Friday, October 31, 2008
The GUS Guide to Surviving a Few Days in Mumbai
(Part Two of the Mumbai debacle)
Upon hearing that i was taking a trip to Mumbai, i was deluged with all sorts of well-intentioned (and ill-conceived) advice from friends. For example, someone actually told me to wear a face mask, while another friend reminded me sternly to get vaccination shots beforehand!
Rather overkill, don't ya think? If my memory serves me correctly, the only positive reaction came from my bodacious friend from the tennis courts, Nx, who remarked excitedly what an exotic place Mumbai seemed to be and how she wanted the chance to go there in the future.
I've decided to write a by-no-means complete travel guide for would-be first-time visitors to Mumbai, so they would have a clearer idea what to expect. Here goes:
1. Getting Around
As my friend JPL put it, "Be prepared to overpay for transportation. The motto is, if they can screw you, they will."
Upon arrival in Mumbai, avail of the prepaid taxi coupon service at the airport. DO NOT just go out to the arrival area, and accept offers by the numerous touts to take you to your hotel for a cheap price.
Why? To put it succinctly, tout offering cheap transpo + gullible, unprepared tourist = circuitous route taken by taxi driver + possible extortion.
Yep, i am not kidding. So, while the official black & yellow airport taxis do not inspire much confidence, being 1970s-era Fiats, they are your best bet.
In general, taxis are classified either as "regular" (no Aircon) or "special" (with Aircon). Avoid taking a "regular" taxi at all costs, unless you want to sweat like a pig from the heat, or have a wizened, bent-over beggar reach her crooked arm through the open window to wheedle some rupees from you.
Upon getting inside a taxi, immediately instruct the driver to turn on the meter. Nine times out of ten, he will refuse and try to convince you that the rates are fixed, depending on distance and destination.
Insist he use the meter. If he again refuses, make (an empty) threat that you will file a complaint against him. If he still refuses, get out of his cab and find another one (and tell him to "Go to hell!" in Hindi, while at it. Haha :D).
2. Drinking water
Most common advice given to us was, "Do not drink water from the tap!" Not even when gargling while brushing your teeth! Stick to bottled water all the time.
A friend of mine even made the following distinction: Buy bottled water only from 7-11 outlets, not from local groceries; and buy only international brands such as Vittel, Evian and Perrier, not local Indian brands.
In his case, he had made the mistake of buying a local bottled water brand, and endured 2 days of diarrhea as a result.
Stay at a 5-Star hotel and eat your meals there. Yes, this will be quite expensive. As JPL wryly commented, "There is a high cost to staying healthy."
It is best to avoid dairy products, raw seafood, fresh salads and the like. Much better to stick to food which has been thoroughly cooked. Hence, i think we ate all sorts of kebabs during our meals, which i liked very much.
Regarding drinks, do not pour your soda or juice or whatever to a glass full of ice! A thousand times no!
Due to some rioting in the streets, we were not able to go out and do as much shopping as we had time for.
Prices are always negotiable, even in those pricey hotel souvenir shops. Bargain hard!
That old trick of pretending to walk away if you're not happy with the prices does work. Once in a while, at least.
Oh, if you ever walk into a shop selling Turkish carpets and have no intention of buying one, get out before the proprietor has taken you by the arm and snapped his fingers for his underlings to roll out various carpets on the floor and extolled their respective design, craftmanship and thread count virtues. Believe me, these people WILL exert more pressure on you than a turbo broiler!
A sense of humor goes a long way. Accept that things do not run like clockwork, and you're half-way towards bearing all sorts of craziness with some degree of grace.
Try not to pass things or eat using your left hand, as this hand is considered unclean. Locals do not really expect foreign tourists to be aware of this, but doing so does help build some goodwill.
So that they don't try too hard to fleece you!!!!