22 September 2013

Mumbai, India - (3)


Mumbai from Marine Drive


Humidity 83% at 28 degrees - welcome to the day!
We made breakfast on time today!! The service from the Indian male staff  opted  at  Taj President is superb - lovely fresh croissants, divine spicy tea served in a tiny glass, eggs or Indian food to order, fresh fruit, fresh juices (watermelon, carrot or pineapple) various breads toasted, plus much more. We could not sample everything - too much!
After our long and very hot walk yesterday, we opted for a half day City Tour. Air conditioned comfort and a very informative driver. With a population of 19 million in Mumbai ( yep, you read the figure correctly, 19 million!!!) it is a crowded city. Those in the higher income bracket have at least one car per person in the family with maybe a spare. So a 5 person family would most likely have 6 cars. Those not so rich use either public transport or have motor cycles. The really poor  just walk. The family who own the Reliance company (oil and Sim Cards) have 5 family members with staff of 130. Their home is very high so one imagines that there is cleaning and more cleaning to be done! Can't say that I would like to be surrounded by so many staff? They would be under your feet at every turn!
Mumbai is a mixture of old and new - some stunning, modern high rises which nestle alongside some really grotty buildings. It's an amazing mix and adds to the flavour of the city. The Rajabhai Clock Tower has an interesting history - built by Premchand Roychand who founded the Mumbai Stock Exchange, he named this clock tower after his mother who was blind. As a member of the Jain religion, she had to eat before evening, so the chiming of the clock tower was her guide. During the British Raj, the clock chimed Rule Brittania, God Save the King, Home Sweet Home and a Handel Symphony out of a total of 16 tunes which changed 4 times a day. Now it only plays one tune every 15 minutes. This clock tower is within the are of the University of Mumbai - gorgeous buildings inspired by Venetian Gothic influences, it was built in 1857 and is one of the first 3 universities in India.
Jain Temples are very ornate and the one we visited in Mumbai had two massive elephant statues in front of the temple. One has to take off shoes to enter the building and there are rules for tourists such as:
Women may not enter if they have their "monthlies"
Do not turn your back to the idols
Walk gently so as not to disturb the devotees
Surrender your drinking water.
It is a holy place with many devout people praying so silence is the norm.
There are many religions in India - Hindu is the majority, then Muslim and the rest follow - Buddhism, Christian, Catholic, Jain (in no particular order)
All appear to get on well together which is as it should be in the world.
The Haji Ali Mosque is located in the sea on a small island - a  long walk takes one to the mosque  and this is only accessible at low tide. The queue stretched for ages so we did not attempt this. Constructed in 1431 in memory of a very wealthy merchant who gave up all his worldly possessions before taking a pilgrimage to Mecca it remains a very important mosque and a popular tourist attraction.
Marine Drive gives a view of the Arabian sea and this is a popular area for walking. Unfortunately, on the tour there is not much time to get out and wander.
The Hanging Gardens were created in 1880 and renovated in 1921 - with hedges in the shapes of animals and an "Old Women's Shoe" for the kids to climb, (we saw many adults too!) is a good place to chill out, walk or jog. This area is known as Malabar Hill, which is apparently very expensive. It certainly does not look expensive except for the Governor's House tucked away in a prime position. Certainly not Clifton, Cape Town.
Parking at any of these spots is a nightmare and the cops apparently issue "illegal" fines to tour guides or hotel drivers. Corrupt officials everywhere?
Talking with a cell phone is also prohibited and there are cops all over, watching for drivers chatting. The motor bike folk tuck their cell phones into their helmets so as to escape detection! Good  move and rather inventive, I would say!
Apparently, there are many wealthy folk in Mumbai which is the financial centre of India - however, to earn all these Indian Rupees they have to work 12 hours per day. Take in approx. 2 hours of travelling to work and back again, they are away from home for 14 hours - that leaves just 10 hours for dinner, family time and sleep! It seems 12 hour shifts are the norm as our tour guide from the hotel works 7 - 7!
Dialect changes happen every 100 km or so with various food styles as well. However, there are numerous English Newspapers so many Indians speak English. The offices of the "Times of India" are huge, set in an impressive building opposite the Victoria Terminus. This station is a world heritage site and was fairly quiet on Sunday. We believe it heaves with people during the week! We started taking photos and were then stopped by somebody asking if we "had permission" As we did not know what this entailed, we shook our heads and wandered back out again. The Sea Cadets, all smartly dressed, wanted their photo's taken and kept pushing each other to get closer! With wide smiles, we did manage to grab a quick shot!
The Dhobi Ghat is a very famous and amazing open air laundry. With laundry hanging all over the place, it's an incredible sight. The men wash the laundry from local hotels and hospitals and all is done by hand. Only men work here and this tradition has been going on for many, many years. Bashing the laundry would certainly get rid if anybody's aggression, I would say!  Families also live in "shacks" around the laundry. A buzzing place 7 days a week and a tradition that has survived modern times and washing machines. Sometimes, change is not always for the better - old methods work just as well.
Our driver has 3 children, 20, 17 and 5! All born at at a Government Hospital where they are only charged 10 Rupees. There are also private hospitals that charge much more. Mumbai is an incredible city with so many different facets that it is difficult to take it all in - the rich, the middle class and the very, very poor living in total squalor, far worse than anything in South Africa? Yet they still smile! And seem to survive? Although......
Rape, dengue fever in Bandra, match fixing all make the Sunday papers. However, the newspapers here are not all doom and gloom and make rather interesting reading. Cricket is, of course, a huge topic in India and the Oval in Mumbai is most popular with a number of matches underway when we passed by. Hockey comes a poor second as EVERYBODY loves cricket. You will make a friend for life if you are able to talk about Indian cricket.
We walked down past this 5 star hotel and within a short distance came across a huge local village of shops, friendly people and children all wanting a photo. We cannot get over the squalor that some Indians live in and yet they are all friendly, smiling and allow us to photograph their surroundings and way of life. It's humbling to say the least.
The Fishing Village is also not far from the hotel so we walked back there this afternoon. The fishermen were all tying up their nets - a laborious task, it seems. The floats are neatly bagged for use again tomorrow. The tide was out so we could see the "beach" - a conglomerate of litter as far as the eye could see. The boats are all very colourful with brightly coloured flags flapping in the slight breeze. The children are so amazingly friendly, given that we always seem to be the only Westerners walking!!!! Photo please, they ask politely! We have not yet met an angry Indian and hopefully, this does not ever happen.


Some guys do stare at us as if we are aliens - it seems that Westerners don't wander around like we do?
So far we have seen very few dogs, a few scrawny hens, cows of the pavement with an Indian lady guarding the cow from silly tourists who want to take photo's. It OK if you purchase some grasses to feed the cow, then photos are permitted! We did not realise this at first until our tour guide explained what the lady was "selling"
All in all, a day of many surprises and a brief glimpse into the Indian culture. Whist the caste system is obviously still very much in place, people remain happy. Perhaps they are born with beautiful, smiling faces - one hopes so. I could not bear the thought of living in such squalor, surrounded by filth, the smell of fish and having to call such a tiny hovel my home......Those of the more privileged, have a far easier life with their servants and cars.
Tonight we decided to give the Thai Restaurant in Taj President Hotel a try. WOW!! What an explosion of tastes in everything that was served from the chicken dishes to the potato mix to the very decadent desserts. The hotel staff reckon that this is the best Thai Restaurant in Mumbai. Now we cannot comment on this, but it certainly puts our Cape Town "Wang Thai" Restaurant to shame. Totally delicious flavours explode in the mouth and leave the most incredible tastes. All I can say again is "WOW" Whilst the service in all the hotel restaurants have been superb, the Thai one wins our vote, hands down - no competition! We will return to sample more of their delights!
My Kindle better have a really good novel to take my mind off this meal............goodnight!



© Judelle Drake

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