Monday, 16 March 2009

Day Sixty Five: Mumbai or Five elephants and a Punjabi

OK I have to start this day’s blog with a big apology and not only for the fact that we have had no internet connection to tell you what is going on, as I write this in our cabin in Mumbai at 3.30pm we still have no internet available. We have been told that it will be available today but who knows if they are telling the truth or not. Sad as that may be the even sadder story is that I have lost the actual write up of the missing days, all except yesterday that is and here is the reason for it. Each afternoon I write my text in a Word document called Oriana blog, Hilary then adds her comments and when I post it in the evening I add the pictures. The next afternoon because the text has already been saved by posting it on the web I just highlight the text and then type over it, changing the day and heading as necessary. I only realised today that I have been following the same routine since the internet went down but I haven’t been saving each day as I went, just typing over all our lovely insights as to what has been going on. So a big sorry that you missed a couple of days at sea but missing Cochin is inexcusable so I have added a summary for you below.

Cochin Day 63
We were late leaving for our tour due to an enormous overload in the theatre for the tours and when we finally did get out the coach was not air conditioned and had very narrow seats so in the end Hilary and I sat one behind the other. The tour consisted mainly of visiting mosques, temples and we should have seen a synagogue but by then Hilary and I were churched out so we went shopping instead. Our big surprise of the day was when we were taken to a large store for a “comfort break” and we ended up in the rug side of the store where after much deliberation and bargaining we bought two silk hand made and hand knotted rugs in green, one of them is 6 x 4 and the other 7 x 4 (feet that is). We paid to have them shipped to Middle Chub Tor and if the sellers are to be believed they may even be there before we get back – so Hayley you may get a surprise phone call about the VAT payment and the delivery. Please just take messages and let them know that we will deal with it when we get back on April 1st. Cochin was quite emotional for Hilary because of the family connections and so the rugs will always be a good reminder for us of that special day. We bought a few other knick knacks as well and took lots of photographs, particularly of the famous blue fishing nets which you find on the shoreline. The impulse to buy from the constant hawkers and beggars is hard to resist and they are so persistent but then there is huge poverty there and to quite frank around the fishing areas there is quite a stink too. As I said earlier we did slip away from the tour when the plan was to go to a synagogue as on the way there we had seen a few items that we were looking for, one of these was nutmegs and vanilla pods – no problem there and the other was a pair of thin cotton trousers for Hilary and after a couple of shops and some haggling we got a very nice pair in white cotton that will help her keep cool. A Chinese type top in bright red completed our purchases for the day – well if you ignore postcards and the obligatory fridge magnet. Our day came to an end with a mysterious invitation to have after dinner drinks with the Captain and the Chief Purser plus 50 or so other passengers. We have no idea why we were invited, no one else on our dinner table was much to their disappointment, we tried to find out if the selection was by deck, by birthday, by surname but we were told only that it was the Captain’s choice from recommendations by his crew and that we were VIP’s, so there! OK now for Mumbai…..

Tiz I. But first I will just add…. I can see why Grandad and Nanna had pictures of Cochin. The Cochin area is a collection of island connected by either water taxi or very long bridges. The area is tropical and has a lot of swaying palm trees and absolutely huge Tamarind trees. The Tamarind trees had been brought to Cochin by the Portuguese when they ruled the area about 300 – 400 years ago. There are some beautiful old buildings and bridges from the times of the Portuguese, Dutch and English which blend into the whole old area called Fort Cochin. The sea is the main means of employment and the Old Chinese fishing nets are a big tourist attraction. So when our grandparents visited the area it must have been something special. However, the whole area is knee deep in rubbish which does seem not to worry the locals at all! The people are friendly and smile a lot and we even saw a movie being filmed along the sea front! I loved this place although I would have to have a bit of a sweep up if I ever lived here! The rugs are lovely and I am very pleased with them. After we had agreed the price and signed all the paperwork Sam went off to find the facilities while I drifted upstairs to look at some beautifully crafted jewellery. I explained that I had no more money to buy and the assistant said ‘no problem’ and proceeded to produce diamond rings from a couple of trays. ‘Just try on’ he said. I must have had about £10,000 of diamonds on my fingers at one time! Then Sam joined us and the assistant persuaded Sam that I should have a ring – only £1,300 and worth much more! Sam knocked him down to £850 and they both expected me to buy it! They were both amazed when I stuck to my declining to buy anything else! Men!!! Great fun though.

Now for Mumbai. We thought that we were in for another big tour delay when they made the announcement last night that all crew members and passengers had to have a face to face interview with the Indian Immigration people and the timing for our group (those in the s-z surname group) was for 9.30am. The fact that our tour was planned to start at 9.15am – you see the problem? Hilary went down last night and kicked up a stink with the upshot that we were in the line at 7.15am and went through the procedure like grease through a goose as the saying goes. With that done, a big breakfast behind us (vegetarian bacon and sausages cooked while we waited) we trekked to the theatre expecting the usual long delay only to find that everything was fully efficient and we were soon once again on bus C1-1. The tour was called Panoramic Mumbai and was planned to be one with very little walking and most of the sight seeing done from the bus, our first stop in fact was at the famous arch called the Gateway to India. Here we started to sense something of what India is all about as no sooner had we come down the steps from the coach than we were accosted by children wanting to put bangles on us, holy men trying to do the same, beggars and hawkers with everything from postcards to saris. We had to resist them all, not only because they had nothing that we really wanted but just like Cochin we had no rupees because the ship did not keep them and we had no access to money changers. All we had were $20 US bills and of course beggars don’t give change, Hilary was upset by this but there really was nothing that we could do about it so we took our photos of the gateway and of the Taj Mahal opposite and got back on the bus. I could not stop a holy man giving me a cotton wrist band and some rice for luck but I declined the red dot between the eyes, I explained over and over again that I had no money but he insisted on doing it anyway, so I am still wearing it as it is supposed to be lucky. We went right along the Mumbai coastal beach to a hotel where for an hour we were treated to a dance troupe that showed us many of the regional dances. We also had some excellent appetizers with a variety of sauces and dips which Hilary and I thoroughly enjoyed while the couple sitting next to me looked on in horror. When I asked why they weren’t going to try this delicious food the lady replied “I’ve had Delhi Belly before and I have no intention of having it again.” All I can say is that she missed a treat and a great cup of Assam tea to wash it down. I also noticed that both her and her husband went to sleep during the dances so why they would want to pay £30 each to sit on a coach, not eat, fall asleep during the entertainment I fail to understand, they could have saved the money and stayed on the ship!

I did actually miss some of the entertainment myself as I went on a hunt for some rupees, I had seen how disappointed Hilary was at the gateway that I thought that if we could just get a few to buy some postcards and help the needy she would feel better. But this hotel was strange for I walked all around it and couldn’t find a reception desk, and then I went outside and walked around the block and couldn’t find a bank so I failed in my search. Back inside I saw the end of the dances and then it was time to head for the coach and back to the terminal. At least the Mumbai terminal has some life in it which was more than could be said for Cochin where we were at a freight and not a passenger terminal. Inside the Mumbai terminal was a range of hastily assembled tables laid out with all kinds of souvenirs, jewellery, saris, silk scarves and knick knacks and it wasn’t long before we were in there perusing their wares. Hilary had admired the outfit that our lady courier was wearing and when we talked to her afterwards she said that it was called a Punjabi after the area where the dress is most commonly worn so when Hilary spotted one in light purple hanging on a rail it was almost love at first sight. A quick fitting, a demonstration of how to wear the scarf, a lot of haggling over the price and it was in the bag and our first purchase in Mumbai. While Hilary was dealing with the Punjabi I found the postcards and the fridge magnet so they were next in the bag, followed by a carved elephant that has another little elephant carved inside it and then came what might be our strangest purchase of all.

Ever since we started on this round the world tour Hilary has talked about India, her father and grandfather’s life here and her memory of a round table that they had which consisted of 3 carved elephants with their trunks up supporting a round brass top. She was determined to get one if she ever saw one and as we hadn’t found one in Cochin this was the last attempt and what did we find? Well not quite but we do have the basis for a table with 3 elephants on a base all facing away from each other and with backs and heads broad enough to support either a glass or brass top. “No way,” said I when we first saw it, “they will have to ship it back to England, I’m not carrying that on board.” The salesman didn’t see it as a problem at all and ordered his assistant to carry it on board to our cabin and he did his best to do that. He rushed us through the waiting lines and waited with us for a good 15 minutes at the base of the ship as we tried to get on board but the gangway wasn’t letting any of us on so we bade him farewell and muggings carried this large lump of wood up the gangway (it was too big to go through the X-Ray machine so they hand scanned it) and into our cabin where we have no idea where to stow it. I will post a picture if I can.

Well that is it for me, it is now 4.45pm so I have been typing for well over an hour and it is time to let the girl have a go, here she is….

Tiz I. Back again. We knew that Mumbai would be very hot and sticky and smelly and noisy so we opted for the coach tour. We saw a lot from the coach but it would be nice to see some of the buildings from ground level – especially the railway station which looked like a palace! It was disappointing that every aspect of getting ashore was made to seem so difficult. In reality it all went smoothly because we totally ignored the directions of the management and took care of the necessities ourselves in the right order to achieve our goals – to get immigration cards signed by the Indian officials and be in the waiting area at the right time for our tour bus. Mumbai is scary and I don’t think I would venture out on my own in this city. The city does not have enough jobs for the population which grows each day with more incomers from the rural areas. There are a huge number of beggars and homeless people which breaks your heart. In fact, it seems that the majority of people not in business seem to be security guards! Guarding is very big business and security people are on the gate of every building and even out in the tourist areas as tourist police. The dancing and music was lovely and it was good to be able to sink into Indian culture for the 45 minutes of the show. I was amazed how differently the people dress in the different areas of India – the colours used change too, some use very bright multi coloured fabrics while others use softer colours and wear longer outfits. I have really enjoyed the time ashore, it has been good for me to see how very blessed I am. Sam and I spent both £’s and $’s in the terminus building on our purchases and I still have not seen what a rupee looks like! Too late now, the ship has just started up its engines so we have 4 days at sea before we arrive at Sharma el Sheik. I will try to get postcards there. Hopefully the ship has now got the internet satellite receiver up and running and we will be able to read your messages, I have really missed our communication link. Take care, God bless.

One of the strange things about the west coast of India is that we are in a half a time zone and we put the clocks back by 30 minutes just before we reached Cochin and Mumbai and tonight after we leave we put them back the other 30 minutes to make up the full hour. I have never encountered such a strange thing before in all my travelling days; no wonder India is different from the rest of the world.


Hayley said...

Hello guys!

I'm so glad you had a wonderful time in India (in the end!) so sorry to hear you had so much trouble with management and the officials. The Elephant table look fabulous and the rugs will always be a great reminder. So glad the interent is up and running again i was getting worried, not to mention withdrawal symptoms from the blog.

I will look out for the rugs!

Lots of love,
Hayley xxx

P.s. what does that sign say with the foreign type above it??

samw7 said...

Yeah, I am so happy that we are now all connected again. Sounds like India has learned about the bureaucracy but not the efficiency. So glad that you had a good day in Cochin. I love the rugs and look forwad to seeing them and all your treasures in August. Definitely a place to put on the list for checking out again. This time with rupees! Not much going on here. It is a beautiful sunny day with temperatures in the 70's. i think I am going to go and sit on the swing for a few minutes this afternoon. Working on some legislative stuff for one of my clients, all of which can be done over the internet, yahoo.
Love to you both, Sam

Julian said...

Hi glad the engineers have managed to fix the internet. I would tell the story of when I had to fix the sat dish on the old HMCC Vigilant but mum would only worry about me working at heights with no safety gear. India sounds magical and can not wait to see the scrapbook and photo's. Are you sure you will get all of your luggage home? I have to go back to work wednesday morning, but with the laptop and usb modem should be able to keep in touch. It will be my first time at sea since you started the cruise!! Wish I could have seen all the wildlife with you.
Take care
Julian Moira Carl & Kelly

Pat said...

Really brillient having you back on line. I have been quite lost without being able to read all about your happenings. Makes me realize how much you must have missed your mum whilst she was on her trip (no internet then).
Really getting used to my lap top now and have made contact via facebook with Sam,Jessica,Sharon and Beccy and hopefully soon with Hayley.
The rugs look lovely and I like the elephants. Do you think you should ask the taxi people to bring a trailer for all your goodies
See you soon
LOve Pat