Ah Mumbai – gosh we love this city. We’re on our own for the next 2 days. We stayed here for a few days when we took the 1 month segment of the world voyage in 2010 and definitely wanted to come back again.
Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay and the capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra and is the most populated. It has an estimated population of over 21 million making it the fifth or sixth largest metropolitan area in the world. It is located on Salsette Island, which lies at the mouth of Ulhas River off the western coast of India in the costal region known as the Konkan.The city has a deep natural harbour and is the largest port in western India, handling over half of the country’s passenger traffic. Mumbai is the commercial capital of India and houses important financial institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India, The Bombay Stock Exchange, and the corporate headquarters of many Indian companies.
Most of Mumbai is at sea level and the average elevation ranges from 10-15 metres. The northern part of Mumbai is hilly and the highest point of the city is at 450 metres. Mumbai sits on a seismically active zone owing to the presence of three fault lines in the vicinity. The area is classified as a Zone III region which means an earthquake of magnitude of up to 6.5 can be expected.
It’s said the Mumbai has a relatively high standard of living and has attracted migrants from all over India and South Asia, making the city a potpourri of various communities and cultures. I’m not convinced of this. There certainly is the rich but overall there is the poor and the poorest!
While the city is desperately trying to get beggars off the street and children into school it appears to fighting a loosing battle. Since we were here a year ago we still see people living and sleeping on the sidewalks. Children still beg at windows of cars and many of them run about totally naked. There is a professional beggar organization in the city. The government is trying to remove these individuals but as they leave more take their place. The city streets are full of garbage and it is not unusual to see someone urinate or poop on the sidewalk. The people do not have the same ideas of toiletry as North American or Europeans have. They believe it’s like breathing – it’s a necessary bodily function. But while we crave privacy they do not see the need for it. The caste system is very evident in the city. The lower castes are darker in skin colour and are lucky to get any jobs no matter how menial. It’s not unusual to see hundreds of people use cardboard sleeves or a piece of cloth as the bed of choice. Thankfully the evenings are warm and many just “cuddle” up together. I do feel for the little children, who grow up never understanding there’s a better way and it all starts with education. The government is trying to do its best but there is a lot of corruption at many level.
Nonetheless, I do see people trying to make ends meet. It is not unusual to see farmers start walking at midnight, from outside the city to get to the markets for 4am to sell their fruit and vegetables. All the vegetables and fruits are carried on a bicycle. The bicycles have a type of 2 wheeled cart on them and it’s just astounding to see the burdens they carry. What little money made is enough to help the family live another day or week or month.
Saying all that – the city is alive and you can feel the energy. The people are friendly and helpful. They are very civil and most respectable to foreigners. Gerrit and I have hired a driver for the 2 days we’re in town. We walked for kilometres last year and this year we’re doing it in style. Gerrit is looking for some new clothes and Raj, our driver knows the very place to go. It’s Sunday here and it’s also the festival of colours. If you’re unlucky you could be doused with red, yellow, purple, orange, pink or green flour. Many of the markets are closed today (darn) and there’s a multitude of people on the streets.
Raj our driver is a most interesting gentleman. Many years ago he started working for a taxi company, he gradually made enough money to buy his own taxi. Apparently a passenger on a ship who came to Mumbai each year and who always asked for Raj helped him – she loaned him a small amount of money on the understanding when she came back the next year he was to own his own taxi. He accomplished this and more. Several years later, Raj owns 2 taxi cars. He is teaching his son in law to drive. His 2 daughters are engineers working for a firm in Mumbai. Two of his 3 sons are both engineers, one is working in India (I can’t remember where the other works) and his final young son is in his last year at University. Raj has worked very hard to ensure his children where educated and he saved all spare money to ensure he and his family are taken care off. He is a most interesting person and ensures we do not have to worry about packages left in the taxi while we shop. He is very proud of his accomplishments and his country. We will certainly recommend “Raj Travel” to all our friends travelling to Mumbai.
Our first stop is to DIA. It’s a clothing store in Crawford market. We’re ushered inside and brought upstairs where we are served Masala Tea and bottled water. The tea is a wonderful mix of spice and cream. It’s served by “the boy” who does all the running around and makes the tea. I suspect he goes to buy the lunch or whatever. Gerrit is shown some amazing shirts and trousers and after an hour we emerge from the shop with 8 new shirts and 4 pairs of new pants. Of the shirts, 2 are linen and formal in nature while the other 6 are cotton, many Egyptian cotton and extremely soft. He is very happy and of course I am as the bill was $350 US for the lot.
I told Raj I was interested in purchasing some material for a shirt, jacket and pair of pants. He drove us to a “seedy” part of town where he instructed a young man to “watch” the car. We then walked a short distance stepping over women and children begging on the streets. We turn left into a dark hallway and on our right is a set of stairs that led to the 2nd floor. The stairs (and the building for that matter) looks like they should be condemned. The railing wasn’t very secure and the metal tread of the stair was broken and bent back. Many of the treads were missing the lino and the whole place smelt of urine. However, we’re always the adventurers and we head up. Round the corner and the knock on the door reveals an Aladdin’s cave of textile. Pat is in heaven. We’re shown silk, brocade, cotton, mix of silk and linen with many of the fabrics having gold thread. There’s a lot of Sari’s here and if one is adventurous enough the man behind the small counter can tailor a sari in a matter of hours. The room itself is approximately 10 feet by 12 feet and it already contains 6 crew members and 3 drivers, 4 passengers from the ship and now we make another 2 and with our driver there’s a total of 16 customers and 5 service men behind the make shift counter. Ah India – you just have to love it!! I’m shown an amazing array of wonderful fabrics and come out with many treasures. We are ushered next door were there’s a gift shop selling fine jewellery. Gerrit elects to purchase “The God of Good Luck” Ganesh. I purchase a wonderful coral necklace, I’ve had my eye on a coral necklace since last year and I knew this was a great place and price.
We’re back in the car and head back to the ship. We need to shower as we’re going to the Taj Hotel for cocktails and then to the Khyber restaurant for dinner. We didn’t make it to the Khyber last year and were determined to do so this year. While I got ready himself heads to the terminal and gets the “Help Desk” to call for reservations.
At the appointed time Raj picks us up and we’re off. Cocktails at the Taj Hotel are unbelievably expensive $20US for 1 martini. “Ouch!!”. However, the Khyber restaurant makes up for the price of the martini’s. The restaurant is in the heart of the Fort area of Mumbai and Raj says he’ll wait for us – I let him know we could be about 2 hours – “No Problem, Mam” he smiles and ensures we get to the door in safety. The restaurant opened at 7:30pm and we’ve made reservations for that time. The restaurant is just “PACKED” – thank goodness we made the reservation as we would not have got in. We see some crew members and officers of the ship eating on the first floor. We’re ushered to the 2nd floor and treated to one of the most delightful meals we’ve had in India yet. We have several varieties of Nan, following by spicy vegetable soup – OMG delicious, then we have saffron and cumin with other spice vegetables, I order the tofu and am not disappointed, Gerrit has chicken, done in a most wonderful sauce. The whole meal is delicious and washed down by a liter bottle (or was it 2) of Tiger beer. The meal with drinks was $60US – it was just amazing value.
At 9:00pm we emerged from the restaurant and of course Raj is waiting for us. He drives us back to the ship and we agree to meet at 11am the next morning to do some shopping before meeting up with friends at the Taj for lunch.
At 11am we meet up with Raj and head to the Taj Palace Hotel for lunch with Harry (one of our table mates on board the ship). As we are a little early (lunch is reserved for 12:30pm) we go to the “Harbour Bar” and order some cocktails. This time I have a non-alcoholic drink (still expensive) but it is very refreshing and welcoming, the temperature today is 35C. Lunch was just amazing. We order several varieties of Nan (spicy, garlic, plain), followed by a selection of different foods. We order black lentil Dahl, barramundi fish done in coconut sauce, chicken in masala spice, potatoes done in onion and gentle herbs and washed down with, what else, local beer. The meal was just amazing. Service at the Taj is beyond anything we have ever seen. There are 3 waiters serving each table, you need do nothing but eat. If they see you are low on chicken or fish they immediately ask if you would like more. At the end of the meal, our hands are washed with warm rose water and towel dried. Decadent!!!!
At 1pm we meet Raj and we head to Victoria Railway Terminus as Harry has never seen the inside of this station. We spent some time in here last year and it is a “Must See” on any trip. Finally at 2pm we are dropped off at the ship by Raj. He is well rewarded for his 2 days service and we have made a friend.
Unfortunately, because of tides we have to be away from the harbour by 3pm so “all aboard” is 2pm and we make it safely. We headed out of the harbour but then we slowed down and stopped. We were in an area called the Rose of Mumbai, you can see this area on a chart of the harbour. (It is the name given to the shape of the dredged channel) Two people missed the deadline for the ships departure, however they were very fortunate the customs people still had to complete some processes. So they came along on the same boat as the customs people. The people had to climb up a rope ladder onto the ship. And one of the officers ensured they had life vests on before attempting that feat. That done we are off to Dubai.
All in all an absolutely wonderful time in Mumbai – short and sweet and we look forward with much eagerness to our next trip here – there will be another.