Tuesday, February 17, 2009

POSTSCRIPT. February 17th 2009


I suppose that if I was given the opportunity to go back and do it again, I'd spend less time vegging in one place, giving me more time to visit some of the other places that I'd have liked to have got to. On the other hand, when you're on holiday, it's nice to veg. In Europe, it would be possible to do train journeys a lot cheaper if you bought tickets on the internet a long way ahead, as in before you go overseas. Buses are another budget option, but unlike just jumping on a train,
you need to do more prior research. Also, as far as buses in an east-west direction go, it's as if the Iron Curtain is still in place - they still seem to have the same bus routes set in concrete that they've had for half a century. Same thing between France and Belgium, the people on the other side of the border could be on another planet for all that the guys on this side know. I did get around to pretty well everywhere that I had planned to go in Europe, which was a small miracle,
but of course there were many places where I'd have liked to stay longer. India would really need to be the subject of another trip, to get around to everything that I wanted to see.

Regrets? I wanted to stay on longer in Europe, but the only change I could make to my ticket was for another three weeks there, and I felt that wouldn't leave me enough time for India.
In retrospect, I wish I had done that, because, (without vegging), I could still have done most of what I did do in India, and it would have left me time for Spain, and to stay for a while with the rellies in the U.K. But if you do A, you can't do B. However, it does give me more of an urge to start planning something for later on.

Highlights? Paris was fantastic, everything I thought it would be, and more. I felt that (in the northern summer), I could happily live there for months at a time. That is until I experienced Amsterdam, where I'd willingly be exiled to, (if I had to be exiled somewhere). Belgium I liked very much. I'd like to do a lengthy cycling tour in Belgium. In India I liked the hill stations the best. Admittedly my main interest in India was for the family connections, ergo The Raj, of which, (understandably), there isn't a great deal to see any more, but nevertheless it was satisfying to get around to as much as I did.

Again? Will I go travelling again soon? (I've been asked). With other plans I've got, I don't see anything looming up immediately. BUT, I have invested in a beaut immerser (at a quarter of the price they were asking in Amsterdam), AND I've now got a an aluminium-framed, super-lightweight travelling umbrella, AND a new nylon shower jacket, AND one of those nylon day packs you can roll into a ball......but of course I only buy these things to keep myself amused......


I pre-financed the trip from my 2007 tax refund ($4,000 odd) which went to buy a ticket Melbourne-Paris-Delhi-Melbourne ($2,500), travel insurance ($800), an emergency US $ 500 in traveller's cheques (which I still have), and a new fleecy ($80).

My holiday money was my 2008 tax refund ($4000 odd), plus $9,600 LSL and annual leave from Chisholm, total $13,600. I was denied access to internet banking almost from the beginning of my trip, which coupled with the fact that I was continually withdrawing 300 euro ($500) from ATM's meant I didn't keep much of an eye on how much I was spending in Europe. But after I got home, I found out (to my astonishment), that I was $3000 in front, so my expenditure in Europe would have been $10,600 minus the $2143 expenditure in India = $8457
Therefore :
Europe. Average expenditure per day : AUD 162-60 (including accommodation)
($8457 for 52 days )

I reasoned that the money should stretch alright if I didn't spend more than $50 a night on accommodation, and that worked out all right.

Europe. Average price of accommodation : AUD $46-80 a night
(1349 euros for 48 nights at AUD 1-66 to the euro) = $2248

India. Average expediture per day : AUD $39-00 a day
(RP. 75,000 for 55 days at RP. 35 to AUD) = $2143 (including accommodation)

India. Average price of accommodation : AUD $9-20 a night
(RP.19,680 for 55 nights at RP.35 to AUD) = $506

NB $162 odd a day in Europe sounds a bit excessive, considering that accommodation was only $46 odd. Admittedly, you can spend over $100 odd just for travelling on a train all day, but I only did that a few times. There were a good many days, especially in the big cities, when I would have only bought a bit of tucker, and walked everywhere, or got the Metro.

One possible hidden drain on finances was my ANZ Travelcard account, which I got talked into opening just before I went overseas. I was told that it incurred less charges that using an everyday savings card account, or a debit card, both of which I took with me, with money in them, but didn't use. The Travelcard account had the advantage of two ATM cards, both with different keycard numbers and different pin numbers, which was a lifesaver when I broke one of the cards in two. But because I lost access rights to the internet, I couldn't keep a check on the balance while I was away, and no account statement was available when I closed the account after I arrived back, so heaven knows how much was taken out in transaction charges by ANZ and in the various countries I travelled through.

A final word on finances. My total expediture in India was $2143, but because of being in Mumbai at the time of the terrorist attacks, I became eligible for $1000 compensation from the Oz government. So one way of looking at it is that it only cost me $1143 dollars for 55 days in India. India on less than $21 a day - holidays don't come much better than that.


It's interesting to reflect that I planned to spend my last two days in Mumbai doing some final shopping on Wednesday, which would hopefully leave Thursday clear for sightseeing. I was just getting into 'shop till you drop' mode on Wednesday afternoon when I withdrew a final Rp 10,000 from an ATM, and the docket showed a balance of Rp 5000 ($140), when there should have been something close to Rp 350,000 ($10,000). This caused me to get so distracted that I eventually gave up the idea of shopping, and spent the evening at an internet shop near the hotel, ear-bashing poor old Darren at ANZ, by e-mail, regarding my financial woes. And then when I had the opportunity to check again the next day, after the attacks, the balance came up as a much healthier Rp 337,000. The thing is, had the ATM given a correct balance on Wednesday afternoon, I was all set for a biggish shopping spree, and I would most likely have kept going in the shops near the Taj Hotel until they closed around 9'ish, and could very possibly have ended up going to Leopold's Cafe for a bit of supper, as I'd noticed it earlier in the day, and thought it might be worth a visit. This would have been a mistake of Himalayan proportions, as the terrorists began their shooting spree at Leopold's not long after 9pm. This was the only occasion for the whole time I was in India that an ATM gave me an incorrect balance, and but for that, your humble narrator could have ended up as a little statistic.


The two items I was most glad that I took were a light-weight down summer sleeping bag, and a good quality polar-fleece half-zipped top (fleecey). The sleeping bag was always a welcoming touch of the familiar when I slipped into bed, and the fleecy, though not as trendy as a lightweight jacket would have been, (for swanning around in cafes), definately came into it's own as a warmer-upper in more rugged conditions. And slipped inside (one's own) pillowcase, it was a handy pillow in India, where in any cheap hotel you wouldn't want to look inside the pillowcases, let alone rest your head on one.

I regretted not taking a 1 litre clear plastic beaker to use as a combined teapot/cup, which would have saved a lot of messing around with smaller teacups. Also a 240 volt immerser, not so important in Europe, as the bathrooms nearly always have very hot water, but would have been a life-saver in India. And I would have liked one of those nylon day-packs that roll up into nearly nothing. A number of times, when faced with a bit of a hike with the backpack, it would have been good to be able to put the day pack inside the backpack. I could have put it's contents into the backpack, but not the daypack itself. (Why not do that, and just have the empty daypack to carry? Never thought of that).

Had just the runners I was wearing, one change of strides, one long-sleeve shirt, three changes of t-shirts, socks and other items that shall remain nameless. And my one indulgence, light-blue flannelette PJ trousers, which I always wear to bed, always have, even when, (especially when), overnight hiking, rather like Linus' blanket. Which meant it was a bit of a bore having to get the washing done every 3 or 4 days, but you always felt it was worth it every time you encountered other people staggering under huge great loads. The nylon tent-fly I'd take again, but not the mossie net.

Had a basic kit of the sort of medicines that I use from time to time, which lasted well, except for antiseptic cream, balsam and Aspro's. Cheap as chips in India, but cost a fortune in western Europe, especially the Aspro's. In Oz you can buy Aspro's in the supermarket for 3 dollars, but in Europe the only place you can get any sort of over-the-counter medicine is at an Apotek. In Muenster I paid 10 euros ($16+), and in Berlin over $20. If there's anything to this reincarnation business, I want to come back as a German pharmacist.

In Europe batteries for the digital camera cost $10 a go, and I got through quite a number. In India I was at first only able to get ordinary torch batteries, which may or may not work, and if the former, only for a very short time. Finally got a charger and two sets of good-quality AA re-chargable batteries in McLeod Ganj, and haven't looked back since. Another option is a different (non-Olympus) brand of camera, with an interior battery, so you just plug the camera in to recharge it ; but I like the idea of the back-up of the second set of batteries.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

MUMBAI-MELBOURNE. November 25th-29th

(arriving at Mumbai 25/11/08). As there appeared to be no prospect of a suburban train in the direction of Colaba, I resigned myself to getting a taxi ; but as it was only 5.30am, I reasoned that there wasn't much point in trying to find a hotel in pitch-darkness, and parked myself on one of the dozens of benches on the CST Station concourse. About 40 hours later this was one of the more unhealthier spots on the planet, but I dozed unobliviously, until ambling out to a taxi at 7am. I couldn't believe that the driver was only asking 100 rupees to go to Colaba, and jumped in before he changed his mind. The driver naturally attempted to steer me in the direction of a rather expensive-looking 'nice hotel', but I insisted that we go to Arthur Bunder Road, where the 'Maria' and a couple of other LP-recommended cheapies were situated. The 'Maria' turned out to allegedly be closed down, and the others were apparently still closed up for the night, so I wandered over to the sea-wall, and for a while sat and took in the really excellent view of Bombay Harbour at dawn. I chatted for a while with a young Irish guy who was staying in a dorm at a Salvation Army Hostel nearby, but I had sort of decided that my heart mightn't take much more of dorms, not after the three senoritas in Amsterdam.

Suddenly feeling very, very tired, I allowed myself to be taken under the wing of two hotel touts who seemed to be the only citizens up and about. We visited three different widely-spaced establishments, me tottering behind them under my pack. One of the places was up a couple of long dark staircases, where I insisted they go up first, not wishing to become a mugging statistic this late into the trip. Finally we found a room (with a view of the harbour), but at RP1400, and when I declined, the manager said to my companions to take me to a cheaper place that he owned. There was a large and profusely-perspiring Arabic-looking woman waiting at the hotel desk, obviously in the same boat as me, and the four of us piled into a taxi (RP20) bound for the Everest Hotel, a couple of kilometres away - and this distance from the centre of things later turned out to be rather fortuitous. The Everest was on the fourth floor of a building, along a narrow alley linking two streets. We went up in an ancient lift, claustrophobic and jerky, and I noted that the second and third floors of the building had been completely gutted. Here they wanted RP1200 for a room. LP warns that you have to recalibrate your budget-thinking for Mumbai, as accommodation is 3 times more expensive than in the rest of India, but I balked at going into 4 figures, and got it down to 900. I appeared to get my cum-uppence when they gave me a rather opulent room but without any facilities, for which I had to go to a separate bathroom in another (vacant) room down the hall. Why not give me that room in the first place you ask? I would need the collective wisdom of the Orient to answer that question. The Arabic lady was in a room next to mine, and I noticed she was a bit peeved with the hotel boys about something. The next night, when two Dutch girls were given the same room, I found out why : It had (for them at RP1400) all the facilities, but no water running, so they ended up using the same bathroom as me, although at different times.

The room looked out onto a balcony shared by other rooms. This balcony had a sort of builder's canvas awning all along it, and lots of builder's type equipment and rubble. I had planned on having a nap for a while, which wasn't very successful, because the hotel boys decided to choose this particular morning to tidy up the balcony, albeit silently. Most hotel rooms in India are impregnable, but after showering in the early afternoon, I noticed that the catch on the sliding window of the room was broken, which I was able to fix with a wire clothes hanger that I obtained by simply leaning out the window and nicking it from an adjacent clothes line. There was also a large hole about a square metre in size in the wall alongside the window, and I closed it off by dragging a rather ornate wardrobe across it, wedged in place with a couple of armchairs.

Out in the street, I found nearby a quite acceptable (non-Westernised) Indian cafe, and ended up (mainly by necessity) using it exclusively for the rest of my stay in Mumbai. There was a large blown-up photo on the wall behind the desk, of the cafe's owner with a striking-looking blonde lady, who looked suspiciously like Madonna. On a later visit I asked him about it, and he said that Madonna 'spent her holidays' in India in January 2008, and stayed 4 days in Mumbai with this very famous Indian writer, who showed her all the sights. Apparently this author is a regular at the cafe, which I think might be an (albeit grass roots) institution in Mumbai, so he brought Madonna there for lunch one day, hence the photo.

A problem that I had for the rest of my stay in Mumbai was that I was completely disoriented, mainly I think due to the 20 rupee taxi ride to the Everest Hotel, for I fondly imagined that the hotel was further past the centre of Colaba, but it was in fact in the opposite direction, on the road back to CST station and the airport. This first afternoon I wandered in different directions trying to work it out, and my sketchy notes, made that night, suggest that I must have initially been somewhat disenchanted with the Everest, for I made spirited but abortive attempts to find a particular well-recommended cafe, and the Salvos hostel, but did find the Maria again, only to confirm that it hadn't re-opened since my visit of the morning.

I did a little bit of shopping, and in the evening retraced my steps to the cafe, and later found a choice of two acceptable internet shops near the hotel, and answered some e-mails until 10 o' clock. I wanted to be back at the hotel by 10, as that was the time I'd said I would be back when one of the boys asked me. Reason being that you need to make a bit of noise at the bottom of the lift to get them to send it down, and I didn't want to get back after they'd all gone to bed. After two nights of being on the train, I soon fell into a lengthy and deep sleep.

Wednesday I headed back to the cafe (which is actually called the Saurag Hotel), for a late brunch, just as Mark, a young German guy, was moving in across the hall. Planning to spend just two weeks in India, he had vegged on the beach in Goa for a few days, and told me he was now in Mumbai to 'see the real India'. He was accompanied by a young guide, tall and slim, very good-looking and effervescent, who whispered in my ear 'what do you like, girls or boys, I get for you.' I quickly retorted just as long as it wasn't him, which evinced shrieks of gaiety. I managed to shake them off outside the cafe, as the young guide wanted to go to a cafe in town. I had a leisurely brunch, which gave me time to fully appreciate my waiter, middle-aged and moustached, who out of several, is the only one who has so far come anywhere near me. The others never make eye contact, but when I walk in he usually gives me a quick sidelong glance, seemingly of disapproval. The menus are permanently on each table, and after deciding what I want, I wait for him to come and take the order. This usually involves several unpurposeful sweeps on his part, through the part of the cafe where I am sitting, before he actually comes up with a notepad to take my order. I get the impression whilst stating my wants that he disapproves of the sheer amount of food that I order, and the bits and pieces of the meal are unsmilingly delivered at intervals, one by one. For some reason I really enjoy this waiter, and on this third visit I realise why. One of my all-time favourite comedies is 'Monsieur Hulot's Holiday', and this chap is an exact subcontinental version of the stone-faced waiter at the seaside hotel dining-room in the movie, who silently glares at all the diners, picking up at table with a sniff and a sneering toss of the head.

I have decided that I will concentrate on some extravagant last-minute shopping today, leaving tomorrow, my last day, for some sight-seeing. Reasoning that my stash of 500 rupee notes may not last the distance, I first look for an ATM to top up with a last 10,000 rupees. The first couple of banks I try don't have international ATM's, but I finally get to one that has a 'Visa' sign on it. The docket that I get shows 10,000 rupees withdrawn, leaving only 5,000 rupees ($140 odd) balance. ( I have to explain, that before I left home I 'borrowed' $10,000 from my super, so as to have something to fall back on in a dire emergency, which was to be re-invested when I got home again. But due to the illegal transfer of $6000 from my holiday money, and it's subsequent recovery by the bank, I lost all access to internet banking, and had no idea how much money I had left, so I arranged for all the $10,000 to be put into the holiday account just before I left Amsterdam). I'd been keeping an eye on the balance on my ATM dockets, and knew there should be somewhere around RP350,000 ($10,000) still in the account. I now tried to get back to the ATM to check the account balance again, but two armed guards blocked the door, not allowing anybody in, because of 'routine maintenance'. An hour, and two more visits later, there was still no access, so I tried to forget about it for a while and do some shopping. Wandered down to the area near the Taj Hotel, a hot-bed of tourist-trap shops, and got mildly ripped off a couple of times because I was thinking more about the money and not about what I was doing. Wandered over to India Gate, and sat by the landing steps admiring the view for while, and planning a possible ferry trip to Elephanta Island (on the other side of the bay) on the morrow. The terrorists came ashore at these steps about 4 hours later. I stocked up at a chemist's with various prescription drugs that you can buy over the counter in unlimited quantities at a tenth of Oz prices. This chemist's was two doors away from the Leopold Cafe, and I read in the 'Who Weekly' just before Christmas that this chemist was gunned down in the attack around Leopold's. I finally decided that I'd send an e-mail to the ever-helpful Darren in the E-fraud section of the ANZ in Melbourne, knowing that I'd feel a lot better once I'd got my money woes off my chest to someone.

Walked back to one of the internet shops near the hotel, and spent about an hour and a half on a detailed and lengthy e-mail to Darren, and then had dinner in the cafe nearby. Afterwards, I decided to do a bit on my blog, which was a few days behind. I was doing this for about half an hour, when suddenly Mark, the German boy who'd arrived earlier in the day, came rushing into the internet shop - from the town : 'Have you heard the news? Somebody has gone berserk with a machine gun in the cafe (Leopolds)'. I asked where his friend (the tall Indian boy) was. 'Oh, he was there, and he just freaked out, and ran off '. Just then there was the crack of a loud rumbling explosion, quite near, and he said it was the third one he'd heard. The two guys running the internet shop were by now making 'closing up' sort of movements, and I'd just got as far as writing on the blog 'someone has just come in and...' when they asked us to get out quick, and they closed up the shop behind us. All along the street shops were hurriedly closing up, and I was glad that I'd stocked up on munchies and drinks earlier.

Obviously, with gunmen on the loose, one of the safest places in town is in an hotel up an alley, four floors up, with the only access a small lift, which is controlled from the fourth floor. So we saunter round to the hotel, only to find that the iron concertina gates into the foyer of the building have been chained and padlocked. Now it's poor old Mark's turn to freak out - we try calling out, to no avail, and he's pacing up and down, saying 'What are we going to do, what are we going to do?' and his reaction reminds me of mine the night I thought I was going to be homeless in Krakow, and I can't help bursting out laughing. Then we both start shaking the gates, making a hell of a noise, and a man comes out from a flat on the ground floor, and lets us in, and soon we are on our way up in the lift, albeit by torchlight, as the lift itself is in darkness ; and it does its occasional party trick of stopping about a foot too early, so that we have to clamber up to get out of the lift.

Two (understandably) shaken-looking Dutch girls have just checked in. They had arrived at CST station this evening from some other part of India, and had only just left there in a taxi when two of the terrorists had opened up with AK47's on the crowds inside the station. They had a booking at Bentley's Hotel in Colaba, and had planned to book in and then go to the Taj Hotel for a valedictory drink, as they too are flying home on Friday. But when they got into the town things were already hotting up around the Taj, and the taxi couldn't get near to their hotel for crowds of people, some of whom started banging on the taxi and trying to pull them out, so the driver had brought them to our hotel.

Mark hadn't slept since Goa, and was soon to bed, but the three of us and the hotel boys sat glued to the hotel telly until about 3am, drinking tea and watching history unfold live. I got up about 7am only to find the girls back in front of the TV, but Mark slept quite late. We sent out for some late brekky, but the boys only brought back half of what we ordered (it was that sort of a hotel). Sometime in the morning, I was still ruminating on my loss of 10 grand, and asked the girls if either of them worked in a bank. It turned out that no-nonsense Laura worked for ING in The Hague, and after I'd told her of my dilemma, was of the opinion that there was nothing to worry about - "if the money's been taken out, it has to have gone somewhere traceable". The authorities were warning people not to leave their homes, or to go to work or school, and the girls didn't leave the hotel until their taxi to the airport very early on Friday morning. In the morning I did some packing and chucking out of anything that I no longer needed, but was stir-crazy by lunchtime (Thursday), and took off for the cafe and my favourite waiter. Afterwards I walked towards the town, which was virtually deserted, but the road was soon blocked by a police cordon, because of its relative closeness to the Taj Hotel, where the terrorists were still in control. Then I tried going in the other direction, towards the Catholic Church in Colaba, which I wanted to see, because my second-eldest brother was baptised there, but that road soon became cordoned off also.

I arrived back at the hotel at the same time as Mark, who had been far more adventuresome, having by-passed the police cordon and wandered around the town for some hours. He said to me 'you'll never believe this - I've been wandering everywhere looking for an ATM and they were all closed. Then I arrived back here, and there's one open on the other side of the road.' "you're kidding - where?" 'Come, I'll show you'. And sure enough there it was, with only one ancient and smiling armed guard in attendance. I did an account balance enquiry on savings - RP 337,000! Thank Christ! Just to make a meal of it, I did an account balance enquiry on credit account, and on cheque account, with the same result. You beauty! Back at the hotel, I surreptitiously slid one of the dockets to Laura. "What's this! Ah, you've found your money. What did I tell you!"

This happy result now gave me time to worry about my next problem, the fact that the TV media kept saying that most international flights out of Mumbai were being cancelled, and I'm booked to fly home the following evening about 8.30. Contacting home was a problem, because although I'd been able to send text messages to home from all over northern India using my Indian sim card, I hadn't been able to since arriving in Mumbai. My Vodafone sim card (on roaming) had covered nearly all of western Europe, and allegedly was good for Mumbai, but I'd hidden it away in my backpack so well that I didn't find it until I'd been home a few days. Also, soon after the terrorists attacked, the internet all over India was closed down, (allegedly), which precluded me from this very inexpensive way of phoning home ; but I did eventually find an ordinary 'phone with international access at a house up a back street, at rip off prices, and was able to get Judi to contact Qantas in Melbourne. This was at the time of the blockade of the airport in Bangkok, and so all Qantas flights were going through Singapore, including mine, which was originally supposed to go direct to Sydney. The reason for the number of cancelled flights was because people weren't turning up, so they were waiting till enough people showed up to make up a 'plane load, and the advice was to go to the airport and wait.

In the morning I packed, went and made a final 'phone call to home, and had a last lengthy breakfast at the 'Saureg'. Each night I'd been at the Everest Hotel I'd paid with a RP1000, and the next day always had to remind them a couple of times to give me my 100 rupees back. This morning was no exception, and then when I finally got my money back I flabbergasted the three of them by giving them RP50 each. On leaving a hotel I usually like to give RP50 to any of the boys who have been at least half-helpful to me, and I'd been thankful to hole up in this out-of-the-way retreat, in what potentially could have been a hairy situation.

The 'plane wasn't scheduled to leave until 8.30pm, but I reasoned that this was India, and India at a rather chaotic moment, so I decided to get to the airport by lunchtime. The boys 'phoned the same taxi driver who'd been looking after the Dutch girls, and when he arrived the youngest boy grabbed my backpack with alacrity to put it in the lift, but I noticed that he suddenly put it down again quick. (The left-hand main strap on the pack had become damaged after she-who-shall-remain-nameless forgot to zip it out of harms way, before leaving it to the tender mercies of the airport's carousels on a trip back from Indo. And I'd had it repaired it at a little old boot repairer's in the Arcade at Dandenong, a mistake, I now know, because while lifting it my shoulder in Ypres I'd felt it start to rip. Ever since Belgium I'd been very careful not to stress that strap while putting the pack on, and when I got out of the taxi at the Mumbai airport I found it was completely severed. How lucky can you get though? If you'd said to me you've got to get your strap broken, what part of the trip do you want it to happen, I'd have said 'when I'm getting on the 'plane to fly home').

At the taxi : 'No, don't put my bag in the boot - in the back seat. In the BACK SEAT! How much this trip?' "750 rupees" 'No way -this trip usually 350!' "The girls gave me 1500 this morning" 'That's their problem. I know it's an unusual day and you'll have to make detours - 500'. The "no,no,no" soon changed to a "yes,yes,yes" when I grabbed my bag and started to walk away. But you can't keep a good taxi-driver down - at a set of lights he's trying to cut a deal with another airport-bound taxi to take me "600 rupees". 'Look, we've got a deal, either take me to the airport or I walk away and you get nothing'. That seemed to do the trick, and the rest of the trip was uneventful. Freedom of choice is one of the benefits of leaving for the airport 9 hours before your flight is due to leave.

As I was walking towards the airport entrance an attractive young lady, in western clothes, came from the other side of the road and started talking to me. She was a journalist from one of the Mumbai local papers, trying to find out from people why they were leaving Mumbai in such a hurry. She drew a blank with me as I'd booked this 'plane six months ago. So we got talking about terrorism in general : 'So, do you think there will be more attacks?' And (me) "Sure! I've been saying it since the 'seventies. These people have found the perfect way to get what they want. A handful of determined people can hold an entire country to ransom if they go the right way about it." She had earlier asked me my name, and afterwards I was imagining a leading article on page 3 : 'Will these attacks increase? The notable western authority Barnes is of the opinion......'

One of the two policemen at the door of the entrance hall of the airport had gestured at her a couple of times to go away, but she'd ignored him. As I walked in, he asked me what she'd wanted. I momentarily thought to say 'my body', but decided not to push my luck, which was just as well, because a guy I got talking to later was held up by them for about an hour, because he'd arranged to pick up his ticket at the airport, and so couldn't show it to them.

A thought on the police in Mumbai. I didn't see one policeman in the whole 40 hours or so that I was in Mumbai before the attacks. Afterwards, of course, they were everywhere, but not a sign before. Whereas in Delhi, it's almost as if they're on every street corner (literally), and you often have to walk through makeshift detection systems when crossing from one street to another. Kolkata is much the same, and even hill stations like Dalhousie and Mussoorie have a small but obvious police presence.

I didn't want to do a lot of walking around, as I now had to carry my (travel-pack type) backpack like a holdall, due to the busted strap. So I camped by the check-in desk for my flight, which after about two hours was open for business (5 hours before departure time). Which was just as well... Went from there to immigration where people were filling out forms. Where do you get the forms? From the check-in of course. This place was about 3 times the length of the halls at Tullamarine, and although I'd checked-in the pack, the walking around was a bit tiring. Got back with the form, then noted the enormous non-moving queue for immigration, and decided I'd have a meal first to get my strength up. Did that, and went to join the queue, which looked as if you'd be waiting in it for a couple of hours. Then I noticed a sign "Passengers this way" and another "Senior Citizens this way", and I was genuinely confused, so I went up to the Officer i/c Queues and said 'Should I go to Senior Citizens or...." Yes Sir, senior citizens this way", and I shot up round a different track, past the queue, and was first cab off the rank in less than a minute.

I don't have much recollection of the next hours. Bought two boxes of 200 cigarettes, found out I couldn't buy any bottles of grog until I was on the 'plane, and found out that I couldn't get the free meal they'd promised everyone (because of the delayed flights), because I didn't have a voucher. 'Where do you get them?' "At the check-out." 'Forget it, I'll pay'. The 'plane took off about two hours late, which wasn't bad, all things considered.

At Singapore the whole 'plane-load was escorted to some sort of V.I.P. lounge where we were addressed by officers from the Australian Consulate, and given claim forms to fill out for claiming $1000 compensation from the Australian Government for being in Mumbai at the time of the attacks. At Sydney we were all interviewed by Federal Police Officers, but I didn't have to make a statement as I hadn't really seen or been involved in anything. They were especially interested in whether anyone had noticed anything suspicious in the days and hours before the attacks. Finally bought the grog I wanted at Sydney Airport as they hadn't had any on the 'plane. Went through customs, who seemed to be in a big hurry, maybe because they wanted to get home for Saturday night. I'd marked on the form that I had something to declare, because I'd afterwards realised that you can only bring in 250 cigarettes, and when they asked I said I had 400 cigarettes and they just waved me through. Several hours more delay, firstly because of severe electrical storms around Sydney, then they had a complete aircraft crew assembled, except for a pilot, and we had to wait while one was flown down from Brisbane. He sounded like a very laid-back, talkative sort of Captain, and his various ramblings from the cockpit kept us amused for the hour to Melbourne. In the past I've always got a bus to Sydney and flown from there, or vice-versa, and I couldn't get over the fact that no sooner had we reached cruising height than we were starting to descend towards Tullamarine. Finally reached Melbourne about 11.30pm, where Judi and Ari had been intermittently waiting since 6pm, so it was 3am before we all stopped talking and went to bed.

Mumbai. View of Mumbai Harbour from India Gate. The terrorists landed at this spot about 4 hours after this picture was taken.
Mumbai. India Gate viewed from outside the Taj Hotel.
Mumbai. Everest Hotel. Colaba.
Watching events unfold live on the telly.

Mumbai. Everest Hotel. Colaba. Roos (on left), Laura (in green), and the hotel boys.
Mumbai. Colaba. Near our hotel. The street was cordoned off because of it's proximity to the still troublesome Taj Hotel.