Day 21: Wildlife
Pen to Mumbai, 76.1km
India can change by the kilometre. One moment you’re running through a tropical jungle with monkeys swinging from the trees, the next you’re encountering a herd of camels walking along the side of the road. Before you realise it you’ll be passing by fertile farmlands and major agricultural hubs before being harassed by monkeys again.
It’s literally a jungle outside our vehicles sometimes, but what we find more curious than the elephants, the camels, the cattle, the stray dogs and tiny chimps are the people.
There was a question we asked ourselves when we were in Karwar about ten days ago: “What do people do in India?”
The answer to that question is quite simply “everything”.
When Ecclesiastes stated “there is nothing new under the sun”, it was probably specifically referring to India.
In this country every phrase has been uttered, every thought has been considered, and every story has been told and retold time and time again across 5000 years. If you were a playwright looking for inspiration, India might even seem terribly derivative. Perhaps it’s the sheer volume of people and it’s simply a numbers game – because when enough particles are allowed to fly without abandon in a box, they’ll sometimes clump together and form a working Porsche or perhaps the world’s biggest democracy.
Yet somehow, despite travelling all over the world, Pat still looks at a camel or a group of monkeys as if he’s seeing them for the first time. On the way from Pen to Mumbai, Pat sat on a guard rail and a family of monkeys swooped in and snatched a banana from his hands. He giggled and clapped for a moment, forgetting the weight of the vast number of kilometres he needed to run each day to reach the finish.
When we finally reached the outskirts of Mumbai we felt both relief and dread. A city meant civilisation and all the reliable services which came with it – laundry, shopping, working internet – but the dread came when motorists almost ran Pat off the road.
Suddenly were in another jungle again and the crew scrambled to maintain some semblance of order. Urban folk were less curious and therefore less patient.
We’ve spent the past two weeks in regional areas but it wasn’t until we could see the outline of Mumbai in the hazy horizon, that we felt like were in the wild.
Mumbai had pristine lakes and residential areas, where the apartments and houses were some of the best in country. However, it also had a darker side which manifested itself in slums, fleas, rubbish tips and dilapidated housing. There are some places in Mumbai where you can stand in one spot and see both faces of this city at once. It’s as if you’re witnessing the moment before the moon eclipses the sun, except this time you’re watching them converge instead of passing one another by.
Pat and Josh commented on the canals leading into the city where water should have been flowing through, but was instead just literal trenches of garbage. They were packed with the kind of rubbish where the smell assaulted you with distant enough intervals that you couldn’t become desensitised to it.
“It’s a bit of an eye-opener,” Josh said. “There are some people back home who will complain about not getting a new car or a new house and you realise that it’s all rubbish.
“You think these people get the dole or government assistance? No, they would just die if they didn’t work hard just to get by.
“It makes you really appreciate what you have.”
We stopped just shy of the 80km mark where the police promised us a VIP escort through the rest of the city tomorrow morning. We would spend the entire night trying to decode a map they haphazardly marked with a highlighter.
In the final minutes before he slept, Pat reflected on entering Mumbai. The pollution in the air hurt his throat, he was saddened by the pollution in the water ways, he was irritated by the obscenely loud noise from the traffic and he was constantly almost being run down by motorists.
“You watch, though,” he said. “When it’s all done, when the government bring those poorer areas into the modern age with better septic and electricity networks – Mumbai is going to be the top destination.”