Adventures in Asia 2008

my travels through India, Nepal, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Taiwan.

Archive for December, 2007

Namaste from Mumbai/Bombay

Posted by maudholma on 30 December 2007

My first impressions of Mumbai: an enormous slum consisting of rickety shacks with tin roofs which we flew over right before landing, a dog peeing on the runway while we taxied to the terminal, a parking lot full of little black taxis with yellow roofs at the airport, a cow eating by the side of the road, people sweeping the sides of the motorway, a taxi driver spending 2 minutes intently looking at S and I, three kids wading in a river full of trash… And this was all before the end of our 30 km taxi ride from the airport to central Mumbai, which took about 1.5 hours. Shocking and hilarious at the same time, and all part of the “Mumbai experience”.

We initially stayed at the fancy sounding Sea Lord, which was described by our guidebook as “grubby but bearable”. The room itself wasn’t too shocking but our bathroom looked like a slaughterhouse, complete with dirty walls, a red lightbulb in one corner, and Kurt the cockroach who came out to play whenever we set one foot into it. As much as S and I both want the complete backpacker experience, we decided to find something else. When we told the guy at the place where we’re now staying where we had been before, he shook his head, laughed a little, and said “Oh, I know it. That’s not a hotel”.

It was initially easy to see why people might not like Mumbai (noisy, smelly at times, crowded, poor, dirty) but after 4 days here the place has definitely grown on me. S and I get stared at. A LOT. But it’s never malicious or rude; people just want to look at the girl with the blue eyes and her tall friend. Wherever we go, people say hi and want to know where we’re from. When we answer Finland they all smile and tell us what a great country it is even though I’m sure most of them don’t even know where it is. We get asked to be in pictures with people, or they just want to take “snaps” of us or want us to take pictures of them. And even in a city of between 13 and 16 million people, I’ve bumped into 2 new “friends” of mine on separate days, and both times they’ve grinned at me and yelled “Hi Maud”, as if I was someone they’d known for forever.

As well as the people, which make up an enormous part of Mumbai’s charm, the city itself has a lot of beauty amid all its dirty buildings and rubbish heaps. The women, even the ones on the street, wear the most colorful clothes. There are beautiful old and new buildings everywhere. Especially in the more affluent areas, there are a lot of small parks where people sit and read, talk or think. The markets and bazaars are full of fruits, vegetables, and the most amazing smelling spices. And since Mumbai is by the water, there’s a big beach which fills up with people a little before sunset, playing with their kids, buying balloons, taking rides in little lit up toy cars, eating sweetcorn, drinking chai, getting head massages, and doing about a million other things!

But most of all, it’s the complete normalcy of the most random things here which I think I’ve enjoyed the most so far. Taxis, cows, buses, horses, trucks, bicycles, motorbikes, and men pushing and/or pulling enormous carts of materials all use the same lanes of the same roads. And if someone’s cart gets stuck in a pothole in the road, people wait until the men have pushed or pulled it out, albeit not always so patiently. People don’t spare their car horns here; whether they’re annoyed, signaling before switching lanes or just letting people know there’s a car coming, there’s a constant sea of honking from every direction.

This afternoon S and I sat on the balcony of our hotel, playing cards and drinking chai, as you do on a Sunday. We watched a homeless woman wash herself and her baby in a small puddle by the side of the road before washing their clothes in that same puddle. Two girls then washed their feet in the puddle, before another woman washed her face and her baby there. She also then washed her baby with the same water, and finally two men who had been putting up “scaffolding” next door rinsed their faces, hands, and feet in it. Again, as you do on a Sunday, or any day of the week for that matter. After that, not even our “red light disctrict” bathroom at the Sea Lord seemed so dirty anymore…

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Welcome!

Posted by maudholma on 9 December 2007

After what seems like an eternity of having ideas and making vague plans, I have bought most of my plane tickets, gotten too many painful vaccinations, started bonding with my Rough Guides, been confused by travel insurance options, and entered the 21st century by starting a travel blog! In the next few weeks I plan on buying some more plane tickets, getting some more vaccinations, reading some more Rough Guides, actually buying some travel insurance, and letting my inner computer geek try to figure out all the things I can do on here. I won’t actually start blogging in earnest until a few weeks from now when I leave, but until then you can look at my “MAPS” page to see where in Asia I’ll be going. Since I have the computer IQ of a raisin, it took me about 5 hours to figure out how to load the maps but I haven’t quite made it to plotting my exact plan yet and I doubt I ever will…

I’m leaving for Mumbai (Bombay) on December 26th and will be back about 7 months later, hopefully a world of experiences richer and with an impressive tan! My only real goals for this trip are to come back in one piece and to try not to run out of money on my way. Apart from that, I plan on making the most of the next half a year and a bit and will try to taste, smell, feel, hear, and see all the things that I don’t usually have the time or possibility to do. I’m sure it’ll be a once in a lifetime experience but as much as possible, I’m trying not to hope for or expect anything, go with an open mind, and take everything as it comes.

 And since someone else has always said it better, I end (or begin?) with some wise words from Mark Twain:

” Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

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