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January 2012

There are tigers under my bed

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There are tigers under my bed, originally uploaded by benaston.

No really, a tiger. Purring incessantly. It’s under my bed and it’s getting louder.

I want to sleep. Tiger wants to eat my protein bars. (No, not a euphemism, they’re my emergency rations).

Now sat up, half asleep, head half cocked. I’m squashed in an upper bunk. The air is thin. It’s optimistically billed as a ‘sleeper’ train from Bombay to Udaipur. For me it’s not. We’re just half way through the seventeen hour journey and a nervous panic begins to set in. How long do tigers normally wait before pouncing?

Fumble. Find emergency head torch. On.  Panic over.

The tigers are in fact just my fellow cabin inmates, each trying to out-purr themselves towards sweet slumber.

Headphones now on, I’m working hard to pretend that this is all part of the experience. This is why people come to India, it’s for moments like this. Tiger encounters, that sort of thing. And the bit where I’m amazifying my diary with astute Indian observation at 2am. Everyone always does that. Not sure why they’re not doing it on a laptop like me though. Luddites.

So here are some astute observations fresh from India

Everyone loves ice cream.

There’s not much to add to that really. I’m surprised by this mainly because all the cows that I’ve played hide and seek with on the streets are pretty much like ninja cows – they’re masters of disguise; very hard to spot, but always lurking in the shadows. I can’t imagine it’s very easy to round them up and milk them.

Ginger is definitely cool.

It’s kind of especially a big deal with old men who seem to like dying their hair. This is a surprise because in the UK, Ginge is definitely not cool. So maybe it’s some kind of neo-anti-colonial bias? Yep, probably. Astute.

The head wobble is on.

Before coming to India I practised my head wobble/shake quite a bit. I thought it was probably an important tool in my assimilation toolbox (don’t worry if you haven’t got one of those yet). The good news is that it is definitely important so I’ve taken to brandishing it with almost reckless abandon. Don’t quite get when you use it yet though – it seems pretty versatile. Think it means something like ‘Sweet as, thanks/I’m really nice/Cool’. More on that later.

So is this really is what people are scribbling in their travel diaries?


Ben Basmatti in Bombay

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, originally uploaded by benaston.

Our trip to Bombay was short and sweet (ish). We’d never planned to stay long, and after a day, we’d had our fill of it. Although everything is written as Mumbai, everyone here seems to be calling it Bombay. So I am too, it’s more colonial, if nothing else.

Getting here was pretty good. After a nice BA flight which was empty enough to allow us the luxury of sleeping in our own row of seats, we landed in Bombay in the middle of the night. We stayed in a suburb close to the airport, Juhu Beach where Oprah who was also in town, has a pad. The hotel, Juhu Residence Boutique Hotel was good, but I’m not sure what Oprah sees in the place. Juhu doesn’t really seem to have much going for it apart from two cultural highlights – Cinnabon (that was where Bombay was sweet) and Dominoes, which we indulged in dutifully.

I don’t feel that we got to see that much of Bombay – we took a taxi to the Gateway of India and walked the streets around Colaba and bought some clothes, but got bored of being hassled pretty quickly. We took a pit stop at Leopolds which apparently features heavily in the Bombay-based book Shantaram – the autobiography of an escaped Australian convict who makes a colourful life for himself in Bombay. As luck would have it, the author, Gregory David Roberts was there signing books so we bought his enormous encyclopaedic book for Rebecca to amuse herself with for our trip.

And then all we had time for was the taxi back to the hotel via Chapatti Beach which took a couple of hours. That was painful. And noisy. Then some dodgey street food at Juhu beach and it was time for bed.

Apparently, if you don’t like Bombay, you don’t ‘get’ it. That’s according to Lonely Planet so it must be true. So I have to concede, I don’t ‘get’ it. At least if ‘getting it’ is anything much other than lots of traffic, honking, and odd smells.

What I do ‘get’ though is the bottom shower; this has been the real highlight for me – far more efficient than a bidet, and very useful when your diet requires regular use of the toilet.

Next stop Udaipur.