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September 29, 2006

welcome to mumbai (bombay), india

heading from japan to india, the 11 hour air india flight was actually pretty good, especially considering the air india customer service horror stories that i'd read when researching them online.

within the first 12 hours of arrival in mumbai (the city formerly known as bombay), i'd witnessed a bit of the intense nature of mumbai traffic (from the back of my seatbeltless taxicab with the trunk tied shut with twine to hold my backpack in), had the biggest rat i'd seen in my life run across the sidewalk in front of me, had my reserved hotel completely rip me off and threaten to charge my credit card anyways, and had beggars/hucksters/dealers hassle and follow me through the streets.

but then i changed hostels in the morning, met some great backpackers to hang out with for the next few days, toured the beautiful prince of wales museum, and all is well again and i feel grounded enough to relax, explore the city, and try to get a handle on the nature of both mumbai and india.

September 30, 2006

my bit part in bollywood

after reading in lonely planet india about the possibility of working for a day as a bollywood extra when visiting mumbai (center of the bollywood film production industry), i thought nothing of it and turned to the next page in my book.

however, when i was wandering around near my mumbai guesthouse with my new friends alex and allyson (fellow travellers from great britain who happened to be staying at the same guesthouse as myself), i thought, "why not?" so when we were "recruited" (ie. cattle call to get extras!) by a scout on the street we signed up to be extras in a film, the upcoming "Shaka Laka Boom Boom" (i swear that this is a legitimate bollywood film!). this meant a day of hanging around a set with the occasional bollywood star (like Celina Jaitley) heading out of their trailer to film a few scenes, lots of local mumbai extras, and a few other backpackers who'd been roped into being extras as well.

it was overall a great day -- while the set was VERY different from the ones that i'd seen in hollywood (i recall less stray dogs on the Warner lot), the interior of the sound stage was quite professional (despite a very weathered-looking exterior surrounded by scrap wood), and i can only hope that the end product will look good. we worked long hours -- the claim that "you'll be out of there by 8:30pm" quickly turned to 10:30pm, we had to take a public train to/from the studio, the lunch and dinner were barely ok, but hey, anything for fame, right?

so when Shaka Laka Boom Boom hits the theatres in 2007, keep your eyes open for me in a nightclub scene as one of the lead actresses strides past me, or reclining on a sofa at a nightclub/restaurant directly behind Bobby Deol. 15 seconds of bollywood fame! (if i don't end up on the cutting-room floor)

and my going rate for work as an extra in bollywood? 600 rupees per day, or about US $12. not my standard going rate, but definitely not a standard job either.

October 5, 2006

my endless numbered days in goa

since arriving in baga beach, goa with the 3 friends i made at my hostel and on the bollywood set, it's been back to the beach life for me.

i've set up on the top floor of a guesthouse with tile floors (key for all the sand getting tracked in), a large balcony overlooking some ramshackle buildings, cold water showers to cool off in the humid afternoons, and the kind of open-slat windows that you can only have in places where the weather never gets too cold anytime during the year. not bad for US$6 (300 rupees) per night.

mornings are all about sleeping in, and then the morning text messages start moving between us to put together some kind breakfast plan before 2pm. long leisurely breakfasts merge into afternoons spent at local flea markets or wandering around on the beach. evenings kick off with movies playing off of someone's ipod on the tv while we have dinner, and then heading out into the bars and nightlife scene of goa (tito's is literally one block from my guesthouse), which usually keeps us out until at least 3am.

the local dive shop is closed until at least next week (high season is just beginning here, and baga doesn't have dive operations year-round), so it's most lazy time here. but it's good -- i feel relaxed, lazy, and happy in a way that i only get when just doing not very much by the beach. when i walked past a cafe on my way to writing this post, 10,000 maniacs on the soundsystem reminded me that these are the days to remember. to be honest, i haven't felt this content since my time on the gili islands in indonesia.

while the forecast predicted a gloomy 100% chance of rain all week before i left, we've only had a few showers since arriving, and have had at least grayish sunlight the rest of the time. (although another rainstorm is swooping in on us even as i write this, although it was sunny when i walked into this internet cafe about 20 minutes ago).

this morning i finally picked up my schedule book that lists what i'm supposed to do, and realized that to make it to nepal, i need to buy a plane ticket from delhi to kathmandu by october 9th at the latest. luckily, a quick search on lonely planet's thorn tree found this thread with a $90 one-way ticket from Delhi to Kathmandu on the oddly-named "Cosmic Air".

so while it's off to find a travel agent to buy a ticket to kathmandu leaving in a few days! (and hopefully there's a camel fair at the end of this month involved as well, but it'll take a few days to iron out those details)

October 6, 2006

beautiful sunset in goa

amazing days, beautiful sunsets.

headed down to south goa and arrived at patnem beach, where we arrived late last night (after a train ride, and then a long taxi, into town.)

the rain here has been coming down in occasional monsoons, but we've been dealing with it ok. for the first time since i arrived in india, i've finally run across cattle in the streets (and beaches) here, and they truly are free to wander where they please (and those who don't want them in their backyards used barbed wire fences to keep them out). however, the stray dogs and cats tend to have the run of interior places like the restaurants.

i'm planning to stay here until tuesday, and then head on to kathmandu from here. the weather here has been a little cloudy, but when the sun comes out the beaches are fantastic. we've been out in the water in the afternoons, and lounging by the ocean the rest of the daytime, or exploring local events like the anjuna flea market.

October 8, 2006

driving (and traffic) fun in goa

October 11, 2006

singing those sweet delhi blues

delhi is a wild city.

i flew in last night from goa, and was looking through my backpack on the plane when i looked for the section of my cut-up lonely planet guidebook... and.... (oh crap) the "delhi" guidebook segment i'd had was missing. gone. kaput. i guess losing a guidebook had to happen sooner or later on this trip.

so i'm flying into one of the world's most intense cities, and i don't have any information about where to go, stay, any maps, or anything.

i'm already unsettled after a major taxi driver fight scene in goa, where a gang of taxi drivers almost got into a fistfight with our taxi driver for not participating in their price-fixing game (and were screaming at me for taking a cheaper taxi).

so at the airport i pick up a free tourist info map, ask a fellow backpacker in baggage claim where the "backpacker places" mostly are, which turns out to be the main bazaar in pahara ganj. i buy a prepaid taxi ticket into town at the airport, ask the taxi driver to take me there, claiming a reservation at a random hostel to avoid getting hustled to some other part of town where the taxi driver gets a commission.

he then stops about 30 seconds out of the airport to let an unnamed stranger into the front seat who he only describes as "brother" (this is apparently an indian taxi thing... it could just be a harmless ride to a friend, but it's never a good thing for the passenger, and could involve delays, etc.) so i shout "one passenger! no other people!" and he throws the guy out and we drive onwards.

finally we arrive in pahara ganj, and i wander down the main bazaar street looking for places to stay. i find a guesthouse randomly that is cheap and looks ok (but turns out later to be distressingly filthy, complete with creeping stench and cockroach climbing the wall in the bathroom), and sleep for the night.

the next morning i get the heck out of there, and head to connaught place, where within the space of 4 hours i have bought a new guidebook for delhi, ordered a pair of new glasses (frame and high-index lenses for only US $30! a major bargain, and they're ready in only 6 hours), replacement lenses for my old glasses (to replace my really scratched-up lenses), got refills on malaria and antibiotic medication (for only a few dollars), finalized and purchased my plane ticket to nepal tomorrow night, recharged my indian SIM card (which was impossible in goa... long story), and am feeling generally caught-up with the world again.

i was in "hungarian andy" mode over half the time in delhi, fending off hash dealers, touts, shoeshiners, scammers, even a single crazed (and angry) western backpacker, and everything else while going about my day. but even that ruse wears thin, and i end up just having to tell folks to go away when i don't want to deal with their action.

and now here i am at the internet cafe, downloading from itunes the new mountain goats album "get lonely" (props to the goats for posting their lyrics on the internet for all their work!), and hoping i can finally find a fast connection to get the season premiere of lost which i am dying to download from itunes.

things aren't perfect, but they're ok enough for another 24 hours in delhi. then i'm definitely ready to go nepal and go trekking. (but i still may come back here in 3 weeks for the pushkar camel fair, pending a bunch of plane ticket changes i need to make.)

December 5, 2007

what should i pack when going to india?

when i traveled around the world last year (including a visit to delhi, mumbai, and goa), i posted a ridiculously detailed packing list on my blog site at http://goneliving.com/packing-list.html. you can obviously remove items you won't need (for example, DIY laundry supplies since we'll be at places that will have laundry services).

for clothing, i tried to pack a series of layers that worked well for hot/humid days, but also could be combined together in case things got really cold. the list goes through the clothing item-by-item.

i'm a HUGE fan of the eagle creek or victorinox packing cubes (see the list for details and the usual buy-me-on-amazon links). these are great for organizing your clothing, and they have the added bonus of compressing things down and making it really easy to load/unload your suitcase. and since they're in standard sizes, they also fill the interior of most suitcases without any wasted space.

and the short list of 5 items from my packing list that i couldn't live without:

1. a pair of flip-flop style sandals that you've tested, know and love. these will probably be your primary footwear. flip-flop style sandals are essential for taking on and off easily when entering and leaving temples, etc... no fussing with teva's velcro (and nobody else will wearing tevas). i recommend reef sandals.

2. sound-isolating in-ear earphones (lots of companies make these nowadays... they're small and block out screaming babies, annoying airport announcements, and all that stuff. i like the Shure headphones) and my trusty ipod.

3. pocket-sized mini tripod for my small digital camera (with velcro attachment to attach it to buildings or scaffolding when needed for that perfect long-exposure shot)

4. beach towel (i've tried using a sarong as a towel, and i much prefer a regular beach towel). note: yes, you can buy a beach towel locally, but beware of getting one with dyes that transfer onto your wet skin while you're lying down on it, as my cheap beach towels did in fiji. i have a long rant about this at http://www.goneliving.com/egypt/backpacker_product_of_the_year_the_microfiber_beach_towel.html (note that billabong appears not to make their awesome microfiber beach towel anymore)

5. everything else: laundry bag, flashlights, swiss army knife, titainum mug (light and good for those homemade cocktails), empty pillow case (handy for filling with clothes when you need an instant extra pillow), wet wipes, playing cards, ziploc bags... see the packing list for details.

i'm looking forward to going back to india this winter!

anti-malarial and mosquito precautions i took when traveling

while preparing for an upcoming return visit to India, i was thinking about my own mosquito/malaria precautions that i take while travelling, and i thought i'd share them with the Gone Living community. note that I AM NOT A DOCTOR, SO DON'T COPY WHAT I'VE DONE, INSTEAD YOU SHOULD ASK YOUR TRAVEL DOCTOR ABOUT WHAT IS RECOMMENDED FOR YOU AND FOLLOW THEIR ADVICE. i am just telling you what *i* did while travelling.

since i was travelling for a year last year, i'm pretty serious about my precautions because they're pretty easy to do beforehand (and it's harder to change your mind about this once you're on the road, and getting sick while travelling sucks). here are my personal antimalarial (and antidysentry) precautions that i take while traveling:

1.) your primary line of defense against malaria (and other mosquito-borne nasties) is mosquito repellent. pack enough for your entire trip. if you don't have a brand you already know works for you, i like Cutter Skinsations repellent. while it has a really goofy name, it didn't smell like the usual horrible mosquito repellent smell, and repelled many more mosquitoes for me than the hardcore Ultrathon repellent (which burned my skin, didn't repel mosquitoes well, and was generally annoying) available at REI.

2.) always use mosquito nets when sleeping at night in malarial areas. know that you should leave the net over the bed knotted until you're ready to sleep, and then carefully open it up. i would carefully tuck the edges of mine under the mattress at night to avoid having mosquitoes slip up the sides at night. permethrin-treated nets are even better, if you don't mind premethrin (see point 3 below). always pack a small roll of duct tape so you can repair small holes in mosquito nets and screens (i ran into this a lot when traveling, and few things suck more than having a mosquito net with a hole in it while a cloud of hungry mosquitoes is looking for a way through the net to feast on you). the WHO recently discussed findings that showed that mosquito nets have a big impact on reducing malaria.

3.) if any of you are spending a lot time in the backcountry, you can also treat your hiking clothes with Permethrin before you leave. this will give your clothes a faintly musty odor, lasts for about 30 washings, and will make all mosquitoes stay far away from your clothes. a good third line of mosquito defense. (note you never apply this stuff to your skin. see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permethrin#Uses and http://www.travmed.com/trip_prep/insect_permethrin.htm for details. some people don't like using this stuff on their clothes because it's fairly toxic, albeit us-government approved. it sure kept the mosquitoes away from my hiking clothes, and i lived to tell about it. Your Mileage May Vary.)

4.) when i'm travelling, i go by the CDC Traveler's Health recommendations for each country (this is a great resource -- the main site is at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/). for example, the current CDC recommendations for India as of the date of this blog posting are posted at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/destinationIndia.aspx, and state "Malaria risk area in India: Risk in all areas throughout country except no risk in areas above 2,000 m (>6,561 ft) in Himachal Pradesh, Jammu, Kashmir, and Sikkim. Risk also exists in urban areas below 2000 m, including Delhi and Mumbai (Bombay)."

i know some of the travel doctors are saying that anti-malarial pills aren't needed for Delhi and Bombay right now, but my policy is to always go by the current CDC recommendations, and so i'll be taking antimalarial pills while in India. the standard doesn't-make-you-insane-or-get-sunburn anti-malaria pills are Malarone (i've had no side effects with these pills, and you only have to take one pill per day), and Malarone is not available to purchase in most countries that have Malaria!!, so you have to get buy these pills before you leave home. they're expensive, but your insurance will usually cover at least part of the cost (i got stuck with my crappy insurance at $5/pill for a 30-day supply). again, this is your third line of defense after the mosquito repellent and nets that you should already be using.

5.) in addition, i'm packing some Cipro for self-treating any unexpected cases of severe/long-term dysentery. this is handy to have when travelling (your travel doctor can give you a prescription for this along with self-treatment recommendations), but again, the odds you'll need this is really really low. i think i used mine twice in 400 days of traveling.

and finally, if you're wondering WHY malaria sucks so badly, you can get the medical facts on Malaria from the CDC Malaria FAQ, but i highly recommend reading Tim Cahill's essay titled "Malaria" from his book Pass The Butterworms: Remote Journeys Oddly Rendered. It details his own experience getting Malaria while travelling (after being fairly blase about it beforehand), and it definitely makes you want to not catch this disease.

About India

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to gone living in the India category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Hungary is the previous category.

Indonesia is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.