Mumbai madness

Trip Start Sep 30, 2006
Trip End Dec 24, 2008

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Flag of India  , Maharashtra,
Monday, September 22, 2008

Our train slowly rolled into Mumbai's main train station, the grand Victorian terminal, the busiest train station in the whole of Asia. We were two people out of an incredible average two and a half million passengers who pass through the station each day.

At 6am the majority of the 16 million inhabitants of the city were still sleeping, and after an argument with our taxi driver about a new 50 rupee baggage fee he decided to apply, we drove easily through the streets, past the famous Taj Mahal palace hotel and arrived at the building site we would be staying for two nights.

The three storey building was covered in Indian style scaffolding, bamboo canes lashed together. Huge cracks ran through every wall, cement bags on each step, dust everywhere, piles of broken bricks on each landing, the building looked condemned and we would be sleeping on the third floor.

After banging on the front door of the Indian Guest House for a minute the owner poked his head over the reception desk where we had been sleeping, and opened the hostel for us. We signed in and headed off to our room. I lay down on the bed and managed to touch three out of the four walls in the room, luckily there was still enough room to swing a fly.

We wanted to buy a pair of binoculars while in India. Our three months in Africa were going to provide some amazing opportunity's to watch some wildlife and binoculars are essential equipment. There was only one place to go, Mumbai's Chor bazaar, the thieves market. Its name apparently comes from when Queen Victoria arrived in Mumbai and lost some of her belongings which later turned up in the Chor bazaar.

We took a taxi and drove into the mayhem of mumbai's run-down and busy streets. It was bumper cars all the way, nudging each others bumpers forward, grinding against bicycles overloaded with crates and men pushing carts of building supplies, everyone looking harassed at the constant collisions taking place between road users as everyone was always rushing. The over population of Mumbai on the roads and pavements was all too obvious.

Their didn't seem to be any road rules In Mumbai people drove with it seems, little respect for human life, or maybe they do not fear death. People here believe they will come back re-incarnated in a new body, hopefully higher up the crazy caste system.

Side story:
This is a true story an Aussie couple told us a few days ago highlighting the over population in Mumbai. The couple hired a driver in Mumbai and drove off to a quiet hill station. They were spending the night there and in the evening the couple was about to go to sleep in the hostel when the driver came to see them. He was panicking and looked upset. The couple eventually worked out the driver had spent him whole live in Mumbai and was conditioned to spending his life surrounded by people 24 hours a day. This included having to sleep in a room which he had always shared with about 15 family and friends. The driver had been given an empty room at  the hostel and for the first night of his life the room was empty and the hill station was quiet, making him too nervous to sleep!

The Aussie couple didn't want the driver to sleep in their room and so their solution was to find some people in the local village and ask them to stay with the driver to keep him happy. Weird.

We arrived at the start of the Bazaar street and looked in horror at the pressure of people swarming up and down the street. Walking along was like visiting a car boot sale at rush hour, each table was selling every second hand item imaginable , one badminton racket, used comb's, old shoes, dirty  teddy bears. The man selling binoculars wasn't too far into the crowd and the excitement of two Westerners standing at ta table was evident in the crowd of twenty or so Indians standing around us watching.

I picked up a small and lightweight pair that promised a range of up to 8km, being lucky enough to stand taller then most Indians I looked though the binoculars at the signs above the first floor of the opposite street, Rajesh Shirtings and Suitings, Classic Veg Non-Veg, and so on. They were perfect and so now we had to bargain. Its always best to appear dis-interested in the item, expressing great joy at finding something will force the first price sky high. Appearing nonchalant will hopefully give the seller an incentive to come in at a lower price to get you interested. Whether this theory works or not I'll never know but his first price was three hundred rupees.

We shook our heads and looked sad, 'two hundred is our maximum' Two fifty was the reply. Two twenty I came back and he waved his head around like the clown in the Yellow Submarine and we had a deal, three quid. The next step is tea, we must drink chai with the seller , two plastic cups the size of a shot glass were produced full of hot sweet tea. Thirty or so pairs of eyes followed our every move, would the Westerners accept the offer of tea in order to finalize the deal? Of course, we're English, so the tea was warmly welcomed and we drank it while the seller and the audience smiled.

Lastly we withdrew some notes from our money belt which everyone rubber necked closer to watch, paid, checked the box did still contain the binoculars and not a block of wood (its been known to happen) and left to see some more of the market.

"I'm not sure, I just can't work it out" I said to Kat.
"I'm sure, it was obvious the signs were all there" Kat replied.
"But what about the mumbling security guard"
"You didn't hear him but it was suspicious".
"Well I'm fifty-fifty about it. Either he was genuine or that was the most wonderful , elaborate, entertaining  and interesting scam we ever came across"
"We will see on Tuesday" Kat said as we walked away from Ronnie, after just handing him 200 rupees.

Our sightseeing day of Mumbai had started with a boat trip across the harbour to see the gateway on India, a huge stone archway built to commemorate the 1911 royal visit of King George V. Then we walked around the streets of Coloba in Mumbai checking out the giant Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, the National Gallery of Art . The impressive high law courts that look like a castle, check out the stone carving of a one-eyed monkey that is fiddling the scales of justice on one of its pillars.

Inside the oval maiden grounds where Gandi rallied people together to fight for Independence we paused to read the guide book and Ronnie approached us to ask us the usual questions. He was about fifty, very friendly, very well spoken and told us he was an economics and English lecturer at the university. He said if we had the spare time and it wasn't too much hassle for us he would be happy to give us a tour of the university as he could get access on a Saturday. As the uni was on the other side of the road and we were sight seeing today, why not.

After wards and outside he said we shouldn't miss seeing the town hall. He offered to show us and off we went. We went for a drink and a snack after and explained to Ronnie we wanted to experience the second religion in Indian. The first is of course, cricket but the second is, Bollywood! Ronnie explained all the films showing the next day and pointed us to the best option, saving us from watching the Bollywood version of King Lear which we were thinking about catching. He helped us to find the cinema and we wanted some more help with buying a good Bollywood film track on CD so we all went to a music shop. Ronnie helped us pick up a CD with a selection of Bollywood hits.

Outside we decided to part ways after tearing around the city for the past three hours. Ronnie explained he really shouldn't ask but could we help out his work with an NGO that helped street kids. If we could make a donation we would get a recepit by email from his boss on Tuesday. The man had shown us around for four hours, saved us from a dodgy Bollywood flick and been very polite and friendly. If a stranger with no ID asked you for money in the UK you would walk off but this is India. Kat and I looked at each other, and gave him the money we still had left in our wallet, 200 hundred rupees, two pound fifty.

On our last day in Mumbai we went to see a hilarious Bollywood film. The main male character met and fell in love with three different women. Each time he kissed the girl a tear would always run down her face, haha. There was always a sudden breakout of dancing and all of the scenes were filmed in Europe or Australia, apparently its too much hassle to film in Indian now with people getting in the shots. The same day the newspaper announced a Bollywood Hollywood deal had been made with Dream Works for $4.5 billion.

We took a taxi to the airport that evening, that got a flat tyre, and checked in to our flight to Africa!

Cooper Out of India

p.s. Tuesday has come and gone, Thursday came and I emailed Ronnie. Hotmail replied, no such address. We laughed.

Love Dan & Kat
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