Mumbai, India

Mumbai

We arrived in Mumbai, India, on December 13th, and we had two days in port there. We set out in the hopes of seeing and experiencing as much of the city as possible in the short time we had. On arrival, we left the port on foot, fighting our way through a throng of aggressive taxi drivers who are determined to get you into their cabs. Of course, the cabs at the port are nearly all overpriced, and often are operated off the meter. We heard of other guests paying as much as $40 US for a two hour drive around the city in a cab, while Meg and I managed to find a three hour tour in an air-conditioned car, with a guide, several stops, and guided visits to places tourists wouldn’t go alone for only $22. Most of the other taxi rides we took cost less than $1, as long as we made sure that the meter was running. But on our first venture out into the city, we were determined to walk, to get a better sense of the life on the streets. It took us about three blocks to shake off the last of the cab drivers, and then we were on our own.

We walked for about three hours. We passed through a fruit market, saw all types of street vendors and many beggars, and saw the Victoria Terminus (the oldest train station in India). As we continued to walk through the streets, we were passed by what we think was a wedding procession. It was so festive! There was a group of about twenty men and women dressed in bright colours and jewelry, dancing and shouting and clapping. They were followed by a band with horns and drums, and a larger group of women following the whole thing. They made their way along the street with no regard at all for the traffic mayhem all around them, and the mood was so joyful that it was easy to get swept up in it. After it passed by, we were plunged back into the chaos of the traffic and noise of the streets (even though it was a Sunday, which is the quietest day). Cows walked along untended and unsupervised, and pedestrians dodged cars and scooters that had absolutely no regard for traffic signals.

Wedding man

We spent the afternoon on a tour of Dharavi slum, which was an experience that I had to write about separately in another post. After the tour was over, feeling sobered and exhausted, we went out to the Colaba area for dinner at Leopold’s Cafe. We found out afterwards that Leopold’s Cafe was one of the targeted locations in the 2008 tourist shootings in Mumbai. It was a place recommended by our guide book, so it was very busy and full of other travelers. we did eat some delicious curry and butter chicken and nan, and thankfully left safely. After dinner we walked to the Gateway of India, and watched the crowd for a while. There was a very colourful mix of locals, tourists, and hawkers enjoying the plaza. We were exhausted, and soon we hired a taxi to take us back to the ship.

The next morning we were excited to visit Elephanta Island, which has a series of carved Hindu caves and shrines. Unfortunately, we found out on arrival at the ferry port that it was closed on Mondays. Arrgh! We were quite depressed, until we decided to take one of the car tours offered to us while we stood there feeling sorry for ourselves.

laundry complex

It was an excellent decision. This was the three hour, $22 US guided tour I mentioned earlier. Our guide drove us all over the city, and took us on foot through some incredible places. Our first visit was to one of the dhobi ghat, or laundry, areas. We’d seen the Mahalaxmi dhobi ghat the day before (where 10 000 people are working every day), but only from above. This time, we walked with our guide through the complex, as people all around us scrubbed, pressed, rinsed and beat the laundry clean. There was a small class of school kids in a classroom in the middle of it all, and they smiled at us when we poked our heads in.

fisherman's village

Our next stop was at the fisherman’s village, where residents have constructed makeshift dwellings out of the hulls of old boats. It’s also where the fishing boats work, and were the daily catch is brought ashore and dealt with. The men bringing in the fish were using huge mesh bags of styrofoam as ferries to and from the boats. The boats themselves were wonderfully colourful, in stark contrast to the brown water they floated in. The fish themselves must be so full of toxins from the water, which was some of the murkiest we’ve ever seen.

The next interesting place we visited was Jain Temple, a small Hindu temple in the heart of the city. We walked through quietly as people prayed and burned incense. There were bells hanging throughout the temple, and the people would ring them as they walked past. The sound was mesmerizing, and the smells and colours were beautiful.

One of the last stops of the tour was Mani Bhavan, where Mahatma Ghandi lived in a small room on the second floor for 17 years. The building is now a museum dedicated to Ghandi and his life. It was a peaceful and inspiring place to visit. There were many photos and letters, and it gave a good indication of the incredible man that Ghandi was. It was one of the highlights of Mumbai for me.

lunch on the beach

After finishing our tour, we went to Chowpatty beach and ate some food from one of the beach stalls there. We sat on mats on the sand while we ate, and several local people came to talk to us and have their pictures taken with us. We were struck overall by the friendliness of the people by Mumbai. While we were often shocked by the quality of life that we saw around us, the people we met were great. We are now in the photo albums of many Indian cell phones, for which we were always thanked profusely. On the way back to the ship before departure, we watched several games of pickup cricket, dodged some more traffic, and generally marveled at the city life around us. It was a wonderful and thought provoking two days in Mumbai, and we are excited that tomorrow we will be landing in Cochin for one more day in India.

Comments

    Gandhi is my hero – “You must be the change you want to see in this world.”

    Love yas,
    AL

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