Tour of South India – Mumbai and Goa
I finally left the hell hole of Delhi, before losing my sanity, although not without more hassle; this time a long delay to my flight. Never mind, I’m sure this is a one-off, I thought. Surely there is nowhere in India that sharply demonstrates the chasm between rich and poor than Mumbai, optimistically referred to as ‘India’s Big Apple’. In your dreams. Rotten apple, more like. 55% of the population live in slums and that doesn’t take into account those who live on the streets. Having said that, it is still an improvement on Delhi, being slightly less hectic and with some interesting colonial architecture.
Not that I saw much of it, as I was still suffering from Delhi Belly and finding walking too much of an exertion, preferring instead to sleep in the foetal position, hugging the pillow and rocking myself for comfort. I did eat one meal in Mumbai, although it was touch and go whether Captain Chunder would make an appearance and beckon me to pray to the porcelain god once again. I also had a constant blocked nose and occasional cough for some reason – the pollution maybe? Fun times!
On the first night I forced myself to go out, padlocking my room (quite common in guest houses here!), and gingerly dodging my way past the beggars and drug dealer/guides that occupied the street below. One dealer was very persistent, even magically reappearing when I left somewhere, thinking I had lost him. “Oh, you are from England! I have many English friends: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.” Oh yes I know them all… Hang on, aren’t they the first books of the New Testament? I also constantly felt my trouser leg being tugged by the street dwellers as I walked past. It’s tough to see how desperate India’s homeless are. I ended up sharing half of some food that I bought. It’s hard to say no when they are asking for food, rather than money.
I really wasn’t up to much, but I had a couple of beers in the famous Leopold’s Cafe, which was a recent target of the terrorist attacks. Gunmen opened fire and threw grenades in the busy restaurant below the bar. One bullet ricocheted though the window of the bar and the hole is still visible. Personally, I would have replaced the pane of glass! The next day I took a boat trip out to Elephantiasis Island. Really? That’s a bit cruel. These Indians will make an attraction out of anything, I thought. When my boat reached the island, I realised my error. Elephanta Island is in fact home to five old cave temples and some old canons used for naval defence. Plus some devious monkey muggers who played innocent before snatching drinks from unsuspecting tourists and swigging the contents down in one. Not from me though – I’ve learned to beware of animals on this trip… The return trip gave me a great view of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel that was under siege in the terrorist attacks and the Gateway of India.
I couldn’t wait to leave city life and escape to the beach of Goa. But not before another delay from the inappropriately named Go Air. More like Slow Air. That’s five hours delay in total from both of my flights with them! Goa is just what I need. Sun, sea and relaxation. That’s more like it! My room was simple, yet spacious; complete with dead frog in the shower. Later I was sat on the toilet, contemplating life when I had the feeling of being watched. I wasn’t wrong. Kermit’s live and well cousin was eyeing me suspiciously from the tiled bathroom wall two feet away. When I ventured out into Baga, a slightly brash resort with many late night bars, I chose a restaurant that was off the hectic main street. “This is a quiet restaurant” said the manager. That’s nice. “No police”. Er… okay. “Are you alone?” Yes. “No friends?” Ease up! “No girlfriend?” Will you give it a rest? “Oh, you will find one by the end of tonight, no problem”. Stop trying to suck up now. “You are tall, sexy boy”. Thanks. I’m ready to order now.
Baga seems to be full of many Indian and Russian tourists, plus some Brits. It’s nice to see that the Russian stereotype is alive and well in the bars. Attractive women accompanied by strange-looking men, such as one who wore very small shorts with a leather jacket (a great combo) and his friend who wore a full tracksuit with the top zipped down to reveal a bare chest with possible moobage. But at least they were dancing and enjoying themselves. Talking of stereotypes, my favourite has to be the touching site of male friends holding hands – I saw a line of three men walking along the beach, hand-in-hand. Lovely. Summer bromance. Baga also has a steady steam of hawkers and beggars. I figured that the legless man on a skateboard who propelled himself along by a hand in a sandal (for traction) was worthy of a donation, just for his ingenuity.
Thanks to travbuddy.com, I managed to meet a group of friends who invited me sightseeing. I escaped Baa to the tranquility of Mandrem beach and saw the sunset at Aguada Fort. This side of Goa is what the picture postcards show. Beautiful, peaceful and a world away from Indian city life. I can understand why some people extend their stays in Goa. I love it – 30C in the daytime and cool at night. But it wouldn’t be India without some hassle of course. The travel agent who I visited was just like the Fonejacker sketch for Internet Service Providings. I was with him for over an hour, trying to book onward travel, yet every thirty seconds he seemed to forget what cities we had just talked about. He kept checking for trains and saying: “That train is available… But there are no seats.” Well then, it’s not available is it?! And then there was a power cut. Never mind then…
In the evenings I thought about checking out a couple of nightclubs, but was put off by the bizarre door policies. Tito’s charged 1500 rupees but had an open bar. But that’s like a club in the UK charging 90 pounds and offering a free bar – I won’t drink that much! Women had no door charge and, get this, they still had a free bar! So the men pay for the women. Not me though. Mambos only allowed in couples and if you went in with a girl, you had to leave together too. They remembered! Anyway, Goa should be about beach parties, not clubs. Commercialism has reared its ugly head in Baga. On the last day I was taking it it easy at the beach when two Indian men approached. “Hello sir, I am from Delhi.” Sorry to hear that. “Can we take a picture with you?” Sure. “Please, put your arm around me”. Er, okay then, come here! Whatever floats your boat… Farewell for now Goa, I will be back someday.