Summary of India diary entries by Rob Shackleford
1 – To Mumbai – Kyle Arrives
Read the other India Diary entries:
Start in Mumbai
Up & Down
Into the Desert
North to Rishikesh
Kathmandu and Home
I wake about 2am. That is when the time-clock in my head tells me it’s 6am and time to rise and shine. It takes me a while to realise where I am. Mumbai. Mumbai in India. That’s right! I drink some bottled water, pop a couple of melatonin, what my doctor advises is the best way to get my sleep patterns back into sync, then try to sleep some more. Mumbai’s airport is a busy, progressive place typical to most major cities in Asia now, with flights departing every 5 or so minutes. I know this because my budget hotel is located under the airport’s main departure flight path. As the 2am jet soars overhead with a sound like a vacuum cleaner, I think about why I’m here.
It’s all about bikes really. Royal Enfield 500cc Bullets to be precise. My son, Kyle, owns one and on a recent visit to Delhi the plan was hatched, that we would buy a couple of the classic motorcycles and ride them back to Australia, cutting through ten nations as we do so. Unfortunately, life has the habit of getting in the way of dreams and the option of purchasing bikes in India, then exporting them through Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia to Australia soon becomes a logistical nightmare. It was one of those trips where once touted, so many wanted to come along, that was until it was realised what such a commitment would take in terms of time and money. Some had one, some the other, but in the end it resumed the shape it was to originally take, which was for Kyle and I to bond through riding together in India, which is undeniably an exciting, challenging and exotic location.
I lay semi-awake and try to catch up on lost sleep. My hotel is close to the beach at Juhu, to the west of Mumai. A teeming, busy place, like most Indian cities Mumbai seems a warren of frantic traffic and humanity. I like India. Every time I arrive here there is a thrumming undercurrent of excitement and optimism that is not dampened by the rubbish or teeming homeless. In many respects, Mumbai appears post-apocalyptic, with unfinished high-rise draped in old tarpaulins and housing squatters. For those who have played Fallout 4, you get my drift.
I have been here only a day and already am pretty certain to have enlisted the assistance of a driver. He is Ramji Shukla, a bald headed, wiry fellow with a serious demeanour. He helps me access a sim card, so much cheaper than buying Wi-Fi from the hotel. For anyone staying in India for more than a week, a sim card is essential as the hotel Wi-Fi is either crap, excessively costly, or in the case of my hotel, both. At $6 Australian, the sim gives me a local phone number, a Gig of data each day for a month and unlimited calls in India, so the package is a dream compared to home. Ramji also helps me find street food, real local food. There are the usual lost-in-translation misunderstandings. At first he leads me to a fancy restaurant, where the waiters are all white shirts and bowties, then to an up-market supermarket that caters to Mumbai’s mega-wealthy. In the end we eat dosas together from a busy street van. Indian street food is fabulous, especially in Mumbai. The trick is to pick the stall that is busy and well-frequented by local customers. Dosas, an Indian answer to pizza, are delicious and filling. My lady love, Deb, would approve of my choice, for the food is also vegetarian.
Earlier, on the Etihad flight from Abu Dhabi to Mumbai I met the lovely Nicole, a travel and lifestyle blogger returning from Paris. Along with the obligatory picture with my book, Traveller Inceptio, she promised to keep in touch. I invited her to stay with us in Australia should she get there. Feeling tired and grubby, and stained by an orange juice a fellow passenger spilled all over my pants, we have our picture taken together as new friends.
Now I need to get through an extra day till Kyle arrives. We will sort out our bikes, for that is when the real adventure begins.
Mumbai Day 2
I begin my day with a beach walk. Mumbai’s Juhu beach is, by Australian standards, terribly littered, but is being better cared for than in the past where litter almost hid any sign of beach sand. The rapidly growing population of India is like most of Asia in that it struggles with masses of waste; human and animal, organic and so much plastic. Regular cleans have seen the beach become a more popular place for morning exercisers, military recruit runs and even a local cricket match. Without the waves typical to my home at Australia’s Gold Coast, it is a silty beach that sticks to the soles of my shoes, something I discovered as soon as I walked back into my hotel room.
Today, my main goals are to activate my sim card and get into more street food. I have Ramji take me to Vodafone to have my phone accessibility checked as, despite my best efforts and liberal curses, I can’t get it to connect the internet. Once fixed, (my fault – duh – airplane mode was still on) it was off to buy a bike helmet.
I visit the market areas at Lonking Rd and Hill Rd. In desperation, I stop for a ho-hum coffee at Starbucks. Yes, Australians and New Zealanders are terrible coffee snobs. Talking of coffee, according to her messages, Deb seems to be having the best time in Italy, which is wonderful. We sound so much like jet-setters, for when it was planned for Kyle and I to ride India, Deb received an invitation from one of her yoga students to join their hiking group to explore Tuscany. I looked around me, avoid a ubiquitous street dog, all udders and hip bones and never having been to Italy, wonder how the streets and skyline differ.
In my exploration I find a pani puri vendor and try the crisp puff balls stuffed with a mix of crushed nuts and then doused in chili and mint liquids. Eating is an explosion of flavours. The vendor hands me one at a time till I’m done. Then they charge, in this case 80 rupees – less than $2. It is delicious, light food and just what I need.
Back at the hotel, now my sim card is operational, I have much to catch up on computer work . It takes a while, but now everything is talking to each other I manage to get some writing completed.
I then decide to walk Jehu beach again, this time I head north. I was glad I did, for the crowds are out for the evening and the vendors are too. Dinner is a roasted corn cob, a drinking coconut, some aloo (potato) chaat and to top it off, kulfi, the delicious Indian ice cream. I think the lot cost me about $4. Why do I describe the prices? Because street food is delicious, cost-effective and has a huge variety. To be so cheap makes it even more appealing. All it takes is the courage to try it!
I watch the red ball of the sun as it sets over the ocean at Mumbai’s Jehu Beach. It is a beautiful evening. I wonder why the Gold Coast beaches are not as actively used. At home, after the sun-worshipers and swimmers head for their apartments in the afternoon, the beaches become virtually abandoned. We do beaches better than anywhere in the world, but as I watch families fly kites as vendors tout their food and drink, I can’t help but think that at home it seems a waste.
There is excitement as Kyle finally arrives from Vietnam after being Best Man for his best mate, Kirk. He tells me he’s not well, with a throbbing headache, having been sick for a few days in Vietnam. I hope he handles India okay. But we are excited as we are finally getting this journey under way after talking and planning for about a year. The bug he experienced gave him a bad neck and headache. His partner, Ruby, is really unwell after enjoying a seafood feast. Her mum, Mandy, arrived on her first trip outside of Australia. Instead of hitting the markets together, she takes Ruby to hospital. Kyle is intensely worried that it might not have been necessary as the exercise cost Mandy $1600. After a jaunt in the US and Vietnam, Kyle is justifiably worried about money. He has savings, but doesn’t want them funneled to hospital bills.
No, they had not thought to purchase travel insurance.
Mumbai Day 3
Like any adventure, there’s a period of tedious waiting. I’ll be happy to get on the road.
Kyle and I walk up the street for a Starbucks, which indicates the dismal standard of coffee to be found elsewhere, then we are picked up by Moosha and Baghwan – two of Rashid’s crew. Rashid operates a Bollywood production company and is currently in New Zealand. It is thanks to him that we are able to access bikes for our adventure. Initially we hoped to purchase, but due to a raft of administrative issues, we opted to rent. Moosha and Baghwan are on their own Royal Enfields, so we have the pleasure of being pillion passenger through the steamy, frantic streets of Mumbai.
To Westerners, the roads are chaotic. There is no such thing as lanes, give way, right of way, or any other road courtesies we take for granted. Cars hop into opposite lanes or run in the wrong direction around a roundabout. It’s just the way it’s done. It is suicidally thrilling.
Ultimately at the shop we meet the crew and accept the bikes were all good. After all, I had the local contacts and they assure me we will be looked after. So we organise the bikes, pay for a month’s rental, including jackets and pannier bags. The bikes will be picked up tomorrow.
Rob Shackleford is author of Traveller Inceptio, published by British publisher, Austin Macauley.
Kyle Shackleford is musician Milo Hunter Band and a Chef.