January 17, 2001: Day 44, Mumbai (Bombay)
date: 1/19/01, 10:45 AM (original message written 1/17/01, 5:17 PM in India)
Re: Last email from India!
[Had to delay sending this because the ISDN line I paid 10$/hr for was slower than any of the shared 64kbs modem lines we used elsewhere in India]
We're back in Mumbai and hours away from departing India. Currently we are camped out at the Orchid hotel near the airport here waiting to take our 2 AM departure. Thought I would take advantage of their ISDN line and spare time to write our last update... we've exhausted our other options with a brief walk through the local slum and having eaten about as much as we can for the time being.
Since last writing we drove from Aurangabad (where the hotel was a comedy of customer service errors, but fairly nice) to Ajanta, yet another set of Buddhist caves. This particular set of caves was covered up with debris from about 800 to 1800 (if I'm remembering the earlier date correctly) so has intact wall paintings of incredible detail in at least some of the caves. We paid our 10 US$ government ripoff price for Gina and I (Rashmi and Guru were 10 Rs each, or about 50 cents total) and it turned out to be worth the money this time. But nevertheless, eventually a Buddhist cave is a Buddhist cave and we left to go on to Savda.
There we visited with Rashmi's aunt, at whose home we stayed. This turned out to be very comfortable, aside from getting used to the Indian style toilet... always a challenge, these things. Savda is a real non-touristy village (to the extent that our walk down the main street virtually shut down all business as if space aliens had landed) and it was great to experience the real thing. Water for washing is heated with an overgrown college dorm style mug water heater, and then mixed with cold before pouring it over oneself with a smaller dipper. I actually found this quite natural, squatting on the raised concrete block, which could be due to the mode of bathing Gina and I had to adopt at home when we renovated our bathroom last year.
The food in Savda was excellent home-cooked, and we also had the fun experience of going on a farm picnic thrown by one of the relatives, where all food we ate had been picked fresh that day and cooked over a wood fire... eggplant subji, chapati, rice, fresh tomatoes (I braved one slice), fresh onion, fresh ginger, and other yummy things. OK, the wheat and rice weren't picked that day but we were told that this family does not ever actually purchase food, and these are among the crops that they grow. Unfortunately the bananas were not ripe and no mangos at this time of year!
Our other adventure in Savda (other than more eating at the house of a friend of the family's) was to visit a local school, where several of Rashmi's family teach. It was very interesting to learn that conditions for teachers are about the same here as in the USA... not particularly good with lots of requirements and very little funding. However, because they get to beat the students, they are incredibly obedient, so the job is perhaps somewhat less trying in the end.
After Savda we went to visit more relatives in Jalgaon, where some of Rashmi's relatives (extended family, of course) have a college/school (both a technical/engineering part, and right now a part for elementary age kids... and interesting mix). Here, Guru was hoping to make an alliance for training and recruiting technical people for IBM and we got a VIP welcome (they picked us up in a car from Savda, and there was a big sign with "Welcome Stephan, Gina, ..." on it, plus a serving of very good Behl (sp?) after our tour. Actually, there was also a photographer and we heard since that our picture was in the local newspaper! Boy, it's going to be hard being a regular person again at home, after all this attention! Hmm, but remembering our celebrity mobbing experience at Belur, I think I'd rather be home anyway...
OK, this is all a bit rushed because the connection (ISDN no less) costs 500 Rs/hr here ($10/hr)... but next we took a very slow train to Nashik, to visit Rashmi's other aunt. Because our booked train was late we ended up bribing some railway officials to get us into regular non-AC sleeper class on an earlier train. This turned out to be quite interesting, very windy and smelly, and definately a true Indian travel experience as we bumped along slowly, stopping from time to time apparently so that people could get off the train to pick fruits from bushes along the tracks. But we did get there and spent most of our time in Nashik shopping for various things and getting Gina's Saris finished. More good food, which I wasn't able to enjoy that much due to the usual rumblings below and a very bad cold that only today I feel like I am finally past.
Then back to Mumbai, where we confirmed our opinion that hotels operated by Taj and inhospitable when they refused to store our luggage while we ate lunch at their hotel (the bad experience in Ooty was our other Taj adventure). So we hired a car for the day and did some good shopping at the government emporium, where I managed to find a really nice stone statue of Gurunda, which I now have to lug around in my carry-on bag all the way back to Boston (among all manner of other things).
That's about it. Unfortunately our hotel last night wasn't that nice and we were unable to stay here at the Orchid, which is a really nice 5-star "eco-hotel" where they not only take your baggage without question but also do everything else they possible could to be helpful and nice (including a free shuttle to the airport later). In short, when ending a trip in Mumbai, stay here... it's great! We did have a nice dinner here last night and then Rashmi took off after another nice meal (lunch) here as well (Guru had already left for family wedding preps in Mangalore after our first day in Nashik).
OK, that's it folks... an abrupt end to our trip, or so it seems to me at the time. Hope these monologs have been somewhat interesting to some of you. We'll send one more note from home so you know we got back safely... but I'm hoping there won't be anything more to tell about, just an uneventful trip back!
Hope all is well!
- Stephan and Gina (who is sitting out in the lobby, since this office is too small)
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