Mumbai was my entry to India. I was staying on the Queen’s Necklace – Marine Drive along the back bay between the Gateway of India and Malabar Hill, close to Chowpatty Beach – all landmarks familiar to me from Indian literature, but also a pretty post area of a bustling city. Having lost my wallet in Ottawa, I arrived with no cash or credit cards, but with the forethought of having booked a relatively nice hotel that I paid for through an app. In turn, they paid my taxi and advanced me $20 until my replacement cards arrived the next day. I had to break the big rupee bills at Baskin Robbins before I could buy anything though.
I spent a few days exploring the area – the hanging gardens, the Banganga Tank pool going back to the 12th century, a highly decorated Jain Temple, Gandhi’s residence (now a museum), the Gateway of India Gate, the museum and the art gallery – while eating my way through street vendor chaat stalls and local restaurants.
Because of my lost documents, I also had to take several trips to the consulate to deal with paperwork which was an interesting experience but took me to another part of town that I may not have seen otherwise.
One of the highlights was taking a boat to the Elephanta caves built into an island. The caves are filled with statues dedicated to Shiva, dating from the 5th century and the monkeys are intense – one stole my popsicle and another took my bottle of water.
It’s fairly busy with tourists and the monkeys know it – one stole my popsicle and another tried to get my water bottle.
I also visited the Dharavi slum which made me a bit uncomfortable because I don’t feel like that is really an acceptable tourist activity, but having attended the UN Conference on sustainable cities and human settlements a few years ago, I was interested to learn more first-hand.
This slum is one of the largest and highest densities in the world and has issues with lack of fresh water, disease, and extreme poverty, but also has distinct economic areas such as a busy laundry and fishery where the main catch is pomfret.
Mumbai was hot and that took some getting used to – I went back to the art museum and a hotel cocktail bar because they had air conditioning, and I decided against seeing a 3 hour Bollywood movie as the theatre was hot and I would not have understood anything anyways – but the breeze off the water was nice and I enjoyed walking around in the evening and talking to the locals.
Everyone was very kind, although – being a big city – kept to themselves more than other places I visited later.
Some thoughts from my notebook:
- Nearly all the billboards are advertisements for phones – but the selling point is about how good the selfies are
- Beautiful ruins beside modern luxury condos – or with a blow-dry bar on the ground floor.
- It is definitely hot, and getting hotter, but I am doing ok in my palazzo pants and peasant blouse. Maybe it’s just the expectation that the higher the temperature, the lower the possibility of looking good) but it feels as muggy as it was in Japan. Would really like an ice cream and a motorbike right now 😓
- Cabbies and cops napping on the grass in the park
- So many street stalls for shopping and services: men’s shirts, jewelry, a pharmacy, shoe shiners, a locksmith, lassi, Xeroxing, sugarcane juice, a public scale? And a few cows tied up too.
- A street seller convinced me to buy a strand of night-blooming jasmine and I didn’t know what to do with it so my cabbie helped me tie it in my hair. Then he offered me some chopali (??) which is some kind of bark for chewing. It tasted like dirt.
- Cabbies blaring bhangra that tell you not to wear your seat belt
- Trivia from a walking tour I went on:
- There are ~8m people in Mumbai – a different dialect every 10 km!
- 100k people live in the fisherman’s village in the slum alone
- The diamond in the British crown is from India
- Mumbai has the most Victorian Gothic buildings in the world
- Groups of men huddled around an iphone game
- Weird trend of older men with their hair bleached orange