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Tuesday 7th December - Mumbai
By Claire
Friday, 10th December 2004 06:19

We did roughly the same for lunch this morning as we did yesterday and then took a taxi out to India Gateway, a large arch by the sea that was built in 1911 to act as a symbolic entry point to the country. The whole place was totally packed with tourists and peole trying to sell things. I began to get cross with the constant stream of men passing unnecessarily close to me and the guys shoving five-foot tall balloons in my face - what did they honestly think I was going to do with it? Beggars with and without children grabbed us or patted our arms and a dozen men asked to have their photos taken with me. Everyone was met with a slightly hysterical 'no!' and most of them mocked me with the same shout. I was totally fed up with everyone, it was far too hot and crowded and I just wanted to go home. Instead, we walked into the lobby of the Taj Mahal Intercontinental Hotel, built to spite the whites-only policy of Bombay's leading hotel and which eventually managed to drive its competitor out of business. Inside was air-conditioning and carved wood panelling, expensive shops and marble floors. It was all rather relaxing and it was nice to spend a few minutes imagining that I wasn't in India. Once we were cooler and I was a bit calmer, we went out to the Prince of Wales museum to see some old stuff.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, a gentle walk around a pretty building, but the slow pace and the lovely voice of the audio guide saying things like "I wouldn't miss the treasures in the sculpture gallery for the world," just made us even more tired and sleepy than we already were. So I dragged Mikey to an incredibly slow internet cafe and then to a very crowded restaurant and then forced him to see Princess Diaries 2 with me.I'd seen the end of a strange film in Cambodia and judging by the characters and the plot this was the sequel. Mindless fun for pre-teen girls, I suppose, and for me at least, untaxing enough to be bearable!

We collected our bags from the hotel and walked to the station. It was seriously overcrowded and the floors were completely covered with people sleeping and beggars crawling around our feet. The only good thing was that the station and the trains were both indoors and the waiting area was at the end of all fifteen train lines, with the trains sitting there watching us - it was quite cool and meant we didn't have to walk up and down countless uneven staircases to get to the right platform.But we had half and hour to wait and the whole place was getting to me. The loo (for which I had to pay an entire rupee) was submerged in half an inch of lumpy brown water, the people lying on the floors, most of them next to puddles of wee, were all filthy and many had clouds of flies round them and I just couldn't bring myself to feel anything like sympathy for them. They just seemed to bring this poverty on themselves - a county so over populated might consider some sort of Chinese-style control, perhaps, or have rubbish bins around or seats in stations. Actually, the waiting rooms, with seats, were mostly empty but still everyone preferred to lie on the ground. Children grabbed my hand and tapped my legs asking for money and I just shouted at everyone, telling them just to leave me alone, but it didn't work. Mikey took me to the train (which was cleaner than many we've been on because this was the first station and no-one had time tomake it dirty yet), we chucked out a load of Indian lads who had appropriated our bunks and sat and waited. It was hot, I was tired and cross and generally fed up with the whole country. It was funny that the two English girls that we shared our compartment with were of exactly the same opinion, which cheered me up enough to get to sleep.

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