I went to India for the India Deaf Expo 2012 in Mumbai, thanks to an invitation from my friend Arti. She was a Duskin Leadership in Japan trainee in 2010, and we originally met in Tsukuba when I did my internship there. She invited me to come to India anytime, but I never thought I would actually get to go! I will admit I was not well prepared for the trip, because I was so busy leading up to it. But I still had a really fun time, thanks to the help of many new Indian friends!
My flight was on Air China, with stops in Shanghai and Chengdu. The Shanghai stop was fine except for when I discovered you are supposed to have a transit visa, and I didn’t have one, and I didn’t have my onward boarding pass…fortunately they let me through since I was continuing to Mumbai the same day. (I later found out there are now visa-free transit options, but I didn’t know that when I was standing in the immigration line in Shanghai wondering if they were going to send me home or something.) I hung out in the Shanghai airport’s domestic departures section for a few hours, changed ¥40,000 to rupees (which weren’t available at Narita), discovered the Kindle’s experimental web browser won’t work in China (“due to local regulations”), had some soup, waited around for our plane to arrive (it was late from wherever it was coming from), and finally got on the plane to Chengdu, which departed an hour late.
Unfortunately, at Chengdu we had to clear immigration. I had thought I’d be sitting on the plane because the layover was only an hour and the flight number was the same, but as the onward flight was international, we all had to take everything off the plane, go through immigration, and hustle back on the plane. Fortunately there were Air China staff members to point us in the right direction, and I think all of us flying from Shanghai to Mumbai managed to hustle around in about an hour. Immigration at Mumbai was also quite easy, the hardest part was finding a pen! There was a Middle Eastern guy with pens visible in his shirt pocket, but he didn’t speak any English (much to the consternation of the airport staff trying to help him with his forms) and just kind of glared at me when I gestured for a pen. I finally made it through, met up with Arti and her friend Rohita, and took a cab to the Sea Palace Hotel where my Japanese friends Sayaka and Arisa were waiting for me to arrive so they could go to sleep!
The next morning, the three of us took a cab over to the Deaf Expo. Of course, having no idea where that was, we agreed to a ₹300 fare to the site. Whoops…turns out that, by the meter, the fare would have been about ₹50! Ah well, it was an adventure. Arti was onstage when we got there, but Rohita and Arti’s mom helped us get our registration packets and get seated. We watched some of the lectures, which I partially understood – ISL has some overlap with ASL, so I wasn’t completely lost the entire time! When it was time for lunch, we went upstairs and into a massive throng of people. I am not a big fan of crowds in general, and the type where you are physically unable to move is my least favorite! I finally got through, but it turned out Sayaka and Arisa hadn’t paid for meals, so I had to eat on my own. The food was really good, but I couldn’t find any water, so by the end my mouth was dying! After lunch, we went back downstairs to watch more lectures, a performance by John Maucere, and some early rounds of the Miss Deaf India contest. In the evening, we went over to the famous Chowpatty area and had dinner at Sukh Sagar Retaurant. The food was good and the upstairs area was air conditioned, but the bathroom was pretty dirty! After that we had kulfi at a place that’s been there since 1960, and then took a cab back to our hotel in Colaba. Rather than trying to convey the exact place, we just had the guy drop us off at the Gateway to India, which was just down the road from our hotel – and we took a few minutes to look around there, too.
On the morning of the 30th, we stopped at the Starbucks at the Taj Hotel. It’s only the second Starbucks in all of India, and it only opened in October. I was a bit surprised by the security guards out front, but we were there for one thing only: the free wifi! You have to buy a coffee to get the login info, of course…although I bought two and was still tired! After spending a little more time there than we intended, we took a cab back over to the Deaf Expo. The day proceeded much as it had the day before, with performances, lectures, and so forth. I enjoyed chatting with Dr. Mathur from Gallaudet, and watching some of the talent performances for Miss Deaf India (mostly dancing). I tried to reduce my stress level by avoiding the crowds this time – there was a tea break in the afternoon, and we went upstairs and discovered the same crushing crowds as the day before. I decided I didn’t really need tea, and went back downstairs to the auditorium, where I chatted with some Indian guys who are current students at Gallaudet, and generally had a much better time than I would have upstairs in the crowd! My efforts to reduce stress were apparently insufficient, though, because I ended up having a meltdown in the evening. I couldn’t find my Kindle, and the stress from before I left, the traveling, the lack of sleep while there, the new environment, and the crowds all added up to me crying like a baby. An usher brought me to one of the emcees, and I tearfully explained what was going on…and that my biggest fear was that someone would find the Kindle but keep it for themselves. He promised to make an announcement at the next break, and I sat up front trying to stop crying while Rohita tried to calm me down (Arti was backstage at this point, I think, but I’m not sure). The emcee made an impassioned plea on my behalf while I watched and those nearby started looking over at the sobbing American girl. A buzz rose up across the auditorium, and I couldn’t tell for a few minutes if my Kindle had been located or not. Then I saw a flash of pink and I knew it was my Kindle case! I flew out of my chair, waving an ILY sign, and reached across the catwalk to take it from the guy who had found it. I was so relieved, but so embarrassed at the same time, ha! The guy who found it ended up being a Christian, so in a photo of the two of us together, he had me cross the pointer finger of the ILY sign with the opposite pointer finger, making a cross…never saw that before.
After that, we said goodbye to Rohita, and had to hustle back to the hotel, grab a quick bite to eat (slow service meant the eating was very quick!), and get over to the train station for our trip on the Konkan Kanya Express to Goa. The train was supposed to leave at 11:05pm, but it didn’t even arrive at the station until around midnight! There were about 30 of us going from the Expo down south, so we decided to screw the assigned berths and all stick together in one car. I can only imagine what the 20 or so hearing people in the car thought of us! After a few hours of chatting, I fell asleep on an upper berth. When I woke in the morning around 9am, I learned that we had been stopped for much of the night, and would therefore be getting in late. According to the timetable linked above, we should have arrived at Thivim at 9:06am. Instead we didn’t get there until mid-afternoon! So we took a cab to the Riverside Regency Resort and relaxed for a bit – we were especially interested in showers, after spending some 14+ hours on the train! Unfortunately, the hotel was not as luxurious as we expected – no soap or shampoo, the water didn’t get very hot, and the lights kept going out. The first time it happened, I was in the windowless bathroom taking a shower, so I got to finish that in the dark, fun! But the weather was nice at least – Goa is beautiful. We grabbed dinner in Mapusa and then went over to Anjuna Beach, home of hippies and “Goa trance” music, to ring in the new year with a bunch of Arti’s friends, who were quickly becoming friends of our own. One guy got drunk and upset, but for the most part we had a very chill time and enjoyed the fireworks at midnight.
On the first day of the new year, we took public buses from Baga to Old Goa by way of Calangute and Panaji. We went to several of the World Heritage Sites there, but I must admit my favorite was the ruins of St. Augustine’s – I absolutely love history! The other churches, like the Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Se Cathedral, were several hundred years old as well, but they are intact and well-kept…I liked the heavily-collapsed St. Augustine’s better. I like to see the history. Imagining the religious services that took place in a hall in the old convent is my idea of fun on vacation! We also had lunch with several of Arti’s friends again, and I bought a kurta in an attempt to keep off the sun, but it was too late, I was already pink! Our whole group, eight of us, took the bus back to Panaji, and then walked over to the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. After seeing that, we went for tea, and I ate a pepper that must have been close to a million Scoville units – at least it seemed that way, and they do have them that hot in India! Our friends had to leave then to catch the last bus back to wherever they were staying, but Arti, Sayaka, Arisa and I went on an evening river cruise that had both cultural dance performances and a chance for audience members to get up and dance. It was only ₹200 per person so I paid for everybody, as a Happy New Year gift. (I would have paid for all eight of us if they hadn’t gone home!)
We relaxed and took it slow in the morning on the 2nd, and eventually headed over to Calangute Beach where I had to carry my rolling suitcase over the sand, yikes. After going down the beach a little ways we settled in at Sea Face, a little shack that, well, faces the sea. I mostly hid out under the shack while Sayaka, Arti, and Arisa played in the waves; I did inadvertently get my feet wet when the Arabian Sea rushed up while I was down there taking a picture. But for the most part I took pictures from afar, relaxed, and stayed out of the sun! When Arti’s friends showed up after a couple of hours, we ordered food (much to the relief of the Sea Face people, who kept asking me when we would order), and I got the chicken cashew masala. It tasted good, but it was a bad idea…more on that later. So we hung out, chatted, and generally had a wonderful time on the beach in the nice warm weather. Finally it was time to go, and we got back in a cab and (after some misdirection) made our way to the airport. Arisa, Sayaka, and I flew to Delhi; Arti took an overnight bus back to Mumbai. We were met at the airport by a car from the hostel, and even though the room’s heater was broken, they gave us lots of blankets, and there was toilet paper and wifi! So of course we all updated Facebook and emailed for a bit before falling asleep.
Unfortunately, I awoke at 4:30am on the 3rd in a most undignified (but dramatic!) fashion. I will spare you the details, but remind you that I had some chicken about 14 hours earlier, the first time I had non-vegetarian food in India. Suffice to say that I was glad the shower water got hot, and I had to hang things up to dry. I fell back asleep and woke up again around 8:30am. Sayaka and Arisa went upstairs to get breakfast, which was included, but I didn’t feel like it; they kindly brought me a banana which was about all I could manage. We managed to exchange messages with a friend of a friend, who we had met briefly at the Deaf Expo, and he came over to the hotel with another friend to pick us up to go to Agra. We went to the bus station by the Delhi Metro, and on the train I had another incident, sigh. Fortunately it was not as dramatic, and I dealt with it in a public restroom and we were on our way.
The bus ride to Agra took about five hours. It was only 200km, but we stopped so much that it took forever. As a result, we got there and were very pressed for time. We begged the auto-rickshaw driver to hurry, but for some reason he seemed to take a very winding route anyway, not that we knew any better. For some reason, he deposited us unceremoniously at the South Gate, so we had to run through the market, only to be denied entry through the tiny door. After some begging, we were told that the West Gate would not close for another 15 minutes (at least I think – all I understood was “15 minutes”) and a local boy, who was part of a group quite amused by two Indians, two Japanese, and an American (all signing frantically) running around, guided us around to the West Gate. But we were turned away there as well, and no amount of pleading did any good. Somehow we ended up in a police car and we thought we were going to be escorted inside after all, but then we were shooed out of it and some other tourists (Indians) got in instead. I really have no idea what was going on at this point…only that we absolutely were not being allowed in. Greatly dejected, we walked along the west wall to the river, where you can see the tomb a bit. There were monkeys eating flower garlands along the way, and some fallen bricks from somewhere, but it was cold and getting dark so we just hurried along and scurried down to the bank for the best pictures. We were not the only ones in this situation, as some white women (in Indian clothes, wearing bindi) also came down onto the bank, and one seemed quite upset and another said something about “next time.”
After taking our pictures, we headed over to the taxi stand. All manner of conveyances were there, including camels, but we ended up in a horse-drawn two-wheeled cart! The driver took us to his preferred tourist trap to catch a bus back to Delhi, but our Indian friends told him absolutely not, take us to the usual bus station. So he did, and we got on for another five-hour bus ride. Unfortunately there were holes in the windows for some reason, so it was quite cold! (I also had to use a squat toilet at a rest stop along the way, but it was surprisingly clean.) I slept most of the way back, though, and was awakened when we got to Delhi. Standing outside at midnight was not my idea of fun, but our Indian friends (both male; this is relevant because we are in Delhi) got us an auto-rickshaw fairly quickly and brought us to the apartment of one of Arti’s friends. We spent the night there, but unfortunately they’d had no money for gas, so I spent the night freezing, mostly sitting up (one queenish-size bed for Sayaka, Arisa, and myself, and not much room), barely sleeping, wrapped in a single blanket!
In the morning on the 4th, we made a beeline for the airport. We had wanted to go shopping, but it was so cold that we decided to just go where we knew it would be warm! Unfortunately the auto-rickshaw ride to get there was freezing but we made it to the domestic terminal. We flew back to Mumbai, and Sayaka and Arisa took a cab back to the hotel (their flight wasn’t until the following afternoon) and I took one to the international terminal. You can only use the free bus service if you actually have a connecting flight, not if you just have a flight…sigh. When I got there I was afraid I wouldn’t be allowed in, because somebody said something about a time limit – you can only enter 2.5 hours before your flight, or something. I was exhausted and frustrated (but at least warmer, in Mumbai) and I was really worried, but they let me in and I did a little window shopping (and bought a few things) before flying back to Japan!
Because I had gotten my onward boarding pass in Mumbai, things were much easier when I got to Chengdu. Straight through immigration and back on the plane, then a few hours to kill in Shanghai. When I got back to Tokyo in the evening, I realized that the strangest thing had happened – what was once an unfamiliar land had become comfortable. I know how Japan works, there are vending machines, I can buy train tickets, it is clean and safe and familiar. India was a mystery to me, and if I had not been with Indian people almost the whole time, I would have been completely lost. I am so grateful to them for their hospitality and kindness! I do hope to return to India someday, I want to actually get into the Taj Mahal!