January 10 -14, 2017
Accommodation: Travellers Inn – Fort (booked through bookings.com. $50ish per night)
Food: we ate food, and drank beer, several times at Café Universal which has gorgeous Art Deco design, reasonable prices and attentive wait staff.
Mocambo: small, good service (lad in a bowtie!) and OK prices
Leopold: a tourist favourite; more 1971 than 1871 (its founding date); fun and reasonable prices
Street food: only once (so far!) but the bhelpuri was cheap cheap and good
Starbucks:yep – Sue needed her Americano and it was actually one of the nicest interior designed Starbucks we’ve ever seen.
Transportation: walking, walking and walking. And the hotel’s only 500m from the CST train terminal.
Communication: hotel and Starbuck’s wifi and I bought a Vodaphone India SIM card
As our friend Susan, who lived in India for many years, said: “Forget your expectations.”
Although the traffic was a bit insane coming in from the airport at rush hour I would say that Hanoi traffic is more chaotic. Mumbai’s traffic reminded me of Mexico City’s: busy, many near misses and frequent horn use (but not the repetitive honking of Hanoi). Crossing streets could be a challenge but we generally clung close to some locals and learned the stop/start necessary to pass through the surges of vehicles.
We never felt hassled for money or to buy something. A couple of taxi drivers near the Gateway of India offered tours and maybe a couple of times a day someone held out a hand for money. But I’ve felt more hassled in many other big cities than I did in Mumbai. Generally people were very courteous and frequently happy to say “Hello! Where are you from?”.
On the taxi ride in and the train out we did pass through some of the slums. They looked huge, ramshackle but actually more orderly than ones I saw in Guatemala City in the late ’90s. We did not do a slum tour, although a fellow traveller recommended one to us.
Mumbai’s Colonial architecture is amazing. Some of the buildings are Huge! The High Court, University of Mumbai, Churchgate and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (train stations) are classics. There’s also a lot of Art Deco buildings including the New India Assurance Company building with its repeating patterns; plus many apartment buildings. Some of the buildings look a little worse for wear from the tropical climate but we also saw many repairs and renovations being done.
As friends will tell you I’m a fan of the bovine and sure enough there were cows on the city streets. Often it seemed they were parked next to small street temples.
The colours of Mumbai are stunning. The women’s saris and salwaar (tunics) kemeezs (pants) display super saturated colours. Trucks, buses and auto-rickshaws often have vibrant designs.
The weather we found to be perfect. Although the temperatures were in the high 20s (Celsius) the sea breezes made it very comfortable. Only once, on an extended walk along the sea wall towards Chowpatty Beach, did we feel the need to escape to the shade.
The Colaba district’s definitely more touristic than the Fort. As we walked south into Colaba we could see the store’s becoming more upscale and trendier. We did visit the Gateway of India, one of the big tourist attractions, and although slightly crowded it was comfortable. The Gateway of India was originally built for the visit of King George V in 1911 but ironically it was also the spot where the last of the British troops left India after Independence. Just across the street from the Gateway is the Taj Mahal Hotel, another grand edifice. We wandered over to go inside but were stopped by a policeman as some country’s prime minister was just about to leave the hotel. We hung out and watched he and his wife leave in a long motorcade. Then (assisted by two policemen!) we crossed the street and entered the hotel for a peek at its opulence.
In contrast to all this Colonial splendor we spent another day looking at Crawford Market and the many bazaars that surround it. The market was jammed packed with stalls and the streets with people. I love randomly turning into smaller and smaller streets and alleys. This was probably the closest we came to the totally jam-packed Mumbai we’d imagined. We stopped at one small store to buy a kitchen knife and saw the most wonderful, decorated nutcrackers. Nutcrackers in India have a small blade also, rather than just being a cracking tool. I’ve added ‘nutcracker’ to my list of items to purchase before we leave for home.
We did do a bit of walking at night, another of my favourite activities in cities. At night you see a whole new array of sights; deep into eerily lit stores, the streetside barbershops lit by flourescents and the variety of small lights (frequent use of Christmas lights). Mumbai doesn’t have a lot of street lights so we exercised some caution while walking on tumbled sidewalks and roads.
We only spent three days in Mumbai, and we certainly only saw a small part of the city, but it was vibrant, exciting and stately. I’m looking forward to our return and the ensuing shopping binge before we head home!