Indian Winter, Part IV

This four-part series chronicles the author’s experiences visiting her husband’s family in Mumbai, India this past winter. In this final installment, she talks about some of the interesting occurrences during her last few days there. (To get the rest of the story, read Part I, Part II, and Part III.)

Fogging

Just prior to our departure from Mumbai, I noticed a strange odour in the air and a fog creeping through the open window. It took a moment to realize that mosquito fogging was underway. The fogging helps control mosquito populations, reducing the incidence of diseases like malaria and dengue fever. Dengue fever outbreaks are becoming increasingly prevalent in some parts of India, and the disease can be fatal; in fact, a popular Bollywood film director was a dengue fever victim just last year. The fogging method was a way to control the problem, but it is not the healthiest approach?It’s done without prior warning to inhabitants, and no protective gear (not even a mask) is worn by the fogging operator. The drainholes continued to smoke long after the operator had moved on, and little children played with the smoke, poking sticks inside the holes.

Off to Belgaum

My husband’s father’s family comes from Belgaum, a 15-hour journey from Mumbai. We took a coach bus there, since it offers comfortable seats for a long journey (especially important for our small children). These coach buses are no different than those you see here in Canada. In fact, the only differences were the bus’s name (?Vijay Anand,? not ?Greyhound?), the Hindi movie it played for the first two hours of the trip, and the pickup location: in front of many small shops on the side of a main road, under a bridge. It was actually hard to determine who was waiting for the bus and who was shopping, where the rats meandering about were headed, and who were the parents of the little boys tossing the tennis ball back and forth over us. The coach drivers desperately attempt to adhere to a rigorous pickup schedule, and although they slow down as they pass the pickup location, the bus won’t stop if the driver’s not flagged down by a would-be passenger.

The bus trip is a night one, since daytime traffic would double the travel time. Unfortunately, while travelling outside of Mumbai through rural areas yields amazing scenery and animals, little of this can be seen at night since there are no road lights. The trip involves travelling through mountainous areas alongside cargo trucks, and all night we could feel the bus pulling itself around and up the sides of these mountains, punctuated by the nonstop honking of the cargo trucks as they passed.

Punctually at six in the morning we exited the bus into a chilly Belgaum bus stop by the roadside. It’s a bus stop That’s shared by the local transit users as well, and there were many on their way to work. The unusual presence of a salwar-clad Canadian (myself) at the stop yielded distinct interest, and rickshaws packed with people slowed down to stare. The local transit bus also seemed to have trouble leaving the stop once the passengers were packed inside. Although Mumbai is a popular tourist location, Belgaum is the opposite; the presence of a ?foreigner? is a very unusual event, and people were looking twice to make sure it was really true.

In many ways, it seemed a whole different world than Mumbai. Although almost everyone can speak English, it isn’t widely used in Belgaum; Kannada is the official language of choice. It is distinct from Hindi, and even has its own script.

Belgaum is more rural than Mumbai. It’s not uncommon to see cows or buffalo on the road and steers pulling carts through the popular Khade bazaar marketplace. In the marketplace, the pricing is, as you would expect, much lower than in Mumbai, though of course bargaining is still the way to go (except in high-end British stores). Outside the marketplace, monkeys are a common sight, and many people live in large bungalows, not flats.

Overall, It’s a refreshing experience after the busyness and excitement of Mumbai, and the pace and attitudes of rural India contrasted with those of the big city present a multi-layered picture of India that so few North Americans really hear about.

This series has attempted to create an image of the real India, but there’s no substitute for an in-person visit. India is truly a fascinating place, with customs and practices so different from our North American norms. If You’re seeking a unique adventure, consider travelling to India. You’ll never forget your experiences there!

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