|Mumbai (March 26, 2002 - March 29, 2002)|
Arriving in a new country is always a bit difficult - we have to learn the
rudiments of a new language, currency, food, toilets, and modes of
transportation in a hurry.
Traveling with kids makes it even more difficult, although the kids are now veteran travelers. They need to be introduced to new food slowly, and they do not like to delay sleep, meals, or toilet stops while Sarah and I figure things out.
To make things harder yet, it seems that the more 'foreign' a country is to us, the later in the day the flight arrives. For example, we arrived in New Zealand and Australia around mid afternoon. Our Japan, China, Bali, Singapore, and Thailand flights arrived at night.
You can probably guess where things are heading. We arrived in Mumbai at 10:30 PM. Unlike the other countries though, things rapidly went downhill from there.
The problem was our visas. We thought we had made it clear to the Indian embassy in Bangkok that we were a family of 5 traveling with three passports - the girls travel under Sarah's passport. Sarah noticed that her visa had the 'number of children' field blank when we got our visas back, but we decided not to do anything about it in Bangkok thinking that it would be something that the passport control in Mumbai would overlook or fix. Wrong! The passport people in Mumbai airport insisted that the visa in Sarah's passport did not cover the two girls and made us get two additional visa's. $80 US and almost three hours later we finally cleared customs and immigration. We got to our hotel room at about 1:30AM which was about 3:00AM Thai time - and remember that we were up early that day to go to the Damnoen Saduak floating market 80 km south of Bangkok. Our problems weren't over as the Visa's they issued were only valid for 15 days, and we are planning on staying for 6 weeks.
But at least the hotel was nice. We got a room at Shelley's Hotel in the Colaba area of downtown Mumbai and stayed for three nights.
While the kids and I did homework the next morning, Sarah went off to the Canadian Consulate and got some excellent help - she was directed to the state police department where after going through a process, the assistant commissioner changed the girl's visa to match our leaving dates. It took about 5 hours (particularly waiting for the photocopier person to show up to make copies, as it was not anyone else's job to operate the copier), but everyone was very pleasant.
Beggars are everywhere: kids, mothers and babies, cripples, elderly. Driving in from the airport at night, I must have seen 500 people asleep on the streets, although I suppose these were homeless people and not necessarily beggars. We have talked to our kids about beggars at length. We have been told by locals, and read in our guide book that the best way to help beggars is to give a donation to one of the organizations that supports them - giving something to them directly only reinforces begging as a way of life. But it is hard/ frustrating/ annoying/ sad to see them so frequently.
Reading this so far, you'll probably have the impression that we are not enjoying India. On the contrary, we love it. It is exactly what we were expecting, and we are thrilled to be here.
Indians seem to have a smaller sense of personal space than we do. For example, when we were lined up to buy railway tickets, the person behind Sarah was literally centimeters behind her. The same sense of space seems to apply to car driving. At stop lights, we've seen cars line up six abreast in a three lane road. They are so close together that there is literally not enough room to have your arm resting out the open window. Most cars do not have side mirrors, or if they do have them, they are folded in.
To the uninitiated, driving in India is bedlam. It is like amusement park "bumper cars" with horns, except we have yet to see an accident.
India is a country of many languages, and I think horn honking is a language that drivers must master before they get a driver's license. In fact, it seems to be one of the more important requirements. I paid careful attention in one of our cab rides (20 honks in 4 km), and here is a starting glossary of horn honk meanings:
Car horns also answer other car horns with "yes" or "no" signals, although to my untrained ear, I cannot tell the difference. Unlike North American horns, car horns here never seem to be impolite or rude - they never say "MOVE" or "hurry up".
Of course, the horns could just be used out of courtesy to truck drivers. Every truck has a hand painted sign on the back bumper saying "Horn OK Please", so honking at trucks may just be the polite thing to do.
My favourite thing in India traffic has to be the tunes that cars play while they're backing up. In North America and Europe, trucks sometimes sound a high pitched "beep.... beep... beep" when they go in reverse. India has turned this to an art form and applied it to cars. I am now compiling a top 10 list of car reversing tunes. Candidates so far include "Jingle Bells", "Happy Birthday to you", and some Frank Sinatra tune whose title I don't know because it is not "do be do be dooo".
After getting thoroughly coloured, it was time to take the train to Pune ("Poon-eh"). We were a little concerned that the taxi driver would not want to take us to the station in case the dye came off in his car. But when he got out, I saw that he was already covered in red dye. We looked at each other, said "Happy Holi" with broad smiles, piled all our luggage on top of the tiny car, and sped off to the train station for the trip to Pune.