Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Gateway to India

It was 6 a.m. and I was standing in one of the busiest metropolises in the world--Bombay. No plan, no neighborhood names; just a good dose of patience, one big backpack and my friend Chris. The streets were empty...not what I had expected from the books, blogs and articles I had read. The only thing I could seem to remember about the city was its notoriously crowded, noisy and stinky streets. None of these were apparent.

I glanced up. A giant concrete and stone doorway greeted the sea and harbor, a symbol of the the welcome that the Indian culture extends to travelers and refugees. I thought of the Jews of Cochin and how they'd been accepted after the diaspora; the Nepalese and Tibetans have built their lives and businesses here; the Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jains and Buddhists all live in harmony.

A sole man could be seen below in the harbor propelling himself with oars against odds and ends of floating garbage. Certainly Newton hadn't imagined an oar against styrofoam when concocting his first law of physics. Every action produces an opposite and equal reaction. I watched a man crouching over to blow the coals under his metal tea canister; they glowed red with delight.

A soviet-style Trabant taxi had just dropped Chris and I off in Colaba...the tourist beat. Our 15 hour, overnight bus ride had been nothing if not torturous. I spent half the night with my arms out the window in search of cold air. I didn't even care if I was going to lose my arms. My eyes were narrow and bags shone underneath.

My white t-shirt that I had purchased in Turkey was now completely brown, my green Khaki shorts the same. I liked to think of the holes as good the end, they were just holes. My backpack was the same: stained with oil, dirt and mud. A new addition had been made on my outer pocket--a yellow (backwards) 31. Apparently I had set it up against some wet paint or some chalk.

This would be the first time that my feet hit ground for longer than three days since Chris and I started traveling together on January 23. I turned to Chris, a temporized look on my face. "Welll...what do you want to do?" The sound in my voice made clear that I wasn't yet ready to haggle for rooms and turn down all the drug dealers that frequent Colaba. The streets were still empty and dawn was setting in.

Just do it. It's something that a traveler must practice at every turn. Right then, though, on 1 hour of sleep, I wasn't ready to do anything but breakfast and coffee. So Chris and I ducked into Mcdonald's for the first time of my travels.