|India was just how I imagined it to be from the moment of touching down in Mumbai....Everyone was out their seats before the plane even stopped and then I was sent to the back of the Passport Control queue for doing something wrong with my immigration form! Although I knew through finding out the expensive way in Bangkok, that it is cheaper to get a meter taxi than a pre-pay, I just wanted an easy trip into town, so enquired at the first pre-pay counter. They were quoting double what the hotel had informed me to be a fixed price so I moved onto the next, where he quoted slightly higher but I took it all the same and was given a receipt with a lower value quoted on it. As soon as I questioned it the remaining change was handed over immediately - its all about keeping your wits about you!! The taxi itself was hilarious: a tiny little car, which the driver (who was so old that I hoped the speed of his reactions would never be tested!) turned off at every set of lights. Unfortunately he had absolutely no idea on directions and kept stopping to ask, that in the end I directed him in from the map in my Lonely Planet, that is, until he asked again and this man on the street ran through the pouring rain ahead of us to show us the way - luckily I had some small change on me to hand over before the taxi got a puncture!
So got safely to the hotel and despite asking for the cheapest room, I am still paying double the most I paid in all my 3 months in SE Asia (except when upgrading in Bangkok with Kate, Lucy and Kevin) so was expecting to get a good, comfortable room! Well, I was told Mumbai was expensive, but I sort of thought it would be expensive India/Asia standards, not expensive compared to London....accommodation is expansive compared to London prices!! I met a couple living here who pay about $4000 per month for their little flat - I was surprised! Back to the point, my room is fine, but a little damper than I expected and I was a little disappointed that out of 99 TV channels, the one that doesn't work is that showing Wimbledon!!
Day 1 - time for a walk to explore the city. First stop is the Gateway to India, a huge basalt arch of colonial triumph built facing out to Mumbai's harbour which is Mumbai's icon. This seems a very popular hang-out spot and it was here that I got persuaded to go on a City Tour. The tour turned out to be me in a car with the drive doubling as a guide who dropped me off at various places and told me to explore. I'm sure he told me many more interesting facts than I can remember, but it's taking a while to tune into the accent. Just south of Colaba (the most popular district for tourists and where I am staying) is the Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, and for those military people reading should know what happens at the dhobi - a massive open-air laundry where 5000 men use rows of open-air troughs to beat the dirt out of thousands of Kg of clothes brought from all over the city. As the men wash, the ladies iron, each item of clothing costing approx Rs10 to go through the process.
Passing through 7Km of military base we headed to Marine Drive, where Hilton Towers are located to get a good view of the poshest area in Mumbai, Malabar Hill where all the pop-stars live! A quick stop at Chowpatty Beach and we were at Malabar Hill, but think all the grand residences must be nicely private, as I didn't see any and didn't think this area to look particularly special. Here though was a Jain Temple and apparently it was a great day to see it as there was a Hindu Festival - a very beautiful building but did feel a little as though I was imposing on their worshipping. Next stop, Hanging Gardens, situated 200 ft above sea level and was laid out on the terrace of the stone masonry water supply reservoir at Malabar Hill 1886-7. The garden is terraced out on a slope, and hence is known as "Hanging Garden".
Mani Bhavan is the building which Mahatma Gandhi stayed in during his visits to Bombay from 1917-34 and has now been transformed into a small, but interesting museum with lots of photos. On the return journey we passed Victoria Terminus, the city's most exuberant Gothic building. This interestingly (to me anyway) was designed by Frederick Stevens who also designed St Pancras in London!
Mum had sent me a leaflet recommending a Slum Tour of Asia's biggest slum - Dharavi, so I popped into the office to try and organize a trip for another day. First time of going the man was out so I spoke to him on the phone and returned later that day. On my return another man on the street asked where I was going and tried to get me to go to another tour agency, which I refused and said I knew where I was going, but he still insisted on taking me there. As I had been to the office earlier that morning the man refused to give him money for bringing in new custom because I wasn't new and the man waited a whole hour outside in the hope I 'd give him some money when I left - no such hope!! So in a very bad mood, he went back into the office where I had left my Lonely Planet of India while going on the tour, and stole it!! Apparently Krishna, a partner in the Slum tours company, searched the whole area with a gang of people and couldn't find the man who has just moved to Mumbai - so I am again without a Guide book! Worse could have happened, and I was lucky I was given this one anyway, so was lent another which I spent last night ploughing through.
I ended up going on the slum tour that night as I could join a group of 5 Americans and I was quite keen to go with others. The girls went into the Ladies' Carriage of the local train, which apparently was less crowded, but reminded me of the tube! The difficult thing was that the very few signs at the stations saying where we were, were all in Hindi but a lady very kindly directed us off at the correct stop.
With 1 million people living and working in this slum, and half of Mumbai population living in slums, it was very different to how I imagined. The people here are very industrious and hard working, generating over $665M a year. We walked through various areas, speaking with locals and saw how they recycled everything, made cookies (not sure I am keen to eat them now seeing where they were made!!) prepared leather, made pots, dyed fabric etc. Amazingly the locals enjoyed looking at us more than we at them! They would come up to us and ask if we could be photographed holding their baby etc. A crowd of boys took a liking to Brad, who had come straight from the office wearing his suit and felt very uncomfortably out-of-place, but at 6ft 8 towered above everyone! They followed us around for a long while through the narrow streets, until we entered a female-dominated area where the atmosphere suddenly changed. - we were not welcome here. Apparently the week before the press had accompanied our guide and had taken photos which the ladies did not like and were still cross - we couldn't get out of there fast enough!! Incredibly though I felt very safe walking around here, very unlike the dangerous slums of Rio where violence rules. The company (one of the partners turned out to be Mum's friend's son) who just started to conduct these tours, works very closely with the people in the slums and 80% of their proceeds is reinvested in NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) helping to build new schools, medical assistance etc. Prince Charles and bill Clinton have even been around Dharavi recently so following the great and powerful!
End of the first day and I was pleasantly surprised that I hadn't been hassled as much as I had expected - I had however seem people toileting in the street, walking a monkey on a lead and many other extraordinary sights! I'm sure many more are to come!
Oh - forgot to mention - its hardly stopped raining since I arrived - got to love the monsoon!
Sunday finally arrived and I moved across the city to Byculla to the hotel to meet the 12 other people I would be spending the next 16 days with! All girls except poor Adrian, I am the second oldest, but all seem pretty cool. My room-mate Bex arrived late so missed the events of day 1.
Day 1 - hungry stomachs were calling, so headed back to Colaba to feast on a Thalis - a mixture of small pots that you mix together - beautiful! As it was raining (still) we headed to the cinema to join a Bollywood movie - Fanaa, half an hour through. Didn't really matter too much as it was in Hindi, but was really entertaining with some James Bond action-style snow chase, lots of Indian dancing and singing, and a love story we basically understood! A quick print and then headed to Chowpatty Beach, where huge hoards of people were hanging out, under umbrellas, or swimming in Black Bay or eating from the many food stands. It was still raining so resorted to a nearby café for a massala chai and a grape-flavored Hooker.