Monday, November 9, 2009

Beach House and British Expats

The past few days in Mumbai have been calm and yet full of interesting occurrences.
On Saturday morning Titu and I taxied down to the docks by Gateway of India and caught a ferry to a rural area north of Mumbai called Awas, where his family owns property. The ferry trip was interesting, with many families going for day picnics or weekends at their beach property. A group of college aged youth sang songs and had a drumming circle on the upper deck. Children played games while the adults snacked and chatted.
We sailed into the morning sun, making it difficult to see, but Mumbai's harbor (such as it is) was crowded with all manner of shipping vessels from around the globe as well as Naval vessels, fishing boats and private pleasure boats.
The trip to Awas takes about an hour, depending which type of boat you book on.
We arrived and disembarked at Mandwa .
Titu flagged an auto-rickshaw which took us away from the docks towards the actual village of Awas. En route we stopped for chai and a kind of battered potato fritter whose name I can never remember!
The rickshaw bumped along the rutted, crumbling road for about 15 minutes til we got out in the middle of what seemed like jungle. Through a gate, along a leaf-strewn dirt drive, we came to a series of arches and patios and the entrance to Titu's family "beach house" (about a 5 minute walk from beach).
As with so many buildings here, the beach house is redolent of former glory. Arched windows and carved elements but cracked walls and horribly peeling paint, utilities shut off or barely functional. The smell of decay...mold, mildew, dust...was literally suffocating.
No one lives there, anymore. A caretaker (husband/wife) lives on the property, but the house is not maintained.
Titu talked about renting it, or maybe turning it into a B&B, and I had visions of moving in, restoring it lovingly one room, one garden section at a time...
After he talked business with the caretaker briefly, we changed and walked to the beach, which was surprisingly clean and virtually deserted.
I collected a few shells and we splashed and floated in the Arabian Sea for about an hour before heading back to the house, where I was thrilled to be shown how to take my first ever bucket shower/bath!
You literally fill a bucket with water, get a smaller cup for a scoop, and pour cupfuls of water over yourself to bathe! Not highly effective, but good enough for short term purposes!
The trip back to Mumbai was quiet...Titu bumped into an old acquaintance and they talked about "the good old days" when Awas was much less popular with day trippers and the rich/land developers.

Saturday evening Titu left for a social event with some friends...apparently running with the rich and famous. I was invited but did not feel comfortable with the whole production. Reportedly some of the top names in Indian fashion and film (including 2 famous Bollywood stars) were there. Titu's friends, who invited him, are designers and ad execs and producers, if I understand correctly, so he has access to "the scene". (There is still so much I don't know about this man...I only knew him briefly in college and never once thought about him as anything other than a funny frat boy always cracking jokes in the dorm hall).
In ways I regret not having gone, yet now I can say "I blew off Bollywood!" and on yet another level I am just relieved I did not have to stay out til 3am!

While he was at the party, Titu phoned and suggested I go upstairs to meet his British neighbor who's lived in India since 1958!
I thought it would be a good chance to get a different perspective on all this madness, so I agreed.
What a fascinating experience! The man, who's name I'll keep private for him/his family's sake, was born and raised til age 13 in Alexandria, Egypt, moved to the UK during his teens, fought in WWII across Europe (including liberating concentration camps), and returned to India in 1958 with a British-based business.
He met his wife in Calcutta, and eventually they had 2 daughters, both of whom were raised in India.
He can be a cranky old man (well he is 86) but he has so many stories! At times he gets graphic describing war scenes or talks about wanting to die as all his friends are gone...but overall just a fabulously intriguing chap!
I want to write more about him, and yet cannot think of how to encompass it here, now, so will leave it for the (possible) book...

Today is Monday, Titu's at work, and I am locked in my room at his house trying to avoid the cleaning servant who should arrive any moment.
I just don't like to be bothered, and really would rather do the damn housework myself!

It's mostly cloudy today and "cooler" (in relative terms)...though 89, while not as bad as 98, is still pretty darn hot.
Thankfully a storm system is due to arrive either tonight or tomorrow, bringing 60% chance thunderstorms for several days as well as even lower temps.

I leave for Udaipur on the train Wednesday. I still don't know whether Titu himself can get off work to take me or whether I'll be going with one of the non-English speaking servants.
I have no idea how to find the station let alone the train platform!
Terror is setting in.

Next steps after finding the train will include:
keeping myself and my possessions secure during the 17 hr overnight journey,
making sure I get off at the right station in Udaipur,
finding the driver from the guesthouse there who is supposed to meet me with my name plackard at the station in Udaipur, and
getting settled up and settled in at Shiva Guesthouse itself.

In all honesty, I plan to cry a lot between now and Wednesday early afternoon when this next stage of my journey begins.
Titu has spoiled me horribly here in Mumbai, taking care of all my necessities and keeping me safe.
But all this is at an end.
From here on out, I am on my own, armed with only the most basic of Hindi phrases, and virtually no understanding of how to do things in this country.
I am super scared...will I even be able to communicate?
What if I cannot express my wishes/needs?!
Will I be safe?
What about my possessions? Should I leave my laptop here and rely on cyber-cafes the rest of this trip? If I do that...what about my photos? I won't have enough storage on my card for 4.5 months worth of pics. Plus much of my travel info is stored in emails or Word docs.

I am also having serious concerns about money...knowing my budget is so limited. Any miscalculation now could be tragic when I get to the later stages of my journey.

This is all so confusing. What the heck was I THINKING, coming to India alone on a rock bottom budget?! Why didn't someone kick my ass before I got on the plane?


  1. Hi.I've just come across this blog, even though you've been on my twitter list for some time.
    ( @mrhayford)
    Sound very interesting---I look forward to reading more.

  2. You sure are worried about a lot of things that most first time single women travellers to India are worried about so you will not be alone. Sometimes it helps to talk to other single women travellers on your journey and try to travel together for some parts of your journey, share a room to keep costs down as well as be safer in numbers!!! You surely make interesting reading so please take your laptop with you but you may need to be in a place with wi-fi to connect to the internet but at least you can store your pics on your laptop. Hope this helps. Take care and enjoy your travels in India.

  3. I must say that reading your posts thus far makes me sad because the only thing I can discern is deep, pervasive fear -- of everything. It certainly is true that India is a kick in the head, but there is something to be said about trusting the Universe and "giving it up." I never traveled overseas in my life until the age of 51 when I went to India alone...and I felt like I had come home when my foot hit Indian soil for the first time.

    You say you want to study Buddhism. the major teaching of Buddhism is impermanence, that all things change, and clinging to the idea that we can control anything or wishing things to be different from what they really are does nothing but create suffering. Your suffering.

    India is best served with the attitude "go with the flow." Don't try to change India because India will change you. When you open to the beauty of India, and not just focus on the images of filth, poverty, and death, you will find a much more enjoyable trip. Frankly, one of the reasons I love India is BECAUSE those things are in your face 24/7, not hidden like in the US.

    I wish you much luck and peace on your journey -- if you want to read some of my stories about India, visit

  4. Linda I appreciate where you are coming from and I think you have misinterpreted what I am saying.

    Mumbai has been an ordeal for me. I have not felt welcome here or as though anyone here is friendly.
    I have truthfully reported what I have seen and my experiences here.
    I have had good as well as bad...but at this point am more than frustrated with the negativity I've been surrounded by.

    I leave Mumbai today, and perhaps my experience henceforth will be different.

    My internet connection may become much less frequent but I will attempt to blog on a weekly basis if you wish to monitor how things progress.