Fred Olsen Cruise - Mumbai & Cochin

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February 8th 2014
Published: February 8th 2014
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MUMBAI – Sunday 2nd Feb / Monday 3rdFeb 2014

Marvellous, manic, Mumbai!! Lots of administration before we could even get off the ship! (Docked at No 18 Indira Dock) We got up at 5.30am (walked a mile around the deck!!) before queuing with all the other mad people at 6.00am, waiting for the immigration officers to come on board and have a face to face interview – ie stamp our yellow card!!! Breakfast and then queued again for ‘ship clearance’ and eventually disembarked at 8.15am where our Private Tour of Mumbai (Services International, Delhi) driver should have been waiting!! To be fair, they were only 5mins late and we were duly driven and escorted to The Gateway of India of India to buy our tickets for the first boat of the day to Elephanta Island at 9.00am.

The Gateway of India has been featured in many movies and King George V landed here in 1911 and the citizens of Bombay pooled money and ideas to build this grand memorial to him.
Gandhi returned to India from South Africa through this very arch. People thronged to the gate to see him. They called him Mahatma - Great Soul. After Indian independence, the last British soldiers departed through this arch.
But the most important thing about the Gateway is not the arch at all, but the sea beyond it. You see, it was this deep and safe harbour that first attracted the Portguese, who called it "Bom Bahia" - Good Bay (that's where the city's name comes from).
The Portuguese later gave away the island to the English as part of the dowry of the Portuguese princess Catharina Braganza. And the English East India Company developed Bombay into a major shipping and trading harbour.

Anyway, very glad we paid for the luxury boat (150 rupees) as, after paying an extra 10 rupees to someone on the boat, we clambered up the stepladder and sat on one of the broken plastic canteen chairs around the edge of the boat! Dread to think what a Standard fare boat was like!! It was very hazy – not sure if its pollution or heat haze – but we took some good pics of The Gate of India and the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel (This was the hotel attacked by terrorists in 2008 ) An hours boat ride took us to the Island, where everyone got off and walked about 2km a long a causeway ( you could have caught a ‘petit train’ for 1km) and then climbed the steps, past all the tourist stalls, to the entrance (250 rupees pp tourist price – 10 rupees for locals) The caves are quite interesting, some people think they are religious caves dedicated to Lord Shiva, but its a series of five caves (the first being the most interesting!!) with statues and rock carvings. We had plenty of time to explore all the caves and watch the monkeys (I wasn’t very amused when one jumped on me!!) dogs and black kites, before meandering back down through the stalls to get the first boat off the Island, as planned, at 12.00. We arrived back at the Gateway to India at about 13.00 where Pandit, our driver, was waving and waiting for us!!

The rest of the day felt a little bit disorganised as we first drove through the Fort area, admiring all the English architecture and grand buildings until we reached Victoria Terminus, which is indeed a fine and worthy train station. Stopped on a roundabout for some pics but were discouraged by Pandit going inside, saying is was full of pickpockets (I think it was because there was no parking!!)

We had an unexpected stop at the house where Ghandi lived from 1917 - 1934, which has a replica of the room where allegedly, lived and slept and a room full of newspaper cuttings showing his importance and influence around the world.

Onward along Marine Drive ( apparently we passed Crawford market (we didn’t notice it – or maybe it wasn’t on because it was a Sunday?!!) and Chowpatty Beach, up Malabar Hill to the Hanging Gardens, where we stopped and had a pleasant walk through. They were just gardens with a few flowers and bits of topiary, clock tower in the middle and pathways, built on top of a huge water tank that supplies Mumbai with its water. From here we drove, very slowly because of the traffic jams ( I think the jams maybe worse because its a Sunday), past the Parsi Towers of Silence where the dead bodies of the deceased were put for the vultures to eat them, to the Dhobi Ghat. Parked and duly took photos from our viewpoint! It is quite an amazing place, with loads of lines of washing, mostly sheets and towels from the hospitals, and washing tanks where the clothes are washed!! An outside launderette!!!

We had read on the internet that no visit to Mumbai was complete without seeing the village of Koli! Well I think we were taken to the wrong place, because my visit would definitely have been complete without it!!! It may have once been a village but its now swallowed up by Mumbai and consists of a few shacks with a dirty beach with a few fishing boats!! There was an entrance to the village but this wasn’t pointed out to us until later!!

We wanted to see Marine Drive and Chowpatty beach in the evening so after an hours wander about in the tourist district of Colaba and a visit to Macdonalds (for the internet – unsuccessfull) Pandit drove along Marine Drive, past a couple of wedding tents and dropped us off for half an hour on Chowpatty beach that was absolutely heaving with Indian families! It was floodlit so we had a walk along the beach to the park before getting picked up again for the drive back to the Port.

That proved to be quite a long drive as it was a 5km drive INSIDE the Port and in the dark it was difficult to take the correct turns but eventually we got back to the ship at 8.15pm!

The next day seemed a bit better!! Got off the ship at 8.00am, where Pandit had been waiting since 6.00am! (I reckon he must have slept in the car!!) He had a Plan!! First we were to see the Dharavi Slums which is what Chris wanted to see, and where the film Slumdog Millionaire was filmed. It was pretty grim and stank!! Glad to get back in the car!!

Drove across a huge new toll Bridge and down to Haji Ali Durgah, a mosque built in 1431 by a wealthy Muslim, Saint Haji Ali, just off the coast of Worli. It is connected to land by a narrow passage that gets submerged during high tide, making crossing to it impossible. Thus, the shrine may only be visited during low tide. Associated with legends about doomed lovers, the dargah contains the tomb of Sayed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. Unfortunately, even though we were there at low tide, our driver said we didn’t have the time to stop and walk across to it – shame.
Our next stop was my favourite! The Banganga Tank located near Malabar Hill ( We could have seen it yesterday???)It is an old and quaint pilgrimage area , built sometime between the 9th and 13th centuries, and the oldest sacred Hindu site in the city. Walked around the steps , observing the local life and watching the ducks and huge fish! Fascinating little place, with a village on one side and several temples where singing and chanting could be heard!

Onto a Jain Temple, where after removing our shoes and reading a whole list of rules, wandered around (we weren’t allowed to go inside the actual temple but able to peer through)

Another drive, back along Marine Drive (again!!) to Sassoon Dock where the main fish catch of the day is brought in and exported around the World. The main hive of activity is at 05.00am but there were still huge fish piled up in the warehouses ( could be bombil) and stacks of women and children sat around de-shelling mountains of prawns in a heap on the ground, ready to be exported! Not allowed to take any photos inside this Dock!!

Our last stop was a visit to Churchgate Station at 11.45am to see the famous Dabbawallahs of Mumbai. Each day, the wives of office workers living in the far flung suburbs cook and prepare their husbands lunch, and put them on the train at their local station. The hundreds of lunch boxes arriving at Churchgate Station and are collected by the Dabbawallahs and taken to a pavement area opposite the Station. The lunch boxes are all coded, and are then sorted into different districts of the City, and then taken by bike, sack trucks, or carried to the relevant office. It is an amazing feat of logistics that is accomplished all very quickly! Coachloads of tourists descend here for 10 minutes to watch the spectacle, so it’s a very manic 30 minutes or so !

Back to the ship for 13.00pm for our Sail Away Party at 14.00pm. This was a bit of a fiasco as we didn’t actually ‘sail away’ until 18.00pm due to one of the staff deciding to abscond and stay on shore!!

COCHIN – 5th February 2014

Originally we were told we would arrive at the Port at 07.00am and depart at 18.00pm but somehow it transpires that we are arriving at 8.30am ( where we once again have to go through the rigmarole of having a ‘face to face’ interview and getting our white Pass stamped) and leaving the docks at 16.00pm.

This was seriously going to cut down the time we were able to have ashore and impacted on our arranged trip (through Services International), who were due to pick us up at 8.30am and take us to Alleppey for a 2hr boat trip and then a visit to all the sights in Fort Cochin.

Anyway, the disembarking procedure wasn’t too bad (Docked at Ernakulam Wharf Q6/Q7) and we were off the ship by 9.00am to find that there was NO waiting air conditioned taxi for us! Lots of other taxis – who were very helpful, phoned Services International, who then phoned back and said they would be there in 10mins. Well, we waited! Chatted to quite a few taxi and tuk tuk drivers and by 10.15am we gave up and went with a very nice helpful tuk tuk driver who promised to show us all the sights and a backwater cruise as well…….Mmmmm…….

It was about 32C and quite humid so the air conditioning in the tuk tuk was not quite as efficient as we would have liked, but we didn’t have to worry about the reflections on the window panes when taking photos so all was good!!

Our first stop, after leaving Erakulum Port on Willingdon island, was a local fruit and vegetable and fish market! So many different vegetables and fish and very fresh if not a little smelly!! The meat market was next door and we felt sorry for the poor goat stood in the doorway who was next for the chop! Good job he didn’t realize!! Next was a Hindu Temple where there were prayers and a service being conducted, but we were still allowed to wander around and take photos! It’s a shame we are not here tomorrow as they are having an elephant festival!!

Past an old cemetery, another Hindu and Vishnu temple ( Papavinashanathirtham) and then onto Dhobi Khana to see the commercial washing being done by hand! They light fires inside the old metal irons to heat them before ironing the clothes! Hard work!! Imagine our surprise when the Services International driver caught up with us just as we were leaving the Laundry at about 11.45 – far to late to go to Alleppey, so we just said “too late” and continued with our tuk tuk tour. (Upon our return to the UK we found that Services International had been trying to contact us by email to confirm our berth at Columbo but we hadnt picked our emails up due to expensive wifi on the boat. $120.00 was refunded with no quibble and we would be quite happy to use Services International again. )

On to the beach area where we could see some of the old fishing canoes, past the old dutch cemetery, a quick stop at the old Potuguese Church (St Francis - I think?!) and on to Santa Cruz Basilica – the catholic church and school before stopping to watch the Chinese fishing nets being lowered into the water and raised again full of fish! Ingenious idea, the fishing nets being weighted with huge rocks and a pulley system and works really well!

Drove past an old Syrian church of St Peters and St Pauls before stopping at a spice market where we found a few gifts to buy! Our tuk tuk driver then wanted to take us to some ‘tourist shops’ – just to look ( Apparently he gets petrol tokens for just taking us there even if we don’t buy anything so we did about three shops for him!!) A quick stop at a Ginger Factory where the ginger was laid out to dry, some of it coated in lime to stop it going mouldy!

Our last stop was at the Dutch Palace, which was really a museum so we just scooted round, duly admiring the wall frescos and paintings before being driven, down a dirt track for 3 miles to a village (K.Koora – just outside Cochin) Arrived at a house and had a houseboat ride for 1hr around the backwaters ($40) – loads of birds and wildlife and very enjoyable – short but sweet!!

Back to the tuk tuk for 15.00pm, before the flat out drive back to the Port arriving at 15.40 – the boat sailed at 16.00pm prompt !, so we only just made it back in time!!

Additional photos below
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