Bombay is to me a great example of a city where it simply does not pay off to be a cheap arse traveler! After the countless stories I heard of people hating the city, I was quite surprised to find that I couldn't disagree more! Bombay (or Mumbai if one prefers) is actually great fun! The problem is that people try to survive on too low a budget. Spend a bit of money and you might end up thinking that it is one of the most fun places you visited in India!
Phil and I arrived at CST station in Bombay very early on Monday morning after a rather short night on a train; and met up with Savan, good friend and former housemate during our time at university in Southampton, and Meghan, Sav's girlfriend. I have to admit I was quite surprised to see Sav: not quite being the early morning type, this must have been his earliest wake-up for years! It didn't take us long to forget about our daily budgets (and convert to Savan's ways of spending money): after quickly dropping off our bags at our hotel, we popped into the very plush Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
for some tea and breakfast rolls. Having spent 3 weeks on the road in India, the luxury felt both surreal and heavenly at once. The rest of the day, we wondered around South Bombay, before taking a nap in our hotel to recharge our batteries. In the evening, we met up with Sav and Meghan in Bandra, a suburb of Bombay. The idea was to have some drinks, followed by some dinner, followed by some more drinks. It turned out to be pretty difficult to find drinks though: the 1st of May is known as Labour Day in the rest of India, but as Maharashtra Day in Maharashtra. Not going into the day’s deeply political significance, it turns out that Bombay is supposed to be ‘dry’ on this day. In the end, we managed to find a nervous looking waiter who was willing to serve us some wine in coffee mugs, as long as we wouldn’t announce to the rest of the bar what we were drinking! Our drinks were followed by a fabulous dinner at a restaurant called Lemon Grass, followed by some more drinks at the Taj Lands End Hotel. A really fun evening eventually ended at 3
On Tuesday, Phil and I took a 1-hour boat ride from the Gateway of India to Elephanta Island, supposedly "Mumbai's premier tourist attraction". The island houses a couple of rock-cut temples, which are thought to have been created between AD 450 and 750. While some of the sculpted panels in the main cave were quite nice, they were more damaged than I had expected. In my eyes, the other caves were hardly worth the effort. The boat ride, while hardly picturesque, does provide an interesting indication of the size of the harbour of Bombay. In the evening, we met up again with Sav and Meghan. We had some dinner at an Indo Jewish restaurant, followed by drinks in one of the most chilled out places I've been to in a long time: the roof-top bar of the Hotel Intercontinental, Dome, is a very stylish place with a spectacular view of Marine Drive and the bay. Definitely worth a visit!
Several late nights in a row made it increasingly hard to wake up in the morning, but on Wednesday we had a reason to get up: While we had stayed in Shelleys Hotel, close to the Gateway of
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya
Somehow the former name is easier to remember: Prince of Wales Museum
India and very reasonably priced, for two nights, we were going to be staying with Savan and Meghan in the suburbs for our third night in Bombay. As traveling across the city on a busy day can apparently take up to 3 hours by taxi, it was important for us to finish our planned sight-seeing in the South of Bombay prior to traveling north later in the afternoon. We decided to wonder around the Fort Area of the city, home to many of Bombay's impressive Victorian buildings, such as Bombay University and the High Court, as well as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum. The museum houses some beautiful paintings and sculptures, as well as a new interactive exhibition on the life of Mahatma Gandhi. And students, listen up: While Phil had to pay 300 Rupees as he wasn't carrying a student card, I got a whopping 98% discount, paying only 6 Rupees! In the afternoon, we took a taxi to the Mahesh Lunch Home for lunch. Phil and I ended up waiting for a while for Savan and Meghan, but not because they were late: While we had gone into the
restaurant already, Sav and Meghan were waiting outside. They had asked the doorman whether two white guys had arrived. We had, but apparently the guy was colourblind... I'm sure that we didn't blend in with the local crowd, especially as we had all our luggage with us! The food was definitely worth the wait though, and the crab tasted sensational! After lunch, we had a quick coffee near Juhu Beach before making our way to Meghan's apartment. Some rest was needed for another late night out: We ended up going to a place in Bandra called Olive, which is apparently popular with models and Bollywood stars. Even though we didn't spot any well-known local hotties, the atmosphere was great. Unfortunately, Olive closed at around 1.30 am, which was a bit too early for our liking. We decided to visit the bar of yet another 5-star hotel in Bombay, this time in the Marriott Hotel. At around 4 am we finally decided to call it a night, and made our way back for a well-deserved sleep.
On Thursday morning, we unfortunately had to say our goodbyes to Sav, who had to catch an early flight back to Delhi. Meghan was
still there to keep us company though, and being tired after all the partying we decided to chill and do very little. After a very slow morning, we ended up going to the cinema to see the new Pink Panther movie, which was fun in a brainless kind of way. Interesting to note is that the Indian national anthem is played before a movie starts, and that everybody is supposed to stand up. Afterwards we had some lunch before trying to get back to Meghan's apartment. On the way we got stuck in one of Bombay's famous traffic jams, and a 10km journey ended up taking us more than 1,5 hours! We finally made it though, with still a bit of time to spare before we had to go to the nearby International Airport to catch our midnight flight to Singapore.
In the end, the 3,5 weeks or so we spent in India seems to have flown by. It was a trip to remember though. The South of India appeals to me at least as much as the North did 3 years ago. The food, the people, the ambience in the (smaller) cities - it was all great fun.
No place is perfect though, and to prove it South India has Chennai. Bombay was a surprise though. After hearing all the bad stories from other travelers, I suppose it couldn't have been worse than I expected. But it turned out so much better than expected! For that we are thanking Sav, as well as Meghan, whom I would already consider a trusted friend after knowing her for only several days. They just made our stay ever so memorable! Thanks!
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