Friday, May 8, 2009
The sun burns down vertically (Goa is solidly tropical) so no walls see any sun and there is little shadow. People move slowly, or sit or sleep in the shadow. Even the few souvenir vendors who have made it out here seem lethargic and easily discouraged. I'll catch a bus to Mangalore tomorrow, and then I think I'll escape to the cooler hills.
The picture is from Panaji, a couple of blocks from my hotel. Nice quiet town, hard to believe it's the capital of Goa.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
(Actually I wanted to take the train, but trains in India are fully booked. All of them. You need to draw a number at the station, at a cost of 10 rupees, fill out a form, wait in line, and get told that there is no way from here to there. They are good with forms here - my hotel needs a passport copy, and while a SIM card in China is handed over when you put enough money on the table, here it takes a passport copy, a photograph, and nine signatures on four forms.)
Dharavi in the middle of Mumbai is Asia's largest slum, they say. From above it's a patchwork of gray corrugated metal roofs, packed so densely that there are hardly any gaps, and none wide enough that they could be called streets. They actually run sightseeing tours through the slum, but I was content with the edges, it would feel like a zoo otherwise.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
The interesting part of Mumbai, where nearly all the sights are, is a peninsula between the harbor in the east, and Back Bay in the west. Another, much narrower, peninsula wraps around the other side of Back Bay, and that's where I went today. They have a few very nice parks (where "straineous exercise" is not allowed), and a large rectangular pool with stairs leading down on all four sides. People sit there and talk, or perform religious rites involving offerings, incense, and washing. There are many small shrines around it, and a large area where Mumbai's clothes are washed. Back Bay is open to the Arabian Sea, but that side of the peninsula is very filthy.
Walked to Chowpatty Beach next. This part of town is nice, and I had a great lunch with a monumental chocolate sundae there, but the beach is not. There is an abandoned amusement park, huts made from bamboo and plastic tarp, with an open sewer running down to the water, and children are playing in the dirty water. They came out, smiling excitedly, to shake my hand and earnestly pronouncing their few English sentences, then ran back into the water giggling.
Also walked to the Chor Bazaar, a large part of town crammed with food and clothing stalls, and the ubiquitous cellphone repairmen. Chickens are killed, plucked in plastic buckets, and sold here. It's quite dirty and slippery. There are many women I call Black Ravens - muslims with full-body burkhas and only an eye slit. One lifted her veil to spit on the ground.
Watched the sundown at the Gateway of India, and soon attracted the photo crowd again. I should consider a career as a model.
The bottom photo is from the Chor Bazaar area, and the top is from the Colaba area of town, the back side of the block my hotel is in. Mumbai is a city of contrasts.
Monday, May 4, 2009
The Gateway of India in Mumbai is a monumental arch facing the sea. It's best seen from the harbor so I took a harbor tour boat. It didn't really work because it's full of Indians; at first I didn't realize why the two seats next to mine saw so much traffic, people constantly getting up and sitting down, until I saw that I was the main attraction and people wanted their picture taken with me. So we turned it into a party where everybody was taking pictures and showed them around. Many people wanted me to take their picture, children were grimacing. (The harbor itself is totally boring.)
I had inquired about rooms at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, a landmark next to the Gateway. But the palace wing is still roped off, boarded up, and shut down after the terrorist attacks in November. The tower wing is open, but it's a boring office tower with some prefab concrete ornaments hung on the facade; it has a barrier, a fence, metal detectors, a gun emplacement, and a bag search station. I am glad I am not staying in this prison camp.
Mumbai, as expected, is a big noisy town with the usual honking traffic chaos. But there are lots of quiet leafy neighborhoods with old buildings that have a feel about them that almost reminds me of some old neighborhoods of Berlin (if they weren't so dilapidated). Mumbai has many trees lining its roads, which hide some of the rundown architecture. There are also grand old palaces from British colonial times, big parks where people play cricket and rugby, and the most palatial train station - Victoria Terminus - that I have ever seen. Inside it's not palatial at all though, and filled with masses of people in a hurry. There is a big bazaar to the north of the train station, with a heavy emphasis on electronic, and in Asia "electronics" is a synonym for "cell phones".
As a Mumbai visitor I am obligated to choose a picture showing the Taj and the Gateway. It's the #1 postcard motif here, and Mumbai doesn't have a huge selection of those. But I like the one above better. I hope it looks good, this PC is unbelievably creaky. The shift key is missing too.