Mumbai to Udaipur
01.03.2009 - 02.03.2009 33 °C
Although I had pledged to avoid places like Mumbai and Kolkata, we had to spend a good 3 hours there between our bus from Pen and our train to Ahmedabad. Can’t say we saw much! It is one of the only times when the sky has not been blue… but it wasn’t on account of clouds!! In case you haven’t already figured it out I’ll give you a hint: the sky was brown. Well, not completely brown, but I would hate to have to breathe that kind of air on a regular basis and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a lot of people with lung problems.
My admittedly extremely quick impression of Mumbai is that it’s rather like other big India cities only bigger, with more tall fancy buildings and vastly larger collections of tarp homes. In fact, we can’t remember seeing any significantly sized slum in Kerala and we saw only a few in Tamil Nadu… though I think I had blinders on in Chennai – everything was so new and different, I didn’t notice a whole lot except for the extremely crazy traffic (and perhaps we weren’t on the right or should I say wrong side of town.) On the other hand, Chennai and many other cities (if not all) do look like major construction zones. There’s rubble everywhere, lots of open sewers, holes in roads and even overpasses that lead to nowhere. It feels hopeful in the sense that there are so many projects on the go, and simultaneously depressing since there are so many unfinished projects.
But back to Mumbai… One big difference between it and other Indian cities is the complete lack of auto-rickshaws in the town centre. I suspect they may have been banned because their 2-stroke engines are so polluting. Instead, the city teams with endless numbers of extremely cute little taxis (Had Christian been with us, I could have told you what make they were… but he and Kaya went in the opposite direction, to Agra and then Delhi where they are seeing Sarah off at the airport. We’re a little sorry she had to leave before us as we had a great time with her. I’ll save their story for another entry later).
Back to Mumbai… our Savarsai friend Prakash had suggested we take one of those cute little taxis from the bus stand to the railway station, but the taxi driver we spoke to was so terribly honest he gave up the gig, insisting instead that we walk because the station is so close-by. Other people we interacted with seemed warm and friendly… and I began to think I could have handled a few days there after all. But that was not to be. We had railway tickets and, to be completely honest, I could hardly wait. I love riding the train! This time we looked out at mile after mile of flat landscape, cultivated with rice, sugar cane, bananas, all sorts of vegetables, and, as we got further north millet. At least that’s what we recognized. Not too far outside Mumbai we also saw salt crystals gleaming in salt pans.
Further away, the state of Gujarat seems to be characterized by endless smokestacks towering up above towns and wide stretches of farmland. This is possibly the richest state in India, probably because of the oil and gas found there. (I’m not exactly an expert so I’m qualifying things a little with the possibly and probably.) With fuel so close at hand, why not build factories? Plastics, chemicals, cloth, cell phones and much more is produced here according to the folks I interviewed on the train, and while there may be environmental legislation, it seems likely that the rules get bent. Emil saw one canal flowing with burgundy coloured water. I could hardly stand the stench of sour gas or who knows what in at least 2 other places. It’s very scarey! Especially when you think about all the folks living in slums in most of those industrial areas.
We left Savarsai at 9 am, arrived in Mumbai at 11:30 am, caught the train to Ahmedabad (in Gujarat) at 1:30 pm and arrived there by 10 pm. Our next train left an hour later and we quickly settled into our bunks and were rocked gently to sleep by the noisy, rocky rhythm of the meter gauge rail for the next 7 or 8 hours, until shortly before we arrived in Udaipur, Rajasthan. We’re excited to be here! The city is a gorgeous, hilly labyrinth of exotic white-washed havelis. More on that next entry!