Ok, catch up time since I only have a few days left before meeting my parents – 2 weeks ago I was in Khajuraho realising that I was rapidly running out of time before meeting the folks in South India and I was still up North. 2 and a half weeks sounds like a really long time until you realise how big India is. I decided to head for Mumbai as an easy transport stop to get further down the country and it took me all of 31 hours to get there (thank goodness for overnight trains). I was only spending one day in Mumbai and didn’t do a whole lot of sightseeing, so you only get some brief notes on this huge city before I move ever closer to Kerala.
1. I probably should have booked my hotel in Mumbai sooner, but it’s a little difficult to do that when you’re making things up as you go along. This was the most expensive hotel I’ve stayed in (a whole SIXTEEN POUNDS), but it did make up for it with free breakfast, cable TV and bountiful amounts of toilet paper.
2. I ran out of toilet paper a few days before and had been using the Indian method of…well…jug of water and left hand. Which is all well and good but I really have no idea how Indians dry themselves afterwards. Do they walk around with wet bums all day?
3. The location of my hotel was not great, but this gave me the opportunity to experience the local trains, in particular the wonderful wonderful thing that is the ladies carriage. It is so nice to be sat in a carriage where you don’t have to wonder if anyone is about to grope you. There’s also usually a few young girls who speak English and can help make sense of the confusing train routes (not easy to figure out if you’re on the right train), and if you fancy it you can even go shopping on the ladies carriage as people will wander around selling bangles, hair acccessories and big bunches of jasmine.
4. This is not to say that I didn’t see any men in the ladies carriage – I got patted on the head (blessed I assume) by what was definitely a transvestite a couple of times. I had to google this, apparently it’s quite common. They are called hijra and supposedly live celibate lives as neither men nor women (although of course the sad truth is that many are forced to be sex workers because they can’t get any other work). In theory the excess sexual energy that they aren’t using makes them closer to the divine. They are often feared and ostracised, but also respected because of this and are regularly invited to celebrate the birth of a new baby, probably because it would be bad luck not to invite them. Much like Maleficent.
5. I have barely any pictures of Mumbai because I decided I didn’t want to do The Sights, so I wandered around modern art galleries instead, where cameras weren’t allowed. There was one room entirely filled with teapots which seemed to be half melting and half dancing round table legs. Think Alice in Wonderland designed by Dali. It also involved cows tied in knots for some reason. One of the gallery staff asked if he could take a photo of me looking at pictures, so who knows, maybe I’ll appear in a museum catalogue some day.
6. Mumbai is obsessed with cricket. I walked past a green at one point where it seemed as though 20 games were being played at once. I was also there on a Sunday when the roads are quieter and a lot of people had set up impromptu games in the street or at bus stops. At one point I turned round at exactly the right time to see a ball sailing out into the middle of the road, apparently lost, only to flukishly bounce off a passing car’s hubcap straight into the fielder’s hands, who promptly bowled the unlucky batsman out*.
7. I have tried sugar cane juice for the first time. I am not a fan. Which is not surprising since I rarely like any drinks that aren’t fruit flavoured. I was sort of expecting it to taste like diluted syrup, but it wasn’t that sweet. It mainly tasted woody, a little bit sweet, and with a slight aftertaste of machinery, which is not surprising considering the enormous grinding beasts they have to use to squeeze the juice out of the canes.
*I apologise to any cricket fans if I have mangled the jargon of your beloved game. I tend not to pay attention to cricket commentary when I’m forced to watch it so for all I know I’ve said something really dumb along the lines of ‘Back of the net! Oh, the batsman’s scored a beautiful try. Fifteen love.’