India Part 1: MUMBAI

Trip Start May 07, 2008
Trip End Jan 06, 2009

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Flag of India  , Maharashtra,
Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hi Everyone

Welcome to the first part of our India trip: Mumbai.

Well, we are here in India. To quote David's words exactly: "Fuck". We arrived at 04:15 to torrential rain (We knew it was monsoon time) and were met at the airport by our Hotel 'chauffeur' who drove at about 80mph irregardless of traffic lights, potholes or people crossing! The taxis are like something out of George and Mildred - yellow and black and there are millions of them, all with boots rammed full of luggage with rope to hold the boot closed.

When we got to our hotel, the very poshly named "Chateau Windsor" (!), it was hilarious. We were met by 6 members of Hotel staff all togged up in floor length Frank Spencer brown rain coats and brown fisherman hats. From the outside it looked like a 1960's run down Governmental building with peeling paint and tatty carpet and squares of lino. The lift to our room was about 1 foot square with the old fashioned zig zag metal gate to close and all the Frank Spencers wanted to get into this lift with us to assist our arrival. Reception was a very posh affair - it had a typewriter and everything!! It was like a 1960's or 'Hill Street Blues' Police reception. The room on the other hand... was very modern and luxurious - after you'd passed through the 'secret' door back down two floors. Obviously, all the Frank Spensors had to follow us back down.

After a fantastic sleep, we ventured out. That's when we were instantly thrown into an absolute sensory saturation. The humidity was stifling. A can't-catch-your-breath humidity. Then it was just a cacophony of Hooting: Cars, taxis, buses hooting at everything. The intimidation of hords of wide-eyed locals staring and rushing towards you like a tsunami pushing us back pleading to buy their wares. Dogs acting dead on pavements, women begging under trees, children washing in deep monsoon puddles, and the smell. Oh my god, the smell. A smell that invades your nostils of rotten drains all over the city...accompanied by piles of litter under trees, in the gutter. Everything is so basic, so primitive, yet there are some modern glistening buildings rising up in the midst of decaying, lichen-strewn tenement blocks. Shanty towns with women carrying massive jugs of water on their shoulders while opposite sat a vast exclusive white and silver "Prestige Residencies" building with Mercedes and BMWs behind electronic gates and security guards on patrol. Odd contrast.

We inadvertently found the tourist information bureau - another massive run down 1960's block and after one hour we had a train ticket to Delhi for 3 days time which involved a long long primitive paper-trail process.

We then decided to just walk and explore. We got accosted  twice by women with babies asking for no money but milk and we had to ignore them and said "No" over and over until they got bored of following us. There are millions of women with babies begging - where do you stop? harsh and heartless perhaps of us but this advice we were given. We found an air conditioned department store and both rushed in and were so happy we could have cried!! it was a blissful retreat from the ear-canal bleeding mayhem and nasal infringement of everyday Mumbai life. It was like a small Debenhams so we sat in the coffee shop and shortly agreed we were both too scared to go back out!!

Eventually, we walked back to our Hotel past bare-bottomed children sitting on filthy pavements, past numerous women sitting in sari's on pavements passing the time of day, past carts pulled by cows, past horses led by shoe-less men, through rush hour traffic of yet more ear-canal invasion of hooting, and people escaping being run over. And the smell. Don't forget the smell of Mumbai everywhere.

Not wishing to be too negative about Mumbai, everyone is sooo friendly here. They can't do enough for us. Although we strike up a conversation with an Indian man or two they sometimes only speak to David and ask me questions through David. When I was waiting for the toilet in the department store, there was an Indian male member of staff on guard waving customers in and out one by one. A male customer came along and the Indian man waved him through before me and signaled that I would have to wait for him to now come out even though I was next in line!!! there are women only queues at railway stations and cinemas too.

The bills always get handed to David (not too dissimilar to UK though I suppose) and when buying stuff although I barter vigerously, it's David who gets addressed mostly. David and I were really in shock when we first got here. We just walked around the city, observing, listening, smelling without saying a single word to each other. Then we got to Leopold's Cafe, a popular tourist hang out serving beer and all sorts of international food. We sat there in silence again, in the corner, just people-watching. It was surreal. We didn't know what to say to each other! It's just too much emotion. Too much poverty. It's just a brain-mash of cultural differences.

Every guide book and every traveller will tell you, going to India is a total culture shock and this is the best bit of
factual information I have ever received about India so far.

We went to "Gaylord" for a curry. It was fantastic. Packed full of locals and done out like a palace with gold mirrors, exotic wallpaper, chandeliers... After a mind-shag of a day, I had a stiff G & T and quickly came round to the appeal of India...! the food was beautiful, service was excellent.

One day we went for a wander round the town to get our bearings once again. We walked to the Gateway of India which was amazing but covered in scaffolding! We went for a very civilised Tea in the nearby globally acclaimed Taj Mahal Hotel. Tea in bone china cups and saucers, starched white linen, staff waiting on your every move and a pianist playing Glen Medeiros on a grand piano...what more could a girl want in life?!! We then met a very nice tour guide and he seemed genuine.

We got into his air conditioned car and he showed us the most amazing sights of Mumbai. We saw both the illegal and the legal red light districts - not something to be found in our Dorling Kindersley Guide Book to India!! The legal area of prozzies is actually very good..the girls get looked after well by local doctors up and down the road. You see all the girls in scarlett dresses and fushia pink saris waiting outside shops, pouting, with their long hair swishing in the breeze. HIV is rife sadly. Some of the girls in both the legal and illegal areas are as young as 15 and we commented to our taxi driver that not one of them had a smile on their face. They all looked miserable. Not like the prozzies in the UK!

We saw cows, goats and chickens wandering round passing the time of day with everyone. We saw streets of heart-wrenching corrogated and carboard constructed 2- storey huts where families of approx 6 lived in about 2 sq metre, if that, but the scantily clad children were laughing and playing and seemed really happy. Better the devil you know I suppose. Mothers and daughters sat outside weaving bamboo for furniture to sell. It was literally cardboard city with all their washing hanging up outside and their campfires to cook food on.

We saw this massive laundry area where alot of the hotels send their washing. It's just a massive plot next to the railway lines. The area is divided up into separate open booths where scores of men scrub laundry with bars of soap and slap it against the concrete walls of the booths to rinse them out. Above them, hangs lines and lines of people's washing. Women don't do this work apparently as it's too hard for them! too right! It's an amazing sight. However, David got chased quite literally back to our taxi by a begging woman with a baby. We ignored her but she was banging on the taxi windows right up until we drove off. Hard to dismiss. He insists the baby isn't his, but she did seem very persistant.

We saw Gandi's house which was beautiful and really moving. We saw his vast library of books, saw his room where he worked and meditated, saw hundreds of photos of him around the world and read vast letters written by him, one of them to Hitler imploring him to use non-violent means to settle his mad berzerker like expansionist dreams. Lump-in-throat moment indeed. The letter to Roosevelt was equally fascinating: 'How can you claim that you are fighting Hitler to restore democracy and order to the invaded countries when you say nothing about British occupation of India?' Cheeky, clever bugger.

We visited the Jain temple which is a Hindu temple of the most exquisite marble decorative work on stairs and porches, sacred elephants and idols carved and painted in rich, deep colours, it was just a visual saturation. Locals could come in at any time of the day and pray to the many idols that sat inside gold-caged booths. We had to take our shoes off and were told to never turn our back on the idols as we walked round. So David and I were walking like crabs everywhere!!! Every time someone prayed they rang the nearby bell. It was very sacred, meditative place indeed until we walked past one sari-clad lady sitting in the lotus position praying before an idol and her mobile went off with the ringtone "Fame!! I wanna live forever.....!!!"

Our final place was our taxi driver's 'friend's' store which sold carpets, pashminas, clothes, jewellery, everything.
Absolutely gorgeous goods and although I came tremblingly close to buying an amber necklace with a stone the size of Big Ben, and a pashmina with exquisite hand-sewn orange and brown pattern on black fabric..oh and this black and cream linen flowery top...the prices were all twice the equivelant UK price so I decided not to. I was in India for the bargains not for things I can get in Birmingham market for half the price!!!!! most of the shops are all UK prices. David and I are having big problems finding all these "wait till you get to India, jaw-droppingly cheap goods!!"!! where do English people shop in India??!!!

Today we checked out of the Frank Spencer Emporium and went to stay, for our final night in Mumbai, in the Taj Mahal Hotel. THE most exclusive hotel in Mumbai, the size of Heathrow!! We decided to rough it in cheap B & B's during our honeymoon but to try and have one night in a really posh hotel in every country we visit. OH MY GOD!!!! you should see this hotel. We booked into our Taj Club room (a very small suite room) in the morning and haven't left the hotel all day but have walked miles! there are designer gift shops, a book shop, chinese restaurant, middle eastern restaurant, Indian restarant, Italian restaurant, a bar which is the first licensed bar ever to open in India (License no. 1) where we had a G & T and played Carcassone looking out over the sea, a gym, spa, beauty salon, outdoor swimming pool with terrace fringed with palms and exotic flowers and wicker seating, a business centre, lounges, absolutely every single thing you could possibly require. The Hotel faces the Gateway of India and the sea and we are on the 6th floor so the view is stunning. You can sit and watch the tourists down by the Gateway of India all day. Some boys dive into the sea from the wall (like they do off the pier in Brighton). Every now and then the air conditioning makes the chandelier in our room 'ding' reminding us of the Jain Temple.

As soon as we got to the Hotel we dumped our stuff and went for a late breakfast in the Club Lounge - especially for Taj Club Guests. Tally HO! it was like being royalty, we had staff on our every move making sure we had everything we needed. Luxury.

However, I made a right tit of myself as usual and David almost spat his toast out at the waitress! Just before the waiter poured out my tea, I started making a comment to David, "do you know, I bet you get some really...."
and then I waited while the waiter poured out my tea into the cup and then into David's. So, I resumed my comment..."yeh, as I was saying, I bet you get some really snotty people stay here who treat these lovely people like slaves..'get me this and get me that'.." David nodded in agreement and then I immediately frowned at my teacup and said, "Darling, what...? there are tea leaves in my tea! I'm going to get another cup". I had absolutely no idea why my husband was crying and almost choking on his scrambled eggs!!! He said to me inbetween splutters of egg.."Lois...what was that comment you just made to me about snotty people??!!...Ooo: get me another cup of tea now.... there's horrible tea leaves in this one... how do people read flaming tea leaves if it wasn't for tea in their tea???!"

Our last night here, we got dressed up and went for complimentary cocktails in the Club Lounge. While sipping we played cards and attracted the attention of Dennis our indian waiter. He was such a lovely boy. He said he played rummy alot and loved cards so David showed him some card tricks and he was like a little boy in Gamleys at Christmas! his eyes!! David taught him how to do one trick once and he remembered it instantly.

On our last day in Paradise at the Taj Mahal Hotel we booked ourselves in for a double massage preceeded by a jacuzzi and a steam. The jacuzzi is just one massive square bath with seats in that pummel water at your neck and back and the room is lit only with small candles. OH MY GOD!!!!! We had a full body massage which was just flaming beautiful with soft sleepy music, candles and oil that smells of cinammon and orange rubbed all over. OH MY GOD!! After 90 mins we were in heaven.

Final thoughts of Mumbai are: smelly, noisy, expensive but culturally fascinating and  really friendly. Absolutely no regrets coming here so far. Very challenging emotionally but it's amazing experience. And we have both acquired the skill of blindly walking out in front of throngs of tuc-tucs, taxis, cows, goats and busses to cross the road.

Our next blog will be from Delhi. Keep reading, hope you enjoy.

Love, Lois & Hubs xxxx
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