Thursday, November 12, 2009

Udaipur Check-In

Just a quick note, reporting I am safe In Udaipur after the 17 hr train journey through the night in the rain of Tropical Cyclone Phyan, for which the warning was posted about an hour before my departure from Bombay.
The cyclone hit in the area of Alibaug, near the beach house I described in my previous post. I have not heard from my friend whether everything there is ok.

The guesthouse where I am staying is called Shiva Guesthouse. The staff is nice enough, though it is surely geared towards a younger, more carefree kind of traveler. I have a nice bed, clean sheets, working electricity and an en suite bathroom with hot water.
My top complaints are that the shower barely emits enough water to wet yourself, and the hot and cold non-shower taps are separate, so if you try to wash under them, its either burning hot or freezing cold! ACK..
The alternative is the local style bucket bath.
I guess I should be content, some fellow travelers I met in the lobby earlier today declared it was a luxury to have the hot water at all.

It has been cloudy and misty, breezy and very cool, with occasional light showers since my arrival. I went out only briefly, explored the Jagdish Temple, where I made some stupid foreigner gaffs for which a guide (unofficial) duly reprimanded me. I did, however, get some great pics there!
The old city area is a maze of narrow winding streets filled with shops where shopkeepers great you in a variety of languages and do everything short o physically drag you into their shops. The array of handicrafts and souvenirs is mind boggling, and the temptation to splurge on my favorite style of silver and semi-porecious stone pendants nearly broke me down. I asked a few prices, but was not prepared for bargaining.
The streets themselves are, again (sorry India) really nasty. Trash as well as dog and cow dung make it nearly impossible to take a step, and you are wise not to look away!

I had plain ghee pulao (butter rice) and a banana lassi for lunch before taking a 3 hr nap, from which I've just woke. It's 8:10 pm. Some of the hotel "staff" is drinking (secretly but the smell is strong) and chatting loudly in Hindi here in the lobby where the computer is located. Normal everyday life, I suppose. They are still friendly and coherent, at least!

I will finish here, make a few tweets, then see about a light dinner (in the hotel rooftop cafe) before calling it a night, in the hopes that tomorrow is sunny and I can find the boat to get a lake tour and/or go to City Palace.

For an international tourist destination voted world's top city, this place sure doesn't make it easy to navigate or know what the heck is going on!

Here I go, rolling with the punches!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cool November Rain, and a Train

Cool, breezy rains began yesterday around 11am.
Mumbaikers are all a bit surprised as November rain is virtually unheard of.
Apparently it is also bad news, despite the lovely break in the heat, because important food crops that should be ripening around this time will, according to my acquaintances here, be spoiled with even a few days' rain.
I am loving the coolness but sad for this news.
Hopefully the rains (a tropical storm in the Northern Indian Ocean drifting NNE inland even towards Rajasthan) will pass quickly.

As the storm moves inland toward Rajasthan, so do I.
Today is the big day.
In about 3 hours from now, I'll be heading out in a taxi for Bandra Terminus where I'll board my 17 hour overnight train for Udaipur.
My host had an office meeting and is unable to take me to the station, so he is sending me with his (non-English-speaking) servant who will make sure I get the correct train, car, and so forth.
I have faith that I will be taken care of, but it is still emotionally stressful.

I am armed with two India-versions of well-known fashion/home making magazines for the train as well as my notebook, camera, and old iRiver music device.
I plan to buy bottled water and snacks for the journey at the station as I have heard train food is not good for the belly especially as mine is still very delicate, to put it nicely.

I have done everything I can to make detailed arrangements for my arrival in Udaipur, although in India plans do not seem to count for much.
My experience so far is that you get told a different thing every time you ask the same question!
(yes, even when asking the same person!)
My guesthouse is supposed to have arranged someone to meet me at the station and bring me to their location....first I was told a "driver" would pick me up, but when I emailed to "confirm" was told something to the effect of a "taxi" will be there to guide me to a "stand" at the station where I will be "met" be an unidentified-someone-else.
So really not sure if there will be anyone waiting there holding my name placard as originally arranged, or if I'll have to take my chances and spend the money getting a taxi on my own.

This rain is giving Mumbai, and my soul, a much needed bath.
Yes, I am still anxious. That is just how I am (for those who are commenting that I need to relax and just let go).
I take medication for severe anxiety, folks. It's not like you can just turn off the wiring and say ok now I'm gonna do it differently. It's chemical!
I fret, I cry, I make detailed plans, I freak out to everyone who will listen.
And then I just do it.

I know that the rest of my travels will be different from Mumbai.
I know that I CAN manage on my own, like it or not.

Undoubtedly there will be much more to report as soon as I can get connected from Udaipur!

My current "plan" is to first get settled into the guesthouse, determine level of safety and room security there, and probably take a nap to settle my nerves.
If I feel up to it, and weather permitting (70% chance of storms in Udaipur Thursday), I may wander the immediate area of the guesthouse before sunset.

I have no set agenda other than a list of places to see, not date specific (even that is a a major improvement for me, folks!)
City Palace, Lake Palace, Jagdish Temple and so forth are my main destinations, plus I intend to sit on the rooftop terrace writing a lot.
If I feel comfortable, I may try to find a spot right on the lake front from where to write, also.

I am scheduled to meet my host for my next destination on 19 November and will be going next to Jaipur.
All his references on the couchsurfing site are positive, and hopefully he already understands my p-o-v regarding being a guest not a party partner!
My friend here in Mumbai has his name/contact info in case, heaven forbid, something bad happens.

A reminder, again, that my posts from here on may become far less frequent. The guesthouse told me they had WiFi.
Their listing on hostelworld's website says "internet available".
I am sure there is a cyber cafe there somewhere if I need to go that route.

So, if you do not hear from me on this blog, on twitter, or via email for several days, do not panic!!
If you do not hear from me before the 22nd...THEN panic!

Thanks for following my adventure!

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?