India - Mumbai Magic - Tiger Tour 2

Author: Sue Rogers
Date: 31st December 2013

Mumbai en Route to Goa

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 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, including Dharavi, (the largest in the world, where Slumdog Millionaire was filmed). My room overlooks both the famous Choupati Beach (no-one swims, the water is too polluted, they just promenade) and the Mumbai cricket ground.

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.

Kanheri Caves

We drive across one of the many bays north to the Kanheri Caves. They are not really caves, but fascinating carved Buddhist rock temples from the third century B.C. The most interesting sights are the dhobi ghats and the views across 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, and there is 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 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.

Colonial Mumbai

There are a plethora of spectacular Victorian buildings to see, most notably the Gateway to India Arch by the sea, stations that make St Pancras look plain and Gandhi's house, in affluent Laburnum Road. The villas here are rapidly being torn down to make way for more skyscrapers.

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 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 today 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 Moslem men struggle to relate to women, especially European women, I think. 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).

Communication is an unintentional parody of Britishness, despite the fact that India has done its best to distance itself from the Raj, by changing place names, for example and tearing down colonial architecture. There is paperwork for everything, in triplicate as a minimum. I've even had to fill in forms declaring my father's and mother's family surnames. 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've got that off my chest. Now on to Goa.

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