This blog will be a direct copy of my journal entries for day 1, 2, and 3 of my 4 days in Mumbai, day 4 is remembered…
9:12 pm, March 17, 2011
Bombay, Mumbai!!! Hooray! So happy I’m finally in this city. I love it so much, I loved it from the moment we landed. Or perhaps I’d already begun loving it years ago, when I first read Shantaram.
We left the hostel at 2am and after a tense car ride (alternating between death defying speed and slow weaving in and out of lanes as the driver dozed off) arrived with just the right amount of time to have a snack and board the plane.
By the time we arrived I was exhausted and could think of nothing but bed, but the instant I set foot on the tarmack the excitement of finally being in this city that I had so long anticipated visiting drove all thoughts of sleep from my head.
We decided to take the bus into downtown and hoofed it to the correct bus stand by playing the India game of hot and cold (ask one person, head in the direction they point to for a while, ask another person, adjust course, and so on… hasn’t failed me yet). We waited a long time for our bus but it eventually came and what a ride! It took FOREVER (like 2 ½ hours) to get to where our hotel is and I loved every minute of it! My only complaint was that the window was so dirty that I couldn’t take too many good pictures.
We got off the bus one stop too far and walked back which proved to be a good thing as there were some really cool shopping areas to be seen. Our hotel is in a tiny old building, squeezed in beside a large wooden synagogue, on the third (Indian third… read fourth) floor. It’s adorable and the people who run it are super friendly. It’s also in an awesome location.
Back to the bus… watching the city roll by, the initial vibe I’d felt when walking to find the bus stop was reinforced. Something about the air, the streets, the SIDEWALKS!!! That just call me home, put me at ease, and create a great sense of satisfaction and enjoyment in me. I did see some of Bombay’s infamous poverty, people’s home growing out of the sidewalk. Tarps nailed to walls, creating shelter, and cooking fires scattered among them. Naked children ambling about. But the city feels so alive and vibrant, I can’t fault its darker side. I can only absorb and relate it to others, so we can share that burden of knowledge.
After getting settled and finding lunch our group split up (necessary to enjoy the city, 8 people is too many for strolling). John and I decided to follow the walking tour laid out in the lonely planet. It started down by the water at the Gateway to India and we extended it to finish at Victoria Terminus. Along the way we saw too many sights to name!
This city is amazing!! The architecture is breathtaking and it’s everywhere. There are so many gorgeous buildings I don’t even know where to start. After culling my pictures from today I have 207. I may need to buy another memory card while I’m here.
Down by the water there were a ton of men selling giant (and I mean seriously immense) balloons. One tried extra hard to sell us a pack of 10, but what would we do with 10 giant balloons?
A list of things we ate and drank on the street today needs to be included here now. First, sugar-cane juice (see picture above). So excited, first time since Vietnam! I’ve seen I from buses other places but in Pondy it’s all the sweet-lime juice (it’s okay, but not amazing). Here there is sugar-can juice almost on ever block and the clink and whir of the presses can be heard above the passing traffic and (occasional compared to Tamil Nadu) honking of horns. Next we had lime juice, mostly water really. It was tasty though, he added some masala salt and a little sugar and it was delightfully refreshing. Then tea, yum. Then a coconut. They are 20 rupees here! What a rip! But it was delightful nonetheless, perfectly aged for the right balance of water and delightful soft meat. After our coconut we split a cucumber. There are little carts all over where they peel whole cucumbers, then slice them into 4 and rub red salt and lime juice all over them. So refreshing and cooling! Then we had a snack called bhell (see photo below). Not sure all of what went into it, but it came in a paper come with two tasty crackers to use as spoons until finished. De-lightful. And 9if I don’t get at all sick from everything I exposed myself to I will pronounce myself immune to India! Haha.
How I wish I were on exchange in this marvelous city instead of Pondy. Alas.
For dinner we strolled down M. G. Road (Mahatma Ghandi road, there seems to be one in every single town/city in India). We wandered into a busy little veg restaurant. Good choice! The food was delightful (I seem to be using that word a lot). I had some stuffed capsicum (stuffed with potatoes, smothered in a light brown curry… capsicum in green pepper) and paneer palak kadai. The latter was exceptionally fantastic, love the palak :)
After dinner we went to Barrista for a hot drink and desert. I wisely stayed away from the caffeine and instead indulged in an “Irish Indulgence,” hot chocolate with irish cream syrup in it. Most satisfactory. Sitting in the ritzy coffee shop was a little strange though. The floor to ceiling windows made me feel like I was in a fish bowl. There were about 5 or 6 Indians all sitting on a low wall out front just watching us. I kind of felt like we were in an episode of Friends. Apparently watching white people in a coffee shop is great entertainment. (I later discovered that there was a second draw, at least for the older people who weren’t also begging at the window… the t.v. at the back of the shop shows cricket games. They are a big deal.)
Tomorrow morning I’m off to Elephant Island and in the aft I’ve planned for the Art Gallery and perhaps sari shopping. Only the day will tell. All I know is that I wish I had time to walk every street of Bombay, soak it ALL in. I guess I’ll have to satisfy myself with just a taste for now and hope that I will be fortunate enough to come back again someday soon! And now I must to bed, until tomorrow…
11:45pm, March 18, 2011
I LOVE THIS CITY!!! –Oh boy do I ever
Today… We went to Elephant Island in the morning. It is home to a huge temple, hewn right into the rock of its hills. It was much more impressive than I’d expected even. Happy surprise!
We had intended to tour the Dharavi slum in the afternoon but we got back too late so we go tomorrow morning. I’m not sure what to expect really, but I do know that at least the people who live in the slums have some kind of roof over their heads at night. Somewhere at least semi-permanent to call home. Walking back from the movie theatre tonight we saw too many people lying on the streets to sleep. We passed many men, lying on thin blankets in darkened spaces near their shops. We passed two women, sleeping with four children in the middle of a large median. It’s hard to see. Especially the kids. Nowhere to go… no place to call home.
Before dinner this evening everyone went to the Prince of Whales Museum and the Art Gallery, while I went shopping! I bought too many things and probably spent more money than I should have on all of it, but hey! I’m spendin’ money in Mumbai, I decided I would before I even arrived. The place we happened upon for dinner looked, and felt, kinda like a cafeteria, or a crowded mess hall, but damn! Was it ever delicious! I shared veg vindaloo and palak mutter with John. Soooo good. The waiters wore black vests with bow ties and served out portions of our dishes when they dropped them off. Hot water with line in it was provided to rinse our fingers after. Who’d-a-thunk-it?
The movie we saw was good, but a bit of a let-down in the love story (barely there) and song/dance (pretty much non-existent) department. My highlight was after the movie. John and I (we are the only two of the group up for eating anything and trying everything so we often paired up for eating) went to check out the kebab place mentioned in the Lonely Planet. OMG!!! I could have watched these guys for hours! The street was packed with people. People eating at table lining the sidewalks, people eating off the trunks of cars, in cars, anywhere that provided a surface! A huge crowd was gathered around a large Indian man all in white, the Godfather of Mumbai kebabs! He took orders, instructed servers, greeted guests, posed for photos, all as cool as you please. And the meat. Oh the meat! Sweet succulent chicken thighs and delightful lamb kebab. I’m getting hungry again just thinking about it. Hella-yes!
Tomorrow: Dharavi, Chowpatty, Malabar Hills.
10:15 pm, March 19, 2011
Today took us from Dharavi all the way to Malabar Hills. I love this city!
Breakfast and tea in our lovely hotel then off to the train station which was oh so civilized. I expected far more hassle getting out tickets and getting on the train, but it was a piece of cake. The only thing that disturbed our trip was the crazy lade making bird noises and trying to tell us many things in a language that wasn’t English.
We disembarked at Mahim Road station and were soon on our way to Dharavi. Covering 1.75 km2, home to over 1 million people, with $650 million US in annual exports from the industries run there, it is a mind-blowing place.
It was overwhelming. No pictures were allowed on the tour, fully understandable, laudable really. I tried to absorb everything with my eyes, we’ll see how I do.
Coming up over the train tracks the slum spread out below us, a sea of corrugated tin roofs. We first entered the industrial section. We walked along narrow lanes, littered with paper and bits of plastic. The first thing we saw was a woodblock printing shop. Swaths of material laid out on long tables. Men with bright paint and geometric stamps carefully stamping the material with monotonous rhythm.
Next we came to the plastics industry. Dharavi is the great recycler of India, and plastic from all over, including ship loads from North America, flow is to the slum. First it is sorted by colour and grade, next it is ground into chips (around the corner the grinding machines are manufactured, some are used in Dharavi, some are sold outside). Then the plastic is washed, dried on the roofs, then melted down and sold in pellet form to plastic manufacturers all over the world.
Oil drums are also recycled here. They are thoroughly cleaned before being sold back to manufacturers. Other industries we saw included the salting and cleaning of hides as well as final colouring and processing of leather. There are laws against tanning in the city due to the smell and chemicals, so after salting, the hides are sold to tanners in villages just outside Mumbai, then bought back to turn into high quality leather to be sold to manufacturers.
The residential part of Dharavi was my favourite. Most houses are cement and many are two stories (all the buildings in the industrial area are two-stories). Every house has 24-hour electricity (with meters and electricity bills). If they can’t afford to pay they don’t use it. All houses also have 4 hours of running water each day. While the water runs they fill large blue barrels to use for the rest of the day. Dharavi is unique in its industry, electricity, and water supply. It is a legal slum, but no new dwellings are allowed to be built. 80% of children in Dharavi attend school. As far as slums go, it’s a very good place to live.
The “streets” in the residential area are very poor. They are about 2 or 2 ½ feet wide, with low hanging wires and the top floors of houses leaning into space at about head height. Daylight barely makes its way in, some lanes are pitch black, even at midday. The footing is dangerous. Cement tiles cover the open sewers, some are cracked, there are many gaps in between where children squat to do their business. At one open square at the conjunction of several of these “streets” the sewers were being cleaned. This involves removing every other cement block and scooping out the garbage… you can only imagine the stench that rises off the piles of oozing black excrement and plastic that lies in the street after these “cleanings”. I have no idea what they do with it. Perhaps let it dry and then shovel it away to the garbage square where government workers come only once or twice a week to clean away the refuse of a million people.
One million smiling people. I did not see people with stricken, desperate faces as I see on the street every day. I saw smiling, laughing children, people happy to say hello. People engaged, seemingly happy, with their daily work. Content in productivity. In fact, some Dharavi residents hold white collar jobs but have chosen to stay in the neighbourhood where they were born and raised. It was an eye-opening experience, and an uplifting one overall.
The tour group we went with gives 80% of their profits back into their own NGO’s within Dharavi. They operate a pre-school, a kindergarten, and a school for 18-26 year olds who didn’t finish school, among several other projects. A happy kind of way to spend my money.
After Dharavi we took the train down to Chowpatty Beach. After another delicious lunch (discovered a new dish called dum aloo kashmiri) and a fairly unsuccessful attempt to find the katchiwadi neighbourhood we headed towards Malabar Hills. On the way we stopped for some kulfi. This is firm Indian ice cream. Hard to describe but absolutely phenomenal! After cooling off in the A/C of a nearby coffee joint we headed up the hill, the most exclusive neighbourhood in Mumbai.
At the top lies the center of the world (or so the story goes). The neighbourhood transitions from high-rises to smaller houses and finally a set of narrow steps leads down to the Banganga tank, with a wooden pole marking the center of the earth in the middle. The tank was created when Lord Ram pierced the earth with an arrow. It was quite serene up there (although dirtier than I expected the center of the earth to be! Ha!) but there was a hint of madness to come. Large pillars of palm fronds and wood strewn with other combustibles were being built in open squares and near temples. Mischievous children practiced their aim for tomorrow’s festivities. We definitely saw several people (and one dog) who’d been Holi’d somewhere today (we got hit with some water balloons -no powder- in Dharavi too).
We wandered down to Chowpatty for sunset and watched the beach filling with people strolling, children playing and enjoying rather decrepit looking fair-rides, and vendors selling balloons, cartwheels, and bubbles. Then we ate. Bhelpuri, panipuri, and one other thing that I can’t remember the name of. Soooooo good!! We took the train back to churchgate and picked up our protein (yummy kebabs again!) before retiring. I can’t wait for tomorrow!
Did I mention I love this city?
March 20, 2011 HOLI!!!
I didn’t get a chance to write in my journal on Holi, so this bit’s from memory.
We got up, donned our white, packed and checked out before heading out to find the festivities. Holi is the celebration of spring and of Krishna (his birthday I believe?). On this day people smear coloured powder on stranger’s faces and throw water and colour all over everyone!
We first headed to see the Haji Ali Mosque. On the way there we began to see hints of the things to come. Dogs and people splashed with colour crossed our paths. While we were walking beside the road a car pulled up at stopped beside us. A middle aged woman got out with a bag of green powder, blessed us, then got in her car and drove away again, good start to the day.
The Haji Ali Mosque sits out on a concrete island a ways off shore. There is a cement causeway (about 12 ft wide) that leads out to it and at high tide this is under about a foot of water, turning the mosque into an island. Unfortunately the tide wasn’t up when we were there, but the waves did wash over the path.
After the mosque we headed to the Mahalakshmi temple. It is supposed to be the biggest temple in Mumbai, but I found it very unimpressive. It was very plain, and not very big. We were hoping to find some Holi festivities there, but there was minimal powder throwing happening, although evidence of previous merriment was strewn about the ground.
From here we took a taxi down to Chowpatty beach and were rewarded in our search. We walked about 2 city blocks to find a restaurant and in the process got coated in various colours by 3 or 4 groups of people. It was great! We were warned to avoid the street kids who substitute oil paint for coloured powder. For the most part we were successful, but John got hit across his back near the end of the afternoon.
We encountered some roving gangs of overly friendly adolescent and 20 something men when we got right down to the beach and decided to make our way back to the hotel, avoiding encounters with these packs. After washing up we spent an hour in the lovely A/C of a coffee shop before getting back on the train and making out way to the airport. We got back to our hostel at 2 am, tired, but thoroughly happy!
In case I didn’t get my point across… I Love Mumbai!!