After a two year absence I am back in India! It’s still hot and the mosquitoes still love me dearly. Even though this was my 6th time arriving into India, I still had to take some time to chill out and get my ‘India confidence’ back. That is, to go from shrieking at a man who dared ask, “How are you enjoying the rain?” to saddling up next to some people on a boat and asking them semi-personal questions. This usually happens within 24-36 hours, depending on how much sleep I’ve had.
I blame the guidebooks for this initial nervousness I feel towards the horns, the smells, the oft-quoted “attack on the senses” (I have a parasite in my eye and just had surgery on my nose – my sense are a little delicate). According to my two guidebooks a woman travelling solo in India has to be confident, relaxed, adventurous, courageous. assertive, daring, very brave and thick-skinned. That is too many adjectives for anyone to live up to. I will also be dealing with; groping, provocative gestures, jeering and lewd comments. So far all I’ve gotten are a few, “You’re very big for a woman, you know?”.
I don’t think they were coming on to me.
My last blog post had a list in it, and people seemed to like that (1,340 times according to the Like-o-meter at the bottom, but who’s counting?) so this post should also have a list.
2 things I have learned in my first 2 days back in India
Lesson No.1 : Don’t stick your finger in your eye after using hand sanitizer. I don’t smoke or do drugs, but I do occasionally indulge my habit of rubbing my eyes, especially in the morning when the night has been spent listening to the Mumbai traffic thinking, “I bet they’ll go to bed in 5 minutes…..maybe another 2 minutes….” and just a little rub would have me up and ready for the day.
This is the result (don’t look if you don’t like having your senses attacked). This is actually when I was half-way cured again. When it was really bad I was too busy running around in a small circle screaming and the aforementioned men who were meant to be leering and gesturing at me were terrified and wouldn’t look at me (It’s really not too bad here, it was a like a swollen tomato at one stage).
It all went back to normal after 12 hours.
Lesson No. 2 – Don’t say, “Wouldn’t it be nuts if this boat crashed” while getting on a boat
From the little pier next to the Gate of India in Mumbai, you can take boats to Elephanta Island (don’t be fooled as I was – there are no elephants. The place used have a name that actually meant something ’til the Portuguese saw a now long-gone statue of an elephant and called the place Elephanta). The wooden tourist boats leave every 10-15 minutes and from what I could see were all leaving the pier fine and happily sailing into the mist, dodging all the military boats quite skillfully. I chose the boat that chugged along gracefully for about 10 metres and then…..died.
I thought the driver was just saving petrol and that we would shortly be floating towards the island. Instead we floated into the next nearest boat who watched, unable to do anything, as we all leaned over the front to see our water carriage careering into their boat in slow motion (because we didn’t have an engine to do it any faster with!).
It was a lovely boat before we reached them:
And then we came along and made this dent (this photo was taklen after they had kicked it out from the inside – I was waiting for others to start snapping photos before I did….)
Being Irish I was expecting finger wagging, police intervention and insurance claims. Being Indian the other boat’s crew made fun of our captain and grabbed a hammer and nails to get to work repairing their wooden boat. When that didn’t work Plan B was put into action: hide the damage.
When all the laughing was over with we were still stranded less than 20 metres from the shore; a little bit too long to jump (and did you see the colour of that water?). A little old lady was the first to come up with a solution when she took the garland of flowers from around her neck and threw them in the water. She turned and gave me a look that either said, “Now it’ll all be ok, the flowers are in the water”, or else it was “This’ll teach that foreign one to go boating with the contents of a small electronics shop attached to her combats”. Either way the flowers did not work and next it was the men folk on board who tried to get us moving.
(The view while all this was happening was quite cool though:)
The captain had decided that we should all stay on board until the engine was back working. Calling another boat to take the 30 passengers would mean the boat’s crew giving the fares they’d collected to the new boat. But the older gentlemen on board didn’t enjoy being on an open top boat on a sticky summers day and started a revolution from their little wooden benches. Everyone joined in (I was excused from duty – I don’t think they wanted to look at my eye – see above). I found one of those 10 year olds who have parents from 4 different countries and can therefore speak 9 languages who told me the passengers were shouting, “You’ve kidnapped us” and “We will have you arrested the minute you step back on land”.
The revolution I did nothing to assist with worked, we were rescued and off we sailed to see the elephants (I had yet to discover the no-elephant thing). Elephanta Island is known for its caves, so I suppose I should show some caves here:
The island did have a good population of monkeys. They looked like fun, but the guidebook said if I even looked at them they would attack me.
I have to stop reading those guide books.