The snake charmer

//The snake charmer

The snake charmer

I began the day by moving hotel.  It wasn’t a difficult task by any means because the hotel I was moving to was situated on the top two floors of the same building as The StrandThe Kerawala Guest House.

The room was a far cry from my situation in The Strand but cost only Rs700 by comparison.  After yesterday’s episode I was keen to save money where I could.

The shower and toilet were in a partition in the corner of the room, which itself was quite a cold concrete chamber.  I had a kind of balcony out back, but it was meshed-off to stop the local raven population inhabiting the room.  In one corner of the little balcony was a sink, very small, with a stainless steel mirror slung from the mesh above it.

The day was relatively uneventful compared to the previous day. I went back up to the post office and posted the letter to Squeeze. Then I began my quest to get a ticket outta-here.  I tried to find the air-conditioned booking hall as described in my guidebook at the Victoria Terminus.  Lucky for me – I couldn’t find it and nobody seemed to be able to understand my request: “Where do I buy tickets to Udaipur?” … “Uh?”

(This was because I was saying OO-DIE-PER instead of OO-DAY-PER)

I was tailed regularly by touts saying “You want a ticket to Udaipur?” but I had seen the sign above the ticket booths:

DON’T BUY TICKETS FROM TOUTS – IT IS A TICKET TO JAIL

After having asked at about my third ticket booth a gentleman finally said “Not from here, from Central.”  I realised I was in completely the wrong station to buy a ticket going north.  Trains only went east or south from Victoria. I went outside and hailed a taxi, which wasn’t difficult as they were packed across the road – five lanes tailing back fifty yards.  Central station was 5km away, so I wasn’t going to walk.

I enjoyed riding in Bombay taxis. They were like toy cars almost; not even pretending to be real road vehicles.  We took a roundabout route to the station passing temples and markets of all colours and shape.  There were no tourists to be seen here and there was a distinct lack of beggars too.

Stupidly I had not agreed a price with the driver before-hand so upon arrival when he said “Fifty-seven Rupees” I was a little taken aback.  The meter only read 3.6 Rupees; this I indicated to the driver.  He smiles and reached over to the ‘glove compartment’ and pulled out a ready-reckoner for cab prices.  Obviously there had been inflation since the clockwork meters were first introduced – so the ready-reckoner indicated what today’s equivalent price would be.  He showed me: Rs45 it read.  I gave him Rs50 and dashed into the station to avoid any further arguement.

I proceeded to the air-conditioned booking hall at the far end of the station (I assume whomever had written the guidebook had got the stations mixed up) and queued at an arbitrary counter. The queuing technique was similar to that in the airport.  “Udaipur?” I said hopefully. The man said “Outside. This way.” He waved in the direction I had come.

I followed his lead which lead me to another group of booths on the far side of the entrance courtyard where the taxi had dropped me.  I enquired in the same manner at two booths before referring back to the guidebook.  The third option was to try the tourist booking desk opposite Churchgate station.

I caught a taxi down to Churchgate; paid Rs50 for the privilege.  The tourist counter was closed.

But… I could return at 9.30 in the morning to make my reservation. I was disappointed in having to stay in Bombay at least another 24 hours, but hey I knew I was actually leaving now – so felt 100% better.

I wandered down to the Gaylord restaurant nearby for some lunch and to read my book; get away from it all for a while.  One expensive curry later, and several chapters, I headed on to Marine Drive and down towards Colaba.

The view across the bay was impressive: an assortment of high-rise ugly buildings packed tightly together jostling for the best views over the bay.  I kept up a good pace although the area seemed reasonably calm and vagrant free in comparison with Colaba and Churchgate.  I decided to stop at a bench and continue with my book. No sooner had I read a page than a snake charmer began to hassle me.

“You take picture. It’s okay, no money.” Well that was a lie for a start. He put down his basket and removed the lid. A dozen or so snakes popped their heads out, including a couple of Cobras. “No” I said “it’s okay.” and waved him away. “I want to read my book” I repeated this several times before he spotted an American tourist sporting a large camera around his neck – and dashed away. I decided that sitting still was not a good idea and headed on.

A large crowd had gathered about 500m down and as I approached I realised that one of the famous Bollywood shoots was in progress.  The sequence involved a guy and a child on a bicycle, cycling along the seafront.  A bunch of balloons had been tied to the handlebars.  I stood by the camera – a naff BetaSP thing and admired the composition.  “not bad” I thought, and continued another fifty yards before coming to a halt.

The road ended. Just ended. This eight lane dual-carriageway, the backbone of Bombay’s road system came to an abrupt halt at the harbour. Completely bizarre.

I headed back to the hotel, pausing briefly to speak to a couple of lost tourists standing outside the desolate Amex shop. “I think everything is shut on Sunday” I explained, referring to the ticket office. They were the second people to mention to me that day that they were going to Leopolds that evening. “Must be good” I thought and made a mental note to check it out.

Earlier that day I had met a guy on his way there, soon after leaving the hotel. I noticed him because he had wisely totally ignored two grubby child beggars who had tugged at his shirt.  Feeling sorry for them I gave the little girl Rs5 (the smallest denomination I had on me) which I immediately regretted as she and her brother followed me for the next half a mile asking for more money for ‘the baby’.

The guidebook had suggested with Rs1 they should be happy and will leave you alone – un uh.

Got changed at the hotel and took my brolly with me to Leopolds. It was nothing special, quite westernised, but clean and the food was good. I exchanged small-talk with two girls from Denmark on the table next to me.  They had come from Madras; before that – Vietnam. They said Vietnam was most excellent, but that Madras was worse than Bombay. “Is that possible?” I asked myself.

By | 2017-01-06T11:17:10+00:00 June 15th, 1997|India|0 Comments

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