The Night Before a Day in Bombay

Side view during descent into Bombay’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport

The IndiGo Airlines flight was free of turbulence save for what lasted for a few seconds when we flew into the thick, dark, late monsoon clouds that were looming over Bangkok.

Then it was smooth air drifting for the four-and-the-half-hour flight from southeast Asia to south India.

Upon arriving in Bombay I was asked a couple of questions at immigration:

Were you in India before?”

Yes . . . Until . . . I think . . .  July . . . 20thI have until November 18th right?

Yes.”

She flipped through my passport a little bit more and said:

What’s your occupation in your country?”

Teacher.”

I thought: That’s what I’d put on my visa application even if it’s not still the case.  I guess she needed to verify that I or someone else wasn’t potentially trying to impersonate me.

She handed me the passport.  As I walked past her I naturally nodded and smiled.  For this I was rewarded with a small smile in return.

I then waited for about 45 minutes before my red backpack arrived.  I held back a feeling of impatience by psyching myself out focused breathing.

Call it mild meditation while a baggage belt goes by for ages.  I started to wonder if my bag was lost.  I saw red out of the corner of my eye only to turn dissapointed until about the 20th time when the red backpack finally came through and I was free to meander.

I was off to the prepaid taxi ticket booth to purchase a 500 Rupee or $10.21 taxi ticket to Colaba.  I heard the person in front of me say:

Colaba.

Do you have space?  Do you wanna share the expense?”

Yes, but . . . “

He pointed to his brother and a lot of stuff.  It looked as if they had been shopping while enjoying Thailand.  I thought: There were all Indian vacationers on that plane, no Thais, no foreigners,  except for me.

“We have a lot of stuff . . . We’ll manage.  Let’s go. Chalo.”

The sun started going down.  On the way I saw mixed cloud hues forming a sillouette with a skyline.  I caught a glimpse of the giant orange sun as it prepared for its dusky dip into the Arabian sea.    One of the Indian brothers was talking a lot about economics, politics and sociology.  Our conversations were heavy.  I wanted to focus my thoughts and sights on the new city where I felt completly lost on a chaotic highway.

The taxi ride was stop-and-go from the airport to Colaba.  Achieving about 23 kilometers or 14.3 miles took around an hour and a half in a crammed cab.  The three of us sat with our belongings on our laps in order to be able to squeeze in.  I tried to pay my third or half fare but they wholeheartedly refused.  I was told to just pay the 50 Rupee or $1.02 additional toll fare.   They compromised their comfort and wouldn’t allow me to pay more than a small fraction. This is an example of Indian hospitality.

The two brothers told me where to get out of the taxi to search for hotels.  At this point I’d been traveling for nine hours.  This included the cab ride and airport process/waiting time in Bangkok.  I just wanted to find a place.

A tout clinged on and kept trying to show me places in my price range.  It seems that the problem with touts is that they bring you to designated places where they have agreements with the owner or workers.  In this case it seemed to add about 200 Rupees or $4.04 to the nightly bill.

The first dive I looked at cost 1,000 Rupees or $20.43, had AC and a TV, but almost no space for more than the bed and came only with an attached shower.

The toilet was a ahort walk.  I wanted to accept the offer but right outside my room was a smoky hall.  Men were sitting on chairs and toking tobacco from pipes.  There were clouds of smoke.  I thought: I don’t want to have to walk through that to get to the toilet.

By the time I’d looked at a few more undesirable scenarios, none other with a smoke infested  hallway though, I thought:  I’ve been spoiled with accomodation in Thailand and Cambodia.  This is a huge city so it’s going to be expensive for India.

Exhausted from walking in the tropical heat, up flights of stairs, and with my backpacks, after a long day of travel, I needed to take something, anything.  I didn’t want to look anymore so I accepted a place for 2000 Rupees or $40.90.  I thought: I hate to pay this much. It had full amenities but parts of the room were dilapidated like so many old interiors in India.

After finally checking in and getting a hot shower, I ventured out into the Colaba
night.  As I walked by lepers and other homeless folks, I was reminded of other Indian cities I’d wandered through months prior.    I thought: These people were born dirt poor and destined to stay that way.

In India’s most cosmopolitan city, I saw something new.  Young couples walked hand in hand, in plain clothes.  I thought:  I love how you can dress however you want here. The freedom is refreshing People can choose to wear religious or traditional attire or not.  There are no rules.

Next I found a telecom store that could recharge my USB data modem:

I can’t do it for you now.  You have to come back tomorrow.”

What time do you open?”

9am.”

See you then.  Dhanyavaad. Namaste.”

Next I saw a little fast-fast joint that offered veggie rollups and were cooked on the spot.  I ordered, ate and thought: This was nothing special, but it’s healthy and a quick fix.  I paid, left and walked.

Soon thereafter I saw a Lebanese corner restaurant and ordered a Falafal roll-up.  While eating it I thought:  This is subpar at best.  I’m used to way better Falafals than this.  You’re in India.  Duh.  When in Rome . . .

In all fairness, it was after 11pm.  I wanted to sleep so wasn’t in the mood to
forage the late-night streets for food.

I got back to the most expensive hotel I’ve stayed in all year, hit the hot shower, then the bed and I was out in an instant.  So ends the night before a day in Bombay.

–   –   –  –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –

LEARN FROM MY MISTAKE:   Before you arrive in Bombay or any megacity, do your homework.  Know where you’re going to stay.  Booking in advance doesn’t hurt, especially if you’re getting in after dark.  Have your taxi drop you there. This way you avoid touts, even though they do need to make a living. 

If you don’t like the place you booked, you can always search for another the next morning.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. PINKY: A Thousand thanks! I’ll take heed to your recommendations if I return to Bombay.

    I’m now down in Goa: Calangute Beach Wrong beach. 🙂 Trying to decide whether to stay at another beach like Anjuna or Arambol or just go somewhere else like Bangalore or even down to Kerala, the coming days will partly decide the fate I choose…

    Reply

  2. The komat on the causeway is a great place to eat and verry cheap. Enjoy your time and take it easy. Also there is a bar called Gokal behind the taj hotel. Its great fun! 🙂

    Reply

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