About Us

Contact Us



Hacktreks Travel

Hacktreks 2

First Chapters


Adam Parsons in India
Tales of Mumbai madness

'If only I had read Lonely Planet.'

On the plane it all seemed to be going so well. Singapore Airlines impressed me no end with the techno-gadgetry of in-built mini tv’s, and a cheery couple from New Zealand were also going straight to Colaba, the supposed travelers destination according to ‘the book’ one must call the Lonely Planet. I was undeniably nervous, especially after learning that Mumbai is the worst airport to fly into owing to slums and stinking rivers. I was trying to be as cool and nonchalant as possible in the circumstances, so as soon as I wheeled through customs I tried to gingerly work out what to do by myself.

I knew what to expect, I knew that a million taxi-drivers would try to accost and rip me off, but the sudden rush of bedlam blew me away and I found myself tailing behind a portly cab man. Everything was a chaos of shouting, muddy faces, my two Kiwi friends were lost in the mayhem, and I was so sleep-deprived after twenty four hours of transit that my adrenalin could only give so much more. I said to the guy, who magicked me with his forceful persuasion and perfect English, "I just need to get some cash, do you know where there is a place of exchange", and he said "No problem sir, you follow me, I take you to a fixed rate taxi and we take you to a bank, open 24 hours no problem, we get you best exchange rate, you come with me", and like that I found myself up onto a different floor level and irretrievably lost from any Westerners who might have had the faintest idea what you are supposed to do in this kind of situation. You are supposed to get a pre-paid taxi at the office, I now know, if only I had read the lauded 'book'.

I felt like turning back, my tired heart was thumping hard against my ribs, but the practised fat Indian had me well under his spell. He took my backpack and chucked it into his taxi, and sitting in the back I was incredulous at my own stupidity. The fat Indian went off somewhere so I asked the driver in front of me, who had a cheeky face I didn’t expect from Indians and a huge grin no doubt from the dollar signs in his eyes, what the hell was happening here. "Ve have to wait for entry...", he said, and when the fat Indian eventually came back in he did a three point turn like a man possessed and started shouting manically as he drove straight at a waving policeman, practically running him over. So much for ‘entry’, I thought. It was past midnight on a Saturday and the roads were still humming with cars all beeping and braking as if trying to escape from an earthquake.

When we came to a roundabout there were dusty, battered cars edging onto every inch of the road but our man went headlong round the opposite way for no apparent reason other than his obvious lunacy, and I literally held on for my life. Instead of taking care of this tin pot taxi, no doubt his only source of income, the driver was bashing it over every deep rut and bump as if it was a stock car, beeping constantly and missing cyclists and dogs by millimeters as they jumped out of the way. On corners he kept losing control, practically spinning on two wheels. The fat Indian turned round and told me not to worry and relax as I kept on shouting "Aaarrrgh", but I was anything but calm as we went careering through red lights at 50 mph. The fare went quickly up from 890 rupees, the fixed rate promised, to 2100 rupees, till the now hostile Indian con-man let me off at 1500, enough to make everyone I later told the story to gasp.

Colaba, after the struggle of getting here as opposed to one of the fat Indian’s recommended hotels in the middle of shack alley or wherever it was they drove me, is actually quite manageable, easier to manage than the tales I have heard of Delhi and Calcutta. The first time I foraged out of the hostel early the next morning, everything seemed so perfectly at odds from all else in my experience that I started laughing out loud, not quite believing where I was. The world held the promise of the complete unknown and I felt a wave of happiness around me, until an Indian with a peeling face came out of nowhere and started trying to sell me a trip round the town on a tour bus, something that would never be happening again, apparently.

I just wanted a quiet stroll around the place, but I stood and politely smiled and talked to the guy, as I did with the next one that approached me along the promenade, and then the next one and the one after that, until my moving mantra became "Yes, no thank you, yes, sorry, cheers…" and I started to lose the plot. I was quickly harangued by plagues of tiny, beautiful beggar children speaking perfect English and asking for milk powder to feed their starving brothers and sisters. Just a ten minute walk around the block was emotionally and physically draining, and I was glad to take cover back inside the decrepit hostel.

After the next couple of timid forays into the madness of Mumbai, I slowly began to get used to all the assaults on my senses, but just as I felt at ease with myself a beggar would scare the life out of me with a giant balloon bigger than him or another Indian would spring into action as I walked past saying "Sir! Sir! Just one minute!" before trying to flog me a giant gramophone. I saw men rolling fifteen foot logs down the road, tiny children hardly reaching my knees tugging at my shorts for rupees, rats scurry out of alleys, street kids selling ‘smoke’ and ‘coke’ and leprous beggars shaking tins, but this is nothing by the standards of India. There are a billion people crammed into this country and I was just a bewildered new white one, albeit with "money" written all over my face.

© Adam Parsons 2003

More Travel in Hacktreks

< Back to Index
< Reply to this Article

© Hackwriters 2000-2003 all rights reserved