Solo in India: The Beginning
Six weeks of solo travel in India already and I’ve barely said a word about it. How did that happen? You’ve heard it all before and it’s true: India is a roundhouse kick to the senses and most of my time has been spent trying to deal with that on a day-to-day basis. Any time I would usually allocate to writing has instead been spent reading or watching Peep Show, just to reach my weekly quota of ‘normal’.
Before I start blogging about my experience in India, I feel I should offer some sort of disclaimer. If you are hoping to read about what an amazing, life-changing epiphany it has been, then you should definitely look elsewhere. It has certainly been life-changing in the sense that it has been an eye-opener, just like travelling anywhere else would be, but there is very little that I have found to love about India. Perhaps my expectations were too high after all the praise I’d heard it being given, or maybe India really is like Marmite, and I’m just not the type to join the fan club. That said, I could have hopped on a plane and left at any point but I decided to stay for the full ten weeks as originally planned. While, quite frankly, I don’t like the place, it has certainly challenged me and given me a lot to think about. For that reason alone it is worth staying.
There are various reasons I have formed this opinion of India and being here in the wake of the Delhi gang rape and murder hasn’t helped. You can expect a mammoth post about it at some point, but I feel it would be unfair to judge it completely before my time here is up. It’s not all doom and gloom either; I’ve had a fantastic time along the way thanks to some incredible (and ever so slightly bonkers) characters I’ve met and travelled with.
Anyway, let’s begin at the beginning, shall we?
I arrived in Mumbai after travelling for almost 24 hours with no sleep, and the promise of a chaotic city awaiting didn’t exactly fill me with joy. As we stepped into the terminal, the first thought that hit me was that I had actually been in a time machine rather than a plane and had inadvertently ended up back in the 1970s. The moustaches, the men in flares and too-tight shirts, the musty smell that brought to mind my parents’ old photograph albums. Hello, India!
I ended up spending just two days in Mumbai. As predicted, all I wanted to do after nearly three months in Africa was relax and that just wasn’t going to happen in a city with a population of over 18 million. I stayed in Hotel Unicontinental, a rather fancy hotel in the suburbs, but did manage to pull myself out of my room and onto a train into town to see the sights.
Ah, the train. That was where the fun began. Getting on wasn’t so bad; I picked up my ticket without any hassle and marvelled at it costing only 7 rupees – that’s about €0.09 for a 45 minute journey! Then someone helped me find the ladies’ compartment. Ah, good old segregation. Ten minutes in, something odd happened: a man dressed in a sari boarded the train and walked around each seat clapping his hands twice then touching passengers on the head. Excuse me?! After snubbing him/her, I later found out that it is considered bad luck not to indulge these hijra with a few rupees. Two fingers to that as I am still alive and well 🙂 My return train journey was also rather interesting; it was decidedly busier and when I finally squeezed out of my seat as the train neared my stop, I realised that getting off was going to be … difficult. As the train came to a halt, a woman noticed that I needed to get off and started screeching, “Quickly! Quickly!” while shoving me into a crowd of women huddled around the door. Somehow everyone started to shove me towards the platform until out I plopped, taking someone else and a random flip-flop with me. I like to think that I maintained my dignity as I landed on both feet and walked away still fully clothed.
I haven’t much to say about what I saw of central Mumbai. I walked around for the day and visited the most popular attractions: Gateway of India, High Court, University of Mumbai, Victoria Terminus, etc. and I also spent some time at the street markets. I think I was in too much of a daze to really take in all the smoke, dirt and noise but I’m pretty sure it was there.
Back at the hotel I swiftly booked my exit: a plane to Goa. After spending the night with a cockroach in my bed, I knew that was the right thing to do.