Was kinda dreading this one after the New Delhi experience…our first foray back into the big city. My fears were totally unfounded and Mumbai is a delight. There are sights everywhere you look. The architecture is amazing and according to wiki blends Gothic, Victorian, Art Deco, Indo-Saracenic and contemporary architectural styles. Not really sure what all this means being an artistic heathen but every time you turn around another amazing looking building appears.
We did the wander on a Sunday when everything was shut and everyone had the day off. This had the nett effect of clearing every automobile and other form of transport (see Jill’s planes, trains and automobiles section) off the roads so that you could walk along normally manic streets in relative peace. Combine with this the fact that all the side streets became makeshift cricket pitches meant that nobody was driving anywhere and the entire city became a giant series of cricket games. The cars that were out and about were immaculate classic vehicles to be admired and envied even if you a not a car enthusiast.
Mumbai is very expensive compared to everywhere else we have been so far but it is also a lot cleaner and with less cows. We did the wander again not on a Sunday and got hit with the normal state that is Mumbai. That state is hectic. We ambled along the Back Bay which is the inlet between Mumbai and the Arabian Sea, taking you past places like Nariman Point and Chowpatty Beach. A little further around the point is the suburb of Colaba which is an area that is home to the famous Gateway of India and the iconic Taj Mahal hotel and the launching point for the Elephanta Caves where we spent New Year’s Day.
Chowpatty beach is the 200 meter stretch of sand that the Indian authorities actually clean. The remaining 5 km stretch along the waterfront was polluted and toxic and even on a 30+ degree day there was almost nobody within 30 meters of the actual water. From here we headed over to the Dhobi Ghat which is the laundromat of Bombay. It is basically a bunch of open air concrete tubs where thousands upon thousands of people beat, bash and scrape the laundry of an entire city clean. Having seen this we decided to wait until our next stop for a laundry run.
We had headed to the Gateway of India on the 31st of December but it was feral with tourists both domestic and foreign. We decided to try again early the next day (first ferry to Elephanta Island at 9am) which was the greatest idea we have had. The morning run was quiet, calm and we actually were up before most of the touts etc.. We checked out the caves and returned at about 2pm to find all hell breaking loose. As we were leaving an almost full boat was waiting for the last few people to load before departure. It was pretty full and we were in no hurry so decided to wait for the next boat…while we were waiting an arrival boat turned up and was about to depart empty…I gestured…he nodded…and we got on…leaving the full boat on the dock and us having the whole boat to ourselves.
After the one hour cruise we were waiting to dock we watched the local tourists load the earlier boat…this involved people (literally) launching themselves from the dock onto the boat to be one of the first aboard to get a seat. Once full the boat kept loading with people pushing and shoving so that the entire vessel looked like a sardine tin. We watched on in awe…laughing…but knowing that we were next.
Our turn. The boat pulled in and the dock was jammed with hundreds of people all needing to be on our boat. I took position and launched prior to a full docking as I knew what was coming. Jill who was right on my hip got caught in the counter launch…and the next thing I heard was my darling bride screaming “back off”. I turned to see her stuck on the entrance to the boat as Indians tried to trample her while attempting to board. I was about to come to the rescue only to find the bride holding her own, punching and pushing back the surging crowd with a face and a tone of voice usually only reserved for me (husbands you know what I mean). The sea of people parted and she calmly stepped off.
The other magic thing that Mumbai did was to introduce us to Thali. For the uninitiated this is a tray with about 9 dishes on it for a fixed price. They will continue to fill everything until you say stop. This includes the rice the breads and all of the elements…We have decided that we like Thali…