Nov 28-30. Day 1-ish – Travel
It was about 27 hours of travel… nearly 39 including the time change. We left a mild-winter, -1 degree Toronto on Friday, Nov 28, and arrived in humid, 27 degree Mumbai in the wee hours of Nov 30.
People talk about “time change” when travelling, but it’s really more like “time warp.” The airplane itself is a vortex where time remains suspended within its body, and once you land, you don’t know exactly where – or when – you are. Sleep patterns are short and random, and the phrase “well, it’s really X-o’clock in Toronto” becomes meaningless as your body loses all normal cues. Sometimes you’re hungry, and a 7am beer-and-sausage in Frankfurt seems unrealistically delicious. Sometimes you sleep, horizontally across several chairs in the airport, or vertically in some fuselage. Sometimes you just watch hour after endless hour of in-flight entertainment. And the next thing you know, you (and thankfully, your luggage) are in a new place, and a new time. You enjoy a 4am victory scotch in your Mumbai hotel, grab a little sleep, and the next day, the adventure begins.
Nov 30. Day 2 – Mumbai
We finally get up for real around 10am, and decide to grab breakfast at Leopold’s Café. On our way there, Ed is greeted by a smiling face and wonderfully-sculpted moustache: it’s John, his regular cab driver. In India, it’s common to hire a cab and driver for several hours, or even a day, as needed. Today is errands-day, so Ed makes arrangements to hire him for the day, once we’ve eaten.
Leopold Café is a Mumbai institution, opened in 1871. It also has a more recent, darker story as a site near the epicentre of the terrorist attacks of December, 2008. You have breakfast and coffee, surrounded by the bullet holes sprayed by amateur terrorists who don’t quite understand the blowback from an AK-47. The coffee’s good, though.
Next up: a trip to visit Haridas Vhatkar, Ed’s tabla-maker. Making tabla is still an artisan’s calling, and Ed’s maker is among the best in India. We watch as the makers do the final bits of work before presenting them to Ed. Ed leaves behind his old drums, including one that burst open in the dry Canadian winter.
There’s an unwritten rule in India that you can get one errand done in a day. We decide to press our luck and go for the next item: getting cellphone and internet service. After some form-signing and passport-copying, it appears we are successful. We head back, drop Ed’s new drums at the hotel and, since it will take a while for the phones to become active, decide to hit a nearby hotel for a sunset beer and snack.
At this point, our confused bodies are aching for sleep. But, it’s only 6:30pm, and we decide to press on. We consider a trip to walk along the Queen’s Necklace , but another cab seems like too much travel. Instead, we head to the east side of the long, skinny peninsula that makes up downtown Mumbai, to the Taj hotel and the famous Gateway of India.
But, we’re tired and overwhelmed by the crowds, so we head out of there quickly and go for Plan B: Thai massages. Our over-travelled and under-stretched bodies are very thankful.
Back to the hotel to connect our phones, and connect to the rest of the world. All goes well, until we realize that Dylan’s and Suba’s internet sticks don’t work with their computers. Perhaps we pushed our luck, trying to get two things done today. No matter… we’re sure a quick trip back to the Vodafone store will fix it, and we head to bed excited about tomorrow’s sightseeing.
How naïve of us.
Dec 1 Day 3 – Mumbai
We all start stirring around 6am. No-one wants to wake the other up, so we pretend we don’t notice each other… until we laughingly wave our glowing cellphones at each other, and then try valiantly to lay in bed for another couple of hours. We finally get up for real around 8:30, and back we go to Leopold’s for breakfast. We work out a plan for the day: lots of sightseeing, and one little errand to wrap up.
In the Hindu pantheon, we have Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, and remover of obstacles. Want a smooth journey? Talk to G. Unfortunately for us, it seemed that Ganesha had either taken the day off, or he had a grudge against Vodafone. Maybe he was upset that we tried to get more than one errand done yesterday. Whatever it was, what should have been a simple exchange of this-for-that took up the rest of our day.
First, we call the salesperson, who insisted he could help if there were any problems. No answers to calls or texts. So, we head to the local Vodafone store (not the main one, where we bought the stuff. It was 45 minutes away, and Mumbai traffic is, well, a challenge.) Naturally, no-one there wants to take responsibility for a simple exchange, so off to the main store we go. Except that John, our regular cab driver, who knows where it is, has to be elsewhere, and our new cabbie isn’t sure where the store is. After parking and walking a bit, and a few conversations and head-waggles later, we find it. An employee with the words “Faster, Better, Smarter” written on his shirt (more on that irony later) tells us that the exchange can happen, and he needs about a half hour. Almost there, we head for lunch.
If this were a movie instead of a journal, the next two hours would be summed up in a montage, with sped-up film and some Indian version of the Benny Hill theme song playing. You’d see a procession of managers of increasing rank, explaining that the exchange will take not 30 minutes, but two days. You’d see Ed tearing his hair out, Dylan doing his best to appear calm, and Suba’s eyes burning a hole in the floor. The main manager doing her best to reduce the wait time from two days to several hours. The incomprehension of the staff as we choose to buy the products over again rather than wait for the exchange: impossible since, as we explained, we have to catch a train that night. The shadows getting longer as our sightseeing plans turn to dust.
The montage would then jump-cut to a scene of the three of us, back at the rooftop bar, high above the Mumbai traffic, nursing our liquid therapy.
We’re off next to Bhopal, a 14-hour overnight train, leaving just before midnight.
The Mumbai train station is a sight in and of itself.
Our train car is an “AC 2-tier first class sleeper.” Sounds awfully fancy, but the accommodations are somewhat more modest than expected. We climb up to our bunks, tuck ourselves in, and let the train rock us to sleep.
Train life is better shown, than told, so check out Ed’s photo gallery to tell you the story.
Up next… Chapter Two: Bhopal