Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Marooned in Mumbai....no longer

Made it out of Mumbai, but not without an adventurous and bit scary run in with the 'greatest monsoon rains in 100 years'. My cousin Deborah from Cali came to India to visit (YEAH!! first visitor - Janay, Jamie, mom, dad, steph....still waiting). Our pre-arrival email conversations were something like this....1 month prior: "oh yeah, it rained hard the first week of monsoons, but dry now" 1 week prior: "had a sprinkle in AM, but looks like weather report says rains may start soon after you arrive" What really happened: Sky dumps out on mumbai....city shuts down for 2 days, trains stop running, cars in complete gridlock, water rises 8 to 10 feet in some parts of the city, landslides, over 950 people have died, animals drown.

A high tide coincided with heavy rains, leaving nowhere for the water to drain. At the time I thought we were having a wild experience, but after hearing and reading other's stories, our's was mild. Still for a first time monsoon experience for deborah and biggest rains in 100 yrs the 30 hr escapade was memorable.

I will try not to give you the full-on 'stacie' version of story telling, which I have a theory may be genetic, deborah too likes to include all the details...we feel it really allows the listener to 'be there', truly 'understand' how the narrator felt. If you want to skip our story and see the impact visit Natl indian newspaper based out of Mumbai

So the one landmark Deborah wants to see in Mumbai is Elephanta Island, these are caves of 7th & 8th century (I am open to correction here) carvings of several Hindu deities, Shiva predominately. The book says boats run less frequently in monsoons, this is offseason. The day was overcast, had become the norm for prior 3 weeks in Mumbai, we take off from dock at the Gateway of India around 11ish. One hr ferry ride later (rains did begin 3/4 way across sea) we arrive and hike the long stone vendor filled staircase to the caves. Grab some roasted corn on the cob (typical monsoon snack) and a vada pav (whit dinner roll - the pav - pronounced POW! Sandwiching a spiced fried potato patty, dressed with a green chutney) with along the way (this is definitely an unnecessary detail, but I like food, so wanted you to really be there with me).

We mill around the caves an hour or so, explore other caves and carvings, much picture taking (will post at later date), photography technique discussion (not much natural light inside caves because of dark clouds and rains), a mini-debate on if the 2pm boat was really (as the driver told us) the last boat off the island or should we chance it and catch a later boat. We walked toward the boat, and the vendors said most of the tourists were sitting in the restaurants so the boat will not go anywhere till everyone is there. We eat again, Masala Dosa, and Ottapums (this is definitely spelled incorrectly)...and chai , it had been raining the entire time on the island, the horizontal type...so a warm chai warmed the belly!

The Boat ride back....the start of teh 24 hr journey home

welcome to the Indian Monsoons
Deborah makes a new friend, introduction to guru from Punjab, proposition to sell jewelry in US, and a boat with no instruments.

The kind boat staff showed us to the driest seat on the boat, a wooden bench in center of boat. Deb and I sit on either side of Mukesh and settle in for our journey back to the 'mainland' .... the winds are blowing a bit of rain inside the boat, so the outside seats of boat are wet, but we three feel comfortably protected from the light rains.

1 hour later the boat departs, with incredibly low visibility, rains, and no communication or wooden ferry heads toward Mumbai. 1/2 across the sea another boat approaches us from behind, the drivers pull alongside one another to discuss where to go, neither uses intstruments to and from the island. Before deciding which direction to blindly steer the floating devices carrying, cold wet tourists and Indian nationals, winds start thrashing the boats. The crew tied the two rocking boats together, the winds blew rain horizontally from both directions drenching everyone. We are focusing on protecting cameras and cell phones, people are tossing me their purse to hold, the guy on the outside my bench holds the umbrella spearing off the direct onslaught of rain spikes in my face....deborah's friends are using her umbrella to protect the bench crowd from rains on the opposite end. The passengers group on the left side of the boat to avoid the heavy monsoon storm.

We sit in the middle of the sea for 30 - 45 min. and I got all religious....I said a little prayer to please get us back safely, I felt we were going to flip over and dump into the sea, I was planning which bench I thought would best float us back to land. We laughed before departure, "ha! this is my first gilligan's island experience" not so funny anymore...although Mukesh would make a great professor, Deborah - Ginger, and I could be....hmm, Mary Ann!! OK back to flotation devices to safe our lives, I then thought no, I have not been working out much lately or swam form months, better hope for boat to remain upright.

It does not clear up, but the winds do die down. We proceed...the young man next to me, wants to know '
what country' and tells me all about the glass jewelry he makes and how he needs me to sell it for him in the states. Can he have my email?

Deborah's new black compact umbrella is now lopsided because her new indian friend insisted on covering her head with the umbrella by bending and pulling the edges over her head. I thought I was going to break up a cat fight!

Mukesh is shown our Punjabi neighbor's guru's wallet size photos and told all the world record amounts of blood the guru coordinated in collecting to donate.

We dock, solid ground, 2 1/2 hours later .... but not at the Gateway of India, where the car is, rather they took us to a dockyard.

Hey Dude....Where is my car?
Buses are not running for another hour, the lone cab says his car does not work then speeds off ten minutes later. So we settle for some chai and biscuits (cookies) and set off on foot.

The rain is not so bad...kind of fun to get a little damp, stepping over puddles here and there, stopping to watch the fishermen sorting their catch. As we leave the entrance to the shipyard and ask for directions back to the gateway we enter the floods. The street drains are completely clogged and we are wading in Knee deep cloudy water. Men standing under awnings at nearby stores are yelling something in Hindi, as I step forward and my left leg goes thigh deep into the water. The men all laugh, I fell into a hole they knew about and I could not see....I really need to learn some Hindi.

A foreign couple are following us, they do not have umbrellas. Local Mumbaikers are walking with them providing protection from the rain with umbrellas or jackets. Traffic going both directions is at a standstill, the road is lined with shops and shanties. Young children are running and splashing in the water, cargo trucks packed full of men are hooting and hollering as we walk by, farangs out in the Monsoon, quite a sight.

Women and children are sitting in their shanties watching all the people and traffic swimming by. A man kindly invites us into their shanty to get out of the rain. Empty cabs will not pick up passengers in fear of the weight causing car to flood out, finally a man in a SUV picks up the 5 of us, Mukesh, myself, Deborah, and the French couple. Although traffic is moving at a trickle, it is a relief to escape the rain and end our wading session in mysterious murky waters (since the torrential tuesday, city health officials have been releasing health advisories , to alert people that did wade thru deep waters to see a doctor for meds, there is an infection from RAT URINE going around - yuck!).

We spent time chatting meeting our new french friends, trying to make cell phone calls, but the networks are all down. An hour or so later we ditch the hitch and decide we can hoof it the remaing Km back to the car. We stopped at a rest. to pee and grab a hot toddy and snack and wait out the traffic. So we do not sit in traffic driving home from town. HA!!

The 12 hr journey across mumbai

A typical drive, with rush - hour traffic can take at most 2 hours, 1 to 1 and 1/2 hour normally. As we are driving along the queen's necklace (sidewalk, streetlamp lined coastline in downtown) we see that the bus stands are packed, hundreds of folks are walking. Buses must not be running. We stop and offer a ride to a Muslim couple, deborah now has two more new friends! lucky her. Little did we know we would be spending the next 11 hours with our new compardres.

Traffic is slow going, one lane in many places to avoid the deep water on the sides, but it is moving. Along the roads streams of people are walking North, all trains, 'the lifeblood' of Mumbai, have stopped running and people are forced to walk.. As we near Bandra (half way point) traffic slows then stops about 2 AM, we along with thousands of other people turn off the car engines and sleep on Linking Road in Bandra for the next 5 to 6 hours in cars and buses.

After a few short naps with my face smashed up against the window, Deborah's head leaning straight back against the head rest and Mukesh sleeping in my lap and Deborah's new friends she can not communicate with falling over on her shoulder in their sleep I did some walking around, assessing the traffic and train situation. I had had it, Deborah and I decide to risk it and take the supposed 8 AM train and head home. We were wet, dirty, tired and hungry.

We stopped off for an assortment of Indian sweets, found a new one we liked Barfi! Rest. and shops are working by candlelight, all elec. is out. We had a little energy and headed to the station. I was afraid of trains being so packed b/c this is the first train running in past 12 plus hours.

We made it 2nd class ladies. Oh wow! exciting, we are headed toward the andheri station home sweet home, hot water showers, soap! food, some chai. thinking about all the things I have at home I can eat...left overs, I could boil some noodles, make some toast.....the train stops.

we did make 3 stations! but we are told there is a train in front of us stuck on tracks. We decide 10 min. later, ours is the next stop, we could jump out of the bogey -train car- and walk on the tracks. There were already hundreds of other people doing the same.

We were the entertainment for many, guys in train cars ahead, others on the tracks thought it was funny two foreigners were out walking on the tracks.It was not so bad. Made it back to the station, walked looking for a rickshaw, negotiated a price and jumped in with another man headed to Versova and were going home! We picked up one other Versova bound passenger along the way, both gentlemen were very nice we all shared our stories of being stranded. One had seen a dead cow floating in the water and decided not to wade waist deep anymore and find a vehicle to ride in.

There had been water's 10 feet height in this area, Andheri. We saw a jewelry shop owner scooping 3 feet deep water out of his shop. Our weighted down rickshaw parted to street seas as cars and people creeped thru the still 2 deep water in some places. Side roads had people walking waist deep. Neighbors were out to help direct traffic

Once back in Versova, one of the men riding with us paid our fare..and we were on the way to a shower. I stopped off at the chemist to grab some dettol (anisceptic) deb had a blister and we thought is would be wise to wash out all the street grime. Five minutes to a hot shower, I can't wait. As I open the door Deborah in her towel sadly tells me, no water or electricity. All power is shut off so water from the well can not be pumped up.

WHAAAA!!! Then I realized I had not only left Mukesh stranded in Bandra with two strangers in the car, I took his wallet, in a car that was nearing empty : ( and networks are still down. I am usually an optimist, but damn I was ready for this adventure to end.

I did meet some neighbors, a gentlemen helped me fetch some water with a bucket and rope from the well and this family invited us up for a warm drink and offered a bucket of their clean water. (oh yeah, most everyone uses gas, but I have a single "hot plate" electric eye, so no cooking or hot drink for us).

It turns out we were really very lucky, in the next few days, water and power was restored (we showered!!) but once you talked to others we realized our story was not that spectacular. But it did happen to us. I won't forget it.

From the papers and listening to others stories we learned about the numerous deaths drowning and landslides.
A man and his son drown in their car, could not get out because of water rushing in. In the slum areas walls collapsed trapping people, houses slid off sides of mountains, a school wall collapsed killing 9 children. In many of the slum areas there is standing water , breeding ground for water borne diseases.

My friends, Sanjana and Ajey, safely made it thru deep waters to their girls school and spent the night their with thousands of students and teachers. Neighbors brought sandwiches, fruit and drinks. They had to walk at least 10 miles in the morning thru deep waters to make it home.

I am thankful for my relative safe adventure and observing how a city pulls itself back together after a disaster like this. We are actually in Kerala now, visiting a college friend of Deborah's. We were scheduled to take a 30 hour scenic train, but they are all shut down until Aug 6th. After a 4 hour delay at the airport we finally took off for the south.

Kerela is beautiful and full of lush green trees. It was still raining when we left Mumbai, but I have heard it has quit since. So I am safe and sound...still alive, dry and loving India!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Reading your blog and I figured you'd be interested in advancing your life a bit, call us at 1-206-339-5106. No tests, books or exams, easiest way to get a Bachelors, Masters, MBA, Doctorate or Ph.D in almost any field.

Totally confidential, open 24 hours a day.

Hope to hear from you soon!