed in because I had my period – they’re a bit funny about that here. Mind you, it’s just on the signs out the front of the temple – they didn’t just smell it on me and turn me away! It’s an honour system like alot of things in India seemed to be and I wanted to respect the culture. It took Michelle and Alice ages to track down pads over in Kochi. It’s almost taboo – like kissing in public.
Our driver tried to take us to yet another gemshop but we were just drained emotionally and mentally by that stage so we just asked him to drop us off at causeway road famous for it’s markets and tourist friendly restaurants. Walking through those markets people are trying to harrass you from both sides constantly. Walking alongside Glen I remember just switching off and going into a world of my own. I was reaching sensory overload and the only way to cope with the over stimulation was to just disconnect. Some woman tried pushing a flower into my hand and I was so suspicious that she was trying to trick me that I didn't even grip it. We ended up in this restaurant full of tourists but we didn’t care we needed to stop and breathe for a moment. As we sat there and drank I couldn’t help but look at these waiters and wonder whether behind the hospitality and smiles they went home at night to a slum and resented westerners and our seemingly carefree lifestyles.
We decided that as we were in the home of Bollywood to see a Bollywood film. So that night we went and saw Gulaab gang. It was in an older style theatre and the audience filled the entire auditorium. It was there in the dark that I realised that even though we were different we were the same too. Religion plays a huge part in Indian society – everybody has theres and they live and breathe it everyday with pride. And even though all of these religions are so diverse they live side by side in harmony. That cinema was like a temple bringing people together from all walks of life irrespectiv