I finally found time in my travels to write! We landed in Mumbai last week and hung out there for four days. It wasn't anything too exciting. It's loud, hectic, and stinky...basically the same as any other big city in a developing country. The Ganesha Festival was going on right when we arrived and there were shrines built all over the city. Every night people were dancing and playing music in the streets so it was really fun to walk around with all the excitement going on.
The best part of Mumbai was Colaba. The first day we were all so jet-lagged we woke up at 4 AM and went down to Sassoon Dock to watch the fisherman pull their catch in. It was a pretty cool experience and very interesting smells. We also walked down to the Taj Mahal Hotel (amazing) and the Gateway to India.
After about 4 days in Mumbai we took an overnight train to Goa, a beach town in the south. We opted for a no a/c sleeper train because it was the cheapest option. For $6 we got to experience the trains like a local. The bunks were really small and stacked in two's and three's in compartments. The bunks were made of vinyl and totally full of grime. When I climbed up to mine I had to brush a cockroach off. I slept pretty much the entire way (luckily, I can sleep anywhere) and woke up with only an hour or two to go. Besides the smell, the grime, and the Indian guys staring at us it turned out all right and I'd definitely do it again.
Goa has been a really nice change compared to Mumbai. It's just before high season so the prices are still cheap and there aren't a lot of tourists here. We've all been spending a lot of time on the beach and we also got to hike a bit as well. We met a French guy who had been to Goa before and took us on a hike to a shrine under a banyon tree in the jungle. The Beatles used to visit this spot in the 60's and 70's and people have been known to camp out there- smoking hash, meditating and eating jungle fruit. It was a really great spot to hike to and the natural shrine was really beautiful. On our way back we met some Indian guys on the trail and they told us where we could have a mud bath in the creek. They showed us these clay rocks in the river that we could grind to make clay and use the clay as a mask. It was supposed to be really good for your skin, but it was mostly just fun and a great outdoor experience.
So far, the trip has been great. On another night we hung out at a bar near the beach and met some Indian tourists visiting from Pune. We hung with them all night and it was a great way to become more familiar with Indian culture. They were pretty westernized, but also understood Hindi culture because they grew up here. One man was from a state in the north (not Kashmir) where the tribal fighting is so bad he needs an armed escort when he goes back home to visit his family. A few of the others were in a rock band and all of them played many instruments and sang. It was a very interesting cross-cultural experience with Americans, Indians and French all talking, laughing, drinking, and having a good time.
The fascination Indian men have with Western women is strange, but comical. I can see how some people would find the incessant staring annoying and kind of creepy, but I got used to it and it doesn't bother me at all. As long as you don't pay any attention to them it's not a problem. They mostly just stare because no one has seen many westerners and children stare a lot as well. I always wave and smile at the children, but you have to ignore the men unless you want them following you for the next few blocks.
We actually went to a bar one night and met some Indian men who took us to a dance club. There aren't really any western tourists around because it's just before the high season, but there are a lot of Indian tourists. We were all treated like VIPs from the moment we walked in. None of us had to pay a cover fee and we got all the free drinks we wanted. The moment we walked in all the Indian men just stopped and stared. The bouncers had to escort us inside and created a circle around us so none of the men could get near or dance with us. The bouncers literally pushed everyone out of the way so we wouldn't be touched or bothered. It was a really strange experience and one that I'll probably never have again.
Until next time.....