India - Mumbai: you can feel the rat race
From Bangalore we had a very cheap early morning flight with GoAir to Mumbai. It was a very efficient, comfortable and nice flight in news planes - we were positively surprised as we had expected the worst for the cheap price. In Mumbai we looked again for Meru Cabs. If you want to avoid the typical taxi rib off, we experienced Meru Cabs as the perfect way to go. And again, for 400 Rupees we reached safely our hotel in Central Mumbai, the Kumkum Hotel.
Coming from a wonderful and personal homestay, arriving in the hotel we were really disappointed about our small room. But to be honest, Hotel Kumkum is a really good deal in Mumbai. Mumbai in general has the most expensive accomodation in India and we think one will never quite feel like one is getting one's money's worth. This is thanks to Mumbai's real estate! So, back to our hotel - the room was really small, but it was clean (and if you wish they clean daily), the shower was hot (although it was hard to turn around in the tiny bathroom). Anyway, the staff was incredibly friendly and luggage could be kept in the storage for free. On the top floor there is a small restaurant where you can have breakfast and snacks, there is free WIFI. So, our basic needs are more than fullfilled. After all, the hotel has a perfect location. Most of the sights are within walking distance or easily reached by train (the station is close by). Without problems we could check into our room at 10 am without any extra charge.
First we settled down for breakfast and decided what to do first in Mumbai. For the same day, we decided to start with a walk towards the west coast (the Mahalaxmi area) to visit the Haji Ali Dargah. This exquisite Indo-Islamic shrine is one of Mumbai's most striking symbols floating off the coast. It can be reached over a long causeway into the Arabian Sea. It was a very nice introduction to Mumbai. Already on the way to the coast we passed by a lot of street food stands for which Mumbai is famous for. In Central Mumbai there is also a lot of construction work going on. You can see very old ruins of houses next to modern skyscrapers. It was really interesting. The minute we stepped on the streets from the hotel we could feel this special vibe of the city. You can really feel that everybody is running for his/her life. It is like a rat race. Each individual, no matter on which level, is running to survive and to make money. People are not rude to others but they just try to make an advantage out of each situtation. As a visitor you can either fight it (especially the thousands of rickshaw and taxi drivers who try to rib you off) or you can surrender. We decided to surrender and take things like they are but to be careful playing the game. It turned out to be a good decision. We never had any major problems with anyone.
After the mosque we visited the Mahalaxmi Temple, one of the busiest and most colourful temples in Mumbai dedicated to the goddess of wealth - very suitable for money mad Mumbai! From here we made a quick stop for a delicious fruit shake at the Haji Ali Fruit Center (not cheap but amazing!) and walked up north. We passed a small slum area and the Mahalaxmi racecourse till we reached Mahalaxmi train station. From here, one has a great view over the Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat. This is a 140-year-old place where clothes are washed. Well, one can say that this is Mumbai's oldest and biggest humanpowered washing machine. The sight was really impressive! As we were at the train station, we took the train down south to the Marine Lines Train Station. From here we walked along the Marine Drive and finally sat down on the Girgaum Chowpatty for people and sunset watching. It was a wonderful sunset and sitting here in front of the Arabian Sea we somehow started to fall in love with this dirty, crazy, chaotic and fascinating city. Before it was getting really dark we walked back to our hotel and had a delicious veg thali dinner in a small restaurant close to the hotel. Later the evening when all shops were closed we walked back to the hotel. Rats (really huge ones) were running along the streets, poor people were making themselves ready to sleep in the dirt and expensive cars like Jaguar and Bentleys were passing by. Well, this is Mumbai. It is shocking, it is fascinating - but it is definitely a rat race, everyone is running after money and success (just the amount of it differs for each person).
The next morning we started slowly, as we had a long day and a lot of things we wanted to see. After a breakfast in the hotel we walked along the Falkland Road. First it was perfect - and then it suddenly started turning to the bad. We realised that the atmosphere suddenly was a bit tense. It took us a few minutes to realise that we were walking right through the middle of the red light district. OK, it was bright daylight. But it was obvious that we were tourists. We tried not to look too lost and quickly decided to keep walking steadily and firm. We changed from the boardwalk to the middle of the street, as we thought that the chance that someone just pulls us into a sidestreet is a bit smaller when you walk in the middle of the street. The prositutes warned us not to walk in this area and to quickly get out of it. Some strange men looked angrily at us but nothing else happened. Just 200 m later (our longest in India so far) we reached a police station and directly went into it, just to feel safe for a minute. The street of the red light district was only about 500 - 600 meters long and the police station was at the end of this area. A policemen confirmed us that we will be safe if we kept walking straight to where we wanted to go. Wow, how lucky are we! Tourists have disappeared in this area - but nothing happened to us! We have to admit, our knees were shaking a bit. The rest of our walk was fine and we safely made it to the real heart of old Bombay: the markets and temples in Bhuleshwar. Here, we visited the Bombay Panjrapole. This is an oasis in the middle of the bustling market and it is a shelter for 300 homeless cows. We could wander around, pet the cows and calves and we were even allowed to feed them without anyone asking for money. It is a great project and the cows live there in really good conditions (considering you are in the middle of Mumbai!). We walked around the markets. All things you need for a temple - you can buy them here! And so much more! You can get EVERYTHING and more! The markets are unbelievable and we enjoyed every minute. Finally we went to the Mumba Devi Temple, the deity that gave Mumbai its name. As we got tired of the bustling markets and the crowds of people we took a train at the Masjid Train Station to the famous Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Victoria Station). The building, a Unesco World Heritage building, is impressive, a beautiful piece of colonial architecture. We walked around a bit and then quickly and hungrily went for having a nice lunch in the area. In the afternoon we walked passed Flora Fountain and around the Kala Ghoda area, an area full of cafes, bars, restaurants and art exhibitions. We loved the atmosphere and relaxed with a typical english tea in the afternoon. Afterwards we admired the wonderful colonial buildings of the Mumbai University, the Rajabai Clock Tower, the High Court.... In this area Mumbai is totally different to Central Mumbai. In the Oval Maidan, a huge parc, younger and older teams were playing cricket. For sunset we walked back to the Chowpatty before we took a train from the Churchgate Train Station back to the hotel. We relaxed a bit and then, it was time to meet a friend. I, Nina, had met Abbas about 5 years ago in Melakka/Malaysia. We had spend one evening together in the lobby of a guesthouse drinking some beer and talking about life. A year ago, Abbas found me on Facebook. And now, we were about to meet him. He lives with his parents just a short walk away from our hotel. So we walked to his place. It was great to see him again. He had prepared some delicious bhelpuri for us. This is a veggy dish with lots of savoury gravy and very buttery bred. It was sooooo yummy! We enjoyed it a lot and talked about what happened in our lives and what he is doing now. He had learned german in the meantime and really could speak very well! What a good evening!
The next day was our last day in India on this trip. As our flight was about to live early the next morning and we had to leave to the airport at midnight that day we had no room for the day. But we could leave our stuff for free in the hotel. By train we travelled down to the Churchgate Train Station and walked to Colaba, the famous tourist area of Mumbai. Well, we have to admit, we have also read Shantaram.... And, as we passed, we had a glimpse at the Leopold's cafe. Maybe this was a great place for a beer in the afternoon before the book became famous. Now it is packed with tourists at all times and we did not feel like going in there. We walked around the Colaba area, visited the market - but this area did not touch us. We preferred the markets north of the Victoria Terminus. Anyway it was nice and we found a cool and fancy restaurant for a quick lunch. Then we walked around the beautiful Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and went to the Gateaway of India. We expected a lot of hassle of other indian tourists wanting to take pictures of and with us. We have heared a lot of stories from other tourists. But no-one was asking us a single picture. No seller wanted to sell us stupid things. We were left in peace at one of the busiest tourist spots in India! Very funny. So we really could enjoy this place. We spontanously decided to take one of the boats to Elephanta Island. It is a one hour ride to reach this Unesco World Heritage Site and it was worth crossing the waters for it. On the island there is a labyrinth of cave-temples carved into the island's basalt rock. It has some of the most impressive carvings in India. And indeed, it was very nice and interesting. The temples are thought to have been created between AD 450 and 750! Really amazing. We enjoyed it a lot. Even the guides were not so aggressive as we expected them to be. I think, in the meantime we are used to many things in India and some sellers do not bother us any more ;-). We took the boat back and could enjoy a wonderful sunset over Mumbai. It was peaceful and a great way to end our visit here! To end the day, we went back to our friend's home. We were welcomed by him and 2 other friends. We chilled a bit together before we went out for dinner at the Chowpatty. It was a fantastic dinner with delicious food again. Oh, how we will miss the indian food! After dinner, Abbas drove us up the hill to the Banganga tank close to the Hanging Gardens. This is a very posh part of Mumbai. But the temples around the tank are really peaceful and older and the atmosphere at night was wonderful. But then it was time to say goodbye to our friend Abbas. He drove us to our hotel and promised to visit us next year in Switzerland! Hey, this would be so great! We took our bags and the night boy of the hotel even helped us to find a taxi for a fair price. We had to pay 500 rupees to the airport at night, a great deal!
We were really sad to leave Mumbai and India. We will come back to this crazy city. There is so much more to be discovered. Our trip around South India was fascinating, sometimes difficult, sometimes ridiculous, sometimes funny, sometimes beautiful. To put it short: it was an indian trip with lots of different facettes. This country is fascinating. We will be back, this is for sure....