After our long airport wait-cum-delhi avoidal (we’ve noticed Indians seem to love using the word cum. To us it just seems like an inappropriate use of sexiness.) we arrived to Mumbai – the newer, more culturally appropriate version of Bombay. When our buddy Raj (not the hair dresar) picked us up at the airport we were only barely not strangers. We met Raj back in September during our stint at the camel safari company. Even though we’d only known him for a couple of days a few months ago, Raj is special and being around him is easy and we felt like friends from the moment we first met him.We had a full weekend of Raj all to ourselves before Gonzaga’s arrival and we spent it in perfect weekend fashion: a slow Saturday morning in pajamas that lasted most of the day, an evening IMAX viewing of Interstellar followed up by the late-night Indian version of a drive-in – masala scrambled eggs on buttery rolls served up hot on the trunk of the car. The next day David treated himself to a haircut and a shave (it was far less exciting this time around) and we joined Anand and Raj at their friend’s house for an afternoon chat over beer.When Gonzaga joined the team the three of us set out together to explore Mumbai. All along we wondered why we appeared to be the only white people in the whole city. We visited the Gateway of India, took an hour-long boat adventure to Elephanta Island, home to some impressive giant stone sculptures and monkeys, and endured/enjoyed one of the most packed train rides ever. Local trains in Mumbai are notorious for their overcrowding and commuters often jump into the cars while the train is still roaring through the station in order to increase their chances of finding a place to squeeze in. The crowds are so extreme that almost ten people die every day in various accidents on the platforms. We are happy to report that we are still alive to tell this tale.We embraced the madness of Mumbai and marveled at what seemed to us outsiders like round-the-clock rush hour. We were amazed by the way the traffic seemed to function in its own chaotic way; tuk-tuks, buses, trucks, bicycles and taxis sharing the roadways, often without lane demarkations or other unnecessary markings. The three of us discovered a new favorite activity: riding around in tuk-tuks. We loved being in the heart of the action: near-misses, vehicles zooming by on all sides (usually close enough to shake hands with other passengers) and the passing scenery. It was an adventure all on its own, no destination required. And tuk-tuk rides, though widely available in all parts of India, were more fun in Mumbai thanks to a new (to us) standard of professionalism. We could hardly believe it, but tuk-tuk drivers in Mumbai actually utilize meters, thus eliminating our least favorite activity of bargaining the fare. In fact, lots of people in the city seemed friendly and charged us fair prices despite our whiteness. On one occasion when we overpaid a fruit vendor he actually returned our money instead of choosing to capitalize on our error. Despite the thick layer of smog obscuring the skyline, Mumbai was a breath of fresh air.On one of our last evenings in the city we all helped to celebrate Anand’s upcoming arranged marriage with a small surprise party. Unfortunately Austin was not able to celebrate much as this was also the night that she caught her first bout of India illness (she was impressed that she’d made it so long without getting sick earlier). She recovered just in time to catch our bus out of Mumbai to our next destination. The lovely Raj, after generously hosting the three of us for a whole week in his house, brought us to the bus stand where we bid our farewells until next time.* We had a fantastic time in Mumbai but the pristine beaches of Goa were calling to us.*Next time will be mid-February when we’ll meet Raj and his family in his hometown of Patna to attend his arranged marriage. Patna is in the northeastern state of Bihar and has a terrible reputation. We’re told that 90% of Indians don’t ever want to visit there and the 10% who do visit only do so because they are curious to see if Patna lives up to it’s reputation. However, we’re told that Patna has been improving the last 10 years or so, and that kidnappings (oftentimes organized by the government around election time to raise money) rarely happen anymore these days.
Dear Raj, we’re looking forward to seeing you soon. Until then, godspeed, friend!