Friday, 15 July 2011
Thursday, 14 July 2011
The day before I left Mumbai, we did a tour of the Dharavi slums which is as about as obnoxious feeling as a bunch of middle class people gawking at poor people would be. The same ones feature in Slumdog Millionaire and cover 500 football fields. The whole place has been turned into a recycling mecca, doing the shitty jobs for companies who in turn reuse materials and make even more money. Every concievable material has its own tin shed that a bunch of guys squat and salvage from.
Families reside in houses made from plastic bags while the kids play nonchalantly on a huge yard of compounded litter and shit. £650 million is made from Dharavi revenue every year. And the kids still play nonchalantly on a yard of compounded litter and shit.
About four days prior to me stepping on to the fifteen hour bus to Goa, I remember thinking how unusual it was I hadn't gotten sick (3 weeks in) and in particular, not to have it happen on any of the long bus or train journeys. This was about to change. The first bubble of potential issue being the initial minute of sitting down and I managed to hold it until the restaurant stop, where I got off, found a quiet spot and spent the next 20 minutes vomiting myself inside out. I reboarded the bus and over the next fourteen or so hours, I became a minor celebrity, with the sort of retching you only see from a sickly cat who's eaten too much grass. Bizarrely, as we were finally pulling in to Goa and I was approached by a guy looking for foreigners to star in movies made at his Goan film studio. Ive heard of this happening with travellers who hang around certain parts of Mumbai where they shoot Bollywood flicks. I know what you're thinking, but at this point, the consequences of me top billing in an indian gay porn and/or snuff movie would have been a welcome diversion compared to the way I was feeling. Anyway, whether it was the way I smelled or looked close up, he must have decided I was unsuitable for either genre as he never emailed back. I staggered off the bus looking like the guy who chewed off his own tongue in Se7en and passed out at the nearest shithole hostel.
It was off season in Goa so had the air of Saltcoats in December. The sea was brown thanks to the monsoon, many bars were boarded up and it rained every few hours, making the humidity pretty intense. I transferred to a village and the Evershine guesthouse where on cue, we actually got a single day of sun. This is where Goa becomes pretty special. I toured around the area on a moped all day, checking out the local beaches and climbing hills overlooking the coast. Absolutely spectacular and you realise why Goa is so popular.
I left early the next morning to go 10 hours in to the middle of the country to Hampi. Like a 3D Petra, its got the best temples you can find in India and more importantly, its monkeytastic. The train journey up there takes you through deep jungle and past probably the best waterfalls ive ever seen. All top class and worth the effort alone.
After returning to Goa for a flight across the country to Calcutta and still nursing an arse like a burst watermain, I discovered that my long suffering girlfriend Lisa had booked me into a 5 star hotel for a birthday gift. I cannot articulate my joy at this, but at 32 years old, I can tell you that I spent the first hour of the stay jumping up and down on the bed. She is a wonderful human being.
In retrospect, India is the kind of place i'd recommend to anyone who appreciates culture, wildlife and stunning landscapes of every variety. But more so, anyone who takes for granted (amongst other things) basic sanitation, regular meals and water, money, a vaguely functioning digestive system, living in a climate under 45 degrees, dogs without open sores and missing 75% of thier hair, care for the disabled, basic education, air conditioning, not sleeping outside on the pavement/ alleyways/in between dual carriageways, not wondering how many people you are going to see urinating publicly today etc etc.
There's alot in India I find interesting. For example, kissing in public is illegal: wife, girlfriend or whatever. Richard Gere, if you remember, caused an uproar when he jokingly smooched Shilpa Shetty at a news conference. The next thing you know, they are burning effegies of Rich in the streets and calling for Shilpa's execution.
Indias call you could say, but it sends a mixed message when you can go to thousands of temples to look at stone carvings of some guy sitting cross legged wearing a different vagina on each finger.
With all of the poverty so glaringly apparent, politicians not helping (a third of them are under corruption investigation), there's a feeling of hopelessness when people who have the ability to change things instead to do this:"Mukesh Ambani is having a few friends round to celebrate moving into his new Mumbai pad. But as the home has 27 storeys, soars to 173 metres and is worth an estimated £1 billion, it will be a housewarming like no other. The building – named Antilia, after a mythical island – will be home to Ambani, the richest man in India and the fourth richest in the world, plus his wife and their three children. It contains a health club with a gym and dance studio, at least one swimming pool, a ballroom, guestrooms, a variety of lounges and a 50-seater cinema. Those lucky enough to have received an invitation to the housewarming later this month will be able to choose a variety of means of transport to get there. If they want to avoid Mumbai's gridlock, there are three helicopter pads on the roof. If they do drive, they will not have any trouble parking: there is space for 160 vehicles on the lower floors. Once in, nine lifts will take the guests from the lobby to upper levels, where the festivities will take place. On the top floors, with a sweeping view of the city and out over the Arabian Sea, are quarters for the 53-year-old tycoon and his family. Overall, there is reported to be 37,000 sq metres of space, more than the Palace of Versaille."Incredible. Five people living in a billion pound home in a place like Mumbai is the equivalent to touring RSPCA offices with a bag of newborn kittens and a potato masher.
So all in all, im pretty glad to be leaving India. Poverty, corruption and filth are one thing, but if I have to meet another prick clutching a copy of Eat, Pray, Love and looking to find him/herself, I might have murdered us both with a claw-hammer.