Decidedly urban couple who quit their jobs and successfully backpacked their way through Asia for a year. They met Buddha, drank baijiu and learned to master the squat toilet. Now appearing in a new life as ex-pats in Singapore.

India
Airing out the dirty laundry

Airing out the dirty laundry

The Dhobi ghat is a massive open air laundry where hundreds of Dhobi (the traditional washermen) live and work. We heard that it was pretty easy to check out, so we got off the train at Mahalaxmi station to see what we could find.  We didn’t have to look far!

The Dhobi Ghat

Sorted by colors

Men with rolled up pant legs stand in knee deep water whipping dirty clothes against a stone. Some hung around and watched their clothes spin in industrial washing machines that looked like cement mixers. Inside the small houses piles and piles of clothes sat in color sorted piles. The few women I saw sat inside ironing and sorting clothes.

Hanging out to dry in the rain

New fangled washing machine

If you’re staying in Mumbai and your hotel offers to do your laundry chances are good that they’re washed at the Dhobi Ghat. Your pants will return freshly washed and pressed and you’d have no idea that you clothes went on a little expedition to the laundry slum.

Like GTL without the G & the T

Washing saris by hand

A boat on a beach in Bombay

A boat on a beach in Bombay

India is a shocking place, which may be why I LOVE IT.  It really is that filthy, it really is that colorful, it really is that poor or that rich.

I’ve already accepted that I won’t be clean for another two months. After five minutes in the mugggy Mumbai monsoon, your clothes are damp and wrinkled, your face is covered in sweat and the smog has seeped into your pores. What shocks me is not just how dirty I have become, but the savage level of filth that I have quickly become immune to and can calmly ignore.

Today we took a walk along the most famous beach in Bombay, Juhu Beach.  This posh suburban area is where Bollywood stars walk their dogs and  recently, where a massive tanker has run ashore and it currently beached right in front of the 5-star Marriot hotel.

With these adjectives: ‘posh’, ‘5-star’, and ‘famous’, one would expect a level of cleanliness and possibly serenity.  Here is what it looked like.

A great place to enjoy some street food or get a tattoo, no?

Trashtastic!

A wonderful place to enjoy some chaat

Effective trash removal from front of the beach to the back

Sanitary tattoo, I swear!

 

 

 

The BREAKDOWN

The BREAKDOWN

The breakdown was bound to happen, it was just a matter of time. What could not have been expected was the side trip to the slum, the instant fame that we would undeservedly receive or the insane ride through Pune rush hour traffic pushing the ‘Shaw to it’s final resting place.

For this we lost the race, but earned the “Bonkers” Award.

The blessing that went awry

Here’s how it went down.

We just happened to breakdown directly in front of a tuk-tuk taxi stand. Instead of calling our mechanics we chose to hire the most sane looking Taxi driver to help repair the Shaw. It just so happened that the man spoke absolutely no english and communicated all day in Hindi and twisty headbobs. It took 10 hours to understand just how badly we’d fucked the Shaw.

Mr. Taxi driver knelt down next to Vinnie – pointing and bobbing and chatting away. After some initial language difficulties Vin finally understood that new parts were needed, but that someone must stay with the Shaw.   That left me, a white woman in a sari, alone in a rickshaw that wouldn’t move, surrounded by a crowd of onlookers with camera phones. INDIA INSANITY!

A crowd forms and grows to become a MOB

White people in India are always stared at and if you don’t respond properly, the attention can grow until there is a mob of people surrounding you. During the race we quickly learned the best way to mitigate the fame is to smile and then pretend that people aren’t blatently undressing you with their eyes. Being a single woman in India can be slightly terrifying especially when a large group of men surround your vehicle, wanting to touch you, get your autograph or pinch you.

Luckily just seconds after Vinnie left there was a massive, near-fatal motorcycle accident. Watching a man fly head first into the pavement provided more excitement than a white woman in a rickshaw.  I would consider this a mixed blessing, but it was only the first death of the day.

First near-death experience of the day

Shaw repairs continued but the crowd refused to dissapate. Mr. Rickshaw driver had Vinnie drive his taxi while he coaxed the Shaw one block down the road into a small wooded alley. We spent the next 3 hours in the rain, trying to figure out just what could have gone so terribly wrong.

The problem with the Shaw went from having muffler issues to having no muffler.  From spark plugs not firing to a complete meltdown of the alternator. Basically we needed to buy a new Rickshaw, simple repairs were not going to fix the beast.

Here comes the Monsoon!

We also needed more help. Mr. Taxi driver convinced his friend Mr. Repairman to enter the fray. (Mr. Repairman also spoke no English). Together they needed to drive the stalled Rickshaw three miles to Mr. Repairman’s shop.

Just how do you drive a stalled rickshaw?

It turns out that you can’t drive a stalled rickshaw, you must push it.  And since no one wanted to push a rickshaw for three miles, the men came up with an alternate solution.

Pushing the shaw through traffic with his FOOT

That’s right. He pushed it WITH HIS FOOT for THREE MILES! Along the way he also stopped to pick up a fare!

Vinnie, me, Mr. Repairman and a random woman crammed into the Taxi Rickshaw. Mr Repairman floored the gas, driving straight towards our Shaw where the Mr. Taxi driver sat waiting. Within inches of hitting the Shaw, Mr. Repairman stuck out his foot and began driving while pushing our stalled rickshaw through traffic. WITH HIS FOOT.

Needless to say this was exhausting. The traffic surrounded us, blowing their horns, cursing and shouting at us. We stopped twice. Once to drop off our passenger and second time to grab a quick chai.

Offered to help. Repairman did not find this funny.

As we finally approached the shop, Mr. Repairman changed his mind.  Instead of driving us to the repair shop, he drove us to his home, where he felt that I would be more comfortable hanging out with his wife and mother.

Walking though Repairman's 'neighborhood'

Specifically, Mr. Repairman drove me to his slum, where we walked through goat shit and dirty laundry to find his very small, dirt floor single room abode. Outside the room was a metal bed of springs, where an old woman lay, mouth open, trying to breathe her last breath. A younger woman appeared from the room wearing Lycra gloves covered in puss, clearly in the middle of caring for this dying woman.

“My wife!” Mr. Repairman smiled and motioning to the dying woman on the bed, “My mother.”

The old woman was covered in flies and stared at the ceiling gargling. His wife stared at me in horror, saying something to the effect of  “your mother is dying on our only chair. This white girl can not stay here, and besides there is there is no place for her to sit.”

Thank God in heaven that Indians strongly respect marriage. “My husband!” I cried. “I can’t leave my husband! We’re married! We stay together!”

I was pleading in English and the Repairman only spoke Marathi but somehow this seemed to translate. With a huge measure of relief, we were once again off to repair the Shaw.

Repairing the Shaw

The repair shop was more of a street corner. A street corner where a man stood all day pressing clothes, and an old woman sold spices. The corner had never seen such a sight! Women in burkas would slow down to stare, others gathered on balconies to point and shout. At once point school let out and crowds of children gathered around just to witness the reality of white people dressed like Indians. I have never received so many compliments in my life, “You look like beautiful woman!” or “You’re a proper lady!”

The ironing man on the corner

With the day coming to a close, there was only one problem. None of the electric worked and the Shaw was essentially hotwired. We set off once more to find the right pieces, ending up at a temple where goats, cows and hundreds of little kids spent their day.

Dozens and dozens of kids

This proved to be the ne plus utlra of fame. We gave stickers to the little boys who surrounded us. They put the stickers on every available surface, including the side of a goat and cows ass. One the stickers were gone, they ran back asking for more! and more! Each movement was tracked by hundreds of curious adult men who motioned for us to give them a sticker and take their picture. Soon everyone from the street was crowded around our rickshaw, shaking our hands, asking for autographs and blocking all other traffic.

Bulls-eye!

We also witnessed some type of funeral procession.

Street Procession

We drove off with children running alongside the still-hotwired Shaw. That’s right, it was never fully repaired.  It was the end of the day and had begin to rain. We were too exhausted to care that the Shaw was still broken and after 10 hours called it a day.

This proved to be the most fantastic part of our journey and the ‘real’ part of India. The part where strangers spend 10 hours repairing your vehicle and invite you into their homes. Where women are treated like little ladies who must be protected and shouldn’t help the men with their mechanics. And where kids and agricultural animals roam around the streets with stickers on their head.

It’s crazy and we love it!

Vinnie and Mr. Taxi Driver

 

 

 

Indian Insanity! Rickshaw Rules of the Road

Indian Insanity! Rickshaw Rules of the Road

India is a damn crazy place to drive.  At first glance it appears that there are absolutely no rules, it’s pure chaos. You quickly come to realize that there are rules and they’re purely based on size and speed.  You can pass anyone, anywhere, at anytime as long as they’re moving a tiny bit slower than you. But beware of oncoming traffic, they will hit you. Especially the lorries, do not mess with the truck drivers.

Rules of the road in India

  • There really are cows on the highway. Do Not Hit a Cow.

Beware of Bovines

  • There are no stop signs or traffic lights. Even if there  is a traffic light, ignore it.
  • Each vehicle at the four way intersection has the right of way and will not stop. They will simple enter traffic at full speed.

Insane Traffic!

  • It is perfectly acceptable to cut someone off.
  • Use your horn for everything, always.

Horn OK Please!

  • Trucks drive into oncoming traffic while flashing their lights.  This is Indian-speak for “I will kill you, please give way”

Trucks passing our Shaw on the Ghats!

  • You will be run off the road. Expect this or deal with the consequences (death).

Vinnie ran them off the road!

  • There are no “lanes.”

This isn't a lane, it's a parking lot

  • Only look in front of you, never behind you. Mirrors are unnecessary.
  • Turn signals are never used.
  • Yield to ox carts and marriages

Roadside wedding in India

  • It’s perfectly normal to pull beside another vehicle and scream out thhe window,”Where are you going! What are you doing!” while driving down the highway.

Pose for the people!

  • White people don’t drive rickshaws, particularly white women.  This may attract some attention.

We're famous in India

  • Watch out for hop ons, God knows you’re gonna get hop ons.

Hop On!

Welcome to the Rickshaw Challenge!

Welcome to the Rickshaw Challenge!

In India one of the first things you must adjust to is the level of shit: cow shit, garbage on the street, the waft of urine from the slums as you deboard the plane in Mumbai. It seemed appropriate, given the massive amount of shit in India, that we drive the ultimate piece of shit vehicle – a two stroke, three wheeled Rickshaw.

Goa to Bombay. Seven Teams. Eight Days. Monsoon Rains. It’s the Rickshaw Challenge!

Rah!

To learn how to drive our new ride we were led to the local parade grounds or what some would call a swamp. The monsoon rains had begun and we were soaked, mud crept through our toes and the smell of compost soon overwhelmed the senses. The fun had begun!

Why won't this START?

It was here that we realized that driving a rickshaw is not nearly as easy as one would expect. A rickshaw is a bit like a lawnmower, you must pull up on the starter to start the engine. From there you use hand gears to shift and accelerate and a foot pedal to brake. It takes some getting used to but by the second day, it feels like you’ve been driving for years.

First breakdown of the challenge - Training Day!

It turns out that learning to drive is only 1/100th of the Challenge, the other part is figuring out how to repair your shaw. A rickshaw is an authentic piece of shit, breakdowns started on the first day. One team had an engine that was not mounted but rather tied on to the frame. Another team lost their muffler during the race. Many of the Shaws didn’t have a working odometers or speedometers or lights! Our big problem, initially, was that our rickshaw did not like neutral.

Breakdown AGAIN!

These may sound like trivial concerns until you’re stalled in traffic, surrounded by motorbikes, massive trucks and farm animals. Everyone is beeping and staring, and you don’t have a clue what’s wrong. You don’t know how far you’ve gone so you don’t know if you need gas, or possibly the engine came unmounted. Maybe you’re totally fucked and muffler fell off or the alternator burnt out. Or you’re simply not in neutral.

Figuring out just what has gone wrong is part of the adventure. The rest of the fun is figuring out just where the hell you’re going.

Sir, this address does not exist.

Directions in India are a big joke. There are no real street addresses instead a place is located “next to the Church” or “Near the Taj”. Once you know what landmark to ask for, figuring out how to get there is next to impossible. Everyone will always tell you to go straight. And when you attempt to confirm the directions, you are met with the famous Indian ‘yes, no, maybe so’ headbob.

What are you supposed to do when someone both shakes their head up, down, back and forth all at the same time. THIS MEANS NOTHING!

Make way for MELOVIN!

The headbobs, the breakdowns, and the directions, these are all just warm ups for the real Challenge: Driving in India. Nothing can prepare you for the sheer terror and exhilaration one feels when passing an ox-cart while driving in oncoming traffic down a 25% incline. Particularly when you’re staring right into the face of a shipping container on wheels.

Make way for the Ox cart!

India is a crazy country, and only someone mentally insane would decide to travel 1,043 km from Goa to Bombay in a Rickshaw.  But we did it, and it was fantastic.

Hallelujah!

 

 

Welcome to INDIA!

Welcome to INDIA!

Yes, it’s raining during monsoon season in Goa. Shocking.

Monsoon Season in Goa

It’s more of a light drizzle than the downpour we’ve heard so much about. In between showers the air is warm and the sea breeze blows away any remaining humidity.

It’s so lovely, so calm and peaceful that we wonder if we’re in India at all! Of course, then we see a cow crossing the street and realize that this is definitely the sub-continent.

We’re gearing up for our big rickshaw race and in the meantime we’ve thrown caution to the wind, eating at every small fly-covered teashop, food stand and beach restaurant. We’ve shot back fenni and against all warnings dined on chouriço sandwiches and all manner of chaat.

Goa is a fabulous and we’re so thrilled to finally make it to India.

Have you been to India?  What should we do, what should we eat and where should we visit? We want your advice!