The road to Nagpur and the airport, for the flight to Mumbai, after my Tiger Safari, is possibly the worst I have ever seen. The pot holes are big enough to create swimming pools.
Mumbai, once know is very different to the rest of India. It's huge, sprawling and increasingly full of skyscrapers, intermingled with Victorian villas and mansions, as well as the inevitable slums. These include Dharavi, (the largest in the world, where Slumdog Millionaire was filmed). Mumbai (over 20 million people) is the second-most populous city in India after Delhi and the eighth-most populous city in the world. It's built on seven islands, which were under the control of successive indigenous rulers, before being ceded to the Portuguese Empire, and subsequently to the East India Company in 1661. They were part of the dowry of Catherine Braganza, when she was married to Charles II of England. Today, Mumbai is the capital of the (relatively new) state of Maharashtra.
Mumbai is also the de facto financial centre of India. But it's probably most well known to us, as the entertainment capital of India. This is the home of the Bollywood and Marathi cinema industries. My room overlooks both the famous Choupati (Chowpatty) Beach (no-one swims, the water is too polluted, they just promenade) and the Mumbai cricket ground. Just beyond is Marine Drive whcih runs along the bay here, lined with shops and hotels and backed by scrapers.
What do Guides Look Like?
My guide for today and I nearly miss each other. The rep tells me that they were looking for someone old, ugly and fat, as I am travelling on my own. (Apparently I am none of those things). I meanwhile, am looking for a young man in a short sleeved white shirt, and my guide is a Parsee lady who speaks immaculate husky English, comes from an old family, knows everyone including the Shah of Iran, the Pope and Margaret Thatcher and consistently refers to Mumbai as Bombay. She runs a design company called Creative Concepts.
There are a plethora of spectacular Victorian buildings to see in Mumbai. Most notably the Gateway to India Arch, by the sea. It was erected to commemorate the landing of King-Emperor George V, the first British monarch to visit India, in December 1911. The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Railway Terminus almost makes St Pancras look plain. There are other museums and galleries and Gandhi's old house, in once affluent Laburnum Road. The villas here are rapidly being torn down to make way for more skyscrapers. A wander in the Hanging Gardens, home to 83 topiary animals and the Friendship Clock.
You can't miss the Haji Ali Dargah Mosque, on an islet in southern Mumbai. It's associated with legends about doomed lovers, and contains the tomb of Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. the Sufi saint from Uzbekistan.
The Sassoon Dock is lively, lined with fresh seafood stalls. my driver hops about whilst I wave my camera around. You're not supposed to stop here.
Markets are always favourite stopping places and this one is no exception, colourful, friendly and vibrant.
Driving North from Mumbai
We drive across one of the many bays, north to the Kanheri Caves in Sanjay Gandhi National Park. The most interesting sights, en route, are the dhobi ghats and the views across Dharavi. The dhobi ghats, where much of the laundry of the city is done, are fascinating and hugely colourful. About one million people live in two square kilometres of slum at Dharavi.
Needless to say, the traffic is truly appalling. No-one gives way if they can possibly avoid it, even at junctions, and no-one takes any notice whatsoever of all the traffic lights. The journey is made even more eventful by the traffic cops, who seem to have introduced a new rule that all tourist car drivers must have special badges. Unfortunately, no one has told the drivers about this rule. A lot of motoring around to try and retrieve confiscated licences and pay fines follows. The guide then spends the next half hour bemoaning all the corruption in India, while the driver has hysterics.
The Kanheri Caves are on a hillside, up steps cut into the basalt. There are one hundred and nine of them, mainly used as monks cells in a Buddhist monastery, with a rock plinth for a bed. Some. the oldest and plainest, date from the first century. There are viharas, sued for studying and congregation halls, with huge stone pillars and stupas. Some of the walls are carved with very intricate Buddha reliefs
The driver's bad day continues, as he clips a wing mirror and then rams a bus. The bus is visibly more worse for wear than we are, but fortunately the bus driver doesn't seem to have noticed.
Christmas in Mumbai
I had forgotten it was Christmas. There are twinkling decorations all over the hotel (placed by Classic Concepts of course), Santa has been winched up above the porch and a choir is singing carols in the lounge.
Incredibly Annoying India
India is marketed as incredible India. And it definitely is, but the bureaucracy and attitude here are beyond frustrating at times. At airports, for example, there is little signage and staff are very unhelpful. The guy on the Air India check in desk is so surly that I eventually ask him why he does his job if he dislikes it so much. Though I wait till I've got my boarding pass. Then I get sent all the way back to security, when I am about to board the plane, as my small handbag does not have a stamped baggage tag. The guy at security doesn't deem it necessary to tell me that this will happen.
Some of the representatives sent to meet me are plain officious and offer little information. They are only interested in making sure that I sign their job sheets and fill in their feedback forms. The latter are usually pressed on me just as I am arriving late at the airport. It is every man for himself on the road, in the street and in queues, (well, what queues?) I stress that these comments only relate to some of my encounters. Other men (and women) have been extremely attentive, exceedingly gentle and kind. The staff in my safari hotels could not do enough to help (except for providing heaters).
Spoken and written English is littered with English idiom and, too often, cliché, amusingly misspelled. My favourite so far: 'No Thorough Road'. Even Hindi is peppered with English words: ' Garble, garble, male tiger, garble, sighting, garble, garble, alarm calls.....'
I still keep coming back....
Now on to Goa.
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