Tuesday, January 31, 2012

India: Days 3-5


We started the night on a raised walkway. The busy slums below us echoed with the usual nightly noises. Cars honk their horns to announce their presence. Pans clash as food is being made for the next day’s street patrons. People are talking loudly as they negotiate everything. A lady stands at the corner, singing a beautiful song, a basket in her hands to collect money.

We run, first class tickets in hand, to the train that will take us to the New Years Eve festivities. Red bars on the train car mark its first class status. Men hang out the doors of the other cars, crammed in as tightly as they can get. A few women sit in the woman's only car. No one is inside the car with the red bars.

We are late. Fireworks start at midnight and we only have fifteen minutes to get there. The train stops, Churchgate Station. Everyone piles off and makes a dash to the main event. We follow the crowd. Everyone is headed to the same place.

“Five minutes!” someone yells. There is no way we are going to make it. The crowd turns down a street with a church lit up with lights of red and green. We are all going to the same place.

Another turn. We dash across busy traffic, oncoming cars honking as we rush out of the way. The countdown begins. “Three, two, one, Happy New Year!” Fireworks sound in the distance. We wish the nightly guard sitting on his step a Happy New Year. He smiles and waves in return.

We are late, but that’s ok. We made fast friends along the way. An arch, lit up to light the way, appears in front of us, the Gateway of India. We made it!

The crowd has quickly turned into a mob and there is no where to go. A hand reaches into a pocket, hoping for money, but finding only receipts. We huddle close as we move forward through the mob. Stopped by police blocking the entrance, an angry mob forms behind us. The police see that there are women in our group and usher us to stand behind them. We are the only women to be seen. A cheer of boo’s echo behind us as the crowd pushes forward.

Standing behind the police we realize we are trapped between the mob and a metal barrier. If that crowd surges forward, where do we go? Flashes of light are shining all around us, but they are not taking pictures of the fireworks, they are taking pictures of us. The only white in a sea of brown, we tend to stand out, especially the three red heads.

The crowd pushes forward and starts to break free of the police. In our heads we are each planning our escape route. At the last second the swarm of people turns, seeing a break in the barrier we had missed. We leave in the other direction, fireworks intermittent in the sky, people still everywhere.

Around the corner and up the crowded street we find a small bar. Cramped with people we find a table hidden in the loft. Our first drinks of the New Year are had amidst songs of cheer. A perfect ending to an unforgettable New Year.

Mumbai Memories
New Year celebration at the Gateway of India
Riding the most heavily traveled railway in the world (3,500 people die on it every year)
Ferry ride to Elephanta Caves
Eating dinner at the Taj hotel
Trying to get into Bollywood with no luck in the bribing department
Spending the day in a mall (which is exactly like the malls we have in the US)
Eating McDonalds and KFC, our first taste of the US in days
Seeing Don 2 in a swanky theater, and later realizing that Shah Rukh Khan is everywhere

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