Arriving to Bombay
We landed in Bombay in the evening around 6 or so, and Manan bhaiya picked us up. We will be in Mumbai till the 15th morning when we catch a flight to London. Will spend a day in the UK, and then after that I will hop on a flight to Madrid and begin my Study abroad program. The weather in Bombay was terrific upon landing, and has remained that way throughout our stay here so far. We got a taste of Bombay traffic, which is horrendous, right away as it took us a good while to get back to Manans house. He and the family live in Andheri, which is a great place and many celebrities live nearby. Once we got back to the house, we finally got to see masi and guddu mama and hung out for a while. Dad went to meet up with some of his old friends, including some dude named Sanjeev Kapoor who has apparently started his own india version of the food network, and is the indian equivalent of emeril or any of the other celebrity chefs. At home, we ordered some Indian Chinese food, which as usual was exceptional.
After recovering from the heavy meal, Manan and I headed off to try some paan. Paan is a very popular street snack type dish, which is basically a huge leaf which is stuffed with beetle juice or different flavors of things and then wrapped together. It is extremely popular in India, and people eat the entire thing in one large bite. Many people also ask for tobacco to be included in theirs, but we chose against option as it sounded far too grossly similar to chew tobacco. Anyhow, I tried two different pieces of paan, and most likely will never do so again. The first one was a pre-wrapped one which was about the size of a giant piece of sushi, had the beetle juice inside of it. The flavors were so strong and overwhelming, as they burst in your mouth with every bite, and it took me far too long to chew. I must have looked hilarious to the locals as I was making all sorts of funny faces, and eventually just had to spit it out in the trashcan. For the second one, seeing that I hadn’t liked the first flavor Manan had ordered a mint-flavored paan this time. The shopkeeper made took out a huge leaf and proceeded to make a giant paan that was much bigger than the first. I could barely fit the paan in my mouth, and thought I was going to throw up. After struggling to get it all in and chewing on it for a little, I gave up and had to spit it out once more in what turned out to be an epic paan fail for me.
Just realized how many “that’s what she said” jokes could be made about my paan story.
After Paan, we decided to take a quick drive through the city so I could get more familiar with my surroundings. We stopped at juhu beach, which was pretty cool as there were a few merchants and music playing. As we got onto the beach, you couldn’t help but notice what a ridiculous amount of trash there was littered all over the beach. It was actually disgusting, and seemed as thought no one in Bombay could find a trash can so just decided to toss it all on the beach, which was sad to see. I asked Manan why the government didn’t put trash cans everywhere, thinking that would be a quick fix to the problem, and I was shocked by his response. Apparently, the government has tried multiple times to place trashcans everywhere, but the citizens always just steal the cans within one or two days, as they sell the metal for however little money, burn the wood in fires, etc. so it is not due to a severe lack of effort.
That story only reinforced the concept that nothing is as simple as it looks in this country, as it involves such a complex network of individuals and socio-economic classes that there really is no quick fix to the variety of issues plaguing the country. Along with that, the corruption within the government is astounding. Shantaram said it best when he said that India is the only place where honest corruption takes place. The entire country acknowledges that corruption occurs and that bribes happen daily, where other countries silence such thoughts. Although it has been slowly improving (Very slowly) it is still to a point where if you are pulled over by a traffic cop, you can offer him about 100 rupees ($2) and 9 out of 10 times he will let you go. We went back home, enjoyed the Internet connection for a while, and called it a night.
Day Two – Leopolds Café and Beyond
The next day, dad and I headed towards Colaba Causeway (one of the main strips in Bombay) to meet up with his friend Ashok Sood. Dad and his friend were both going to Pune to meet up with Avinash Uncle, so we had to get to his house so dad could hang with him and take off the next day. I went along to meet up with Manan so we could go to Leopolds café for lunch. I was especially excited to go to Leopolds, as I am reading this incredible book called Shantaram, and the café is mentioned in great detail throughout the novel of epic proportions. On the way there, we stopped at a Costa Coffee (India’s Starbucks) to meet up with a family friend Raashi, who is my age. We all hung out for a bit, I had a yummy Arnold palmer tasting iced tea, and then we continued on towards colaba.
On the drive there, I remembered and realized how cool a city Bombay is. We took the sealink, which is a new giant new bridge that was created a couple years ago, that runs entirely over the sea from one end to another, and the engineering marvel will be expanding soon. It has apparently gone a long way in improving the pathetic amounts of traffic that people deal with. Travelling in India takes so much longer than it does in the states due to poor infrastructure and roads, that it takes something like 12 hours to cover the 600km (360 miles) from Bomaby to Goa via car. Anyways, once we crossed the sealink, we drove along the coast for a while till we hit Marine Drive and then ended up parking in front of the Regal cinemas. Dad’s friend and manan both met us there, and we both went our separate ways.
Manan and I ended up driving around for what felt like forever looking for parking, but finally found a great spot right on the causeway less than 2 minutes from Leopold’s. Dad’s good friend Avinash Uncle’s daughter joined us for lunch at the café. I hadn’t seen her in over 6 years and wasn’t sure what to expect, but we got along quite well and had a great time. We started off by ordering a tower of kingfisher beer, which was cool, followed by bowls of chili chicken and beef chili chicken which did not disappoint.
As I had mentioned earlier, a main reason I wanted to come to Leopold’s was because of the book Shantaram. Shantaram is a novel written about the true story of Gregory David Roberts’s life, which I am currently reading. Basically, the book is about this guy who breaks out of a maximum-security prison in Australia, and flees to India. While in India, he goes through all sorts of wild experiences such as living in the slums, to working for the Mumbai Mafia and much more. Osker and I both got the book, and have been fascinated by the stories to a point where we’ve been struggling to put it down. The best part is how incredibly detailed and descriptive his writing style is, and as a result I already had a surprisingly accurate visualization of what the restaurant would look like. I was so excited about coming to Leopold’s for lunch, that in the morning before we left I had actually looked up Gregory David Roberts and the Shantaram website. Aside from the book, Leopold’s also had additional appeal, as it was one of the buildings targeted during the tragic attack on the Taj Hotel in Bombay a couple years back. You could actually still see the bullet holes and shattered glass in different places in the restaurant.
Bullet and a target
The three of us were having a great time, catching up, and had actually discussed the book a little during lunch. Ten minutes later, Avisa says “Ha, That guy looks just like Shantaram”. I turned around, and in unison we both repeated something to the extent of “holy shit, that is Shantaram!!” I couldn’t believe that he was actually at Leopolds, and after a couple creeper paparazzi shots, Avisa suggested we go up to get a picture with him.
We approached him, and he was incredibly friendly. Told him that I was a huge fan, and actually reading the book now and how it had enhanced my experience in India, and he seemed genuinely glad to hear it. He took a picture with me and then Avisa joined us for a group shot, and we returned to our table and tower of beer. I was so excited that Manan kept joking that he was pretty concerned that I was more excited seeing an elder male than I had been while looking at the millions of girls all over Bombay haha. On a side note, I had been disappointed by the girls I’ve seen in India so far but Bombay has definitely shown much more potential so far, and I’m guessing Bollywood being in bombay might have something to do with that.
After Leopold’s, we went to check out the Taj hotel that was attacked, and the gateway to India. I was still on a high after meeting Shantaram and we went to Avisa’s place. We took a tour of their place, which was surprisingly small. I looked at the maids room, and it stopped before it started and had to be significantly smaller than even Harry Potter’s cupboard at Dudley’s house. We hung out for a little, and met her mom and crazy dog Leo, who runs around like a chicken with its head cut off. Afterwards, we went up on to the rooftop of their building, and took in a terrific birds-eye view of Bombay.
Gateway to India
We left soon thereafter, and Manan bhaiya and I had an awesome drive back. As has becoming the usual, we were jamming in the car to old school hip-hop/rap and awesome tracks from the 90s and early 2000s that I had completely forgotten existed. It was quite an eventful drive, as we stopped along the Queens necklace, and we took in the great view of the sea. The Queen’s Necklace is a name given to what is basically a super long stretch of road and streetlights lining the ocean that is somewhat circular shaped, so that when you view it from the sky in a plane/helicopter it looks similar to the queens necklace at nighttime. The best part of the hour and half long ride back home had to be when we were crossing the sealink. Manan told me to stick my head out of the sunroof, and I figured it would be pretty chill and provide a great view. It was by far, one of the craziest most exhilarating things I have ever experienced. We must have been travelling 80 km/h with the wind gusting in my face overlooking the ocean. I felt as if I was in a video game or a movie where the main character is holding on to the top of the car while flying down the highway. Would highly recommend that everyone try that at least once, as it was quite a crazy, memorable experience.
Manan and I at the Queen’s Necklace
The next day, Manan and I just bummed around all morning on our computers. The night before, Avisa said that her and some friends might be going clubbing so thought it would be cool to check out Bombay night life. So after a terrific lunch as usual, I hopped onto a rickshaw to Bandra to meet up with avisa and her friend Akshat who I’d met the night before. The Rickshaw ride was actually somewhat enjoyable, and I jammed to some tight reggae as I took in the sights, sounds, and Bombay breeze. I met up with Akshat and Avisa outside the café coffee day (India’s equivalent of Dunkin Donuts) and we headed off towards her house in Colaba. The sun was setting as we drove back, and watching it while crossing the sealink was pretty sweet. I asked if we could stop at the beach for a little, as I hadn’t done so during daylight yet. Turned out to be a great decision, as we found a very clean piece of beach and got to watch the sunset over the water.
We got back to Avisa’s house, and then I strolled over to our family friends house to meet up with their daughter, Shrituka who is our age. I had met them all last year when they came to visit us in the states, so thought I would swing by and say hello. After a few minutes of small talk, Shrutika was meeting up with some friends to go somewhere for food and told me to come along. We went to this sick rooftop hookah bar/restaurant place that had a great view called Coalla. The wait was an hour though, so I ended up heading back to Avisa’s place and they went off to a place called Flamingo’s or something like that for dinner. We left as soon as I got to Avisa’s to head to her friend Zyman’s place where everyone was supposed to be meeting up. I was starving, so we grabbed a chicken showurma (excuse the spelling) that was similar to an indian gyro or burrito and was pretty tasty.
We arrived at Zymans, and were the first two to get there. Zyman was awesome, and was glad to have met him. He was from Kuala Lumpur, Maylasia and was working as assistant vice president for a sick Malaysian company that just reinvests the Malaysian governments excess funds. He had the sickest apartment that was paid for by his company, and was overlooking the queen’s necklace. He also had a great view of the cricket stadium, which was on the other side of the roof. He and I had a couple drinks as we waited for everyone else to get there.
The other 5-10 people arrived, and they were quite a bunch of characters. It’s definitely strange not really knowing anyone when hanging out with a close group of friends but enjoyed myself nonetheless. Zyman had an ipad, and a group of us ended up sitting on the roof terrace outside his apartment door playing this sick game called fruit ninja, in which you slice fruit and get points and a bunch of other random games. Fruit Ninja is actually a lot more interesting than it sounds, and strangely addictive. Would seriously look into acquiring it if you have an itouch/iphone/ipad because it is awesome.
Met some very unique people at this small rooftop shindig. There was this dude name hamdev or hamved or something, but everyone just called him Ham so that’s what I’m going to stick to. Ham was a wild dude, and seemed to have a portable party pack in his backpack, fully equipped a music player, which was strange but useful. He was super into European trance and progressive dark music or something like that, so for better or worse that was the soundtrack of the evening. Along with Ham, I met a crazy and extremely interesting girl named Zanskar, whose name apparently meant small explosions of music . She had a crazy past, and some of the funniest and bizarre stories I’ve ever heard. Apparently she eloped and was married at 18 while studying arts in the UK to a 27 year old half Portugese half Japanese man, who had a 4 year old daughter or something like that but they’re not what they say together anymore. So many more crazy details about that story which I can’t quite write about online, but ask me about it and I would love to share, as it was wild. Along with that, after taking a break from school she squatted in random houses all over London with some random friends. She told me that squatting is living in random houses that have been vacant and on the real estate market for over 3 months, and apparently in England this is legal which surprised me. She also told me she spent a month in Morocco doing “business” and couldn’t provide me any more details. Safe to say this girl was quite the character.
The whole night, I couldn’t help but think about how much I would have liked for those people on the rooftop to be the crew from back home, and we could have all been partying together. As the evening went on, it was kind of late so we decided to scratch the club idea as everyone was too tired, and apparently it’s ridiculously expensive. I had a beer or two, and then everyone started heading home. We dropped off Akshat, and headed back to Avisa’s place, and was quite relieved to be back. Generally never excited to get in a car with any woman, but when you sit down and she says “hope I don’t kill us” and struggles with backing out of the spot it doesn’t quite inspire confidence. My relief was temporary and evaporated instantly, as Avisa had forgotten her phone so we had to go back and get it. Her friend Ham had come back to hang with us, and said we should just hop in his car to go back. Accepting that offer easily turned out to be the worst decision of the night.
As I sat in the car, the hardcore trance and dark progressive music was overwhelmingly loud and I thought my head was going to explode, but that turned out to be the least of my worries. Ham drove like a fuckin maniac, and I legit thought I was going to die. He was flying full speed all over the place, and accelerating into last second turns with such reckless abandon that the car was basically drifting, and he was swerving the car back and forth in harmony with the blaring trance-esque music as we went. I felt like I was Jonah Hill in the scene from Get him to the Greek when Jonah had gotten into the car to buy heroine for Aldis Snow with that random dude who was blasting crazy trance techno music and going way too fast. Literally was clutching onto the handlebar in the car praying in the backseat, and was legit freaking out. Once we got stopped to pick up the phone, I told him he was scaring the shit out of me and to slow the fuck down and fortunately he listened. The drive back, although still too fast paced and techno filled for my liking, was much more relaxed and felt like I had at least a 50/50 shot at making it alive this time. I jumped out of the car the second we stopped, and took had the biggest sigh of relief that the ride was over and I had made it back in one piece. I’m Still not quite sure what joy people derive form driving in that fashion, but to each his own I guess. After the interesting, and adventure filled evening I called it a night pretty soon after getting back to their place.
The next morning I was woken up for the second time this trip by an obnoxiously loud marching band of friends or something that happened to stop marching outside the apartments window. I went to look outside, and there were a couple men banging on Giant drums and tambourine-esque instruments, with a crowd of women dressed in bright colored sari’s following behind. The whole thing would have actually been pretty entertaining and interesting to watch had it not been going on before 9am.
I finally managed to go back to sleep, only to be woken up 30 minutes later by Avisa’s insane but adorable energizer bunny of a dog Leo, who’s incessant and surprisingly loud barks for a cocker spaniel were far worse than any alarm clock I’ve ever dealt with. After having a masala omelet for breakfast, and saying adios I headed off to Shrutika’s to meet her and her parents. Naturally, I got lost on my way over, but after walking into the wrong apartment complex and wandering around for a little I eventually found my way to their second floor home.
On a side note, the second floor is what we call the 3rd floor in the US, as they go Ground floor for what we cal the 1st floor. Also, all the houses in Bombay are actually apartments, as the price of both cars and houses are absolutely insane. A nice 3-bedroom apartment in Bombay depending on location could run you from 700,000 to over 2 million US dollars. Cars are potentially even worse, as there is a 100% tax on all imported cars. This means that a Honda Accord costs something absurd like $60,000, and a BMW 7-series will run you around $250,000. Despite these high prices, lots of people seem to drive them as many Indians nowadays have more money that they know what to do with. This issue couldn’t be more pronounced than with Mukesh Ambani, one of India’s richest men. Ambani built the most expensive house in the entire world. The house is located in the center of Bombay and cost around $2 billion to build. It has something ridiculous like 60+ floors and his monthly electricity bill is apparently around $200,000 and for a household of 4 people, he has a staff of about 600 people providing domestic help, a giant parking garage and pretty much any and everything you could think of. Makes you wonder if he could have made better use of that money, which he could have, but it is quite a sight to see.
Ambani residence on the right
Anyhow, after a quick shower at Shrutika’s we headed off to the cricket club of India to grab lunch. The cricket club was basically a beautiful members only country club but better, as it was literally built into the cricket stadium. After exploring the area for a bit, we had a great Chinese lunch at one of the restaurants within the club. After lunch, we went to see Palladium Mall, which is one of the nicest in Bombay. The mall seemed to be brand new, and had literally every brand name that you could possibly think of. We went to Zara, and Neerja Masi (Shrutika’s mom) is awesome and bought me two sweet shirts.
After the mall, Manan picked me up outside and we began heading back towards Andheri. We had decided to go to the gym later on, but Manan took us there on the drive back, which was slightly problematic as I was still wearing my polo shorts. The gym was amazing, and located over two stories in the middle of a mall. I got a two day pass, and figured I would go about an easy workout real quick. Unfortunately, Manan had other plans. He asked one of the personal trainers to give me an hour session, and I quickly realized how out of shape I am. Thought I was going to pass out after the full body workout, but glad I did it. There was a hair salon downstairs in the gym, and I needed to get a haircut so figured I would get it there. The Salon was called Hakim Ali’s Salon or something like that and was apparently pretty famous as all the Bollywood stars and celebrities came there to get their hair did. The salon had TV screens on every mirror, a ps3 in the waiting area, and played some grooving tunes the whole time I was there. Was particularly excited when Wolfgang’s Fifth Symphony by Wolfgang Gartner came on near the end of the haircut, and had to restrain myself from breaking out dancing in fear that he would accidentally chop off some hair as I bobbed my head to the music. Hakim Ali’s son, Sarfraz, was actually the one who was cutting my hair and he was a great guy. He seemed quite disappointed that all I was looking for was a trim, as he must look forward to doing all sorts of funky hairstyles for people. Regardless, after a nice shampoo, he began to attack the bush that had been growing on top of my head. I generally hate hair cuts as they never look too great afterwards, and this one ended up looking only slightly better than usual; but it was a cool experience overall. Left the gym, and finally got to meet Manan’s fiancée Mrilnalini (Mril Mril) for a little which was nice. Then we headed back home, and after a couple episodes of dexter we called it a night. Throughout the trip, we have been travelling all over India, and visiting so many different people. As a result, I’ve woken up in so many different beds over the last 3 weeks that it’s come to the point that I wake up with no clue where I am or whose bed I’m lying in which happened this morning. Definitely looking forward to some continuity when I get to Seville.
Bombay has been great so far, and today is my last day in India. The trip has been an absolutely incredible experience and I’m so glad I ended up coming. It’s very strange to think that instead of heading back home when I hop on the plane tomorrow, that I will actually just be beginning my journey as Spain is right around the corner. I can’t wait to get over there, and it will be great to see some familiar faces in Nick, Ollie, Hirsh, Sean, etc. I’m already starting to miss everyone so stay in touch!
Seville in 3 days!