Sunday, October 26, 2008
SPEEDING ON THE EXPRESSWAY IN BOMBAY
(Part One of the Mumbai debacle)
That old saying comes to mind: When in Mumbai, do as the Mumbainites (Mumbaiers? Mumbites? Bombay bombers??) do.
The sun was shining unbearably hot during the middle of the afternoon. Having finished the day's work, my friend JPL and i were looking for a way to get back to the cozy, airconditioned confines of our hotel, Grand Hyatt Mumbai.
Having been fleeced big-time by a taxi driver earlier that morning, who refused to use the meter and insisted on charging us a fixed rate, JPL and i paid no heed to the taxi drivers clamoring to take us back to our hotel. Heck, if i knew how to say "Go to hell!" in Hindi, i would have done so.
So we decided to take a chance on a tuktuk, basically a souped-up tricycle (see above pic).
Unfortunately, the drivers were quite tricky and wanted to charge us a fixed fee as well, instead of using their meters. After some half-hearted protestations and muttered curses underneath our breaths, JPL and i capitulated due to the searing heat and agreed to the sum of INR150 (around US$3.00).
"Well, what can we expect? They're all Indians!" I shrugged resignedly.
There was some confusion with regards to our destination. According to Samit, our driver, "There are two Hyatt hotel, the Grand Hyatt and the Hyatt Regency. One is near domestic airport, another near international airport. Which one you in?"
JPL replied, "Grand Hyatt."
With a rather diffident look on his face, he started again, "There are two Hyatts. . . ."
I cut Samit off, "We are at Grand Hyatt!"
After so more back and forth exchanges, the terrible truth dawned on us: Samit didn't know which Hyatt was near which airport!
He asked, "Can you call them [the hotel]?"
Quite annoyed by now, i retorted, "We don't know the number!"
He persisted, "Address? Is it near Sahar airport?"
JPL and i looked at each other quizzically. We didn't know our hotel's address, nor had we heard of Sahar airport! I hesitantly replied, "It's off the expressway. . ."
But this was no help at all. Fortunately, JPL was able to fish around in his pockets for the hotel key card; and finally, it became clear to Samit where he was supposed to take us.
Samit turned out to be a whirling dervish on the road, wheeling in and out of traffic as though his pants were on fire. With all the overtaking and swerving he did, we came within inches of colliding not only with other tuktuks, but also with motorcycles, taxis, trucks and even a bus or two.
Check out the pic below, showing the view from the backseat of the tuktuk:
Of course, our ride would not have been complete without the obligatory tourist chatter. Samit asked, "First time in Mumbai?"
After hearing our assent, he smiled and asked further, "You like it?"
"Hell, NO!! Your city stinks to high heavens, the roads are dusty and full of beggars and all you taxi and tuktuk drivers are nothing but a bunch of cheats and the traffic is horrible and the heat is even more horrible!!!" was what went through my mind and was at the tip of my tongue.
But playing the nice tourist for once, i merely said, through gritted teeth, "Yes, nice place." Hell, i felt my nose getting longer by the second. Grrrr!!
Samit asked, "You from Nepal?"
I wanted to give a sharp retort, "No, we're from Timbuktu!" But JPL, being the kind person that he was, set him straight as to our country of origin.
Upon JPL's inquiry, Samit informed us that his tuktuk used Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and oil, not gasoline or diesel. Efforts to have a continued conversation were hampered by the honking horns, rumbling motors and street noise.
Which was just as well. We pressed him regarding exactly what type of oil was he using, but dropped the matter, as Samit had the disconcerting habit of taking his eyes off the road and tilting his head to the right side, so he could look at us while talking.
"Look out!" i cried, as we barely missed falling into a roadside ditch by inches.
Eventually, we arrived at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai a bit shaken, not stirred, happily with all limbs intact.
Oh, as i reached for my wallet to pay Samit the agreed-upon sum of INR150, he smiled and said, "INR200 [around US$4.00] please, due to long distance."
With our comfy hotel room beckoning, i did not even bother to argue and handed over the Rupee notes. (Sigh) Fleeced again!