India Part 1: Mumbai and Goa (2008)

Mumbai – Saturday, September 20th

I was so excited to see Debbie on Saturday.  We planned to stay one day in Mumbai, and we are glad that is all we did.  It really wasn`t much of a city for tourists, and we didn`t leave there with a great impression based on the following:

There wasn`t much to see outside the Gateway to India.  That was really the only big attraction, and when we got there, it was all covered in scaffolding and it was raining and grey out which didn`t help.

We stood out like soar thumbs.  Everywhere we went, locals were staring at us.  Debbie had a saying, “Channel 5”, meaning everyone is watching us like we are Channel 5.   There were no other tourists and it was all locals selling stuff to each other.

-Anywhere we walked, everyone under the son was trying to sell us anything, including our favorite…a huge, balloon that was so large and phallic, you couldn`t know what to do with it and everyone was selling it.  It got tiring saying “No Thank You” and we were nice the first 2 times, and then I would sternly say it again and sometimes they would back off.

The taxi`s just tried to rip us off.  We knew the fare was 20 rupees from our hotel to the Gateway.  We paid this on the way there and on the way back, they tried to charge us 150, then another one was 80, then more were 50-60. We just kept walking to find one that was going to charge us the correct fare.  A nice university age woman stopped us to ask what was happening as she saw us talk to the taxi drivers, say no and keep walking.  She was so upset they were trying to rip us off, she offered to take us to our hotel and got the right fare.  Now, we are talking about 20 rupees ($0.50) and 150 rupees ($3.50).  It wasn`t the money as much as the principle. It was frustrating as they all kept trying to do this.  Oh well.  We got home and this woman gave us some good information for what to do that night.

Now it wasn`t all negative and we did have some fun in Mumbai.  We got dressed up (well as dressed up as I have in my bag) and went to the Intercontinental for drinks and had such a nice time catching up, we stayed for dinner and more wine.  The waiters here were so attentive and kept serving us food when our plates were almost empty.  Very nice and friendly too.  We tried local Indian wine and it was quite good.  Our night ended by going out to a local club called “Jazz”.  We thought it would be a Jazz club, but we were wrong.  It was a trendy club with a cover band, but fun nonetheless.  At one point, there was a group from Nepal that was trying to talk to us, and we weren`t in the mood.  The one guy that was married (and sitting with his wife), kept talking to me and wanting to know everything.  Debbie thought he was only talking to me since she was wearing a fake wedding ring and I wasn`t, but I think it was since I was sitting closest to him and it was loud in the place.  Anyways, he kept asking us to go to a club with them nearby – really so his 2 friends could get in as guys can`t get in without a woman.  He wanted to use us to get in and then said we didn`t have to stay (as we kept saying we didn`t want to go).  We said no this great offer and were in bed by 1am.  It was a long travel day and we were tired.

Goa – Candolin

This was going to start off the trip with some relaxing on the beach.  We knew it was the end of the monsoon season and it wouldn`t be packed, but when we got to our hotel, we were one of 8 guests in the whole place, and it normally has over 100 in high season.  It worked out to our advantage as the waiters were so helpful, kept referring to us by name and really wanted to make sure we enjoyed our time in Goa.

Three days in Goa consisted of:

-Relaxing at the pool

-Eating some of the best Indian food either of us have had-watching the sunset each night no the beach with a beer

-Going “shopping” in the capital city, Panjim, and again being more on Channel 5.  We didn`t see any other tourists there. It was a nice way to catch up on sleep and rest.  Who could ask for more?

The last day, we hired a taxi driver to take us all around before we flew out.  It ended up being one of the best days ever as we saw so much.

Our tour of South Goa included:

-The oldest church in Old Goa.  Really tall church and inside was the body of St. Xaivar-Guess my body count is up to 14 now?

Mangueshi Temple – We happened to be there right at a ceremony and prayer time, and we were able to watch.  We had a nice monk come up to us at the first temple and talking as fast as one can, he tried to explain everything possible, then took us outside to explain more, took our photos in front of some decorations and then of course wanted a tip.  He also wasn`t happy with the tip we gave him and wanted more.  He later came up to me (when Debbie went back into the temple for another look) and wanted to know if he could exchange US dollars with me for Rupees.  It was a great exchange as I can always use more US cash and he wanted Rupees…so “banking with Megan (like many of my friends do at group dinners) worked in India.

– Shantagurga Temple – Again we were able to be there right at prayer time.  A nice man started talking to us and telling us to follow him.  I thought it would be like the monk.  He wanted to take us to the small temple first, and we had to take our shoes off.  Since I was wearing my nice running shoes (and only non flip flop shoes I had), I was nervous.  At previous temples I have been to, tourists leave their shoes and locals “exchange” them for others so you come out and your nice shoes are gone and some crap is left.  I wasn`t going to risk losing these shoes, so I sat outside as I have seen a lot of temples and could miss this one.  He kept saying no problem, and I thought no problem for you when my shoes are gone!  When he and Debbie came out, he said he understands why I waited and knows people sometimes take shoes.  Ha…I was right!   After a great tour, behind the scenes of the temple (as he works for the temple), we said goodbye and offered him a tip.  We offered him more than the last guy as he did a lot more, but he wasn`t happy.  He then told us his “fee” was 200 rupees ($4.25).  He taught us a lot, but I said nicely that if you have a fee, you should state that up front as you can`t expect that at the end as we may not have had it.    He smiled as if he knew.

– Final stop was the big one…The Spice Plantation.  I had wanted to do this in Zanzibar, but the plantations weren`t really open since it was Ramadan.  After a lovely cup of lemongrass tea, our guide Christopher, took us on a tour of the spices.  Starting with Cashew Feni (Goa`s famous cashew liquor).  He taught us how they produce it from cashew juice and ferment it for a couple days and distill over fire.  He told us it was very strong and we could try with lunch if we wanted.  I did and I have to agree…it was strong with a nasty smell, but I had to try it while I was there.  The rest of our tour took us to all the spice plants where we got to play the “Guess What type Of Spice This One Is”.  It was fun to look and try to figure it out, then taking a smell of a torn leaf or something.  Some we got, but others were harder.  All in all, one of the highlights as I love to cook and could smell so much.

On a fun note, we saw two fruit plants and learned something new:

1. Banana trees – they grow one bunch of bananas and then the tree dies.  It takes about 8-9 months for the bananas to grow, but when the big tree dies, it “grows a baby tree” next to it so the banana population continues.

2. Pineapple bush – first I didn`t realize they grow on a bush that is shorter than my knees. Each bush only grows one pineapple and after it is cut (or eaten by the naughty monkeys in this poor bush`s fate), the bush dies.  No baby is sprouted.  So Goa was a wonderful start to our time in India.  We ate such amazing food (mostly vegetarian) and it was so reasonable.  We often drank more than we ate.  I think most of our dinners in Goa (without alcohol) were no more than $6-10 in total, and the same meal in New York would have easily been over $40.

Off to New Delhi to travel around the Golden Triangle and see the Taj Mahal!

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