Saturday, April 24, 2010

Mumbai and Good-bye to India

Mumbai has been a surprise (in a good way). When we were in Goa we met two Brits who flew into Mumbai and immediately bought 1,700 rupee (about $40) 1st Class train tickets to Goa. They said Mumbai was crazy and insufferable (you got to love Brit-speak) so they got out of there right away. The $40 train ticket should have tipped us off that we shouldn't necessarily trust their description, as we paid 800 rupees (about $18) for two tickets in non-AC Second class from Goa to Mumbai.

Everywhere we've been in India people have told Mumbai would be crazy, with beggars everywhere, slums all over the place, unbelievably bad traffic, etc. And then they would go on about the local trains, how crowded they were and how we should avoid them at all costs. Well, to that I would say, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. It is all those things, but it also some how works. Mumbai has a wonderful vibe, a feeling of being alive that we didn't feel as much in the other big cities of Chennai and Bangalore. Surprisingly, Mumbai reminded us mostly of Bangkok, with a large working class and lots of "regular" looking people milling around, busy doing whatever it is that Indian working class people do. Our impression of course comes from staying in a middle class neighborhood in North Mumbai with Gaurav, our couchsurfing host.
From Mumbai
Our train ride from Goa was quite pleasant, no real issues, apart from being over 12 hours long. There was ample food available from vendors walking the isles of the train; we sampled biryani, pakoras, somosas, bananas and frozen fruit bars (kept cold with dry ice!) all washed down with about 10 cups of chai throughout the trip. Indians certainly stay well fed on the trains.

We spent two full days exploring and walking around Mumbai. Each day we started with coffee in Gaurav's apartment, then took a rickshaw to the train station and then a local train to whichever part of the city we were exploring that day. The local trains are something like I've never seen. Apparently there can be up to 7,000 people in an 1,800-person-capacity train during rush "hour". The train pulls up and it's an instant shoving match to get on the train. On one train we tried pushing to get into the car but it was solid people, so we rebounded out and tried the next car. Compounding the problem was that about 1/3 of the train cars are "Lady Only" cars with slightly more room in them, but since Jaimee and I did not want to be separated, Jaimee often ended up being the only woman packed like sardines in the train cars. I really wanted to get some good pictures of the chaos on the trains, but when you're surrounded by so many people, it's a little hard to snap a good photo.
From Mumbai
Mumbai has been unbelievably hot. They're having a heat wave right now; it's been about 100 degrees with 70 or 80% humidity and even the locals are complaining about the heat. Needless to say this makes for pretty poor sight-seeing weather. We tried our best and saw some neat sights. The architecture is pretty, and the city has a very cosmopolitan feel to it. We didn't take a ton of photos while we were here, but you can take a look at the whole set here. A quick note about the "slums" of Mumbai, which you won't see in any of our pictures. They are definitely apparent and quite sprawling, especially along the train tracks. We didn't get any good pictures mostly because we didn't want to gawk and stare and also because once you stop moving you become a target for beggars or people selling stuff. The slums and the way that so many people live in them are very fascinating though.

Tomorrow we fly to Cairo, Egypt. We arranged to stay with a couchsurfer, an American working for a non-profit organization there. He can host us for two nights and then we'll take a side-trip either down the Nile or over to the Sinai Peninsula.

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