(Don't get scared off by the length/ amount of these first posts. Due to not having access to the net until now I'm having to catch myself up. Hopefully I'll be able post more regularly after these).
Well, I've arrived! I'm finally here in India!
I left a very cold and blustery Heathrow on 30th January 2011 and landed in a very sunny and warm Mumbai on the 31st January at about 11.30 India time. I was very relieved to be back on solid ground and all in one piece. I don't like flying at all, so spending 9 hours on a very uncomfortable plane all on my own wasn't much fun. Every bump or wobble seemed to scare me a bit, but hey I got through it with the help of some wine and two and a half men. ;)
I did enjoy seeing some of the views out of the window though. When we were over, what I think was the north of India, what I saw was amazing! The best way to explain what it looked like is to imagine dropping a few drops of blue, white and grey ink or oil into a tray of water and stirring it gently, so you get swirls of colour, (a bit like making marble patterned paper, that I'm sure everyone's done as a kid). I'm not sure if it shows very well in the photo but it was absolutely beautiful. I also like the really straight and kinky river that runs right through it.
When I got out of the terminal in Mumbai it was surprisingly not as humid as I was expecting. I remember going to Florida as a kid and not being able to breathe properly for days due to the humid air, and that's exactly what I was expecting. Thankfully it was nothing like that, maybe because its winter here.
Tom had ordered me a taxi from the airport to drive me the 3 hours south east to Pune and when I came out of arrivals the driver was standing there with a little sign that read Mr Rachella Day. I've always wanted someone to stand with a plaque waiting for me, don't know why but hey; I've achieved that goal now, ha ha ha. - (Even if the sign was for a Mr and spelt wrong). It was amusing though how much the driver apologised for the mix up and for his initial surprise that I wasn't a Mr.
My first impressions of India and Mumbai were, that it was so busy everywhere and so noisy! The roads are crazy busy and some of them are a bit like dusty dirt tracks. There is a constant sound of horns beeping as everyone drives and beeps to let the people in front of them that they are there and coming through. There are hundreds of bikes, lorries, cars and auto-rickshaws using a bit of road that would only be for 2 lanes in the UK.
There doesn't seem to be many rules of the road here, the main idea is to make sure that you don't hit the vehicle, person or cow in front of you. There aren't any crossings either, so people just cross anywhere and step out in front of anyone or thing coming. It is a bit like that old computer game where you have to get the frog across a busy road, avoiding the traffic and stopping in the middle of the road, taking it one car or obstacle at a time.
The lorries on the roads were fascinating, they were all decorated so vibrantly and a lot of them had flowers in the cab. They all also had the words 'HORN OK PLEASE' painted on the back of them. My driver said it is because in the cities and towns, due to the amount of traffic on the roads, the lorries are allowed to drive in the inside lane; so if you are behind one and you want to get past, just beep your horn and they will automatically move over for you.
The drive was long but seemed to go quite quickly as I was very excited about being in India. The drive took us up through the mountains/ hills and along the new toll road highways that have been built to ease the trip between Mumbai and Pune. In the mountains there are a few hill-stations, which are like holiday resort towns where lots of Indians escape to to get away from the hustle and bustle of the cities. One is called Lonavala, which is now on my list of places to visit for a weekend. It is supposed to be especially lovely during the monsoon because it is all lush and green.
We arrived in Pune at about 4.30pm. It seemed very similar to what I had seen in Mumbai, manic and busy. I had a bit of a scare at some traffic lights though; while we were stationary, some scary old lady with no teeth started banging on the window and begging me for money. I just kept trying to ignore her and look straight ahead but she didn't give up. At one point I thought she was going to open the door! Luckily we pulled away before she managed it. My heart was thumping!!! It was a bit scary. I think more so because she looked like some scary witch! Not nice.
I got dropped off at the place where Tom had being staying for the last few weeks. It was in an area called Kalyani Nagar and the estate was called Goodwill Enclave. It seemed like a nice area. Lots of shade and all the apartments seemed nice, weathered but ok. I was shown up to Tom's room which was on the second floor and had its own wet room bathroom. The place was ok, but I'm glad I was only staying there for one night, it could've done with a good lick of paint and a clean.
Tom got back at about 5.30. It was really good to see him, not just because I missed him, but it was a relief to see a familiar friendly face. Before we went for dinner, Tom had to see the estate agent about our new place, which was just round the corner on the main road. He told me that I had to get some id photos taken for the flat so he gave me directions to the nearest photo place. He said to me to walk down the road. Which instantly terrified me, it was dark and the road was so busy. I said 'why not the path?' and he said, 'you can try it but the road is easier and better, you'll get what I mean when you get down there'. He was right! Although the road was busy, the pavements were full of people and stalls and were so uneven and bumpy, they were a hazard to walk down. The whole way I was trying to make sure I was aware of everything that was going on around me to be safe. It was an experience. Crossing the road for the first time was fun! I just had to decide and commit to cross even when there was only a tiny gap in the traffic.
Dinner was at a restaurant called Kalyani Veg, which was on the corner of a busy crossroads opposite a cinema complex with shops and even a McDonalds - No matter where you are in the world, you just can't escape seeing one! I had a dish called a Cheese Masala Dosa which was a massive rice pancake type thing filled with cheese and spice potatoes(pictured). It was strange but really tasty. Tom had a Cheese and Tomato Uttapa which is a a bit like a rice omelette.
On the way back to the room, we stopped off and bought a bottle of red wine to celebrate us finally being in India together. The wine was so expensive, about £15 for a cheap bottle! we won't be buying wine that often then.!
Back in the room we drank the wine and went to bed at about 11.00, by then I was totally cream crackered and fell asleep straight away.