Mumbai Madness: Part II

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Since I didn’t go into detail about our motel, if you could even call it that, I will talk about it here. In Mumbai, there is a place to stay for every budget. You could lie in the lap of luxury at any one of the Taj Hotels, or you could lie in a bed of stained sheets like we did at Traveller’s Inn. I suggest that you do not choose as we did.

I have had good luck using Hostelworld.com, so I used it again for this trip. Traveller’s Inn’s ratings weren’t stellar, but better than other places listed on the site. One thing that caught my eye was a comment about the guy at the front desk being able to help you get into a Bollywood movie. I looked at a few other comments on other sites as well, and thought everything looked good, so I booked it for three nights.

We got there at about 2:00 a.m., and when we got to our room the first thing that greeted us was a roach. The next thing we saw were the stained sheets. I looked at B worriedly. What had I gotten us into? The bell hop came with a towel that would mean the end of the roach, and two towels for us that looked like they had been used for the same purpose. The knot in my stomach grew. Finally, we were offered a tiny tattered blanket and half a roll of toilet paper. I slept in my clothes that night.
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The next day I searched the Internet for a different place to stay, but due to the holiday everything was booked. ‘O.K.,’ I thought, ‘At least I can be in a Bollywood movie!’ I asked the guy at the front desk about going to Bollywood, and he told me, with an extremely bored look on his face, “It’s too expensive, 6,000 Rupees.” My hopes of stardom were gone. “Do you have any other suggestions?” I asked hopefully. Increasingly bored he replied “Maybe you can go to the Gateway of India.” Thank goodness we met Munna that day.

The day after our tour with Munna, we were looking for somewhere to go. B found a water park and a spa. If you have read my other blog entries you know that I am a sucker for massages. We set out for The Four Fountains Spa in Bandra. Lucky for me, our helpful manager was at the desk. “Hi! Can you tell me the best way to go to Bandra?” With a nod of his head he said, “I think taking the train is better. It’s half an hour train ride. Taxi will take one hour.” “How do we get to the train?” “Turn right and go straight. If you need, ask anyone and they will tell you where to go.” So, there we were, getting ready for our first experience of Mumbai mass transit.
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We found the train station, and it was full of people. A nice boy told me where to buy tickets and for 12 Rupees we got our ticket to Bandra. We went to the wrong platform at first, and a tall guy redirected us to the right platform. We waited a couple of minutes and then the train arrived. Men hung out of the doorways and jumped out before the train came to a screeching halt. I noticed there was a “Women Only Cart”, but didn’t think much of it. Our tall friend grabbed my arm and thrust his body against me so we could get on the train. I thought it was a little aggressive, but I thought he was trying to be helpful, so I just ignored it. What I couldn’t ignore though was the fact that even after the train began to move and we were settled in our spots, our friend kept jamming his groin into me. I thought maybe it was all in my head as I clung tightly to B. Nope, there it was again. I wedged B in between me and our friend in the yellow shirt. He acted as if nothing had happened, and kept notifying us about how many stops we had left. We had to get off the train, and that is when I decided it was time to lose the guy.

We lost him, which was good, but it also meant that we were lost again too. A guy from the last train led us to where we were supposed to be. Another crowded train full of men. B and I moved toward the door, at least no one could stand behind me then, and I gladly pressed myself against the metal wall. Then, I felt something on my leg, a hand pressing against me. I looked down, it wasn’t so crowded in that space that the guy had to do that, but I wasn’t sure. I tried to squeeze closer to B who was hanging out of the door like a dog in a car window, and I didn’t feel it, for a moment anyway. Then, it happened again, and this time I pushed his arm away and hoped that the next stop was ours. We got off the train, and the guy with the roving fingers tried to help us onto the next train. I guess them touching me was an unspoken helpers fee. I was through with these trains and we got a taxi to Bandra.

If you are a woman traveling on the train in Mumbai, please take the women only car. My advice? Don’t take the train at all if you don’t have to.

We had been on the train for nearly an hour, and were still nowhere near our destination. After about 30 minutes or so in the black and yellow cab, forcing its way through the crowded streets, we made it to the spa, which was located directly under Gold’s Gym. The Swedish massage was good, but it ended with a head massage that included pouring thick oil all over my head and hair. Think, pouring almost half a cup of olive oil on your head and you will get the idea. Oils are used a lot in in massages and various treatments here in India.

Then it was time for food, my favorite part of Mumbai. No matter where we went, the food was amazing. Naan, paneer, vegetable pakora, roti, masalas, long grained rice, the list goes on and on. Seriously, at every restaurant the menu is huge! There is a good selection for all Indian dishes, both vegetarian and non-veggie. Then there is usually another good selection on Chinese food. They also throw in pizza and pasta for good measure. I have not left a single restaurant feeling less than happy, no matter if it was at a small street corner joint or a more upscale venture. There is nothing better than dipping a crispy piece of buttered naan in a sweet sauce spiked with peppers, garlic, and cardamom. India knows how to do food, and on that fact alone, I would seriously consider moving here.
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After another delicious dinner, B and I headed back to Traveller’s Inn for our last night. The next day at noon Munna came to pick us up. His mouth was smiling, but his eyes looked worried. He ushered us to his taxi and quickly got us on our way to the airport. After we had gone a couple of blocks, Munna looked at us in the rearview mirror and said “It’s very dangerous today, high alert.” B and I looked at each other, puzzled. We had been out earlier to go to the ATM and get a bite to eat and everything seemed O.K., but as we found out from Munna, something big was going on. “I can’t take Ceiling Bridge, too dangerous. Today, after I drop you, I don’t stand outside my taxi. I go home, lock the doors and stay inside.” “What’s wrong?” “The people are very angry with the leader.” Just then we passed a long line of protesters carrying signs like, “Stop the corruption in trade.” People were angry, they were organizing themselves and gathering. The police officers walked along with them, allowing them to demonstrate but just keeping an eye on things. We noticed many more police officers on the street after that.

Otherwise, things were going on as usual. Some people slept on the busy sidewalks, while some advertised their items from a tiny shop front. Gaggles of men walked closely together, old women spread out their vegetables under the bridges. Life went on as usual, but still the sense of urgency was tangible in the thick air. We said goodbye to Munna and I hoped that he and the rest of Mumbai would be safe, that night and always.

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