MUMBAI, India Ė March 21 & 22††††††††††

 

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Received March 22, 2005

 

Incredible India

 

(Written by Steve)

Thatís what the sign says as you enter the Customs/Immigration terminal, and I will tell you, thatís Mumbai in a nut shell. This place is a must see, and I will have to say that so far it is the most interesting port of all, and we will most definitely come back.I canít even try to explain the poverty to you, or the emotions you feel for the many homeless, but I can tell you about the people and the culture and the City itself. The people are super fantastic! They are kind, hard working and very beautiful in every way you can imagine. This city has 15 million in the city centre and 3 million that live on the streets, and beg, so it can be very, very overwhelming. I canít really sit here and tell you about Mumbai because there is so much to tell, you must come see it all for yourself. I am not talking about just the yucky stuff, I am talking about everything that this city has to offer, stuff like the Laundry, train station, Gandhiís home, Museums, Parks and crowds and crowds of people. We have only been here for less than 2 days, but I feel like we have been here for a month. I was told about Mumbai from several people and there were 2 stories that made me not want to see it (The city). We were told about a place called the Cages or the Crates, and this is a place where they sold children. The information was not accurate and you can find the information on the Cages yourself on the net, but it was not like we had been told. When the ship pulled into port I managed to go ashore with a couple of friends Bill and Betty, a super nice couple from Scotland. They lived right in the heart of Bombay (Mumbai) in the 80ís when Bill was running an oil rig out in the Arabian Sea. We went out into the city after midnight and I got my first real scent of India, and I say scent to be nice. Have you ever heard of the expression ďsmells of BombayĒ? Well let me tell you, the smell is the first thing you notice and itís a good distraction for whatís to come. Homeless people in numbers that will blow you away, everywhere you look, and lots of beggars still working the streets 24 hours a day. I picked Billís brain about everything from the corrupt police to the cages, and he told me the way the city works. Life in India is very hard and a life is worth a lot less here in India than in other countries, and that is quite apparent from all the 3 year old homeless kids running through traffic at 1 am.Make no mistake about it, I have lost touch with reality it just canít be helped when you are on this floating amusement park. We are still on a cruise around the world and find pathetic useless little issues to complain about, when these people have nothing, I mean nothing but the dirty clothes on their backs. What am I trying to tell you? I have no idea actually, only that it is completely overwhelming to be here in Mumbai and again you must see it for yourself. You walk down the street and 10 people are following you, asking for anything you can give, but itís still quite safe. We walked the streets and we were followed by women with little babies and 2 and 3 year old kids asking us for food as we walked, it was very difficult to see. At first I thought it was not a good thing to do with our kids, but if we were safe, why not walk a few blocks.You absorb enough culture in those few blocks to last you a lifetime. The first time we did it, I was a quite unsure about it, but it was much harder to try and cross the street than it was to out run the homeless. In Sri Lanka everyone wanted to touch Danikaís face, but no one here even came close to her except for a little 5 year old girl. This little girl just followed us for about 10 minutes as I held Danika up in the air, and she just kept waving to Danika. Danika and this girl just kept waving at each other and then Danika said ďlook Daddy I have made a friendĒ. Did I want to pick this little girl off the street and take her home and give Danika a sister to play with? Yes absolutely, but it just does not work like that here, like I said you canít explain this place, only see it. I am sure in a few years from now, Danika will remind us as she always does, ďHey remember my friend in IndiaĒ And we will all wonder where that little girl isand what was she is doing, or is she still alive. Thatís what I am talking about, we will never forget this place, itís very powerful. I wish we could stay a couple of weeks or at least a few more days, but it will have to wait till next time when we see the rest of India.

You can get burned here just like any big City and we got a taste of it today.

I got ripped off today and was a little disappointed with myself, and I only have myself to blame for it. Itís a way of life for these folks and you should expect them to try and be ready for it, but I missed it. Basically we overpaid for lunch, and I know that may not seem like a big deal but it really is. You see we were not so sure where to eat so we thought we would just eat in the Taj hotel to be on the safe side. To make a long story really short, we paid over $100 bucks for a small Chinese meal with only pop for drinks and no dessert. The money we just spent on lunch could have fed a whole family here for a month, and I feel really stupid. We ended our day on a positive note thanks to our last taxi driver. An act of kindness that easily could have meant an extra $100 in his pocket if he just drove away after dropping us off, but he did not. You see, we forgot our digital camera in his taxi and before driving away the gent called me back over and said ďyou forgot your camera sirĒ. It was a nice ending to a very interesting day.

There is more, but I have to send this out before we lose our cell phone signal.

 

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(Written by Helen)

Itís funny how certain situations or experiences remind you of other things.While we were touring Mumbai I kept thinking about a book I read a long time ago called ďA Fine BalanceĒ.Itís the life story of an Indian fella and I must read it again now that I have sampled an inkling of Indian life.

We decided to book a tour for Mumbai because many people told us a lot of horror stories about the city and we were very nervous about this place.We had to get up early and we set out with our group at 9am.We were herded into a waiting air-conditioned bus which, believe it or not, was needed even at this time of the day. During breakfast we had a very long discussion with Nikolas and Danika to prepare them for what they were about to experience. We didnít want to scare them but we also didnít want them to be totally shocked at what they were about to see.Danika didnít seem to care but Nikolas started saying that he didnít want to go anymore.I think we over did it.Anyway, we got on the bus and our tour guide was a wonderful lady who spoke excellent English and she welcomed us to her beautiful city.You could tell she had such pride and she was very excited to get going and for us to see her wonderful land.

 

We pulled out of the port area and even from that moment I noticed that this city was much different than Sri Lanka.The streets were lined by beautiful trees and you are instantly aware of the population as the streets are filled with people.The surprise was that most of them were relatively well dressed and the mixture between poor and middle class was quite evident.In Sri Lanka we saw really only the most destitute, however, in all fairness we were only there for a short time.But here it seems so different.On the streets, the selection of cars is astounding.From beat up old jalopies to Hondaís and many brand new Mercedes.Apparently, India is one of only 3 cities where Mercedes are made.As we drove along I was amazed at the way the city has on one street, a beautiful well maintained mansion beside a falling down decrepit makeshift shack.Mind you, the mansion has a huge fence surrounding it, but still, it is unreal.As you drive along you see this beautiful cosmopolitan city and then around the corner and you have to swerve to bypass an ox pulling a wagon.The two worlds are meshed together and it just doesnít seem comprehensible.

 

Our first stop was the laundry market.This area measures about 4 blocks long and 2 blocks wide.It is huge.It is one of the most unbelievable sights I have ever seen in my entire life.This is no exaggeration.The bus stopped at the top of a bridge and when you get off and look down you see a sea of laundry in various levels of cleaning.Some are stacked awaiting wash, some are being washed by the people, some are sitting in huge piles soaking wet, some are being rinsed by being whacked against the walls, some are hung on lines that stretch forever, some are arranged along the black dirty roofs.It is unreal.Then when you really look closely you see that the colour of the water that they are washing with is a dark browny greenish colour.We also saw a man emerge from the water in his underwear apparently after taking a bath in it.Our tour guide talked about this place as if she was recommending a local laundry mat.Sheís telling us that it only costs 300 rupees for 300 articles of clothing.She says, ďWhat a great deal!Ē and then continues to say that you could take your clothes elsewhere but they charge you 300 rupees for one article of clothing.She said that apart from a few missing buttons and some materials that lose their colour, the service is excellent.They donít use electricity for the ironing, they use heated flat stones.Mind-boggling to say the least.Iím hoping the pictures turn out!

 

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While we were there we were accosted by the first wave of beggars.At the beginning, Nikolas did not want to leave the bus but he did and he held my hand very tightly and kind of hid behind my back as we walked.The people did come up to us but they were in no way overly aggressive or repulsive the way everyone described them to be.Most of the ladies here were selling their wares and we only saw a couple of small children and at first it makes you catch your breath because they look so scrubby.They are absolutely filthy with dirt on their faces and they are literally dressed in rags.Of course they are barefoot and you would think that their faces would look hardened but when you look in their eyes they look surprisingly bright and curious.Of course they were staring at Danika and she would smile and wave and then you would be shocked when they smile and you see these dazzling white teeth and the happiest little face.They donít look the least bit concerned about the fact that they are begging, itís almost like they are well practiced and they imitate the act of eating with one hand while they hold out the other.Itís their way of saying I need money to buy food to eat.They all do it exactly the same way almost as if theyíve been coached, itís really bizarre.And as soon as they see that you are not interested they move on and do it all over again to the people behind you.The tour guide lady said that we should never give them money because if we did then another ten would materialize instantly and it would create a huge problem.She said that these people are from communities outside of Mumbai and that they write to their families there and say how lucrative the big city is and that just brings more of them in.She didnít speak very highly of them and she even said that the government has provided schooling for the homeless children but they refuse to go.I donít know, I find that hard to believe.Sometimes I wonder if people say these things to ease their conscience.You know, the typical, Oh if they really wanted to work they would find a job.Unfortunately I donít believe itís that simple.

 

As we continued our tour the bus takes you along streets that are lined with shacks that are literally made out of a couple of sheets of plywood.Curtains hang as doorways and you can look inside and see families living inside.The shacks are just big enough for them to lie down in.There are about 15 of these, all in a row connected and then, surprisingly, at the end is one that is a barber shop and sure enough there is someone getting a shave.Then the funniest sight is the next shack holds the lotto store.It is so crazy.Then you drive a little farther and sure enough thereís the McDonaldís and the Pizza Hut and then when you turn the corner and there is a little baby sitting on the sidewalk eating a piece of onion she found on the ground.It is just so hard to comprehend.

 

Next we visited the Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya.This is one of the most important Gandhi Memorial Museums in India and it was very interesting.I just wished that I had remembered to get Nikolas to research who Gandhi was and what he stood for, it would have made the experience way more educational.There is a room on the second floor which used to be the living room and working place of Gandhi and has been preserved as far as possible in its original setting.From here Gandhi took his first lessons in carding, he learnt spinning, he started his historic fast here on the 19th of November 1921 and the list continues.We will definitely get Nik to read about this amazing man and it will be educational for all of us.This is a quote from a pamphlet we got from the museum and I thought it was worth mentioning:

ďThe Mani Bhavan is a place where Gandhi lived and conversed with his colleagues, moulded the nation in the image of his cherished ideals of Truth and Non-violence and inspired his followers and devotees who went forth from here in the world charged with a sense of service and sacrifice.Mani Bhavan, once the residence of the Father of the Nation is now a source of inspiration for freedom and peace loving men and women all over the world.Ē

 

From the museum we stopped briefly at the Gateway to India monument.The city boasts a perfect natural harbour which was developed by the British and today handles more then 40% of Indiaís maritime trade.It was a great photo opportunity and then it was off to the last stop, another museum.This one held Indian artifacts dating as far back as the second century B.C.Wow!

 

The bus was to take everyone back to the ship but Steve asked if we could walk to The Taj Mahal Hotel that was just a few blocks away. So after our tour of the museum we were on our own and Steve led us down the street and across a street that I am still astonished that we crossed and survived to write about.Walking the streets of Mumbai was such an experience and I will never forget it.The smells, oh the smells, the people, the sounds of honking horns, the thousands of taxi cabs, the traffic, the ox and wagon, the children playing in the middle of an intersection, the women and their babies sitting on the sidewalk.I have no more words to describe it so I shall move on.

 

We got to the hotel and of course it is like a grand palace.Marble floors, huge bouquets of exotic flowers, lots of ďwhiteĒ tourists walking around with their designer clothes on.It just makes no sense at all.Buuuut, we were hungry so this was the place to eat and Nik wanted Chinese food, AGAIN, in India, so we went into the very fancy Chinese restaurant in the hotel and had a great lunch.I know, after everything I just said, I became one of those typical tourists again and Steve and I tried to verbalize what we had just experienced.

 

From lunch we made our way to their swimming pool and pretended that we belonged here and jumped in the pool.They came and brought us towels and never questioned us so we had a wonderfully relaxing time cooling off.I wanted to go shopping but Steve ended up paying way more than we expected for lunch so we had just enough money to barely get us a taxi back to the ship.

 

Our experiences in India are memorable and we will never forget them.We were so nervous about coming here and now we feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience this most vibrant city.I really donít know if we will ever be back but it would definitely be a place I would love to return to someday and really explore more of the country.I now understand those people who told us over and over again that India is a place you must see to understand.They were absolutely right!