My journey begins at Heathrow Terminal 5. At 8pm, it is a largely empty space, devoid of character or things - Heathrow's newest terminal is a ghost town!
On the flight, my 'window' seat next to the exit doors had no actual window but at least a flight attendant who sat opposite kept the 3 of us on the row entertained for some time. My other entertainment came from one of my many loves - a Bollywood movie in the form of Ghajini starring the great Aamir Khan and Asin Thottumkal. It was a recommendation from a native flight attendant who informed me it is the highest grossing movie of all time. Impressive! A large part of the film was unlike anything I've ever seen in a Bollywood movie - dark and villainous with fast action-shot camera work. But then the story unfolds and the elements of the Bollywood movie that I love are all there - the love story, the dashing heroes and beautiful heroines, the endearingly cliché and contrived plot lines, the singing… it was fantastic! I smiled all the way through. Then finally, I realised the significance of where I was heading - Bombay/Mumbai, the home of these stories full of colours, songs and dance. I was determined to go in search of my 'Bombay Dreams'.
Regina and Valerie
The heat was the first thing that hit me. It wasn't just the high temperature but that stifling humidity that makes it hard to breathe. The stickiness begins immediately and soon I am bathed in pools of sweat. Still, there was a familiarity in this (I suppose from Vietnam) that made me feel right at home. I booked a taxi for the one and a half hour journey to my hotel and nearly melted on the way. The wind blowing in from the window brought no relief as the air itself was heated to boiling point.
The taxi driver, and everyone he asked on the street, had no knowledge of the obscure destination of my hotel (despite providing them with nearby big road names and showing them a map, an uncommon thing in this part of the world it seems) and in the end, I took charge and directed him myself using the map from the guidebook and taking the Town Hall and a church as my marker to orientate myself.
I arrived at Hotel Lawrence and met two German girls, Reginaand Valerie who themselves had only met earlier that day on the street. We decided to go together to Elephanta Island the next day. The journey there involved a 75 minute ferry ride. We chose a cargo ferry (cheaper option) but the 5-minute wait we were promised turned out to be an hour with still no movement. Even by Indian standards, this is pretty poor, so we eventually went for the tourist ferry. On board, the ferry was filled with Indian visitors, going in big families and groups. It was lovely to see. Many had a huge fascination with Regina, whose blonde hair seems to be an obsession for so many locals here. Many asked to take photos with her, or of her. This was my first introduction to the chaos that was to come.
The island was largely unremarkable save for the first cave we came across with a mass of fantastic statues of Shiva, carved straight out of the rocks there. The whole set of about 6 caves were all excavated from the cliff rock making them a work of wonder. But this was nothing compared to the Ellora caves that I would see the following week. Highlight of the afternoon is a coke-addicted monkey who grabbed Valerie's coke bottle and managed to unscrew the cap and drink it hungrily using his hands and feet. Absolutely bizarre sight!
Sebastien, Florian and Stephan
We bumped into the three German masters students at an internet café and spent the evening with them at Café Leopold and the club Red Light, playing western music (with some Hindi stuff that I requested. Go Desi Girl!). The guys would be returning to New Delhi after a few weeks to begin their academic term as part of their masters programme. As far as educational cultural experiences go, this must the one with the biggest cultural shock!
Caroline and Hannah
The girls were from London (hurrah!) and were introduced that night at Café Leopold by Sebastien, Florian and Stephan. We decided to go together the next day to the Prince of Wales museum (ChhatrapatiShivajiMuseum), holding artefacts from around India.
Prior to the museum, I had spent the morning on my own (the first time really alone since coming here) walking up to the majestic Victoria Station (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) then Crawford Market and having street food. I appreciated the time alone to experience the city with concentrated eyes, feeling the pulse of the city and opening myself up to local exchanges (more than usual at least).
I loved the museum, though we all sweltered in the heat and lack of water (our bottles were confiscated at the entrance). We were promptly kicked out of the museum at 6pm and in that perfect moment of serendipity that always seem to arise in travelling, the girls and I met Stephan and Sebastien who were in a taxi next to us while we were crossing the road. We eventually met up by Marine Drive with Florian also to watch the beautiful sunset. Our dinner together was relaxing, despite the boy's laundry nightmare with the local laundry service who ruined their clothes. Noted to self: do own laundry!
Hannah and I met up to check out train tickets the next day. There, in the tourist ticket counter, we met David, a French guy travelling for a few weeks. He too was heading to Goa. I was tempted to book also but something held me back. It was meant to be. We parted ways, with Hannah and I taking the bus to the HangingGardens. But we had an absolutely perfect, relaxing time in the garden, despite the stares from locals (Hannah is another Blondie, along with Caroline. I don't know how they manage it!). It felt great to sit on the grass and enjoy such a simple past time. There, we saw David again. We joined him to go to a Jain temple, a place I would never think to go into but with David confidently leading the way, we all went in, though Hannah and I were unsure if we were allowed. The temple was beautiful, and so different from anything I've seen before. The space was small, but was made up for by the beautiful designs and architecture. So to David, and for Hannah for spotting him walking through the garden, I'm glad for the experience.