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Published: November 22nd 2009
Enjoying a paddleFriday 20 to Sunday 22 November
Two little girls enjoy a paddle on their way home from school
I have a theory that taxi drivers here in Mumbai are unlike other human beings. They have four pairs of eyes: one pair on either side of their heads, another pair at the back, and a fourth pair where other mere mortals have theirs, at the front. Between all of these is little in the way of grey matter. At least that's how it seems. When we arrived at Mumbai Airport on Friday afternoon, an hour behind schedule, our pre-arranged taxi was waiting for us. The driver was holding up a sign bearing my name and, in big capital letters, the name of our hotel, the Beach Garden Hotel
at Juhu Beach, 20 minutes away. He pushed our baggage trolley to his car - and seemed surprised that it had been clamped because he'd left it in the drop-off zone. After persuading a security guard to release the wheel clamp, he drove us, missing by inches the traffic coming from left, right, centre and behind, direct to the Novotel
! We pointed out that we were staying at the Beach Garden. He turned the car around and took us back the way we'd just come. Perhaps it's
The beach near our hotel with its coconut and ice lolly sellers. You can just spot Lajpal if you look closely.
more than just a theory...
Anyhow, we were soon comfortably installed in our suite at the Beach Garden. It sounds grand but this is a small, mid-range hotel opposite the beach with a main road running past the front gate. The constant honking of car and auto-rickshaw horns reminds us that this is still a suburb of Mumbai, a city that never sleeps and that tries its best to ensure you don't either. We booked the suite because all the rooms, except this one, have only a double bed. This one has a double bed plus a sofa-bed in the lounge area. Lajpal volunteered to take the sofa - he must have known that the double bed had a concrete mattress that left me numb down each side of my body in turn!
When we arrived, the hotel's garden was decorated for a wedding party and set out with hundreds of seats and formal dining tables. That party took place on Saturday evening, the whole affair being dismantled during Saturday night and a new, entirely different set of elaborate curtains, staging and paraphernalia for yet another wedding being erected as I write this on Sunday morning.
Another view of the beach
Another coconut seller and the high-rise of the residential area beyond
took a stroll along the beach on Saturday. It's a great wide sweep of sand bordered by hotels and high-rise apartment blocks almost throughout its length. It's often featured in Bollywood movies and a lot of the stars have apartments in this desirable residential area. It was hot, but not humid, and we could have taken a drink from one of the coconut sellers or from the stand serving ice on a stick with your choice of flavoured syrup poured over it. As it happened, we also needed to make a phone call from one of the inexpensive booths outside the hotel, so stopped off at an air-conditioned coffee shop for a cappuccino instead. The beach is a popular place for Mumbaikars to spend time in the evenings and enjoy local snacks from the street stalls. On Saturday evening, the traffic was at a near standstill and the area was packed with groups of people enjoying a walk along the firm sand and all the toy sellers, horse rides and other entertainments. During the day, numerous impromptu cricket matches were in progress along the beach and, although bathing in these murky grey waters was inadvisable, there were one or two
Flavoured ice seller
Take ice on a stick and pour over one of the many different flavoured syrups from the colourful bottles and you have a made-to-measure ice lolly!
brave souls swimming; most were just paddling or splashing around at the water's edge.
As this was the finale of our three-week holiday, we went to an Italian restaurant for a farewell dinner on Saturday night. The food at Don Giovanni's
was almost as authentic as at any ristorante in Milan or Rome, except of course, the staff were Indian, as were all the diners except me. Don Giovanni Federico himself was propping up the bar with a glass of mineral water in his hand as we enjoyed a drink before our excellent meal of antipasto, spaghetti, crème caramel and tiramisu. The service was impeccable and, while it was pricey by Indian standards, it was less than half of what we'd expect to pay in Prezzo's, Ask or Pizza Express back in the UK.
During the night, Lajpal left for his early morning flight back to Udaipur and on to his municipal office in time for the local elections that start on Monday. We'll meet again at his marriage, probably in the summer of 2011. Meantime, we'll keep in touch frequently, as we have always done over the past 12 years. He's been a great travelling companion on this
A group of girls have fun paddling along the water's edge
holiday and I know he's enjoyed our adventures as much as I have.
And so, this brings to a conclusion, my seventh visit to India. I shall look forward to the eighth!
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