Wingin’ It: Part One

11 Jan

I am a control freak.  I was pretty sure of that before moving to India, and after three months here, it’s confirmed.  Oh, and, India is not friendly to control freaks.  Sometimes it takes half an hour to get to dinner; the next day, it could take two hours.  Sometimes the train doesn’t run on Sundays, and no one knows why.  I tell a rickshaw driver to take me to the temple, and sometimes I end up at the train station.   The only certainty is that anything can happen.  So, this weekend, I uncharacteristically agreed to make a weekend escape with the girls, in which only one aspect of the trip was planned.

Destination: Murud
Purpose:  Downtime on the beach and fulfilling Andrea’s dream of visiting the “impregnable” (as Lonely Planet puts it) fort at Janjira
The Plan:  Get on the first ferry from the Gateway of India, then wing it!

“I could really love Mumbai if it was always like this,” I said, as the four of us took a cab from Bandra to the Gateway of India at 7 a.m. on Saturday.  “You mean, if Mumbai had fewer people, almost no traffic, and was quieter?”  Kat said.  I laughed.  The traffic, 22 million people, and constant noise is what makes Mumbai…Mumbai.  I can’t say I’m in love with those things.  “Yes!  Exactly!”

After waiting in line to buy ferry tickets, only to find out that they’re sold at the window next to the one with the ferry schedule, we purchased them for 8:30 a.m., made our way to Gate 2, and claimed our seats on the top deck.  The chilly, hour-long ride included on-board entertainment, thanks to the group of a dozen Indians sitting behind us who clapped and sang Bollywood tunes for most of the journey.

Arriving in Mandwa, we crossed the wooden bridge to a parking lot full of rickshaws and a bus.  Fingers crossed that it was the one going to Alibaug, where we would then take another bus to Murud.  A couple of Indians were pushing their way onto the bus, which already exceeded capacity.  “We’ll wait for the next one,” Alaina said.

“Come, come, madame,” a tall, husky, mustached Indian man yelled as he approached the four of us and pointed to the rickshaw parked behind him.  “Where do you go?”  We told him we were waiting for the next bus to Alibaug.  “Come.  Free rickshaw to Alibaug,” he said.  We were skeptical.  Did he say free?  That couldn’t be right.  We ignored him and hoped the next bus would come soon.  “Come, come.  Free rickshaw,” he persisted.

I was ready to get in the rickshaw.  Why stand in the parking lot holding our bags, waiting for the next bus?  We all looked at each other.  Should we?  “Let’s see if anyone else takes a rickshaw,” Kate, ever the voice of reason, suggested.  When we realized we were the only ones standing around and other travelers were cramming into rickshaws, we went for it.  The driver was still standing next to us, waiting for our decision.  “Come, come.”

We were the first into the rickshaw.  Within two minutes, eight guys joined us.  Six piled into the back with us–four on the seats and two on their friends’ laps–and two sat in the front next to the driver.  Thirty bumpy minutes later, we arrived in Alibaug and asked several shopkeepers for directions to the bus depot.  We boarded a red, worn out, government bus at the station, and squeezed into the corner seat in the rear of the bus.

The hour and a half right to Kashid came with a price tag of 25 rupees (50 cents).  Based on suggestions from my landlords and Kat’s friends, we decided to stay in Kashid, 20 kilometers north of Murud.  The former is quieter and the beaches less crowded, we were told.  Passing through rural villages, open fields, and hills, we noticed all the signs were in Hindi.  We had no way of knowing where we were.  “Will you tell us when we get to Kashid?”  I asked one of the guys sitting in front of us, when he and his friends took a break from singing and dancing to Bollywood songs.

Realizing that breaking out in song on public transportation must be a trend, we girls started clapping.  We sang the only part of the only song we knew. “My name is Sheila/ Sheila ki jawani/ I’m too sexy for you/ da-da-da-da-da-da.”  My friend Alaina was obsessed with this song on our trip to Nasik.  With the tune stuck in our heads, we went to see Tees Maar Khan, the movie that features the song, last weekend and now all know the chorus.

The boys clapped along, then laughed when we stopped.  “Sheila is outdated now.”

At Kashid beach, we asked for directions to Kashid Beach Resort, where my landlord’s daughter had suggested we stay.  “Siddha, siddha.”  Straight, straight.  “How far?”  we asked.  One kilometer, a food vendor told us;  three kilometers, said the next one.  We began walking.  For ten minutes or so, there was nothing in sight, and not one rickshaw passed us along the way.  When we came across a guesthouse, we stopped in.  We looked at the room, I checked the mattress and pillows for signs of bedbugs (my latest habit), and we inquired about the price.  None of the rooms we saw at the three or four guesthouses were worth the price.  Furthermore, most of the guesthouses didn’t supply towels or toilet paper, and we had not passed one convenience store on our walk.

Towels and toilet paper are non-negotiables for me.  I’m not hosing myself off after using the bathroom, and even if I had to, I would need a towel to dry off.  “No towels?” I asked.  “How are we supposed to shower?”  “No shower,” the guesthouse manager replied, as if that was the obvious answer.

We stopped outside of the guesthouse to regroup.  There were no others in sight; were we willing to keep walking and take a chance we’d find something better?  I was, and so was Kat, so after a few more minutes, we saw the sign for Kashid Beach Resort.  Alaina and Andrea went to check out another guesthouse, while Kat and I made up way up the hill to the resort.  Sweaty, tired, and defeated, we walked up the steps to the lobby and asked if any rooms were available.  “Yes,” the manager replied.

I was so thankful we had not trusted a fellow traveler, who told us that he checked that morning for a room and there were none available.  A staff member showed us a room with enough beds for four people.  The room was nothing spectacular; the place did not deserve the “resort” label.  The wall was peeling, there were not enough sheets, and the door to the patio barely closed.  But, it was the best we had seen all day.

We inquired about the price after the tour.  “Eight thousand rupees, including meals,” the manager said.  WHAT?  Two hundred U.S. dollars for THAT?  “That’s ridiculous,” I said, as I picked up my bag and walked out. Walking away from a price usually encourages the seller to drop it, but this guy obviously wasn’t worried about filling the room.

Truth be told, I was happy to spend $50 to stay there, as opposed to $8-10 to stay at one of the far dingier guesthouses, but I didn’t think the other girls would go for it.  Kat and I met Alaina and Andrea as they came up the hill to meet us.

We told the girls the price.  I was shocked that they didn’t reject the “resort” right off the bat.  “It includes all meals?”  Alaina asked.  Yes.  “Is it nice?”  The nicest we’ve seen so far. “Does that include transportation to and from the fort?”  Not sure.  We didn’t ask.  “Let’s go find out what they can offer us,” she said.

It was Nasik, round two.  The four of us marched back into the lobby, and Alaina took over.  “Ok, so, how much is the room and what does it include?”  The manager repeated the price, which included three meals a day.

“Alcohol too?”  I loved Alaina.  She was going to try to milk it.
The manager laughed.  “No, no.”
“Do you have transportation to the fort?”
“It can be arranged.”
“Is it included?”
“No, you pay for it.”
“It looked like we weren’t getting anything extra thrown in.
“Do you have towels?”
“Yes.”
“And, toilet paper?”
“Yes.”
We looked at each other and nodded.  Done.

Ferry, Gateway of India, and Taj Hotel

Taj Hotel

Ferries at the Gateway of India

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