India v2.0

Mark Stewart Travel Stories Leave a Comment

A large stone arch over a busy street.

The Gateway of India – Mumbai

The last week is a blur. As I previously mentioned, Udaipur was a great time. The guesthouse we stayed at was the first true ‘guesthouse’ of the trip. With only three rooms, one of which is occupied by the owner Johar, it is not you’re typical accommodation. First of all, Johar is a very westernized Indian, fluent in English, and sympathetic towards the small day-to-day bullshit a foreign traveler goes through in his country. Secondly, while staying with him, he occasionally cooks meals for us and the other guest (at no cost), and gives us real information about what to see around town as well as places to eat. This might not seem like such a big deal, but in a country where everyone is trying to milk every last penny out of anyone who has them, this treatment is rare, and amazing. Our stay with Johar will not ever be forgotten.

Aside from the Eid festival, we really didn’t do a whole lot in Udaipur. It’s known as the Venice of India… and although I can see why, It has a long way to go before deserving that title. Potential is everywhere… several lakes, beautiful palaces and hotels built from marble, and cobblestone streets lined with pastry shops. The problem is the same that we’ve seen throughout our travels thus far. Garbage and pollution are rampant. The beautiful lakes are full of trash, and the walls along the small streets, along with the cobblestone roads, are stained with piss. Everyone here is so proud of their town, and how beautiful it is… or could be… but it seems as though everyone thinks that someone else should do the cleaning, and if they throw some garbage, or empty their bladder in the street, it will be cleaned up by somebody else. The problem is that ‘somebody else’ has the same mentality as the rest, and the problem is never resolved. Udaipur is by far one of the most beautiful places we’ve visited in India, and I really hope the local people can fix this growing problem, before it gets out of control.

A man sharpening a knife on a pedal-powered grinding stone.

Roadside Knife Sharpener – Ahmedabad

From Udaipur, we take a six hour bus to the aptly named city of Ahmedabad. The bus ride was fine, one of the better ones actually, though once in the city, our cab took us to the wrong hotel, and left before we realized. Wandering through the unfamiliar city late in the evening, we inquire at many places before finally settling on a way overpriced dump of a room. Totally over our budget, the most expensive room we’ve had since Korea, and also probably the worst. “But it has TV!” they tell us as we try to haggle the price down.. and yes it does..  70 channels,  with only one, half working, in English! The next morning, we discuss our plans. To go south through Gurjurat, to the island of Diu, as previously planned, suddenly doesn’t appeal so much. As we expected the north to take much longer, we hadn’t expected to see any beaches… so we planned to head to the quasi-beach town for a few days. Having some extra time now, we decided that saving the money to get there and back, and having to spend more time in this horrible city, to just head to Goa, which is the beach paradise of this country.  Heading to the train station to buy tickets in the afternoon, the night train to Mumbai is booked solid, so we book for the following evening, and two nights later, another train from Mumbai south to Goa. The downside is, another night and full day in the city.

A metal platter with rice, fried flatbread, and many different small containers of sauces and vegetables.

Incredibly delicious Thali – Ahmedabad

The best part about this city is the food. Every restaurant we ate at was amazing, a little pricey, but worth every rupee. The worst part? The fact that aside from eating, there is nothing to do, or see, so we spent most of the two days and nights sitting around in our room, watching re-runs of ‘Whipeout’. The worst-worst part? Ahmedabad is in a dry state, so we couldn’t even enjoy a relaxing drink while wasting the days away. Looking back now though, I might have wandered around the town a little more, to take in a bit of the experience again… because that evening, before boarding our 12 hour night train to Mumbai, we enjoyed our last meal in India as we knew it.

Mumbai. Bombay. Whatever you call it, this place isn’t India. But at the same time, this place is India! The best way I could even attempt to describe this incredible megatropolis is a perfect blend of the cleanliness of Singapore, the markets and bar scene of Bangkok, the tree lined streets and colonial architecture of Montreal, and of course the energy and chaos of India. The ‘official’ population is around 18 million, while the real population is estimated at around 30 million, when you include the millions of people living in some of the largest slums in the world. The gap between rich and poor is found everywhere. Landrovers, BMW, Jaguars, and Mercedes share the roads with bicycle rickshaws driven by men in tattered clothing. Malnourished children sit begging for money and food outside of McDonalds, and Nike stores.

This is one of the most exciting places of the trip. Maybe it’s the awesomeness of the city itself, maybe it’s the fact that it’s our first taste of western culture in almost three months, but it is amazing. Mumbai is known as a budget blowing town for backpackers, and it is expensive, but we find a room for cheaper than we payed in Ahmedabad. Street food is everywhere, and it’s epic. Day time carts selling all kinds of snacks, night time stalls selling entire meals. We have chicken shwarma from a little stall beside our guesthouse, and it’s one of the most beautifuly (although dodgy seeming) tasty thing’s I’ve ever eaten.  Stopping by a little pub the first day, we order a somewhat expensive pitcher of beer (about seven dollars), and it comes with enough free munchies to nearly fill us up! The second day in town we check out of our room, but have the day to kill as our train south doesn’t leave ’till 11pm, so we leave our bags and hit up the local (and very old school, Garneau style) movie theatre and watch Tintin! It cost three dollars a head. For the record, everyone should watch this movie, it was absolutely well done! Anyway, this is the fast version of Mumbai, India for the new generation. People don’t stare at foreigners, people are friendly and polite, and even talk to you without trying to sell you something! Definitely not the place you should go if you want to experience India, but absolutely the place you should plan to visit at least once during a trip through this epic country. 

As I mentioned, this is the mini version of the modern India, Mumbai. We have a bit more of the country to see down south and will be returning here in a couple of weeks to end our adventure in this country. So there will be more tales to come from this mind-blowing little village!

For now, I have a beverage which is quickly losing it’s cool on the beach that I must attend to. For we have left Mumbai, and are now enjoying a holiday from our travels, on the absolutely amazing beaches of the legendary state of Goa.

A downtown skyline of many skyscrapers at sunset.

The Mumbai Skyline

 

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