India: The Cock-Eyed Barber of Mumbai

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I was supposed to spend four nights in Mumbai according to my own completely arbitrary estimations. However, Mumbai is so vast that I get the impression you could spend a decade there and keep discovering new sidestreets, so I settled on viewing a few key hotspots and heading to Goa early. I was craving a real shindig after the myriad stoned balcony evenings across Rajasthan.

I spent the day in Mumbai on the hostel terrace with a guy from the south of the country named Venu. He was a nice guy with curly hair. He had a wide mouth, and when he smiled it turned up at the sides like a circus clown. We talked all day on the balcony while we waited for the worst of the midday heat to pass. We talked with a couple of French girls on the balcony who told us about their experiences smoking DMT. They said they don’t think DMT is a drug but a portal to another reality. They told us that three of them had smoked it together and had wildly different trips, but all of their visions included these strange, angel-like creatures that talked to them. One of the girls then told us that at the peak of her trip she had a screaming orgasm – despite nothing touching her. I’m not particularly sure of the etiquette when a total stranger begins describing their orgasm in vivid detail. I nodded politely, and sipped my cola through a straw.

Venu and I went for an evening stroll and drank together in an American-style diner that I would have avoided like the plague had it not been suggested by my Indian friend. Venu has been travelling for a few months around India. I didn’t expect to meet so many – or any – India backpackers here, but it makes sense after speaking to so many of them; the youth of the country are talented, socially liberal and just as hungry as anybody back home – in fact, far more. You can’t make a good life for yourself in a country of 1.6 billion without boundless enthusiasm and ambition.

We drank for an hour and talked about our plans for the future, and I got a bit tipsy and heartily recommended Venu leave India for Berlin, which may well be a death sentence for the kindly and innocent young man. Oops.

In the evening I sat with Shaun again, who was chatting with a twenty-something girl from Delhi. She got on my nerves within minutes. She introduced herself to me and immediately told me that she was destined to be a movie star or singer – she didn’t seemed to care which. She was the kind of kid that idolizes the inconsequential peripheries of fame – wealth, adoring fans – without a clue of the process to achieve it or the price to pay, and not a blip of talent or dedication. She had her phone out every five seconds, documenting everything on Snapchat with endless filters, pouting into the lens and assuring us we were lucky to be in her company. I went to bed alone and early to avoid bursting a blood vessel in my eye.

The next day I hung around the hostel all day until my night bus to Goa – I’d sworn never to take a night bus again, but apparently I’m incorrigibly stupid. I got my hair cut during the day for 70 pence, where I was crudely sheared by a breathtakingly cock-eyed barber. Tell me this: have you ever sat in a corrugated iron shack outside a slum and had your throat shaved with a razor by a man whose eyes point in wildly different directions? I’m going to assume you haven’t. Let me summarise the experience for you, then: odd.

It is certainly one of the lesser haircuts I’ve donned in my 24 years, but not the worst. Not even close to the worst, actually. I cut my own hair for three years at university – saving me approximately ten English pounds every six weeks. God I looked awful. Jesus.

With my hair all hacked off and my beard still shorn from the film shoot, I resembled a speckled hen’s egg as I bid my friends in the hostel farewell and went off to find my night bus. I was told to simply wait by the side of a motorway and wait. 45 minutes passed, the bus turned up, a man shouted something at me out of the window, and ushered me aboard without ever fully stopping.

Once again I barely slept; the A/C was full blast all night at 16 degrees for some fucking reason, and we had only one – ONE – toilet stop in 14 hours, despite there being no toilet on board. At 4am when I woke up desperate for a piss, I hopped down from my bunk to go and beg the driver to pull over. ‘Five minute’, he said, waving me to sit beside him in his little closed off cabin area. I obliged, and once again, as I groaned and wheezed and wiggled my toes and cracked my knuckles to avoid absolutely erupting with hot piss all over the driver’s chair, I pondered quietly on why it could be that so many ordinary events in my life go so astonishingly wrong.

After perhaps 25 minutes, the driver allowed me to leap out and noisily piss-gasm by the side of the darkened road. I climbed back aboard, grateful for him pulling over yet also furious he hadn’t done it half an hour ago, and clambered back into my bed, relieved, ready to settle in for one last 8 hour stretch of being smashed into the roof and windows at every slight texture in the road.

I arrived in Goa at 9am, and took a taxi to Jungle Hostel in Vagator, which I’d booked purely because I heard Ankur mention it some two weeks prior in Pushkar. Ankur said it was the best hostel in Goa – and though I’ve only stayed in the one, it’s going to be hard to beat. It’s been five days since I arrived, and I’ve gotten extremely comfortable. The hostel is gorgeous – hammocks and palm trees, gardens and sands and fire pits – and also, it’s fully booked, which makes a huge difference after three weeks of near-empty hostels in Rajasthan, now that it’s out of season. The party season will wind down in Goa soon too, to make way for the monsoons, but we’ve still got a while left.

Goa is fucking hot, man. It’s nearing 40 degrees during the afternoons, with a humidity that in the evening gets as high as 90% – and that’s with not one droplet of rain. You sweat more than you’d believe. Multiple mornings I’ve woken up shivering and sickly, immediately diagnosed myself with malaria, only to realise it’s because I’m dehydrated. You need to keep a water bottle handy at all times or you’ll be passing out left right and centre.

I’ve been partying for the past few nights with the hostel crowd, and have met some very silly and wonderful people. I’ve attended beach raves, swam in the warm Indian ocean, gone skinny dipping at 3am with a bunch of near-strangers and sampled a fair bit of the local gear (not a patch on Berlin). I’ve waded through hectic night markets, made friends with the old lady in a local restaurant, taught drinking games to 15 backpackers at once, clung to motorbikes whizzing through the jungle, and watched the sun set from Chapura Fort. I’ve browsed the colourful stalls of Anjuna flea market, and I’ve explored the ancient churches in Old Goa, where the body of a saint is on display.

I like it in Goa. Anjuna is touristy as hell and pretty loathsome, but Vagator is more chilled. I’ve heard Palolem beach in South Goa is even more relaxed, and I look forward to heading there in a few days. It’s an extremely welcome break from the deserts, constant travel and sleepy hostels of Rajasthan. I’ve been here for five days, and I reckon ten more are likely. There’s another party happening somewhere this evening. I’m going to publish this diary entry, then I’ll go for a nap, shower, fill my belly with local food, and when the stars come out I’ll head out to the beach bars with my new friends.

I won’t stay here forever, but right this moment, life is pretty good.

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