Bollywood! No! Bust!

We pulled into Mumbai at around 6am, only to find we were at the wrong station – or at least not the one we’d hoped for. Our train was bound for CST, but ended up in Dadar (the next one out) due to engineering works.

As we needed to store our luggage somewhere more convenient, we hopped in a cab to complete our journey. This was annoying in two ways: the train journey is charged per kilometre, so we’d already paid for the final leg and we won’t get that back (though it’s only pennies); the taxi ripped us off. The journey was barely 20 minutes, the metre read “273” and the driver pulled out a posh laminated card which “converted” this to 546Rp. Far, far higher than can possibly be right.

Even given antisocial hours and so on, we argued. But with another taxi driver in the cab and exhaustion most definitely not on our side, we caved, paid up and hauled our luggage out. Inside the station, we asked someone and they reckon the journey should have been nearer 30Rp. Mind, it was a posh laminated card.

Luggage storage was an incredibly reasonable 10Rp per item per 24 hours. Much cheaper than Sydney Airport where it worked out barely cheaper than getting a hostel for the night. We dropped our stuff and went for a walk into Coloba where the travel agent was situated. Today’s visit was mainly to pick up flight tickets.

Indian cities are utterly different during the early hours. Mumbai is like a ghost town at 7am. Hardly anywhere opens their doors before 10am, though shop traders start setting things up from around 9:00. From the station to Regal Circle took us about 15 minutes, though whenever we asked for directions people just told us to get a taxi as it was “very far”. This was the same response we got every time we asked people how to get anywhere during the day. Every destination was “20 minutes’ walk” even when we’d already followed one set of directions, walked half way and were just confirming our trajectory.

Thankfully, one place opened early. Leopold’s, where we’d eaten last time, does breakfast from 7:30 so we chatted with a German and an Austrian (and the friendliest cat in India) outside until the shutters lifted. I had a chicken pancake and Koochi (if I remember correctly) juice for breakfast while we kicked out heels for the travel agent to open. A couple of the aforementioned shop owners could we watched outside slowly setting up their stalls. Agonizingly slowly in the case of the sunglasses salesman who took a whole minute to pick out, polish and mount each set of glasses.

Shortly before 10:00, we ambled along to the shop and found it open and our tickets put to one side. Both sets were in envelopes with our names, the details and information regarding checkin times helpfully printed on the front. Top notch service. The staff also knew where the nearby Inox cinema was, so we got directions before popping online for 90 minutes to kill some more time.

Then the annoying happened. Not one but two people asked us if we wanted to be extras in a Bollywood film. But we had to be available tomorrow and our flight to Calcutta was at 8:30pm tonight! Argh! Where were the talent scouts last time we were in the city! Global megastardom so close… yet so far. Damn and blast!

The walk to the cinema didn’t take too long (though, according to the people we kept asking should have taken 40 minutes) and we got tickets for Blood Diamond before settling in for lunch at the next door Ruby Tuesday restaurant. This was the only choice for food in the immediate vicinity, and they’re milking this fact with the most ludicrous prices I think we’ve paid for a meal in India. The menu prices are insane, then there’s 12.5% tax and then they put a service charge on top. Ouch. For two soft drinks, a plate of cheesey chips and a margharita pizza the bill came to over 690Rp. The same meal on the beach in Palolem would have been less than half that amount.

This was counteracted slightly by the cheap fare in the cinema. A decent sized Coke and salty popcorn is only 75Rp, making them a virtually mandatory purchase. And the film was good. Damn good. Go see it.

I don’t like Leonardo deCaprio. OK, he was good in Catch Me If You Can but he was also in Titanic which was awful. All is forgiven with this film, though. The action scenes are jaw-dropping and scary as all hell. Imagine a cross between Hotel Rwanda and Saving Private Ryan with a huge dash of City of God thrown in. The other performances are OSCAR-deserving, frankly.

Hans erupted from the cinema like a tornado as soon as the credits came up as he’d been dirnking too much Coke, and we walked back to the train station (you guessed it – 20 minutes) and on the way collected a Bangladesh Lonely Planet and – finally – a decent Indian flag sew-on patch. If anyone finds a good quality Sri Lankan one, could you let me know? I couldn’t find one anywhere when I was over!

We collected our bags and – after checking how much we should be paying – jumped into a taxi to the airport. Ninety minutes later and 400 Rupees lighter (after refusing the “extra luggage fee” pleas) we strode into the Domestic terminal and checked in nice and quickly.

A short email check, a chicken ball sandwich (don’t ask – it was about as appetising as it sounds), Snickers and Snapple later and we were ready to board the flight. Deccan Air uses the “free seating” policy, so we nabbed two on the emergency exit row. In exchange for ripping a door out of the wall in the event of us plummeting into a mountain, I get the added bonuses of being the first one out and also of extra legroom. I’m more likely to be able to run away from the burning wreckage as the seat in front won’t have crushed my ankles to powder. Handy, that.

I slept for most of the flight, and prevented anyone else doing so by snoring. Well, that’s Hans’ story anyway. I still think he’s wrong and I don’t snore. As we have agreed, this is my trip. It’s my blog. And I’m always right. Hans snores, I don’t. End of.

At Calcutta / Kolkata (take your pick) we queued for a pre-paid taxi and settled in for another mystery ride into another of India’s largest cities. The worst part is, it was a mystery ride for the driver as well, who had to stop and ask directions umpteen times. In between stops for information he kept asking for “one dollar tip?”, assuming that Hans was American.

After doubling back on ourselves twice, we finally got to the hotel Hans selected (yes, I’m blaming him – only because I can. It’s my blog…) and checked in, leaving an annoyed taxi driver outside with his palm outstretched, likely cursing all tourists. Frankly, I wish he’d got lost and we’d ended up somewhere else instead. The Gulistan Guest House is a dive. Our room’s pokey, the bed’s dirty, there’s no shower and the TV doesn’t have a picture. It’s 450Rp a night and overpriced by about 250 in my reckoning. Still, we have until midday tomorrow to find somewhere else.

Right now, all I want to do is zonk out.

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