Sunday, August 20, 2006

Mumbai day one

I forgot how much I like India. In a lot of my posts I've been worried about functioning here and whether I could hack it after running around China for 2 1/2 weeks. Yes, India does throw up a lot of barriers to make life difficult, as my post about the airport shows. But once you're on the streets interacting with the people, it's great. The thing I most appreciate about India is that it wears its heart on its sleeve. China is all about putting on a good face. In Shanghai the buildings are decked out like Christmas trees. In Beijing the poor and beggars are shunted out of sight. You're left with a sanitized version of reality. India doesn't hide anything. It's all right there for you to see, so you know what you're really getting. For better or for worse. I appreciate that.

After a way-overpriced and quite bland breakfast at the Hilton Towers restaurant, I went out for a walk. The hotel sits on Marine Dr. and looks out over the Arabian Sea. There's a path that runs along the water, so I decided to head north. India is known for it's cows wandering the roads -- I've already seen three — but it's also home to thousands of stray dogs. They seem to be harmless, just lounging around when not scavenging for food. This morning there were half a dozen sunning themselves on a stretch of the seawall.

It didn't take long before young kids came and struck up conversations. They all want their photos taken, and then they rush up to you to see the digital display.

Down many side streets groups of kids were playing cricket. It was just like street hockey. Every once in a while someone would show something -- I assume "car" in Hindi -- and they'd part to let the vehicle pass before resuming the match right after.

I kept getting turned around on my walk. There's no grid in Mumbai, just a chaotic web of roads. Three times I ended up in the same square in the Fort area.

By this time it was lunch, so I found a vegetarian restaurant nearby and ordered some dosa, sort of like a thick crepe, stuffed with curried vegetables and garlic chutney. Very spicy. I followed it up with a refreshing sweet lassi, a drink made of yogurt, water, salt and sugar, then an Indian coffee. Strong stuff and full of flavour. The meal cost me 60 rupees, which is just under $2.

I made my way over to the Gateway of India arch, which was built to commemorate a visit from the Royals back in the days of the British Raj. Great for people watching.

It started to rain so I went to Colaba, the neighbourhood where I stayed when I was here last year. There's a great little bar called Leopold's so I ordered a frosty Kingfisher beer and watched it pour down. There are major floods up and down the west coast of India. This is the height of monsoon season, it seems. I sure know how to time my visits.

The upside is today kicks off the week long Ganesh Chaturthi festival, which I think wraps up next Sunday when thousands of people dunk giant statues of Ganesh, the elephant headed god, in the sea at Chowpatty Beach. I should be around for that hopefully.

UPDATE: I deleted the graph about not being able to view my blog in India. Turns out it was just a poor Internet connection.

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