Our first trip to India.
20 August 2009
0 km: Southampton
It all started in Southampton around 21.00. We loaded the U-Drive van with our luggage which included a 42” TV which we would take to my fiancée, H’s, family in Mumbai. R, our suffering house-mate and landlord, had been roped into giving us a lift to Heathrow in the van which we had picked up before going to work in the morning.
70 km: Heathrow
23.00: Arrived at Heathrow. We wondered around the area around arrivals at Terminal 3, then realised we should be departing, not arriving, so eventually found the desk we would check in at seven hours hence. We set up camp in the corridors of the shops upstairs as all the comfortable seats had been taken and awaited check-in which would be at 06.00.
06.10: After a quick check-in at Air India, whose staff seemed to be used to dealing with 42” TVs, we went to Customs to see if we could get our VAT back on a TV which would be leaving the country. However, after an hour waiting in the queue of people seemingly filling out a year’s worth of tax returns at the desk, we found that as we were not leaving the country permanently we had no entitlement to VAT back. Oh well.
7,280 km: Mumbai Sahar
- 23.20: Walked through immigration clearance, where all but two of the staff were wearing face-masks to limit any spread of swine flu which would become a problem for the state of Maharashtra - which includes Mumbai. We spent another hour at Customs, this time in Mumbai, trying to figure out how much duty we had to pay on our TV - it was ~37% as we were both visiting for a short time. Overall, it wasn’t the most warming welcome to Mumbai.
- 00.30: Walked out of Mumbai Sahar Airport into the Mumbai humidity. We came at this time of the year as it is monsoon season, so we were hoping for a cooler stay. At this time of the night, after coming out of an air-conditioned plane and airport, all I could feel was the humidity of Mumbai. बहुत गरम (bahut garam/very hot).
7,310 km: Navi Mumbai
- 00.40: Drove to Navi Mumbai and our house for the next 23 days in Seawoods. The external part of the airport was very smart, but we soon drove through the slums, saw the street dogs and litter that are such a big feature of the streets of Mumbai. One of the biggest differences, it would seem, between the administration of the UK and Mumbai is what the services are offered: in the UK people sweep the road, collect rubbish, the RSPCA rescues animals, making it generally clean and keep the wild animals off the streets and in the wild. In Mumbai people do sweep the road, but rubbish still collects on the roadside, near rivers, and all animals, be it cow, dog or rat, are left to roam free.
- In the afternoon we had a nap, still tired from the journey. However, naps seem quite popular because the heat of the afternoon is unbearable, even for many Mumbaites.
- 19.00: Drove to a lake near in Navi Mumbai, then went to D-Mart. D-Mart has security guards outside, and one of their jobs is to bag your bag - whether more to prevent the theft of your bag or to prevent you stealing their goods is a good question. Many shops I would go into had the same policy of bagging your bag, sealing it with a plastic tie, or giving you a receipt of the contents of your bag so that if you were searched on leaving, there was some proof that you owned it.
- 21.00: Drove home.
- Drove to Agni Resort to see the local fauna (outside of the city) and have some lunch. There I saw some of the florae particular to India, a including a touch-me-not or chhui-mui - a small plant no higher than grass with leaves that curl up when you touch them.
- Went to a Navi temple, Iskcon Temple.
- 07.00: Woke up to prepare for a house-warming पूजा (pūjā/religious ritual), a Hindu tradition done either daily or on a significant occasion, like moving into a new house. On this occasion it is to bless the house.
- 10.00: Took part in the pūjā, and the पण्डित (paṇḍit/holy scholar) leading the proceedings also prepared my fiancée and I for marriage by going through a ritual where the couple walk around a fire of sandlewood seven times.
- 16.00: Went for a tour of Airoli, where H’s family used to stay before she came to the UK.
- 20.00: Went to S’s house, H’s best friend from college for dinner.
- 14.00: Went to Inorbit, a shopping centre in Navi Mumbai, to get a few things for the new flat. There I had three snacks all of which were very tasty. Ate sevpuri (vermicelli), dahi batata puri (curd) and panipuri (chhole parcels). +~15km
- 20.00: Made microwave cake with strawberry custard.
- 21.00: Went for a walk around Seawoods and a quick tour in the कार (kār/car) around the block. +~4 km.
- 23.00: Ate egg curry.
- 10.15: Woke up to be told, through translation, that a hive of a मधु-मक्खी (madhu-makkhī/bee) was being removed from somewhere and we should keep the windows closed tightly.
- 11.00: Ate P’s microwave cake.
- 20.00: Drove to get some shopping in Seawoods. +9 km.
Mumbai darshan (glance)
- 05.30 Woke up.
- 06.45 Drove to Seawoods to get picked up by the coach.
- 07.10 Climbed on board the coach.
- 09.00 Arrived in Greater Mumbai and started to overheat in the toiletless non-AC coach.
- 19.00 Came back knackered. +~90 km. We visited:
- The Gateway of India,
- The Taj Mahal Hotel, where the shootings happened a few months ago,
- the area around a museum, because we didn’t want to pay ₹ 300 to go inside for 45 mins.
- The Tarapore Aquarium, which had about thirteen different types of fish. It was here that I wanted to use the facilities, but was unable to do anything more than pee as they seemed a little too unhygienic. I think my stool had decided that my colon was a cleaner habitat.
- The Hanging Gardens, which included a shoe-house, where we were hassled by a multi-lingual fan-seller who we had previously seen on YouTube,
- A Nehru Science Centre, which doesn’t even begin to compare to the National Science Museum in London, but you can have your photo taken as if your head was on a platter, spin wheels mounted on a wall and see how things roll or slide. I had much more joy in the toilets where I managed to get rid of the afore-mentioned problem - though these toilets had flooded, at least they were Western-style (sit-on-top) and the flooding was (I convinced myself) clean water.
- Bandstand aka Lover’s Point nearby two Bollywood stars’ houses: Rekha and Shahrukh Khan. This area is nicknamed Lover’s Point as many young couples come to this spot to show their affection for each other - as showing affection in public in Mumbai is generally frowned upon. You might see the odd couple holding hands, but never hugging or embracing - that’s strictly a private matter. Or in public at these spots where it seems to be deregulated.
We returned via highways through many slums.
Drove to Lonavala and visited Great Eastern Maritime Academy. Ate in the mess, where I had my first taste of Indian murga (chicken) curry (4/5). +72 km = 7,670 km.
Drove around Lonavala and returned to Navi Mumbai. Went paddling in the streams coming from Bushy Dam and went to Lion’s Point, a viewpoint up in the mountains of Lonavala which would normally show a view for miles around. However, we got up there and was in the middle of a cloud. +135 km = 7,805 km
Went to P’s house in the evening. Ate take-away food including veg crispy (4/5) and veg manchurian (4/5). +~5 km.
Drove around to get some shopping and to look at prospective houses for H’s family home. +50 km = 7,860 km.
Walked to a cafe in Seawoods called, Rab’z Café. +5 km.
Took a rik to Vashni, where I bought some spices to cook either jerked vegetables (allspice, thyme), creamy pasta (nutmeg, parsley) or something mexican (paprika, chili) depending on the available spices. Thyme, parsley, paprika and chili were easily found. I’ll have to remember to bring my own allspice next time. +15 km.
H went to the travel agent to book a coach to Ratnagiri to stay at a hotel managed by her former manager, R. We travelled later that evening on the overnight sleeper which wound its way around the mountains between Navi Mumbai and Ratnagiri. We stopped several times for toilet and refreshment breaks, but after using the toilet at the first stop, I didn’t dare get down again: the toilet was Indian-style (stand-on-top) but also brimming with previous usage.
We didn’t get any sleep that night, as we got tossed from side to side winding along highway NH17. +~320 km.
At 07.00, we arrived at the resort near Ratnagiri and took great pleasure in having a shower as soon as we arrived. At 15.20, R showed us around, taking us to several waterfalls and other features prominent in the Ratnagiri area. +55 km.
We took a couple of tours around the Ratnagiri area, at 09.05 we were taken to Ganpatipule where we paddled in the dirty ocean water and had a snack in a hotel’s restaurant. We drove back along the coast. +84 km.
In the afternoon we were taken to a museum which was King Thibaw of Burma’s palace whilst the British kept him under their control, a fort to aid the fight against the British, walked near to the Ratnagiri lighthouse, then went to a freedom fighter’s (against the British) birthplace. +26 km
In the afternoon we were shown Paramhans Temple near Pawas and strolled along a beautiful beach called Gavkhadi. +50 km.
In the morning we packed for Navi, and strolled around the site of our hotel, taking in the beautiful scenery near Ratnagiri. At 13.30, we waited for our train to arrive at Ratnagiri station. The track was filled with litter and smelt like manure. A kid was picking bottles off the track and filling them with water, for later resale. A street dog sat infront of us, laid down for a sleep, later getting up, scratching itself and moving on.
At 14.45, the train arrived at Ratnagiri. Due to arrive at 20.00 but is 1h45 late. We had booked a 2-AC carriage, which means there are two beds vertically, rather than three, which means you get more space to sit if you wish. There were two others in our carriage: one guy who after I gestured whether or not he wanted any table space (as we were there first and had settled in) retreated with his bag to the corner of his seat somehow newly scared of me; and a lady who also kept to herself, occasionally talking on the phone or eating snacks offered by train staff. These staff would walk up and down the train calling “चाय, चाय, चाय” (cāy/tea) or whatever their wares were. The journey was very smoothe for the first half of the journey, however the second half involved an irritating wobble.
21.00: Our rickshaw arrived back at home in Navi Mumbai. We are sceptical of the prices rickshaw drivers offer because, when they see a Westener, they are likely to increase their prices. Occasionally I’ve hidden until a price has been agreed, then reveal that meh gora hoon. This particular rickshaw driver was asking for ₹270, when my fiancée was expecting a fare of ₹210, after accidentally hitting him in the face whilst moving my big bag, we settled on his price as a compensation - though he didn’t mention that I hit him. +310 km = 8,725 km.
In the evening we went for a walk with the family. We walked along the slow lane of the three-lane carriage way: nobody in Mumbai seems to walk on the pavement, probably because it is not continuous, is often either slippery or filled with litter or parked motorcycles. A, P’s two-year-old son, was running through the puddles on the outside of the slow lane.
In the evening we went shopping in Croma, an electronics store which, like most companies in India, is owned or branded by the TATA Group. We also went for a dental check-up. +11 km.
In the evening we went for a stroll to get some bread and get some fresh evening air.
In the afternoon, we drove to the mountains to the east of Mumbai to later visit temples WNW of Mumbai. +186 km.
Visited the local templete near where we had slept overnight, Shri Trimbakeshwar Temple in Trimbakeshwar, near Nasik.
By midday, we had reached Shirdi Sai Baba, Shirdi. +124 km.
Shani Shingnapur Temple, Shingnapur. three temples in the mountains of Maharashtra.
By late evening, we returned home to Navi Mumbai. +354 km = 9,400 km.
Drove to Greater Mumbai to do some administration before leaving India. After the first stop, our car started overheating and we had to wait at the roadside for three-and-a-half hours. +79 km.
In the evening, we went to the dentists and a friend visited for dinner. +16 km.
Drove to H’s home of 14 years in Ulhasnagar. +82 km.
In the evening packed.
Drove to the airport. Was first in line at the Air India counter and so the first to get seat reservations. +39km = 9,616 km.
Waited in Delhi for a connecting flight which was delayed by four hours. +1,140 km.
Arrived at Heathrow. +6,740 km = 17,496 km.
02.05: Arrived back in Southampton +120 km = 17,616 km or 10,946 miles.