Navigating Mumbai, Day One
Today was day one of Mumbai, India.
The intention of the beginning of the day was to track down a guide book on India. We had intended on buying one in the mall Newark, but come to find out, people in Newark don't read. I have never heard of a mall without a bookstore, let alone a city without one, but according to Google book stores were extinct in Newark.
Our guide book for Peru was such a reliable partner in our South American travels, we knew we needed one. The hotel staff recommended a mall about 45 minutes away and we thought that would give us a chance to check out the city as well so we flagged down one of the many rickshaws driving down the street.
Here's the thing with rickshaws, in South America, you always negotiate the price before you get into the cab, but not in India. The rickshaws go by the meter and then some. I had been told by many people who have visited India and a lot of the Indian people living here, that they will try anything to rip you off. To them I am a walking Rupee and nothing else. Although they go by the meter, I always ask the hotel clerks about how much it should cost to go here or there, as well as asking the rickshaws drivers themselves.
We have been advised not to let the drivers charge you more than X amount or to refuse to pay more than X amount and I have no problem heeding that advice.
We were told that this mall was about 20 minutes away and would cost no more than 110 rupees, so when we arrived at the mall 45 minutes later and he tried to charge us 190 rupees, an amount that was far greater than the meter, I had no problem telling him where to go. The first thing we did once we got to the mall, after fleeing from the rickshaw, was to buy a map, where I discovered, as I had suspected that the driver had intentionally driven us around in circles to run up the meter. It should have only taken us twenty minutes and a lot less frustration.
We did the necessary shopping, bought a map of Mumbai. This behemoth poster-sized map was the hardest navigable map I've ever tried to read in my life, and I'll realize later that this is because Mumbai is a behemoth in itself and equally as hard to navigate.
We found a guide book and headed back to the hotel to plan our next move. Mumbai is the largest city in India, bustling with over 20 million people. I have heard that you either love it or hate it. It is a combination of culture and madness.
Having this reputation, I could only attribute it to what I know of La Paz, the busiest city I have ever been to. I didn't mind the madness as long as I wasn't living in it so I put that same logic to work and booked a hotel that was on the outskirts of the city but right across from a huge park and wildlife sanctuary nearly ten times the size of central park. This seemed like a good plan but when we returned to the hotel and talked with the staff about our options for the day, it turns out that we had barely any. Apparently when the hotel website said the 'outskirts' of Mumbai, they meant 'the boons'. They informed us that there was nothing around the area to do and that to get anywhere worth while would take about an hour. What a way to promote yourself.
The closest semi attraction to us was a place called Joggers Park, about 30 minutes away on the coast of the Indian Ocean. They described it to us as a nice park where you can jog and exercise, see some animals and go to the beach and in a short, life-threatening rickshaw ride, we were there. This time we had the manager flag down a driver for us and prearrange the price so we were sure that any issue of a language barrier would be bypassed. This did not stop him from trying to ring our pockets dry of every last rupee in a non-negotiating, matter-of-fact, overconfident manner which we kindly threw back his way before scampering into the park out of view.
Now I had expected this park to be somewhat of a spectacle since it was recommended by the hotel staff, even by locale default, however this was not quite the case.
The park was the size of a Wal-Mart parking lot, perhaps smaller. Encircled by two jogging tracks was a small pond that housed squawking ducks and timid rabbits.
The beach, if you can call it that, was a toxic wasteland of debris and murky gray water. None of the beaches in India, even the nice-looking ones are swimable; everything I have read has labeled them as poison.
Now I consider myself an adventure-seeker and on many occasion leapt before looking, but swimming in garbage and fecal matter is in an 'adventure' category all its own.
Being a native Californian, I am fish in the water, so being at a beach that I can't swim in is like an itch I can't scratch. I was bummed. Trying to make light of the situation and laugh at the fact that we just paid for a thirty minute ride to a patch of grass, we decided to mosey around a little and humor ourselves. That's when the downpour started. India has only two seasons; wet (monsoon) and dry. The temperature is always warm but the high season for tourists visiting India is in December and January when the weather is dry and tolerable. The summer months is when the monsoons plague the country and India becomes half sizzling humidity and half torrential downpour.
Conveniently this is when I decided to plan my introduction to India. I am an avid planner, a trait I inherited from my 'always on track' mother, so it was not lack of environmental knowledge why I decided to come during the rainy season, I was fully aware (I use the word 'fully' loosely). In all actuality, I just didn't mind. I looked at it optimistically and thought that at least this way there would be hardly any tourists, allowing me to truly delve into the culture.
As I strolled along the park I could see impending doom hovering over me in a black cloud. Almost instantaneously I was drenched and my cheap, flimsy, TJ Maxx umbrella was barely holding up. The rain was pouring in from all directions and I felt like Forrest Gump in Vietnam, unable to shield myself from the storm. We toughed it out and walked along the boardwalk a few miles half expecting the cloud above to get bored and move on. We walked till we were soaked and the excitement of our first dose of monsoon rain had faded. We schlepped our bags and our sopping wet bodies into the first rickshaw that we saw and headed back to the hotel.
That morning we dropped off our dirty laundry, which was all of our clothes, and we crossed our fingers that it would be done so that we could change out of our rain-soiled clothes. Were not disappointed when our fresh clothes were ready for us when we walked through the door. Not only were they nicely folded but they were in individually sealed packages. Wasteful, in my opinion, but courteous and the extra effort was dually appreciated.
We grabbed some dinner which was just as delicious as the previous night and turned in.
side note: The rickshaws in have hilarious bumper stickers on them; everything from 'no dancing' to 'ok honk horn' to instructions on how not to spread disease.. here are a few..