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Published: January 22nd 2012
I arrive in Mumbai and the first thing I notice is the abundance of kites in the sky! The 15th January is a National Kite Festival across the whole of India and what a spectacle! Swarms of children & adults alike cover rooftops and parks and the sky is filled with bright paper planes.
I arrive at my guesthouse to find it's not exactly in the busy central location it had made out in the Lonely Planet book, but only 50rupees in a taxi down the road from India Gate, it could be worse. I have a walk around the Cordoba area but soon tire of the Market traders selling more shit i don't want... Especially the guy who follows me for about a mile down the road banging a small drum "madam you want drum, verrrry cheeeeap"... I don't care how cheap, I wouldn't want it if you paid me... In fact I would have paid him just to get him out my face, the persistent bugger, except I wasn't gonna break into a 500 note...
I grab another taxi, in the form of an old Trabant. Mumbai is full of them, in their signature yellow & black,
and they are all decorated differently inside from ornate carpets to full on animal or 60s psychedelic. Tuk tuks aren't allowed in this part of the city, but the old cars add a certain retro style to the city that I haven't seen elswhere in India. Of course this is the home of Bollywood and the city where dreams are made!
Walking past all the 5 star beautiful hotels on the harbour I have my first moment of weakness and think about saying sod it and treating myself to a slap up meal at the Taj, but a little voice inside me is screaming "What would Michael Palin do?" so I head to Chowpatty beach for sunset and am greeted by a million kite runners - the beach is packed! The atmosphere is alive with thousands of families enjoying the kite festival and street food stalls aplenty coaxing in hungry punters with delicious spicy smells. I am indeed one of these hungry punters and opt for Behl Puri and Veg Pavi - 2 dishes famous to Mumbai, no idea what they are really but very yummy! Washed down with a fruity Falooda (kind of Kulfi icecream milkshake - mainly
ordered cos I thought the name sounded a bit rude!)
The next day I take a tour of the city, starting with the richer part of Mumbai, Malabar Hills. I have a wander around the hanging gardens and visit a Parsi temple, which immediately makes me giggle as the sign on the front reads: Rules - 1. Remove footwear. 2. No food or drink. 3. Women on their monthly period not allowed. Well thankfully I'm not, but I'm hoping they don't do routine checks!! I've read a lot about various religions not allowing women near places of worship while they are on their "menstrual cycle" as apparently we give off a "poisonous aura" - and more shockingly, in Nepal the tradition of the woman being "banished to the cow shed" for 4-7 days once a month was only abolished in 2005!! I kid you not!!
Parsi's live in this up town area of Mumbai and my guide shows me an area behind one of their mansions where their dead are put into shallow wells for the vultures to feed on, as part of their religion. Luckily we're not close enough to see! I've leant a lot about religion
during the last 3 weeks in India and found it all truly fascinating. Though if I had the choice I would definitely opt for being burnt over hot coals in Varanasi than left out for the Vultures to peck at me!
I visit Gandhi's house before lunch and then head into Dhavari - India's largest slum area and home to 1 million people. I have to say I am pleasantly suprised to realise that it is a town in it's own right... Bustling with shops, garages, street food sellers etc. Of course it is very poor and living conditions as you would expect, from seeing "Slumdog Millionaire" - this is where much of it was filmed, but everyone is getting on with day to day lives, earning a living.
There is a man sorting plastics into colours, I'm not sure what for but I can't help but think about the rest of India having rubbish strewn about the place but in the slums there seems to be a place for everything. One man has a shop of old oil cans, another old washing machines, another the tape that comes from inside casettes. Again I don't know what they
are for but they must have a use! Maybe there is someone out the back doing make-shift Bollywood movies...
I chat to two young boys who are practising their English - "hellooo madam, what is your name?" "you take photo?" - they both pose for the camera and I show them the image on screen and they giggle. I have become used to this while travelling across India... Those that have cameras are constantly snapping away and those who are bit cocky will ask for a photo with you. I had a rather intense moment outside India Gate as I sat on the harbourside reading my book in the sunshine; quite chilled and relaxed, all of a sudden there's a large group of people round me, "photo photo madam, can we have one photo?"... Before I know it they are all taking turns, one in, one out as their friends snap away... Boys, girls, whole families waiting in line to have a photo with the white blonde girl. Everyone is very friendly and I'm amused by the hilarity of the situation, but after a while it just starts to piss me off so I duck into a cafe to
get some peace and quiet...
My third and final day in Mumbai I meet up with Vanessa & Rod, 2 friends from work who are out visiting factories in Mumbai. We have lunch at the beautiful "Cafe by the Beach" under lush palm trees, it's a little oasis in the midst of the busy dusty streets, and finally a bit of western food (my first for 3 weeks!) in the form of a goats cheese salad wrap! Mmm... We then head to India Gate and have a boat trip around the harbour... it does make me chuckle the way they charge an extra 10 rupees to sit on top - and of course the top is full of Brits all trying to catch that precious piece of sunshine! We also didn't let the stereotype down!
A third and final dinner at the food stalls on Chowpatty beach and Vanessa is as into it as I am, trying a bit of everything! I think this must be my cheapest but most favourite meal of the trip so far!
An early night before my early morning flight sees my final day in India draw to an end...
all the frustrations I've had over the past few weeks, I can't help but have a place in my heart for this special country. It's a land of extreme contrasts; rich & poor, calm & chaos, smells that slap you in the face with either disgust or delight, the most delicious food cooked in the most dirtiest of kitchens, sights that have made me laugh or want to cry. I've been in awe of both spectacular beauty and pure poverty within seconds, such welcoming friendly, caring people and then those that just want to rip you off... It all makes India the wonderland that it is! I hate India & I love India all at the same time.
And I can't help but wish I had longer here, there's still so much I still want to see and do in this country, but for now Tina International is checking out...So long for now India! But something tells me I'm not done with you yet!
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