Wednesday, November 09, 2005

India - Day 2

We had a good night's sleep and had breakfast in one of the restaurants in the hotel. Man, did it ever smell like curry! You could smell it all the way down the hall! They had a great buffet with a large selection of Indian dishes. Unfortunately, I can't remember the names of anything we ate, but we really enjoyed trying out all the different foods with their myriad of flavours.

After we ate we decided that it was time to venture outside the hotel and go for a little stroll. There is a famous monument called "The Gateway of India" right next to our hotel. This is where all the ships and passengers arrived in India for many years. Apparently, the last Englishman to leave India left through this gate.

The minute we left the hotel and crossed over to the other side of the street it was obvious that we had entered another world. We were immediately accosted by what seemed like several hundred people trying to sell us everything from postcards and maps of Bombay to giant balloons, roasted nuts and even a shoe shine. There were also a number of beggars who approached us. One particularly persistent women tried to give me a wrist band made of flowers, insisting that it was a free gift. She followed me all around the monument, trying to make friendly conversation. "What's your name?" "Is this your first time in Bombay?" "Take this bracelet as a gift." About halfway around she decided it was time to go in for the kill. She held out her hand and said "I need milk for my baby. Please give me money so I can buy milk for my baby." Gary and I had become separated in all the fray, but were able to communicate our desire, at this point, to go back to the hotel. The beggar woman stayed at my side the whole time, not letting up, until we crossed the street back to the hotel. Our stroll only lasted about ten minutes, but it was absolutely exhausting! We were constantly telling people "no", which seemed to make no difference to them.

(Just a word about beggers in India. We were told that the best way to deal with them is to try and ignore them, which is not that easy to do, especially for the more soft-hearted folk. Apparently, in the big cities, there are gangs that force people to beg, then take the money, so you are not even sure that the money is going to the person you give it to. The other problem is that there are so many people living in poverty, that you can't possibly even make a dent, and you run the risk of either starting a riot, or endangering the person that you give the money to. The tour books encourage you to give to a charity in India, rather than hand out money on the street.)

To recover from our little walk, we decided to wander around the hotel and check out some of the shops. We saw some beautiful clothing and textiles, but were afraid to buy anything because we had no idea whether the prices were reasonable or not. There was one particularly beautiful shawl that they wanted about $1200 CD for. It would have been beautiful to display it in our home, but I was reluctant to purchase something so expensive without knowing it's true value. After we visited most of the shops in the hotel, we thought about going back outside again, but decided we hadn't quite recovered sufficiently from our first outing. We realized that in a way, we were prisoners in the hotel, and would have to develop better coping skills or we weren't going to see anything outside its walls.

Later in the afternoon, after lunch, we decided to muster up our courage and venture outside again. We were told that there was some good shopping on the streets behind the hotel. We walked along one of the side streets, and it wasn't long before a cute young barefoot girl carrying her baby sister latched on to us. She was quite charming but we knew we couldn't give her money or we would be thronged. So we did our best to smile and brush her off. Later another girl and her sister followed us around, trying to make friendly conversation and butter us up. "You look like movie stars," they said. They will try anything here to befriend you before they start asking for money!

In the evening we ate Indian food again. My favourite thing has to be the Indian fried bread. I think it's called Roti or Chapati. It is made from small balls of dough that are rolled out and then partially cooked on a hot griddle, then finished directly over high heat. This makes them puff up into a ball. Then they are lightly coated with some kind of oil to keep them soft. Yum!

In the evening we went to the business centre to try and send a few e-mails. While we were there we struck up a conversation with a woman from New York, named Liz, who is a shoe designer. She has a supplier in India who makes the shoes she designs, so she spends a lot of time in India. It was fun visiting with her and learning more about the country from an American business woman's point of view, and from someone who had been there enough times to understand the culture better then us. We had a great time visiting and getting know about her and her family, and decided to go for "drinks" in the lounge. She introduced us to a traditional Indian drink called Nimbu panni, which is a combination of lime juice concentrate and soda water. It was yummy! It was really fun getting to know Liz. That is one of the fun things about travelling, all the cool people you meet. We couldn't help but wonder what all the other North Americans and Europeans who were staying at the hotel were doing in India. I'm sure everyone has an interesting story.

Liz told us that there was a promotional event going on for Mac cosmetics, and Linda Evangelista (Canadian supermodel) was staying at the hotel, since she is their spokesperson. Apparently she hates India and doesn't like leaving her hotel room! We didn't see her, but there were a lot of people walking around all dressed up in the hotel lobby. Many of the women were dressed in their traditional saris, but we also saw a lot of younger girls in western style dress. And yes, teenage girls in India travel in packs, just like they do at home!

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