A Travellerspoint blog

The arrival of Natalie

sunny 37 °C

Natalie arrived In Mumbai about one o'clock in the morning and headed to a hotel near the airport. The next morning we had arranged to meet at India Gate at eleven o'clock. Our hotel was not too far away from there (although the driver seemed to go a very long route), but we knew Natalie had a fair way to travel and we were not worried when we got there and she wasn't there. It was the first day for us in Mumbai when it wasn't raining and it was quite sunny. We waited around for a while and then sat on a wall in the sun, where we had to refuse various 'offers' of trips around the city, cups of chai, large balloons, ice creams and having our shoes (flip flops!) cleaned. We even became a bit of a tourist attraction ourselves as we were asked to pose with three different groups of people.

We waited for quite a while and began to think we must have missed Natalie, and with Bill sat on the wall i(in the sun) I walked around a few times to see if she was waiting somewhere else, to no avail. This young girl came over to Bill and tried to sell him an umbrella, which he refused, but she stood staring at him for at least ten minutes after he refused, she then must have got tired as she then sat down next to him on the wall and tried to get him to purchase an umbrella. As this was going on, Natalie appeared in front of us. She had been waiting around the corner for about the same time as we had been waiting for her.

Now Bill and I are partial to a 'Lonely Planet' walk (I lie, Bill hates them as I always get lost and we miss everything), so with Natalie's support we decided to go on a walk near to India Gate. It was not too long, until I had no idea where we were (although I will never admit to it) and we were just walking around with the map asking strangers where we were and getting hot. We did see some great sights including the Rajabai Clock Tower, which was said to be Mumbai's equivalent to London's Big Ben and it was, indeed, modelled on the famous London landmark. It was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott for his mother and was built between 1869 and 1878. His mother was said to have poor eye sight and he became fed up of her asking him the time all the time, so he built the chiming Big Ben (all described especially for Natalie, who became exasperated by us telling her it was built by this man for his mother). We saw several Tiffin men, who were delivering tiffin tins to office workers and we spent some time in a kiosk which had an ATM machine in it; as well as air conditioning (which we really needed) until other customers made us move on.

We eventually made our way back to India Gate (more by accident than design) and more importantly to the Taj Mahal hotel, where we sat and had several Gin and Tonics and something to eat in the beautiful surroundings of the hotel. All around Mumbai there are old Fiat cars (over twenty five years old) that are used as taxis, Bill wanted to go in one, so we flagged one down to go back to our hotel. Natalie tried to get in her side and found that the door had been fused shut, there were no seat belts or wing mirrors and if the car needs to turn left it is the responsibility of the front seat passenger to stick their arm out. It had absolutely no suspension in the back and Natalie and I had rather an uncomfortable journey, but it was great fun.

After getting back to our hotel and sorting out the next day's arrangements, we decided to have another room service Tiffin meal. The poor butler could hardly carry in all the tiffin tins and plates, but we were very pleased that he managed, and we had a great curry. It was about this time, that we noticed that a Bill had an extremely red face from sitting in the sun earlier (he is still glowing today). Natalie decided to make her way back to her hotel, which was about an hours journey away as we had a very early start the next day. In the time between Natalie leaving us and letting us know that she was back in her hotel room, we managed to; go to reception and pay for the hotel room and extras, Bill did the packing, we sorted out the laundry with all it's packaging, we had an argument, I had a bath, Bill then had a shower, we had a chat with the butler (who came to say goodbye/expect us to give him a tip) and we had a glass of wine. It was at this stage Natalie let us know she had got back after over a two hour journey back to the hotel.

This morning we were picked up at our hotel at five thirty to head for the railway station to go to Ahmedabad. Ahmedabad is seven hours away from Mumbai, but we were in a first class carriage and were fed every hour or so, so it really didn't feel like any kind of ordeal. Natalie smugly pointed out to me, that on the tickets, next to our names, were our ages and my age was said to be fifty two (not for another month!) and Natalie's age was said to be fifty (she is my big sister and Myles is between us, need I say more) and I felt very indignant about it the whole journey.

We were told we would be met at Ahmedabad station by our driver and our guide for the next three weeks. Getting off the train we could not see anybody waiting for us and we stood around for a while waiting, as we waited the number of tuktuk drivers grew around us (I walked away at one stage and when I turned back I could hardly see Bill and Natalie, due to the growing group around them). Eventually our guide (Mohammed Ali) came rushing up to us full of apologies, as they had been waiting in a different place (yes, there is a theme going on here). Putting our luggage in the back of the car, we saw two large boxes of tonic water, which Natalie had arranged, as previous experience had shown her it Is a rare commodity in India.

Our hotel is called the House of MG and was once the home of Mangaldas Girdhardas and is across the road from the Sidi Saiyed Mosque and it is a Heritage hotel. It is very beautiful and as well as having a four poster bed, we have as swinging seat in our room. We realised that we had rooms next to each other and we eventually got the hotel to open the adjourning rooms. Bill and Natalie have gone off for a swim as we are going to one of the markets this evening. Tomorrow we have the whole day in Ahmedabad sightseeing.

Gujarat is an alcohol prohibited state and guests can only consume alcohol with a valid permit. This is going to be quite interesting what with Natalie's supply of tonic water, a litre of gin and not forgetting the champagne,

Posted by mulliganward 02:41 Archived in India Comments (1)


rain 28 °C

This hotel is lovely; unfortunately it is too lovely and we are struggling not to spend too much money here and failing, especially as the food is so good. Here. On Thursday when Bill went to the gym, I arranged to have a meditation therapy. The therapist was a Hindu lady and the meditation was different to any other therapies I have had and was extremely beneficial. It was not helped by Bill returning back to the room early and ringing the doorbell and knocking on the door to get into the room and whispering 'Claire' through the door!

We had arranged a city tour through the hotel yesterday morning; our guide was called Mobeen as in Robin. Our hotel is on the sea front, so the first place we went was to the best view point of the Arabian sea. Since we have arrived it has more or less been raining most of the time, with temperatures in the late twenties, what we have been amazed with is the amount of people sat on the sea front. There are vast numbers of people sat on the sea wall or strolling along the front and it appears they do not know it is raining, as they are very relaxed and not sheltering. We are told this is because rain is so valuable to them and they come to the front to celebrate the monsoon rain. We must say as we wandered around yesterday, it was lovely to be in the warm rain and kept refusing the umbreallas offered to us.

We really love Mumbai, it is just how we imagined a city in India would be like. There are lots of colonial buildings (Victoria station looked like St Pancras) and the roads although busy are not too bad! When we stopped in the traffic, there were often children knocking on the windows begging, It is hard to see, but I will say no and then ignore them (as told by our guide) whilst Bill keeps talking to them and saying no. Bill feels that nobody should ever be ignored. The official population in Mumbai is said to be twenty two million (with an estimated extra, nine million people either not registered and/or living on the streets).

We went to see a laundry (similar to the one in Kerala), which was vast, there were two hundred families living and working there. The workers were standing in vats stamping on and cleaning the clothes. Bill pointed out that there were not many children working and we were told that the workers (rather than use their children) bring their families in from the country and send their children to school as they are desperate for them to have a different life to theirs. We also went to the house where Ghandi lived when he was in Mumbai. Our knowledge of Ghandi was virtually non existent, but the museum was very concise and we learnt a lot and will ensure we learn more.

The guide walked us around the Hanging Gardens (named because it is over a reservoir) He pointed out to us a tower block, that was owned and lived in by just a family of four people and cost two billion pounds. We were marvelling at this and so was another group of people. Imagine my surprise when we got back to the hotel and I saw that Bill had taken lots of pictures of the tower next door and none of the actual tower, he blamed it on the guide not being specific enough!

We walked around a market, that had lots of dogs, cats and birds in cages. The dogs were all pedigree dogs, including Labradors and Dalmatians, we were told Mumbaikars like to have dogs as pets. We heard lots of shouting and we saw a cow running through the market, everybody was shouting at it and telling it to move on, it seems they eat all the fruit on the stalls. The final place we went to was Gateway to India (said to be the final place were the army left India) and next to it was the Taj Mahal hotel. I had massive hotel envy as the hotel is beautiful, it was damaged in the bombings in 2008 and some of it has been beautifully restored, the wall with the names of those killed in the bombings inside the hotel was very poignant.

Today we had arranged to go on a walking tour around some of the markets. The markets just went on for ever with everything imaginable sold. The weather near the end was rather inclement and we were soaked and at times we were walking through water ankle deep, as it is so warm it really didn't bother us. We realised that we had not been stopped by one person begging as everybody is so busy. Yesterday and today we came across lots of cows on the sides of the road and we were told that they were 'rent a cows'. With each cow was a lady, who was looking after the cow and was also selling grass so you could feed the cow (good luck in Hinduism). The ladies pick the cows up in the morning and then take them back in the afternoon to milk them, it was very nice to see. This afternoon we went to the trust where the cows live, it was lovely to see them all as they were so healthy and well looked after.

This morning we put some clothes into the laundry, Bill had a rather awkward conversation at the door with the 'waiter' (as they are called here) as he was telling Bill that we should have had male and female washing in two different bags, we laughed about this. When we returned to the room tonight, there were two boxes on our bed each with our names on. When we opened the box all our individual washing was in our own box, which was all sealed in individual plastic for each item, we were very impressed.

Tomorrow is going to be a very lazy day as Natalie arrives on Monday. Poor Natalie, Bill and I have only had each other to speak to over the last six months, so we are both desperate to talk to somebody else and we will be hanging on her every word.

Posted by mulliganward 08:08 Archived in India Comments (1)


We are waiting for you Natalie

rain 29 °C

Yesterday morning we were picked up from our hotel by a taxi to take us to the airport. The taxi driver had some real body odour issues and Bill tried to hold his breathe for most of the ninety minute journey! We had pre paid for the fare, but when we got to a toll the driver asked us for the money. It was morning rush hour, and the journey was the worse journey ever, there were cars and buses coming straight for us a lot of the time and motor bikes were all over the place. Bill said that they have no lane discipline, but I say they have no discipline; full stop. Bill always laughs at me for making 'car noises' and for hiding my eyes when things head towards us, but a couple of times yesterday, he said I totally agree with you about that one Claire. At one stage we headed straight for a wall as the driver expected the traffic to part for him, which they did. I have heard about Indian traffic and let's hope it doesn't get any worse than that!

At the airport there were some quite spectacular clouds and Bill was marvelling at them and taking pictures. We flew Air Indigo; the plane was so new we could still smell the plastic. The flight was also only about a quarter full; we have never flown on such an empty flight. We were told as soon as we got into the air that we could change seats, but maybe because it was a domestic flight, we didn't get very high up (technical term), we were flying in the clouds for the whole journey and had bad turbulence and nobody was able to leave their seat. The crew were able to give out drinks in the first half hour, but they were in their seats for most of the journey. I have read many self help books on flying and one said that turbulence was just like going over cobbles, it never makes me feel any better though. At one stage when I was cowering in my seat, with tears rolling down my face, I turned on Bill and told him that it was his fault for the turbulence as he had been taking pictures of the clouds and we were now suffering as we were in those clouds. Bill who never feels turbulence, looked at me with total bemusement.

We didn't see the ground until we landed in Mumbai as it was raining so hard. Our bags were the first bags through baggage reclaim (high five) and we were out of the airport within about five minutes. We stood in a queue to get a pre paid taxi and then headed outside. I was gutted when we saw there was a Starbucks outside as we couldn't stop as the taxi was waiting. After our car experience in the morning, I was fearful of our journey from the airport to the hotel, but the traffic was just normal mad, if there are three lanes, the drivers here, turn it into a road with five lanes.

Arriving at the hotel the taxi was stopped outside and it was checked with a security mirror underneath. We thought this was rather strange, but we were then asked for all our bags, which were put through a scanning machine, like at an airport. Going into the hotel (and through a metal detector) we were then separated and both frisked by security guards; it was the strangest welcome we have ever had. The security was due to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, when there were twelve coordinated shootings and bombing attacks (at several hotels) which lasted over four days. Once we were in the hotel, we had a lovely welcome and were taken straight to our room, where they went through the booking in process.

Bombay officially became Mumbai in 1995. That year, the right-wing Hindu nationalist party Shiv Sena won elections in the state of Maharashtra and presided over a coalition that took control of the state assembly. After the election, the party announced that the city had been renamed after the Hindu goddess Mumbadevi, the city's patron deity. Federal agencies, local businesses, and newspapers were ordered to adopt the name. The party argued that "Bombay" was a corrupted English version of "Mumbai" and an unwanted legacy of British colonial rule. The name change didn't impact all of Mumbai's residents. Speakers of Marathi and Gujarati, the local languages, have always called the city Mumbai. "Bombay" is an anglicization of the Portuguese name "Bombaim," which is believed to derive from the phrase "Bom Bahia," or "Good Bay.

After breakfast this morning, we decided to take a stroll in the area around the hotel (we have arranged for a tour tomorrow), as we try (if we have time) to make our first day somewhere a rest day. When we got outside, although it was raining slightly it was so warm and the smell outside was like millions of flowers (not hundreds). We just literally did a square block walk, but chatted to people on our way. I was wearing my shalwar suit (trousers and long top) and didn't instigate any offence in my apparel, it is so comfortable, it's like wearing your pyjamas outside, I'm going to get a couple more made.

Our initial feelings on Mumbai are that we really like it. This afternoon Bill is off to the gym and I have arranged a meditation therapy, before we start to explore tomorrow.

Posted by mulliganward 00:09 Archived in India Comments (3)

Morning Ragas

sunny 28 °C

Our plans after leaving Kerala, were to catch an over night train to Mumbai. When the ticket was originally booked we were on stand by and yesterday lunch time only one of us had a seat (for the train the next day) so we decided we had to book a flight (never taken lightly, believe me). So tomorrow lunchtime we have a two hour flight to Mumbai booked with Indigo Airlines. The matter has not been helped as, when I was looking up about them online, I saw that they had had an 'incident' in the not to distant past. It also meant that Bill decided to halve everything in our bags, so if one goes awry we will both still have clothes, but it meant that he questioned every single item I had in my bag.

Walking around Fort Kochi, we have seen that there was a renovated jail and Bill desperately wanted us to go. The jail consisted of eight cells, which would have each have had six prisoners in. The jail was used by the British, to jail freedom fighters (for Indian independence). The 'tour' took us all of about five minutes as it was just literally the cells in a row in front of a large mango tree. There was a man sat next to them, but I suspect he was only there to extract money from us. He had a file that was full of money from different countries and he said that he didn't have any British money (nor do we) and he was very disappointed with the Sri Lankan rupees I gave him.

We have found a great cafe that does the most amazing Thali; we only have one between us and the man keeps coming up and filling the tray. It is fun in the cafe as it is full of men watching some channel showing people doing pranks and the men all gather around the TV and laugh hysterically at it, if they are not replenishing our plate. When we left today we were asked by the owner if we would look at a piece of writing he had done and correct the grammar! The handwriting was beautiful and the prose was very flowery, with a very good use of English. He showed us this book he kept, where he adds every English word he doesn't understand and the meaning which he then looks up. Bill told him that we did not know one word of their language.

At our other favourite eating establishment (with the special tea), we were chatting to the owner about the weather and religion (surely a faux pas). He was telling us that he was a Romany Christian (Catholic) and he had a great chat with Bill (our resident Catholic expert) on the religion. We had seen a funeral the previous day, where the coffin (which was open) was being carried down the street, he explained to us that the longest they would wait for a funeral was twenty four hours. He did spend some time letting us know that Catholics are seen (hierarchical) just below Hindus and that the Catholics had the best churches, I asked him which was his local church and he said he didn't have one as he was too busy! We told him that many churches in England are closed down and sold, he was absolutely shocked about this and said that is why we have so many 'cripples' in England as God was punishing us.

We were also chatting to him about the weather, although it is monsoon season here, they have had very little rain. The monsoon season started in May last year and he was telling us about the problems they get with no rain. The electricity in Kerala is hydro electricity and with no rain (this late) they will be getting four hour power cuts in the main season. The price of electricity will also rise, along with the price of good, he was very despondent about it. The good news is, we told him that today will be our last day and he said he will make sure he has some tea ready for us!

Every day I try my very hardest to fit some meditation time in; this morning I decided to go to Morning Ragas. Bill declined the opportunity to join me so I set off alone (it was only over the road). I was the only person attending so I sat in a circle on the floor with a man with drums (tabla) and a man with a sitar, who sang the raga for about an hour. There are different ragas in Indian music and each raga creates a different mood, so whilst the man was singing, I had tears running down my face at times, it made me feel so incredibly happy and it made me want to dance. The tones of the raga hypnotised me at times and sent vibrations through my body, it was so powerful. I came away walking on a cloud and feeling very privileged to have had such an opportunity and experience.

Yesterday, I had a dress on which covered all my legs and was elasticated at the top (no sleeves or shoulders) and I had a discussion with Bill whether it was suitable to wear (he said he didn't think it was, which made me wear it!). Just after leaving the hotel, this elderly lady started shouting at me and pointing at me, she went up the road still muttering. At this point a police car came along and she started shouting at them and pointing at me, but luckily they continued on their way. I didn't have such an extreme reaction again, but we noticed people were not happy with my dress all day. We are struggling with our clothes as it is still hot here, but we need to wear more to stop offending people.

Whilst sorting out our bill earlier, the lady owner said that we have been delightful guests and she will miss our smiley faces each morning. Isn't that a nice thing to say?

Posted by mulliganward 01:57 Archived in India Comments (3)

Red Tape? Red Mist!

Rice boats and banana leaves

sunny 28 °C

On Friday we had arranged with a tuktuk driver to pick us up in the morning, to take us out and about, and as we left the hotel he was outside waving at us. He first took us to a ginger factory, where the smells were the best smells ever (and we left with a big bag of ginger candy). We then headed for a synagogue, but as it was Friday it was closed to visitors. We left the tuktuk and walked down the street to the synagogue and the driver felt it was his duty to point out every Jewish person we passed, much to our embarrassment. He kept telling us that we should go to the fish market and we kept refusing, so he said he would take us to another market. As we got nearer i noticed a big courtyard with cows in it and realised we were at an abattoir and as we looked we could see the meat hung up, we told him to drive on by very quickly!

The driver kept asking if he could take us to a shop and we kept refusing, when we were near to being dropped off we agreed to 'just one shop' (I told him if we didn't like the look of it, we wouldn't go in). The shop was very beautiful and we found a wonderful bed cover (something we said we would buy in India), I kept saying we will come back another day, but impulsive Bill (two words that have never been put together before), said we should get it. We agreed with the shop that they would parcel it up and we would then send it from the post office next door to the shop.

We arrive at the post office
1. They say they have to open the parcel to see what is inside. Fair enough, we open the parcel.
2. The man sees what is inside, so we wrap it again
3. We put the parcel on the scales, a lady eventually tells us we have to put it in a box.
4. Bill and the tuk tuk driver leave to get a box.
5. I am left to fill in a form, with no guidance. Stress level 5/10
6. Bill and the tuk tuk driver come back with a box and tape.
7. Bill uses most of the tape wrapping the box
8. I fall out with Bill for taking so much time. Stress level 7/10
9. Various staff ignore us when we ask for help
10. I add address to the box
11. Four members of staff stand around the box discussing it.
12. Bill demands to know what they are saying
13. We are ignored
14. Several more staff members come to discuss the box
15. We are told we need to put the address on a white piece of paper
16. We have no paper
17. I ask if we can have a piece of paper
18. We are told we have to go and buy some paper. Stress level 10/10
19. I demand they give me a piece of paper, pointing out all the paper around us
20. Bill says he will go and get some paper
21. I demand somebody gives me a piece of paper
22. Bill falls out with me for demanding some paper
23. A lady gives me a piece of paper
24. I add the address
25. The tuk tuk driver returns with a piece of paper
26. The box is put on the scales
27. The girl at the desk walks away
28. Everybody in the post office stares at her
29. I am trying not to scream at her to come back to the desk. Stress level- I thought I was going to have a stroke
30. Parcel paid for
31. We suspect the parcel is thrown in the bin
32. We leave the post office feeling dejected and very upset.

We sat outside the post office in silence, the driver did say they were "bad people" and we said that we would just leave what happened in the post office in the post office and move on. Bill said he had some good news, as whilst getting a box (don't mention the box), he had seen the tailor and our clothes were ready to be picked up. Well...as soon as I saw the dress (which had cost an arm and a leg in material) I knew she had butchered it. I was in absolutely no mood to discuss it so we put it in a bag and left. Getting back to the hotel we tried our clothes on, now I must have last used a sewing machine twenty years ago, but I swear I could have done a better job, two of my items are ok if you don't looking at the work, but the dress is awful and because of the way the material had been cut it cannot be amended. We have decided to take it home and turn it into a very expensive cushion cover. What we do know is that we are very lucky to be experiencing the things we are, both good and bad, and the good things/people make it easy to forget (laugh about) the not so good things.

Yesterday, we had a very slow day and went for a walk along the sea front and had our first legal beer.

Everybody that has been to Kerala said we must go to the Backwaters, so that was where we went today. The backwaters are a chain of lagoons and lakes , there are five large lakes linked by canals (man made and natural), fed by thirty eight rivers. When we got to the backwaters we had to get onto our Kettuvalkam (which is grain barge, which has been converted into a houseboat), easier said than done until somebody 'made' a gang plank for me. It is out of season here and we were the only two people on our boat, along with a man punting at the front and a man punting at the back and the only people were saw were locals (it is said that there are over two thousand Kettuvalkams on the backwaters in season). We went along very very slowly and it took me a while to get use to the relaxed vibe. We stopped for lunch after three hours, where we saw a lady making cord and we were given a lovely curry served on banana leaves. We spent the afternoon going down small backwaters and the two men had to work extremely hard (they were both older than us) and we saw some great sights, including about ten chestnut coloured eagles swooping for fish. We suspect we may have given our two 'punters' too high a tip as they both shook Bill's hand several times and one of the men even opened the taxi door for me.

We are due to move on Mumbai on Tuesday, but we are still on the reserve list for train tickets, so there is the possibility we may have to get a flight, so positive vibes for train seats please.

Posted by mulliganward 05:01 Archived in India Comments (1)

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