Culture shocks and big city life in Mumbai

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January 3rd 2012
Published: August 20th 2012
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We arrived in Mumbai in the evening on January 3rd after a short flight from Goa and headed outside to get a taxi, where the chaos and poverty of this huge city was evident straight away. It was dark by the time we got a taxi but we could clearly see the massive slums we were driving through, with people sleeping on the dirty streets, dogs and children sharing water, and people begging. Checking the taxi doors were locked, the driver slammed on the brakes when a fight broke out on the road in front of us and someone went flying across the bonet of the battered car. Sleepy Goa this was not.

We had underestimated the sheer size of Mumbai and almost 2 hours later finally arrived in South Mumbai in the Causeway area where out hotel was. Vic had booked this place for 2 nights online as it looked pretty ok, and hotels in Mumbai (even small 2* ones) were really expensive and there were not hostels to be found so got what we thought to be a good deal, although still not cheap at £50 a night, but on arrival to the 4th floor 'reception' in a rickety old lift and being shown to our room we were left very dissapointed. The room was clean, but not very nice at all, really old fashioned with tiled floor, walls and ceiling, and looked nothing like the photos online so we asked if we could change rooms, but the manager said they were full that night and we would have to wait until tomorrow to change. Angry and feeling ripped off, we went in search for something to eat, but on leaving the hotel, realised that nothing was in walking distance so tried to get a taxi but the drivers didn't speak much English. We eventually got a driver who spoke English and asked him to take us to an area where there were some restaurants etc, and he took us to the Colaba area, probably where we should have stayed in the first place!

If we thought the men staring at Vic was bad in Goa, that was tame compared to Mumbai! We walked along a main street for a while lined with market type stalls looking for somewhere to eat and get our bearings. Feeling hot, tired, hungry, annoyed and uncomfortable in this busy and intimidating looking city, we ducked into the first restaurant we saw and sat down to eat and try and work out on a map where we were. The place was busy which we took to be a good sign and we ordered some nice sounding food - a butter chicken for Vic and a lamb dish for Scott, but little did we know it was common for meat in curries to be on the bone, so we both picked at our bony food which wasn't very nice and soon left to get a cab back to the's never great arriving somewhere unknown at night especially a huge city like Mumbai and we were both feeling pretty down and wishing we had stayed in Goa.

The next morning we woke up, got showered and dressed and worked out what we wanted to see and do that day, our only full day in Mumbai. It got off to a good start when the receptionist said we could move rooms and showed us to a brand new room which was lovely, just like the photos online! Feeling happier already, we left the hotel and stepped into the sunshine, which continued to brighten our moods, and when Scott had a good coffee from a small place nearby, we were almost happy again. We started walking towards the Gateway of India, which is a big monument built during the British Raj in 1911, located on the waterfront overlooking the Arabian Sea. The monument was very impressive and almost looked a bit like a mini Taj Mahal. We took a few pictures there before going across to the famous Taj Mahal Palace, a huge 5* hotel which was attacked by terroists in 2008 but has since been restored. The hotel had very tight security and we had to go through an x ray machine and have our bags checked before going in, a result of the bombs in 2008. The hotel was very opulent and as we walked through the marbled lobby with the crystal chandeliers and uniformed staff, it felt a world away from the chaos and poverty that we had seen upon first entering Mumbai. We spent a while taking it all in, before leaving and deciding we needed to hire a driver for the day to take us to some of the sites further away.

We wondered around for a while and had some lunch at McDonalds (yes we felt back but needed some western food!) but what a dissapointment - the cow is a holy animal in India people don't eat beef, therefor McDonalds only has chicken, veg or fish burgers! Serves us right really for steering away from such good Indian food. Then we went in search for a driver for the day and found Sammy, a real local Character named after Sammy Davis Jr from the Rat Pack he said (!), who had been bought up in Mumbai but had travelled and lived all over the world, could speak 5 languages including French, English & Spanish, and had a lively personality. We agreed a price of about £8 for him to drive us around to the main sites for the rest of the afternoon which seemed a great deal, until we got into his old battered car and experienced his 2 miles-per-hour driving and constant horn beeping! Anyway, first stop was the great Muhutma Ghandi's residence which was really interesting as it had been made into a museum and tribute to his life and good work, explaining everything about him and what he did for his country. After an hour there, we were back in Sammy's 'car' and had a quick stop at Chowpatty beach, which was ok but the water didn't look very clean to swim in! Then we moved onto a park which we walked around for a while and as it was high up had great views across the city. After that it was onto Dhobi Ghat, the biggest open air laundry in Mumbai and maybe the world, where most of the cities big hotels send their washing to be done. This place was huge and it was mad to see all this washing in one area, it was a wonder anyone got the right laundry back there was so much of it! Then it was time to head back to the Causeway area where our hotel was, where we said goodbye to Sammy and watched the sunset over the bay, before going back to our room for a rest and to get ready for that evening.

We had read that there was an amazing food stall in the Colaba area which was really popular with locals that we wanted to find, so feeling a lot better about the city after a great day out, we got a cab and told him to go to to the Colaba area. We had a nice walk around the area and felt much more comfortable than the previous night, although we couldn't find the food stall at first, but we carried on meandering through the little side streets for a while, before happening upon the stall in the distance. It was lit up and packed with people! It wasn't very big but there were people making the fresh chappati bread next to it and a few plastic tables & chairs to eat at which were all full, so we just ordered a chicken tikka wrap at first to try as a take away. OMG it was the yummiest wrap ever! We bith scoffed it down and decided we wanted to try some more of the food, so waited for a table to become free and sat down to order. We got another wrap, some more bread, a butter chicken and some vegetable side dish which we ate with our hands and were provided with a bowl of warm water to wash them in afterwards, great experience! Scott then wanted a beer and we remembered that in Goa we had been told alcohol was expensive in India because it was taxed, they weren't wrong! Scott found a hole in the wall type place which sold bottled beer wrapped/hidden in paper bags, as we found out was actually illegal to drink on the streets in Mumbai, so we got a cab to a bakery we had passed earlier, got some cakes, and went back to our lovely room for a little feast of cake and beer which topped off a really enjoyable day & evening and left us liking Mumbai a lot!

The next day we checked out of the hotel, went for a coffee at a cute little place we found down the road, and walked towards the famous Chatrapati Shivaji train station, which was very impressive and a great example of the colonial style architechture which Mumbai is well known for. Along the way we passed some market stype stalls and lots of cats which of course Vic had to stop and talk to! The traffic around the train station was mad with tons of cars and bikes beaping their horns as it was on a busy junction and trains leave here to all over India, but it was good to see and our last stop in Mumbai. We then headed back to the hotel to collect our bags and make our way to the airport to catch a flight to our last destination on this trip, Delhi and the famous Taj Mahal.

Mumbai left a really good impression on us and was somewhere we could have actually ended up staying for a few more days, as once we got over the initial culture shock of the poverty and the slums, it was a really vibrant city with great food and lots to see! Something that we wouldn't feel in the capital city of Delhi...

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20th August 2012

Try the slums of Dharavi on your next visit
Just one more, I guess, and you'll have caught up with your India blogs. Inevitably perhaps, after sanitized and Westernized Goa, Mumbai had to be a shock to the system but it's a vibrant and fascinating place, isn't it? Next time - there must surely be a next time! - take a full-day tour including a visit to the Dharavi slums (as glimpsed in "Slumdog Millionaire") for a real eye-opener. See "Mumbai's extremes" [blog=451327] for details. Keep smiling!

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