December was quite the month. The cold Indian winter nights had me up reminiscing on just how amazing this year has been and how terrified and excited I am for another year full of surprises and unexpected roads to turn down and around on. The end of the year always feels like a quarter life crisis to me, even though I’m only 23....
Last year, it was a ‘let’s see what happens!’ attitude. This year it’s a, ‘looks like luck may just take me where I want to go’.
Christmas was spent in Delhi with a friend of mine, Ankush, and other rascals from around the city. I had a great time but it was definitely a challenge. Everyday I secretly wished I could just be with my family, snuggled in on my aunt’s couch with my puppy, a glass of white and a bowl of cookies, watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”. BUT I am very thankful that I was able to spend Christmas with friends in the big city! It was definitely a holiday to remember and I am very lucky to have experienced it all, especially since I don’t know when I’ll be able to lay my eyes on these sights again.
My first night in Delhi I was feeling truly relaxed after a loopy first four weeks back in India and all the drama I’d dealt with regarding the organization and myself. Feeling a little un-diet friendly, Ankush and I indulged in some awesome street food for dinner. It was actually my first golgappa experience (also known as Panipuri). Golgappa consists of a crispy fried hollow puri, round in shape, filled with a mix of potato, onion and sometimes chickpeas, flavored water, chutney and chaat masala. The wala serves it to you in quite the process. First, he hands you a small, deep dish, this one was made of aluminum, then starts his process – grabs a golgappa, cracks it, fills it first with potato, followed by chutney and flavored water and places it in your plate. You then shove the whole thing in your mouth while he ready’s the second round. He was making them way too fast though, I was hardly even chewing I had to eat so quickly! I was full within three rounds. Next, we grabbed some aloo tikke, which I’ve had before but this time, even more delicious - fried potato with chana (chickpeas) masala and lots of onions. Unreal. And because Ankush was excited I was enjoying all his favorite eats, he of course got me more. Next was Shev Puri, my new favorite snack - crispy round crackers topped with a type of veg masala and chutney, smothered in bhujia, peanuts and cilantro. Then we finished off our street food binge with roasted sweet potato and sliced star fruit, topped with fresh lemon juice and chaat masala... Good bless India.
Christmas turned out to be beautiful weather in Delhi. I could actually see the high-rise buildings in the distance from the balcony, which usually look more like mysterious and looming dark shadows standing among the smog. I even had green instead of black boogers in my nose! How festive! Christmas eve we hung out in at Summer House Café in Aurobindo Market, Ankush and I looking ridiculous in matching lumberjack sweaters. Christmas day was filled with old holiday tunes while I cooked a very carb-filled Christmas dinner for about six of us – grilled chicken, pasta with homemade tomato sauce, pan fried pumpkin, and the very signature Canadian holiday dish, mashed potatoes. It was actually the first dish to go. Everyone scarfed it down. I even bought us a cute little 200 rupee Christmas tree as our centerpiece. And my gift to myself? New glasses! Red in color to help with the Christmas spirit. We finished the night off roasting marshmallows over the hot coals of our BBQ, sipping homemade eggnog that I blended up with some dark rum and watching Aladdin sprawled out on the balcony in bean bag chairs as the full moon lit up the night sky. I was even able to Skype with my family as they started to open gifts Christmas morning and with Herag as he finished off his Christmas later in the evening, myself Skyping from the future on December 26th.
Harmonie and Louise met me later in the day on the 26th, in preparation for our 4am flight to Bombay on the 27th, and what a day the 27th was. Here’s how it began:
We dragged our tired bodies into the cab around midnight to head to the airport, our excitement still sizzling within us but our eyelids slowing closing over. The driver dropped us off at the airport entrance, where we proceeded to show our ticket booking to the officer guarding the entrance of the grand check-in area. He pointed out that we would be flying Air India, which departs from the internationals terminal, seven kilometers away. We turned on our heels and asked the cab driver to take us. He refused. How obnoxious. After a little pleading, we threw our bags in for the second time, handing over an extra 100 rupees to travel to the next terminal, which is first of all, way too much money to travel 7 kilometers and second, how can you build two terminals for the same airport 7 kilometers apart?!
We checked-in and zombie-d through security, moping around the duty-free, drooling over all the French and Swiss chocolate available for sale. 2am hit quickly and sleep clearly wasn’t an option with a 3:15am boarding call, so we did what any other rational human would, ate way too many McDonalds fries and guzzled down some caffeine. We sat for a good half an hour, contemplating how much toilet paper we should steal from the airport bathroom, and then headed to our gate. As we sat to wait, Louise realized she had lost her boarding card. Louise is pretty infamous for losing things, which made this situation a very funny/terrifying learning experience. As the boarding announcement rang out, she walked up to the desk to ask to have her ticket re-printed. “I’m sorry mame, this is special boarding card paper. We can’t just re-print it, you will have to go back to the check-in desk to have them re-issue you the boarding pass”. The check-in desk was a good 20-minute walk away. The boarding card paper was the branded type, and because it was a domestic flight, the immigration stamps had been placed on it, therefore making it impossible to board without it. With shear terror and panic taking over her body, she ran along side an Air India personnel to try and retrieve a new ticket in time. As Harmonie and I stood at alert, asking dozens of questions and writing down phone numbers and messages to Louise just in case she didn’t make the flight, the gate was called to close and we were rushed on board. As we took our seats, our heads raced with her next steps: Would she book a new flight? Take a train? Cry and go back to Dharamsala? With an uncharged phone and not a lot of cash, we were seriously concerned for her if she was in an irrational state. A good ten minutes passed, our heads swinging back and forth hoping to catch a glimpse of her running to or through the plane door. We were just about to give up when “Louise!” Harmonie yelled out from beside me, causing me to instantly jerk my head towards the aisle. There she was, a little sweaty but with a boarding card. As I moved over to let her take a seat, she burst into tears. I would have done the exact same thing, but 20 minutes earlier and collapsed on the airport floor.
We arrived in Mumbai at 6am with zero sleep to my name, a sold hour or so for the girls after such a dramatic 4am. We grabbed a prepaid cab and were on our way to the hotel Louise had booked through Booking.com, Hotel Al Madina, just outside the Fort area in South Mumbai. As we are entered the region of where our hotel was located, my intuition rang the alarm. The streets were half deserted, half filled with homeless and creepy men eyeballing us as the cab passed a dozen times, as we circled the eerie area unsure of where the hotel was. As I helped the driver with directions, which was very frustrating since he didn’t listen to anything I said, nor understand it, we reached our destination on a very rundown block. It was the only hotel within probably 2-kilometres and the street was populated with filth, urine, rats and a single chai wala. We took one glance at the cockroach palace hotel, windows hanging on hinges, a stair case leading to no where, and kept driving. We asked the driver to drop us off in the main Fort area where we would locate a back-up plan on foot, and thank Shiva we did. After negotiating a decent price for the high tourist time, we face planting into clean beds and took a well deserved nap.
Our afternoon really turned around afterwards. It’s amazing what a good nap can do (don’t tell Herag I said that). After showers, an awesome lunch of fish curry and a bus ride into Colaba, we were in the Bombay we know and love, walking down the crazy causeway with smiles stretched across our faces and McDonald soft serves in hand. We even sat for a beer overlooking the marina and Gateway of India, the sun soaking into our pale skin. And we finally got a hold of Daniela! After completing her 20-day Vipassana course, she was ready to enter the world again and was here to join us on our holiday adventure and for her birthday on January 6th – our last day on holidays. With about a month in between our last get together, we hit up some luxury spots to gossip and relax – first, the beautiful Taj Mahal Palace to soak in the Christmas spirit that we had all missed - the palace was decorated beautifully with tall white and green Christmas trees, golden wrapped gifts and Christmas tunes - then we made our way to a chill-out spot in a very foreign and air conditioned land called Starbucks.
The rest of our stay in Mumbai seemed to keep throwing more luck our way. We ended up in a cheaper hotel (which I HIGHLY recommended – Hotel Lawrence) located in the very central Kala Ghoda area, walking distance between Fort and Colaba – the most touristy destinations in the city – we were able to find accommodation in Arambol, Goa for New Years (but at the cost of a 2200 rupee bus ticket, which is usually less than half the price!) AND we were scouted for Bollywood and invited to host a very luxurious and upscale wedding, which we were all paid 500 rupees for!
Surprisingly within 4 days of vacation, Harmonie and I both managed to get sick but are luckily (our new favourite word) back to life. But I do find it strange I seem to fall ill each time I travel within India this time around. Is my body finally getting tired of travelling? Luckily I was able to recoup after a 14-hour rest and hit the cinema to watch a new Bollywood film with the girls. When we arrived at the theatre on the corner of Colaba Causeway, we were just about to throw our money down for a ticket when the ticket officer informed us there were no English subtitles. Womp womp. As we walked out, unsure of what to do with our evening, a chubby man in a light blue shirt with pale skin came running up to us having just jumped out of his car, which was now parked in the middle of the street while cars tried to maneuver around it. His name was Imad and he worked for Bollywood, helping cast ‘western’, i.e. young white tourists, for Bollywood films in need of extras for big dance scenes. He had a client getting married the next day and was in need of some western hosts to greet wedding guests as they arrived. We would be dressed in saris, have our makeup done, be fed and paid. Score! We signed up immediately.
The next day we hopped on a 1-hour boat with Daniella and her boyfriend Hamilton, visiting before starting his own Vipassana, and headed to Elepanta Island. The five of us were all smiles with cameras in hands as we cruised across the very murky seawater to the island, but extremely pooped and knocked out on the way back after standing under such strong sun for a few hours. The island was quite the sight but also, as Harmonie described it, “organized corruption”. First you pay for the boat, then you can optionally pay for a little train that takes you from the boat to the entrance (although you can walk – it’s not even a kilometer) then you pay to get in, walk up 40 flights of slippery stone steps, which I wiped out on, and pay again to see the caves – 10 rupees for Indians, 250 rupees for foreigners. Yeap, organized corruption it is. The first cave was the most beautiful, as large as possibly a cathedral, with high ceilings and beautifully detailed carvings etched into the walls, all representing and honoring Lord Shiva. There was even a small cave dedicated to his penis! It wasn’t a very big one though so I don’t know how honored he’s feeling…
Once we landed back on Bombay s
hores, we jogged our newly tanned faces back to the hotel to jump in the shower before our big
Bollywood wedding premier. Imad met us at the Rhythm House, close to our adorable hotel, and popped us in a cab with his hilariously hipster looking assistant Sikander, who was basically our personal assistant the whole evening - carrying my backpack around for us, taking photos on command, grabbing us juice and water when we were about to faint, blowing our noses, wiping our asses – regular things for three new divas. The wedding was set in the school grounds of a huge catholic school just north of the Fort area, and decorated just ridiculously. Well, not for Indian standards, but definitely western standards. The whole area had a tent boundary around it, probably the size of two football fields, dripping in gold and white decor. The long entrance way with a tented roof was decorated with thousands of hanging white ribbons with red leaflet hearts hanging from them. I giggled very loudly as I entered. They should have hired me to plan it!
Louise was assigned the “hand wash” station, literally pumping hand sanitizer into people’s greasy hands (like, who pays for someone to do that?!) while Harmonie and I stood at the entrance with our hands in prayer saying “namaste” and “welcome” to every guest... there was easily 1000 people there. Each woman was dressed head to toe in diamonds and Louboutin, with Yves Saint Laurent bags and six pounds of white powder on their faces. Each time another ridiculous woman passed us, Harmonie and I would exchange looks or burst into laughter. As it was a Muslim wedding, there was no music but there were 10 cameramen, a video drone flying above all the guests which was projected onto a massive screen beside the huge stage where the bride and groom sat for four hours, and 12 food stations. Everything was separated by gender too. Men and women didn’t eat together nor sit together to stare at the bride and groom on stage with their bridal party, which technically means there were 24 food stations. It really was the strangest and biggest wedding I’ve ever been too. In Canadian dollars, it was probably more than 200,000 to put on…
Tonight we are on our way to Goa with a 50 percent chance of accommodation for New Years Eve tomorrow. Turns out booking on the phone doesn't confirm a booking...who knew!
Will luck be a friend for one more night? Only time will tell.
Happy New Years everyone!