M double U

Mumbai

The alarm went off early next morning as I had a train to catch, my last train journey on this trip. The train was running 30 minutes late and as no first or executive class coaches were available I had booked a 2nd class sleeper berth. It was not that bad after all, the bed was narrower and shorter Than I was used to but I did manage to sleep a couple of hours indeed.

Sleeper berths are fine for what they are made for, sleeping… But to sit down during the part of the trip I was awake was not necessarily comfortable. Almost 8 hours after departure (45 minutes later than scheduled) we arrived at Lokmanyatilak terminal in Mumbai and soon I was absorbed by the masses.

Getting from the train station to my hotel took another hour or so, the first part from the railway station towards the centre went fast, but that was the freeway. As soon as the freeway ended the roads suddenly was… Not so free anymore. But this was to be expected, actually Mumbai is one big parking lot where congestion is high and traffic only moves forward slowly… Construction work at a new metro did not make things easier but my driver found a detour and dropped me in front of my hotel.

My room was perfect, small but spotlessly clean and very well located. The bathroom was hidden in some sort of closet but had all facilities I needed, the whole place even had a luxury touch to it.

I decided to relax the remainder of the day, as I had four full days in Mumbai there was no reason to rush things.

In the evening I had a lovely dinner at the restaurant, enjoyed a beer and fell asleep very satisfied, I was now ready for a city that I would either love or hate.

In spite of the construction work going on 24/7 for the new Mumbai underground I slept very well. Breakfast was superb, as was the cappuccino and not much later I left the entrance of the hotel to be absorbed by the city…

I had no fixed plan for the day but headed southward towards the Gateway of India. Immediately I loved the atmosphere, not a single space was unused. Shops everywhere, food stalls, stalls with sunglasses, phone repair boots, clothing, jewellery, and more food stalls. It was overwhelming.

Victoria brickwork wherever I could see around, the British definitely left their mark on Mumbai. There was so much to be seen and at one point I found myself humming as I was enjoying the atmosphere and the vibe of the city so much. And I had barely started, this was a good sign.

Mumbai is currently upgrading and everywhere are major construction works for the new underground, the noise was non stop but to be hones did not bother me that much, it was the noise of progress…

I was loving every moment of my unplanned stroll through the old fort of Mumbai. Mumbai, an assault for al senses perhaps but once you are ready for it the city truly opens up and shows it best side to you. As I had already expected I simply wasn’t ready for the cacophony of impressions, the chaos, the smells, Mumbai… Until now that was!

I had a glimpse of the Taj hotel tower and I knew the Gateway of India would not be far away. And I was right…. The iconic Arch at the old harbour soon was visible so I strolled there at ease to breath the vibes of what must be one of Mumbai’s best known landmarks.

Behind it was the iconic Taj hotel, an epic building in it’s own right. In 2008 it was one of the scenes of the Mumbai Terrorist attacks but nowadays it can be enjoyed again in it’s full glory.

I explored the area around it and as I knew the famous Leopold Café was not far away I decided to head down there for a fresh lemon soda. The place itself was nice but I must admit I was a bit underwhelmed, perhaps my expectations had been to high.

Slowly I returned back to my hotel for a break as I had failed to charge my camera batteries the night before. One out later I was on my way again, this time heading north.

My first stop was the famous Victoria Terminus, the main Mumbai railway station. I was blown away by the architecture and that was even before I entered the main ticket hall…

After having thoroughly enjoyed the experienced I headed west towards the marine drive. One does not have to look far when in Mumbai to spot famous landmarks and everywhere people are buzzing around, eating, trying to offer their professional services or just trying to sell things. The city is so extremely vibrant it is almost impossible to capture everything.

I arrived at the drive south of chow patty beach and over here the beachfront was full of large Art Deco style apartment blocks. Although they had seen better days I was convinced the property prices would be astronomical.

Another classical fine dining restaurant in Mumbai is Gaylord, as I happened to pass is I could not resist to have lunch over there. It was so good I decided to return later in the evening for dinner.

I cannot recall how much I walked during this say but it must have been a fair bit. I could feel my legs so returned to the hotel for a well deserved break.

Later that evening I returned to the Gaylord restaurant for dinner, as I had seen so much Victorian brickworks during the day I decided to revive British colonial times and went continental for a change… A sizzling plate with roast lamb, chicken, buttered shrimps and a pice of fish. All accompanied by mashed potatoes, peas, carrots and white cabbage. I loved it. To add to the Indian feel I ordered an Indian white, Sava Sauvignion blanch and an Icecream of beetlenut and Mukhwas, an Indian mouth refresher. What a day it had been…

Next morning, after a sumptuous breakfast, I headed towards Crawford Market. But before I reached that I passed J.J. School of art, a real unusual place to encounter. I saw some of the artist producing their work and I thoroughly enjoyed this unexpected place. It just showed Mumbai is so diverse and h so much to offer as long as you open up for it.

About 20 minutes later I arrived at Crawford Market. A typical Indian market place though I have to admit I was a bit underwhelmed as it had such a big reputation, still I enjoyed strolling past the fruit and vegetable stalls, the narrow alleys with all the essentials for day to day life.

There was a small bird market but the real fun started behind that. The abattoir… I witnessed chickens being slaughtered, watched butchers working on undefined masses of meat and crows patiently waiting for the opportunity to steal a piece of meat, however small it was…

By now I was used to quite a bit but honestly this place was different, I forced myself to explore further whilst walking through pools of blood and waste product and I could feel my stomach turning… Perhaps becoming a vegetarian was not such a bad idea after all….

I returned to the main part of the market and looked for a stall to stock up on spices. I found a place with a superb collection so stocked up for the time to come.

Outside the market I took a taxi to Dobi Ghat, the largest open air laundry in the world. Countless pieces of clothing were drying on lines in the air and I witnessed people cleaning the laundry by hand. The system of identifying each and every individual piece of laundry was amazing and it is a given fact that not a lot of things go wrong returning the clean laundry to it’s rightful owner.

Next to Dobi Ghat was a railway station so I decided to join the commuters and take a train to church hill gate in south Mumbai. Because of the time of day it was not that busy but I took no chance and travelled first class.

Back on common ground I went to Umame, Mumbai’s best sushi restaurant for lunch. It was definitely an upmarket place but I was ready for a treat.
Sushi was served on a glass bowl filled with water and dry eyes so the bits of sushi were covered in a cloud of steam, absolutely amazing.

After my late lunch I returned to my hotel for an afternoon break. When sun had set I took a taxi to Chowpatty beach, the place to be in the evening at Marina Drive…

Chowpatty beach is on the north tip of Marina drive, which is also known as the Queen’s necklace. Not only offers it a splendid view over the Mumbai skyline rising at it’s shorelines but it is also a street food walhalla.

Several stalls here offered all kinds of food. I decided to grasp a bit at several places instead of filling my stomach at just one of the stalls, something which easily could have been done…

To finish off a wonderful evening I took a taxi to Leopolds Café for a well deserved beer and then walked back to my hotel.

Next morning I had set the alarm at 7:00 as I had an appointment at 9:00 at Churchgate station… After a good breakfast I headed to the direction of the station. Once I arrived I was greeted by Rajesh a tour guide from Slumgods for my morning excursion to Dharavi, the biggest slum in the world.

We took a train to Malad, a journey that took about 25 minutes during which we introduced ourselves. I had done a tour with Slumgods 5 years ago and was eager to repeat my experience with them.

On arrival I started to recognise things, not much seemed to have changed over the last four years. Now I did not visit Dharavi with some kind of freak show of poverty in mind, instead I wanted to learn more from this community of over one million people…

Before even crossing the footbridge that lead towards Dharavi I could see large groups of basket weavers on the side of the street. These people had not managed to find a living space in Dharavi and worked, lived and died over here. A sad story indeed to start my tour…

Once we crossed the bridge I was on common grounds again. First we passed the plastic recycling area and the streets were filled with large bags filled with empty bottles. I saw some of he recycling factories and Rajesh explained the process.

It was a story of thousands of small but successful enterprises where people worked for less than a euro and a half a day under very difficult circumstances.

Rajesh also informed me on where I could make pictures and when we were passing through areas where photography was not appreciated… Next were some workshops where remainders of paint were removed from tin drums. The drums went to a aluminium recycling place, the paint was also collected, nothing was wasted.

There was so much to be seen, soap recycling areas where remainders of hotel soaps were collected yield to soap bars fr clothing and cars, amazing. There were bakeries making a kind of puff pastry that the laws appreciated for their breakfast, a simple but filling meal.
Next we passed to a labyrinth of lanes so narrow I asked myself whether I would fit through or not. Electricity cables were hanging so low I was afraid to be electrocuted. And in spite of the narrow lanes there was activity going on with small shops. I can only say I was absolutely overwhelmed and amazed.

We exited the labyrinth next to an open sewer. The water over here was so black and dirty absolutely no life was possible in here. The channel was officially declared dead! Once a week it was cleaned out but with the enough of garbage, human waste and industrial cleaning water being dumped on a daily basis it did not help much.

Rajesh told me about the big plastic containers filled with water. As water supply was only guaranteed for three hours a day everyone had to collect as much water as possible in that short timeframe to guarantee work could go on.

Next stop was a leather dying factory. Leather was being softened, dyed and coloured, and in spite of a couple of years ago it was also changed into end products that were now sold in a simple shop. I could not resist buying a leather belt which would be a good memory of my visit.

Dharavi is a so called 5* slum according to Rajesh and he immediately proved his words as we were now passing through an area with a supermarket, banks, and even an ATM… The rest was provided by the countless stalls beside the streets.

It was perhaps not obvious but things were changing slowly… Garbage dumps had now been cleaned and converted to official playgrounds for kids, and talking about kids, I could not see a single one without a school uniform which was a major improvement of the last couple of years Rajesh told me. Child labour is now officially forbidden and school is mandatory.

We crossed some other areas and at the outskirts of Dharavi ugly concrete blocks of flats had been decorated with large Murals which gave the area a much friendlier look.

My tour was slowly coming to an end and I was enchanted by Rajesh’s stories of hope, hard labour, a tight community and slow progress towards a better life. It had been an amazing morning and it just proved that in order to understand India one cannot only visit the nice and beautiful places, this tour had definitely been an eye opener for me…

Rajesh accompanied me to platform three where every two minutes a fully packed train departed towards Churchgate station.

Driving back my mind was overwhelmed with impressions and I could not stop thinking of the things I had seen during this amazing morning, it was good to have seen a different side of India…

Outside the station I grabbed a taxi to Leonard Café for a well deserved beer and a light lunch. Then I strolled towards the Gateway of India. Whilst walking through Colaba I saw a women collecting plastic bottles from the dirt containers, immediately I had to think back to a story Rajesh had told me earlier that morning that a huge back filled with plastic bottles would bring up 10-15 Rhupies, it all fell together now…..

I noticed the morning had taken it’s toll as I was starting to get tired and dizzy. So I walked back to my hotel for an afternoon nap.

Once I woke up again I had a refreshing shower and headed towards a beer bar I had seen earlier for another beer and to update my journal. Later I went on a walkabout for a cozy restaurant for dinner. I found a nice middle eastern place. In that respect Mumbai can compete with every metropolitan in the world, the choice of restaurants is enormous and definitely not limited to local food only.

One final day in Mumbai and I head not decided heat on what to do. During breakfast I decided to head back to the Gateway of India and take a ferry to Elephanta Island. By NOS I die not need a map anymore to fine my way.

At the jetty I bought my ticket for the one hour Ferry crossing, boarded the wooden ferry and made myself comfortable. We had to manoeuvre between many large freighters and were followed by dozens of seagulls who were eager to catch a bite that was thrown to them by some of the passengers.

It was a pleasant crossing and although the sky was relatively clear the Mumbai skyline quickly disappeared in the haze. On arrival we had to jump on another boat before getting to the jetty. It did not take long before stalls of merchandise were on either side selling all that stuff one could do without but apparently was very popular with the locals.

There was a long step leading towards the famous Elephanta caves and no space on either side was available. It was packed with merchants, all hoping for their lucky day and a quick sell.

Slowly I made my way up the steps, ignoring the cries for attention from the merchants and got my entry ticket for the temples.

The rock-cut temples on Gharapuri, better known as Elephanta Island, are a Unesco World Heritage Site. Created between AD 450 and 750, the labyrinth of cave temples represent some splendid temple carving.

The main Shiva-dedicated temple is an intriguing latticework of courtyards, halls, pillars and shrines; its magnum opus is a 6 tall statue of Sadhashiva, depicting a three-faced Shiva as the destroyer, creator and preserver of the universe, his eyes closed in eternal contemplation.

It was the Portuguese who dubbed the island Elephanta because of a large stone elephant near the shore (this collapsed in 1814 and was moved by the British to Mumbai’s Jijamata Udyan).

There were still a couple of more caves next to the main Shiva temple but they lacked to impress. I was glad though I had made the effort to come here as it was a welcome and relatively quiet change from Mumbai. Also the cruise through the Mumbai harbour was a pleasant trip.

Once back at the Gateway of India I decided I was ready for a treat so I strolled to the famous Taj Palace…

The grande dame of Mumbai is one of the world’s most iconic hotels and has hosted a roster of presidents and royalty. Sweeping arches, staircases and domes, and a glorious garden and pool ensure an unforgettable stay. Rooms in the adjacent tower lack the period details of the palace itself, but many have spectacular, full-frontal Gateway of India views.

I found my way to the Sea Lounge, the same place where Paul and I enjoyed a high tea 10 years ago. This time I went for an a la carte lunch and started of my splurge of a Brut Indian Rose Champagne. I had a great swat at the window and a good view over the Gateway of India whilst I was enjoying my glass of bubbles.

As a starter I choose for a truffled cream of asparagus, followed with muffins with poach eggs Don Benedict, smoked salmon and a small side salad. It was simply divine and I must be honest I did enjoy the decadent atmosphere.

The contrast with yesterday’s visit to Dharavi could not have been bigger but that is India for you, somehow these worlds excist independent by t almost next to each other, rather confronting in a way.

I spend most of the afternoon in the Sea Lounge and after I had paid my bill strolled back at ease to my hotel.

Not being very hungry I just went out for a drink that night, my last full day in Mumbai had been a very pleasant one but somehow I was looking forward to returning to Little Cove Yoga Resort the following day…

I did sleep well that night and woke up feeling completely relaxed. Breakfast was splendid as usual and as my flight was nut leaving till 16:50 I had time at my hand. Instead of returning to the city one more time I decided to read a bit and relax. The exploration part of my holiday was now over and I was looking forward to two weeks of yoga, meditation and relaxing. I thought the best was to start that mindset right now…

Finish the journey in Goa