Last weekend, we drove up to Bordi, a small Parsi town with a lovely beach 150km or so north of Mumbai. Well, let’s be clear, the beach is lovely, in that it’s 17km long, when the tide is low, it’s 1km to the water, and there’s hardly anybody there. Other than that, the water is sewage brown, there’s plenty of plastic garbage, and plenty of people going for a shit onto the beach.
First we thought we should go to a place further inland that advertised itself as a Nature Retreat. We got there after passing a number of dusty and already pretty dried up villages – monsoon ended only two months ago, but around here, there’s not much green left. The place itself looked green enough, but we knew we were in for some trouble when we saw three large tourist air-conditioned busses on the parking lot. As soon as we opened the doors of our trusted Ambassador, we heard loud screams of fun and teenage laughter from what turned out to be the dining hall. Since that’s not exactly our idea of refuge from Mumbai, we made a quick round to take a look at the premises and left for Bordi.
Bordi also had its fair share of hysterical fun and laughter, but it came from the town’s cricket field, which was far enough from our little Parsi hotel that not even the over-amplified loudspeakers announcing this and that and the other could reach us. Our host seemed a very laid back chap and didn’t even get his pants in a knot when we told him that we’ll first take a look at the other hotels in town before we decide to stay at his. Of course, he did try to convince us that the other hotel in town was entirely booked, which didn’t seem likely, since his was entirely empty, and as expected turned out to be BS.
But we stayed at his hotel, the Gool Khush Resort, because it seemed nicer than the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) hotel nearby, whose manager had a bit of a smell of a bureaucrat, whereas the Gool Khush seemed very hospitable. Of course, hospitality necessarily means that the host gets to ask all kinds of nosy questions, orders us around (“Sit! Lock the car! You should not smoke! You don’t eat enough! Go for a swim! Come back in half an hour!”), and generally becomes a bit of a pain in the ass pretty quickly.
But we are good guests, so we locked the car, we even shut down the car engine before that, just as he told us, then we went for a half hour walk to the beach and came back to meet him, so we could drive him to a nearby village, where he would introduce us to a guide, who would sheppard us up some mountain to a debilitated Parsi cave the next day. It seemed a matter of life and death that we get a guide, and a good one at that, someone who speaks English to explain everything to us. In addition, we were also told not to trust anyone, so we should bring some chalk with us to mark our way up the mountain, so that we wouldn’t get lost on the way back. Fair enough, an English speaking guide might be good, and we’ll see about that chalk.
Anyways, after being told to drive slowly, shut down the engine, and lock the car, we met our guide. Needless to say, he was drunk and didn’t speak a word of English, and the second one seemed sober and didn’t speak a word of English. But the village was interesting, with lots of women coming down from the mountains, balancing tons of wood on their heads as they walked very quickly and barefoot. As usual, hardly any men could be seen working. It still seems one of the mysteries of rural India that the guys don’t seem to be doing much other than getting drunk, while the women seem to be working 24/7. Of course, it would also be entirely inappropriate for a man to offer a seat to a woman in the bus, so they are usually the ones standing, no matter how old.
The next morning, we were told to eat glucose against the terrible exhaustion and the paining that we will feel after walking up the mountain, but to stay away from water. A little bit of mango juice we were allowed though. Our host strongly advised not to go to work the next day, because we’d be paining just too much, and in any event we’d be much too tired to drive home to Mumbai after that walk. Oh, and we should lock our car before we start walking.
What he didn’t mention was that at 6am, the railway crossing to the village would be permanently closed and that we’d have to honk the horn to wake up the attendant. Luckily, he of course called us on our mobile a few minutes after we left to let us know that we have to call him when we find the guide. Not that Ksenia hadn’t already figured out by then that honking the horn should get us across the railroads, but it was a gentle reminder that we aren’t alone in the wilderness.
The walk up the mountain to the Parsi caves was nice and as expected not exactly like climbing up the Mount Everest. Our guide was for some reason racing like it’s a competition, so we made it up there in less than two hours, and one would have to be fairly short mental capacity to get lost, because there was a trail and not many other choices to go, other than up the mountain, following the trail. The caves themselves were pretty sad and appropriately littered with plastic garbage, but the views were not bad and the air was sort of clean. Despite originally being the location were the first Parsis fleeing from Persia were in hiding and kept their holy fire for twelve years, there was also a little Hindu shrine nearby and two orange Hindu flags. Our pre-selected guide didn’t speak a word, but went for a prayer, then disappeared somehow, and then came back.
Back in the hotel, we witnessed a modern day grown up woman and what might have been a brother splashing around in the swimming pool, she in bikini, paddling around with her glasses on, he in Speedos silently ruddering the short distance of the pool back and forth. It was a bit strange, but maybe not as strange as the extended family lunch that followed, in complete silence.
Back on the so-called highway to Mumbai, some other modern day guy in a baseball cap and expensive car tried to cut us off by an inch or two, like driving is a videogame, and when I showed him the finger, he proceeded to play some child’s game with us whereby he’d pull up next to me, forcing me to step on the brakes as I was approaching the next truck or rickshaw crawling about at pedestrian speed on the highway.
Meanwhile, I still haven’t gotten rid of a pretty constant cough and running nose that I’ve been basically having since November, a month after the monsoon ended. Sometimes a nice headache and a slight fever gets added, so I have decided that maybe Mumbai really is a health hazard. Turns out, by Indian standards, RSPM (Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter) concentration of 100 Âµg/m3 is considered acceptable, but it’s more like 350 Âµg/m3 on average during the winter, which is well above what’s called the hazardous danger mark of 300 Âµg/m3.
Ah well, tomorrow until Sunday we are going to Rajasthan. Maybe desert dust is better than Mumbai. Ksenia will be looking for fabrics, while I am tempted to look for a gas mask.