21 September 2013

Mumbai, India - (1/2)

After months of planning, our India holiday has at long last arrived. Up at the crack of dawn (for me anyway!)  the taxi collected us a a cold and wet morning. With heavy storms and snow expected in the Western Cape, we were rather  glad to be leaving the drab, soulless day behind. There was not much time in Johannesburg before the international leg of the journey to Mumbai. However, boarding was delayed (no explanation) so we waited and waited. After standing in a long line for over 30 mins, boarding commenced. The flight was good with only minor turbulence. The downside was a very loud child of about 3years who did not stop shouting the entire flight. If she was not calling her brother, who was seated across the isle, she was shouting at her mother who was right next to her! Her father was in a seat behind but seemed totally oblivious to the noise! I suppose they ignore her all the time and it is just "white noise" in their house? The other irritation was the bell somewhere above my head which kept pinging ALL night long. The people on the flight were mainly Indians - very few Westerners so our food was curry! Surprise? An announcement was made before serving the food that it was all Halaal. Now I have no problem with anybody's eating habits but SAA should advise those of us who do not like Halaal food, that we need to pre-order something else maybe? In this day and age of democratic society, having something forced down my throat, or starve, is not quite what I have in mind when flying SAA. Other than that, full praise to the staff and pilot..
As we disembarked, the lovely warm air hit my limbs which tuned to jelly. Warm for the first time in months, it was a delicious feeling. Our luggage took ages to arrive, but then it was plain sailing to the hotel as the traffic was light by Mumbai standards. The driver, sent by the Vivanta President Hotel, was extremely courteous and pointed out the sights as we sped along. Loads of "shacks" just past the airport with 24 tyre repair places still open. What story does that tell you about the driving? Taxi's still plying for trade, young couples on scooters whizzing past at nearly 02.00 in the morning. Apparently, 02.00 is the witching hour for those living in Mumbai. We won't be testing that theory though! The hotel welcome was superb and a long glass of fresh watermelon juice was delivered to our room. Although still fairly early by Cape Town time, we were exhausted from the long day and fell into bed.
We woke at 08.00, turned over for 30 minutes more shut-eye and woke at 10.20 - too late for breakfast. Bummer! So after a shower, we headed for an early lunch at the hotel's Italian Restaurant and our first Kingfisher beer. I am sure many more of those will be consumed as we discovered the heat today! The service is first-class.
Our hotel suggested we walk to Colaba Causeway - just 10 mins, they said. Well, James managed to get us to walk very much more than that, somehow.

Mumbai is noisy as everybody will tell you - everybody blows their horn just for the hell of it, red robots don't seem to mean much but we soon learnt that following the locals was the only way to cross the street - just try and close your eyes to the scooters, brightly coloured buses, millions of taxi cabs that look as if they have seen better days and just as many bicycles. The locals seem to use the "local" taxis and they are crammed into the back seat. There are more "sedate" cabs that look in better shape but most probably cost more too.
It seems that school is held on a Saturday as we passed many parents with their children, all in very smart uniform. They seemed to come from the Convent School.  We walked, we walked some more, I asked directions, we walked some more, we started sweating, we walked some more....past shack like "shops" and very smelly areas. We found a spot near the sea and James took a video saying " this is Mumbai's Blue Flag Beach" Tongue in cheek as the water was so filthy. There was a young guy sitting there who turned round to glare at both of us - if looks could kill, we would not have survived. Sarcasm obviously did not go down well with this chap. Other than that, most folk have been friendly as we are soooo obviously tourists. We did not see many westerners at all today.
Some Indians do not speak English and will just shrug if you ask for directions but other were helpful, in sending us in the wrong direction!!!
We did not see many beggars today in Colaba (the tourist area of Mumbai) and nobody bothered us too much except some weird balloon sellers who were selling a packet of huge balloons - so big, I think one could take off on them! There was a young boy begging at a traffic light and 2 Indian men gave him money. Along the Causeway, a women with an arm hacked off, tried to beg. It looked so gross but one has to wonder if this was a genuine accident or a deliberate act to make begging easier?
The heat, the blisters on my toes did nothing for me when surrounded by the crowds at the Gateway to India. Security is tight in Mumbai - one's luggage is checked again once you are OFF the plane, the car is checked at the hotel, bags are checked at the hotel if you come back from a walk. Rather embarrassing having 4 large 650 ml bottles of Kingfisher in the shoulder bag! Seems we are not really 5* folk - love the ambiance and the comfort but the wallet with ZAR conversion is not so loaded!
The Gateway to India was crowded with Indian tourists - all waiting for the cruise to Elephanta Island?  This gateway was constructed to commemorate  the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to the city. Completed in 1920 it remains a striking symbol of the British Raj. The end of the era happened in 1947 when the British troops left India via the "Gateway to India". Camera men are all over the tourists in this area - trying to sell you a picture of yourself against the monument. With all cell phones able to take pics these days, one has to wonder how much business they do? Although, we did see a fair number of them taking shots of people grinning from ear to ear! It's just something that first time tourists "have" to do?
The area we wandered around is made up of many little shops selling all kinds of wares from cigarettes to hardware, to basins, to clothing and everything in between. Near to the Gateway to India there were guys making "fresh" juice and others selling delectable looking ice-creams. However, we have been warned about eating anything off the street so we sweated onwards! The other tip picked up before we left SA was that the Indians re-sell bottled water after gluing the caps back on! We saw evidence of this along this area - crazy what people will do to make a quick buck at the expense of foreigners health! I also spotted a circle of kids sitting on the pavement eating some food. Tough tummies!!
The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, close to the Gateway to India, is very grand and shows Moorish, Florentine and Oriental styles - it is also the first hotel in India to have electricity, the first with a lift (elevator), the first licensed bar in Mumbai and the first to host international jazz bands.  Although we are staying at a Taj (President) the prices do vary and Taj Mahal was just a tad more than we wished to pay!
The hooting in Mumbai is constant, the heat is sweat-inducing, the pavements are a hit and miss zone with many pot holes which nearly resulted in a  sprained ankle, the smells are quite gross in some places we passed, but over-all the people are smiling and happy and very, very polite.
We made it back to the hotel in one piece but totally drenched in sweat and with blisters on my toes. Another shower was called for and a Kingfisher or two!
For an early, casual supper we headed to the restaurant at the Pool Deck which serves Indian cuisine. Not being a food boff, I cannot even remember the names of the dishes - suffice to say that we had crackers (white and thin) with 3 different dips - delectable! Then curry chicken and prawns with some Indian bread which one dips into the curry sauce. Dessert was Indian Ice Cream for me - very rich and yummy and some sort of spicy cake slice for James which was just as tasty. Again, the service is superb, friendly and very pleasant.
Tomorrow, we hope to explore further.......

No comments: