OK! Heading down south to Kerala now for Kaushal's cousin's wedding. I will be back in one week.
Here are some notes from the four days that I was in Ahmednagar last week. The city is approximately five hours east by bus from Mumbai.
Plus the usual bull, cow, dog, cat, goat, horse, and elephant.
My Mumbai roommate, Akshay Mahajan, snapped these pictures of me during our trip to Ahmednagar last weekend.
I am walking behind the elephant in a white shirt. Click here for big size.
I finished reading the book Maximum City: Bombay lost & found written by Suketu Mehta. It was great, and I loved the book. I learned a lot about Bollywood, the mafia underworld, the police system, and daily life of the middle- and upper-class. I recommend you read the book if you have lived in Mumbai for at least four weeks.
This might be a good opportunity to explain why people still refer to Mumbai as Bombay. The city was recently renamed from Bombay to Mumbai by a right-wing government party who resented all British influence on the city. With the best patriotic meanings, albeit at a large expense to the already weak municipal budget, the Shiv Sena party decided to change the city's name in 1995. A lot of people took offense to this, including the author of Maximum City. To this day, either in an act of defiance or in an act of love for their old city, many people still refer to Mumbai as Bombay.
I tend to use the two city names interchangeably. When I think about anything new or bureaucratic or broken, I call it Mumbai. But when I think about anything romantic, fantastic, or old, she is the Bombay.
I will be in the South Indian state of Kerala from August 31st to September 7th. I will be flying with my friend Kaushal Karkhanis to the city of Calicut (also known as Kozhikode)on Friday. We will be attending his cousin's wedding on August 1st - August 3rd in a nearby town. I will then backpack down the coast and fly back to Bombay from the city of Cochin.
Many people have told me how beautiful this region of India is, and- thanks to my friend Kaushal- I finally have a great reason to visit Kerala. If you have any suggestions on what to do or where to go in Kerala state, please email me.
Just a quick note to say that I am back in Mumbai. My weekend in the country at the ashram was great. Really relaxing and peaceful. Surprisingly, two or three people remembered me from my last visit almost three years ago. One person even commented on how I had gained some muscle weight! Here is something I blogged back then - Amartithi update January 2005.
I will upload photos and videos a little later tonight. One of my recent videos is probably going to be acquired by a little TV station in America, so that's exciting. I have to fill out a bunch of paperwork and get some releases signed.
OK, gotta go now -- Akshay is taking me downtown to visit a college campus.
Despite what was said at the beginning of my trip, I will be leaving Mumbai for a few days to retreat at an ashram. I will be going with my roommate Akshay to Pune this afternoon. On Thursday morning, we will take a bus to the small town of Ahmednagar. We should be back by Saturday or Sunday.
The last time I was in India (November 2004 to February 2005), I spent one week in Ahmednagar for a religious festival at the Meher Baba ashram. Here is something I wrote during that time.
Meherabad is the permanent encampment for followers of Meher Baba. The friendship and the community here is lots of fun. If you can imagine what a religious commune in India would be like, then you probably have a good idea of how my days go. Waking up at 5:30am, prayers and songs over sunrise, volleyball, etc.
There will be three vegetarian meals and tea served twice per day. I will be packing a few cans of salmon, skim milk, and whey protein to supplement my diet. Otherwise I am looking forward to relaxing in the country, reading books, and meeting some new people.
I just experienced a fantastic walk down a popular road in my neighborhood. For a change, everything smelled so nice! It was lunch time, so many of the popular restaurants were billowing the scents of fresh cooked vegetables and biryanis.
Once I noticed how nice everything smelled, I started taking deep breaths with my nose. Every few steps, I would smell something totally foreign and fantastic. Like incense burning in a pann shop or fresh flowers on display for an upcoming holiday.
With the help of Akshay's mom, I recently purchased a one month membership to the pool facilities at Wellington Catholic Club. Here is a picture and a proper review.
The Wellington Catholic Club has a swimming pool which is open year-round. It is located near the Khar subway in Santa Cruz, Mumbai, India. The pool is exceptionally clean, but be careful of the slippery bottom. The pool is approximately 80 feet long. Depths range from 4 feet to 9 feet.
Monthly membership rates are Rs900. A small photograph and the signature of an existing member is required. Monthly memberships are non-prorated; if you sign up on 15th August you will be paying a full month's fees for only one half month of service.
The pool hours are 7am to 1pm, and 5pm until 9pm. Swimming lessons are held between 1pm and 5pm. Members are allowed to swim one hour per day. Hourly swim times are also non-prorated; if you show up to swim at 11:30am, you can only swim for 30 minutes. An additional hour of swim time can be purchased for Rs70 (Rs35 during the monsoon season). The pool is closed for cleaning on Monday mornings.
Wellington Catholic Gymkhana
Church Avenue, Santacruz (W), Mumbai 54
Tel : 6496573
Akshay and I went to the barber shop today. We decided to pamper ourselves and got everything they offered - a shave, haircut, skin treatment (pictured), steam bath, face massage, and moisturizer. The total cost for everything was Rs420 (about US$10). The hair cut, including a nice shave of my neck with a real razor blade, was only Rs60 (US$1.50).
relaxing with the skin treatment, which they called a "skin bleach"
I highly recommend this barber shop.
near Pali Market
Bandra West, Mumbai, India
What I Did Today... Feeling much much better, but my appetite is still really low. Went out to a nuts-o locals only Nigerian restaurant with Akshay. I think we were the first non-Nigerians to ever show up, no joke. Then we walked around Chor Bazaar (Thieves Market) for a few hours, hung out at a girl-friends apartment, then went to a high school play about Animal Farm.
When I am sick here, I want to go home. So as I recover from a little food poisoning fever and nausea, I will give you a list of almost everything that I miss from my home in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia.
My hosts are being great and taking care of all my needs, so I do not have anything to complain about. I just wish I had my appetite and energy back.
Despite the back lighting, I want to share this first video because you can hear me speak Hindi. I ask the cab driver what his name is, and then he spits out his pan masala (like chewing tobacco in America). My Indian friends find the spitting hilarious and very typical of cab drivers.
In this video clip, I am happy to have just purchased a small bottle of Thums Up soda. Thums Up is an Indian brand of cola which is owned by Coca Cola.
Finally, here is a short tour of Ashok's Vada Pav shop in Dadar. From Wikipedia... "Wada Pav (pronounced WUH-daahh POW, also spelled Vada Pav) is one of the most popular fast-foods in Mumbai. It consists of a vada, made of potatoes, served on a bun or roll."
Most addresses in Manhattan are accompanied by a cross street. You can find this cross street on a map, or by asking your friend who lives at the address.
If I wanted to get to 349 Broadway in TriBeCa (a neighborhood in Manhattan), I would simply tell the taxi driver to take me to Broadway and Leonard. This is where the Broadway street intersects the Leonard street. Any taxi driver would know almost any cross street in Manhattan, so it is a very convenient system for tourists and residents alike.
But there is no knowledge of cross streets in Mumbai. Many addresses will instead reference a nearby landmark.
I usually tell Mumbai taxi drivers my destination in this order - Neighborhood, Landmark, Building. The driver will definitely know the neighborhood, will probably know the landmark, and will probably not know the exact building. When you reach the landmark, you will have to ask several more people for the minute directions to your destination.
For a tourist, this process of landmark-based navigation is sort of complicated. Here is an example.
Last week, I had to meet my friend Akshay at a photo studio in another neighborhood. He was having his picture taken for Elle magazine. Here is how I found my way to the photo studio.
There was no visible signage to identify it as the Saint Alvares Building, or to indicate any sort of street address. In conclusion, taxis in Mumbai will help you reach 95% of your destination. The last 5% is like a treasure hunt.
I just bought a bunch of bootleg Indian drugs! What would usually cost me $2.20 in the United States is available for only $.11 in India. That means that for every one pill I buy in the United States, I can buy twenty (20) in India.
Finpecia has the exact same ingredient as Propecia by Merck (1mg Finasteride). Finpecia is made by one of India's biggest pharmaceutical manufacturers, Cipla. The company is best known for their anti-AIDS drugs, which cost $12,000 in the West but only $300 in India.
Indian law protects only the processes by which drugs are made, and not the actual drugs themselves. This means Indian companies can ignore drug patents from the West, provided they use a manufacturing process that is different from the original.
The drug that I purchased, Finpecia (1mg Finasteride) is given to men between the ages of 18 to 41 years with mild to moderate hair loss. My father and my mother's father are both balding, so I consider Propecia/Finpecia/finasteride an insurance policy for my future barbers.
To purchase the drug, I simply went to the nearest chemist and asked for Finpecia. No prescription was required. Considering I take one Propecia pill per day in America, this could represent a $766.50 annual cost savings for me.
mango photo from Mahesh Khanna
This first video clip is a quick look at the afternoon crowds at Churchgate Train Station in Mumbai, India.
The trains in India are famous for being dilapidated, rusty, dangerous, and as full of people as they are reliable (they are very reliable and VERY crowded). So I was a little scared to ride Second Class carriage - even during the slowest time of the day. This next short video documents that voyage. For more information about this clip, see its page on Vimeo.
This last video clip is a demo of a camera mount that my colleague Angel helped me make. The special mount is called a SnorriCam, and I wanted to make it especially for this trip to India. This is the first time that I tested out the mount here in India.
I just had a great rickshaw experience, and I wanted to write about it because I am so happy.
First, let me tell you one of the big reasons that I like the Bandra neighborhood in Mumbai. It is because Bandra is the closest neighborhood to downtown where rickshaws are still legal.
I like rickshaws more than taxis because rickshaws get more fresh air ventilation, they are much less expensive, and they can weave around traffic.
Monsoon season is in full effect here. So tonight it is pouring rain, and I walked out of the cafe and right into a waiting rickshaw. Then I directed the rickshaw right to the front door of the apartment, about 5km (3mi) away.
So, that's that. It felt good to finally get home on the first try.