Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mumbai: Dobi Ghats (when you can't) or tea at the Taj when you can

Finally, here I am in the super megatropolis that is Mumbai, Bombay, or whatever you want to call it. I expected a deluge of touts, beggars,  traffic, hassle, smog and craziness, but have been pleasantly surprised by the whole experience. We managed to find space at the backpackers' institution that is The Salvation Army Red Shield House, a semi-building site with spartan yet airy dorms.  A very strange place full of lots of really lovely people from all over the world.

The 14 hour bus trip actually ended up taking 20 hours (Oh, India) due to a tyre bursting within about an hour of leaving Hospet and the horrific state of the rural roads. I also had an angry confrontation (and I hate confrontation) with an Indian waiter who tried to rip us off something royal in a roadside restaurant. After many heated words we ended up throwing down what we thought was appropriate and marching out. Then, I had to fight my way past an old woman who seemed to think she was in charge of the toilets (she wasn't) which was a very bizarre experience indeed. Luckily, I slept for most of the journey (after they turned off the unbelievably loud Bollywood films) and we got dropped off not too far from VT and caught a taxi straight to Red Shield, all pretty painlessly.

Yesterday afternoon was spent wandering around Colaba, admiring the Gateway of India (erected to commemorate the visit of King Gorge in 1911, or thereabouts), visiting the super posh toilets in the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and buying a unbelievably decadent chocolate cake from its exquisite patisserie. Wandering around Colaba and Fort gave me slight culture shock, as parts of it could easily be London. Nowhere else in India have I so strongly felt the echoes of the British Raj, and the beautiful buildings it left behind strangely fit so well into this very modern, very Indian city. We wandered up and down the wide boulevards and streets, happening upon a 17th Century (British built) church which was pretty nice, and I had a small geeky moment when I found the Asiatic Society Library has a 14th Century edition of none other than Dante's Divina Commedia, which I've spent the last few years trying to get my head around at uni. I went in to seek it out but it appeared to be closed, so I'm going back on Tuesday morning.

We wandered down Marine Drive, which has a beautiful panorama of the city at night, and after getting a bit lost were shown directions by a really friendly architect from Goa. It's nice to know some people are just being friendly, a welcome reminder after the constant money grabbing of the touts and freeloaders in Goa itself.

We rounded off this 'cultural' day with a McDonalds. It felt a little wrong, but Mumbai is so hideously expensive by Indian standards that it was the cheapest thing we could find on Colaba Causeway! No beef, of course, but a McChicken Sandwich. Oh dear. Then an early night, as we were supposed to be heading to Bollywood at 6.30am this morning.  That fell through, but luckily after breakfast today I ran into Amy who I haven't seen in a week or so, and we agreed to meet for drinks later. There's a really great mix of people in my dorm, and we're all going out for a few beers after I've finished here. I finally feel like I'm doing productive stuff after all that tiring relaxation, and today we saw Chowpatty beach (meh) and the Gandhi Museum (very interesting - most of all his off hand letter to Hitler casually suggesting world peace). After a fantastic ALoo Palak and roti for lunch in a cramped, properly Indian place we tried to find the infamous Dobi Ghats where a monumental amount of rock-bashing washing is done by hand every day. We took about 5 different trains and still it eluded us, so eventually we gave up and Aimee and I headed back to the Taj for tea.  She had Earl Grey and I branched out to try the Taj Special House Blend, which was as good as you'd expect from Mumbai's top hotel!

Now it's time to get changed and meet up with all the others for some food and beers. I can hear the relentless jingle jangling of the silver horse and carts and the endless beeping drifting through the window - yet it's strange not to see a cow, anywhere. I'll be sad to leave Mumbai, I've met so many lovely people, and not just other travellers - it's nice to meet some Indians who are genuinely just interested in who you are and 'Where your country?'.. One guy today kindly shook my hand, smiling, said 'welcome to India' and then babbled on about cricket for 5 minutes before saying 'good luck' and wandering off.  Good vibes, good times.

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