Thursday, August 30, 2007

Welcome to Bombay

After almost 8 months in Delhi, I finally managed to break free of the spell of the Djinns long enough to enjoy an extended weekend in Bombay. I know that the official name has been changed to Mumbai, but for me, Bombay just sounds so much more exotic, glamorous and full of adventure. And the adventure started at the airport. After circling our airport for what seemed like an eternity, we finally landed, crammed into the little bus and sped toward the terminal almost colliding with the bus from Kingfisher airways. Neither bus wanted to let the other one get in the lead. I do like the fact that if nothing else, Indian driving is consistent no matter the location. After swerves and honks and a few shouts from our bus driver we arrived at the terminal where we hung out while waiting for our bags to appear. I am still convinced they took a later flight than we did.

We left the terminal building and plopped ourselves into the first of four taxis we would require to get us to our hotel. Taxi number one: We were approached by a guy who promised a pre-paid taxi, which is always a good way to go when in India and you have no idea how far the actual destination is. He walked us to the taxi and after a bit of protesting that we wanted to pay at the booth first, he told us they would drive us to the booth. Alarm bells went off, but I ignored them for the time being. A few minutes later we stopped and indeed it was a prepaid taxi, but not of the normal type where you go to the prepaid booth and tell your destination, are shown documentation of how much the cost will be, pay it, get a receipt and then go to the taxi and turn the receipt over to the driver. This was one where we were asked to prepay in the taxi, no receipt. When I asked how much it was, I was told 1200 rupees, which was more than the flight cost. We cleared out of that taxi in less than 10 seconds, baggage and all.

Next up was the driver of taxi number 2, who offered to drive us for 350. Fair enough. We got into the taxi and we were on our way... Or so we thought. 150 meters from our starting point, the taxi slows to a stop and we are told to get out and into taxi number 3, that would take us to our destination. We had already paid the guy and he confirmed no monies would change hand later... We were uncertain but decided we had no other option than to trust the guy. Off we were again, this time speeding toward Bombay and our luxury accommodations just around 1:30 in the night. It was great. That is until the engine cut out and we slowed to a stop in about as close to the middle of nowhere as one can get in Bombay. Manuel and I looked at each other and thought exactly the same thing. We were going to be robbed, stripped of our clothes and cash, left on the side of the road to be yet another statistic involving gullible goras. After trying and trying to get the car started (it sounded like it was out of petrol) taxi number 4 pulled up along side and we shifted one last time and before long we were once again on our way to the Grand Hotel.

One piece of semi-critical data we did not know, was that there are actually two hotels that go by the name of Grand. One is indeed grand and the other is grandly scary. We pulled up to a run down gray concrete soviet looking construction and was told by the happy taxi driver that we had arrived. Manuel and I took one look and knew something was wrong. This was not the red brick tower we had ordered and one of our previous taxi drivers had conveniently forgotten to give us the slip of paper with the actual address of our hotel and so there we were, outside the grandless Grand, tired, in need of a cocktail and no idea where we need to go. Fortunately, when it comes to emails I am a bit of a pack-rat and within a few minutes I had dug up the email and showed it to the driver who then exclaimed "Oh, the Grand!" and 250 more rupees later, we were standing in the lobby of our hotel checking in as fast as we could so we could pop open the mini bar, medicate our frayed nerves and get a good rest for the full day of sight seeing that would begin first thing in the morning.

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