Published: February 21st 2008February 21st 2008
We flew into Mumbai and looking out the window saw high rise buildings and a patch work of small roofs - the slums. Mumbai has a population of over 14 million, 50% live in slums. Most looked like they were made out of some plywood and I saw a bit of concrete here and there, but it stretched for miles, one room leaning against the other.
As we drove for nearly 2 hours from the airport we passed many people living on the footpaths, a piece of cloth as shelter, or for clothing, their home a small piece of footpath on the side of the road. Men - sleeping or washing using a pot of water dressed only in their underpants, washing their bodies in the midst of rush hour traffic. Woman tending to the children, asking for money from pedestrians, or trying to sell something small to either buy food for dinner, or alcohol for the husband.
We were really pleased with our hotel, a hundred meters down from the Churchgate Station, and for the next day and a half enjoyed walking around Colaba and Churchgate. It was a mix of business (mainly banks) apartments (some
pretty classy), hotels, Universities, expensive shops, restaurants and schools. There was a waterfront with a wide footpath that people actually walked on, and a fantastic view to the other side of Mumbai - a concrete jungle. Of course you would not want to fall into the water, apparently it is extremely toxic, they may only find bones. At one end of the pier there was a view over to what we think was the New Mumbai, they needed more space so they have reclaimed some land and built a new city full of apartment buildings.
The area reminded us of London, double decker buses, black and yellow taxi’s, (over 40,000 of them in Mumbai), british architecture, paved footpaths, trees sheltering the streets, it was really quite picturesque. Not what we expected at all! It was obviously an area for the middle and upper class. There were some extremely well dressed locals in western attire, and the beautiful sari’s that came out at night at the expensive restaurants were just dazzling (we watched from the pavement, of course).
There was this huge fenced in ground at the end of the road and it was absolutely full of hundreds of
boys and men playing little games of cricket on Sunday, and then again Monday evening, it was crowded. We did walk into an area where there was poverty, there were some slums tucked away not very visible from the road. The saddest sight were the young boys, youths, lying asleep on the pavements, in the middle of the afternoon, acting as the flies landing strip - obviously sleeping off the booze.
We went to the Post office to send some stuff back and it was like being in a time tunnel, the office surroundings and the process was like something out of the 1950’s. One person checks our forms, one man sits at a desk and looks at all contents in every package that is sent from the post office outside of India - that is customs. The package is then wrapped in material, another hand sews it up, and then melts some wax and stamps it over the seams.
All in all a good experience in Mumbai.
The morning we left for Bangkok the paper reported that they had captured terrorists at the airport who had come in to blow up the Churchgate Station!! WOW, so
close but yet so far away.
The big news is this Raj guy causing problems, wants all the Northern India people to move out of Mumbai, so they had come in to assassinate him as the papers say. The papers are amazing, they just say what ever they want, there is no 'innocent until proven guilty' here. The other day a couple were sitting around the edge of the water and got pulled out by a freak rising tide and drowned. They had pictures of the police dragging the dead bodies out of the water! Accommodation Chateau Windsor Hotel
We were really pleased with our room in Mumbai, if we forgot how much we paid for it. In light of the high costs of hotels in the city, we did have to pay NZ$120 per night though and not having stayed in Mumbai before we are not sure if it was good value or not. But we liked the area, the room was very large with 2 beds (one queen), a couch, coffee table, sat TV, deck, clean enough bathroom, in-room wi fi.
Looking Back Over India
WOW it was fascinating!
North tends to live in the past reflecting India’s traditional culture, intensely religious holding on strong to India’s traditional values. Our time in the north from Delhi, Rajasthan, Agra and Varanasi was nothing short of fascinating, if not challenging at times.
The South was refreshingly beautiful, cleaner, peaceful, and the people not so “in your face” as in the North. The waterways were beautiful, beaches relaxing, well setup for foreign tourists - the South was more like a vacation rather than an adventure like the North.
We will forever be reminded of India when we:
Smell - Open sewers, incense sticks, fire and smoke.
Taste - Chilli, chipparti, masala and dust.
See - Poverty, pollution, street vendors, sari’s and the road residents (cows, donkeys, camels and goats}.
Touch - Sand, thankful it is not mixed with cow dung and rubbish.
Hear - “No Problem”
What we will not miss is the famous “Back Snort” - it can come out of nowhere when you least expect it, whilst eating food, you can hear it through walls, everyone does it. It goes like this - with one huge suck it drains all liquid from every passage within the
body, it’s then snorted into the back of the throat and with one swift blow, and a wip from the tongue, the collected mucus darts between the teeth, through the lips, out the mouth and splat on the ground.
We were amazed at how much English is spoken, we never had a language barrier. Even on the outskirts of the tourist areas English was everywhere, book shops were full of English books, menus were only in English, the band at the Arts Festival in the street sung in English, middle and upper class spoke English.
Toilets, well I was worried but it was never a problem in India, every hotel had a western toilet as did the restaurants, the trains were a bit dicey but it does not take much to teach one how to hold on for up to 16 hours!
Our scariest moment was flying to GOA with Indigo, it felt like the pilot was taking their first driving lesson, and unfortunately, it appeared she was a woman driver! Lonely Planet
We were never without a Lonely Planet and religiously used their recommendations for sights and restaurants, and whilst I list a few
issues we had with them, overall they are still a valuable asset during your travels. Their recommendations for Hotels are only good if the book has been published in the last year, otherwise we found their recommended hotels to be overpriced and outdated compared to the competition. Their maps seem sometimes to bee incorrect, but invaluable still.
If buying a Lonely Planet book overseas always open and check it out before you buy, if from a stall it will always be second hand, and don’t rely on the published date at the front, they change it, but they don’t normally change the back page. We opened one yesterday where the publish date was February 2008, like it was published and transported to a little book shop in Cambodia within like one week! We paid NZ$16 for a Laos book in India that was 4 years old and second hand, we were so delighted to find one we let our guard down. We then paid $32 for a brand new Cambodia book from a book shop in Bangkok which was also 4 years old and next to useless it was so out of date as the place had progressed. Exactly
the same book was available in mint condition in Cambodia for $5. Vietnam is the place to buy your lonely planet books, they are photocopied but are under NZ$10, the only issue being the maps are not very clear. We paid over $100 for India and Vietnam books a few months before we left only for new versions to be published as we began our journey, so had no moral issues with buying photocopied illegal copies, I believe the retail prices should be reduced based on how old the books are. You can see some Lonely Planet touts in Vietnam on the Phu Quoc blog photos, it was amazing how high the stack was.