As we stood waiting for our 11pm train to Mumbai, little could prepare us for what was about to come. Not in terms of Mumbai, but in boarding the train. As it pulled into the station Indian’s rushed to the doors to get on, pushing and shoving to get to the front. As people tried to get off they were made to fight their way through a swarm of people. The crowd grew restless that there were so many people getting off the train and evidently anxious the train would leave without them that they started battering their way through people to get in the train. Joe and I held our ground despite numerous Indians attempting to push us into the train, pulling the most energetic Indians back and telling them (in vain) the stupidity of trying to board.. I mean everyone had a reserved seat! When we did get on board, we quickly locked our bags below and climbed up to our upper berths, a haven above the mob below who spent the next 30 minutes arguing over which was their seat.. Just look at your ticket?
Anyway the journey to Mumbai from that point on was fairly smooth, we arrived at 7am and after accidentally walking to the hotel area that was definitely out of our price range we found ourselves like most other travellers staying in the Salvation Army’s grubby but altogether good value dorm, effectively the only budget place in town.
Mumbai is a city of incredible colonial architecture, wide sweeping streets and a huge array of unbelievably fantastic places to eat. Our taste buds have been given a treat as we have visited every place that receives the rough guide ‘running man’ – its highest accolade. Ranging from curries made with saffron and red Iranian berries at a place run for 75 years by a huge royalist aged 92, to tandoori kebabs that are so renowned that upper class Indians drive downtown to eat them on the bonnets of their cars and rounded off by a seafood delight of king prawn, squid, Bombay duck (a white fish) with fluffy brown rice and chickpeas at a mere £3! It has been an adventure of culinary delights.
An adventure we have not taken alone, we have met a couple of great people here in Mumbai. James, a 22 year old Aussie fresh off the plane who we spent a couple of days with and also Jen, a 33 year old Canadian (who looks 23) currently taking a sabbatical and somewhat speeding around every continent.
Whilst Mumbai is huge for food, in terms of sights it isn’t exactly packed – with many of the recommendations involving simply admiring the architecture. We took a boat ride out to elephanta island, which was lovely, although we passed on seeing the caves having just come from Ellora. The sights of the Gateway to India, Taj Palace hotel and the world heritage listed central train terminus were all taken in combined with a wander down Marine Drive and a morning spent exploring the markets – which turned out to be much more locally aimed than we realised.
Staying in our bare dorm gave us a bit of a push to head out in the evenings. Both our evenings have been spent in one of the many bars that are dotted around Mumbai, with our first evening being, for us, rather decadent. A chance encounter with a hostess of a smart looking bar revealed the knowledge that they had live jazz that evening and that the wine prices weren’t too bad, (despite the total of 35% in taxes that we later found added onto the bill!), so that evening we dressed up and headed out. The jazz was really just some kids jamming (We didfn’t mind) whilst the setting was like being in a different country entirely. There wasn’t a sari in sight, English was being spoken beautifully by all of the smartly dressed locals around us and the vibe was similar to countless bars within London. This is how the middle-upper classes of India live, in a completely different world to the rest of the country. It was a fantastic evening and lovely to have some local Indian Merlot – even if it left me a bit fuzzy headed the next day!
Last night we went to a more local bar for some cheap beer after our seafood binge. Joe had been after some Indian Port and it was with some surprise I saw this place had an incredibly cheap (£3.40) bottle – only sold by the bottle – which Joe duly finished in its entirety and was still up early and pretty fresh this morning!
Today has been a bit of time killing day really, we are in Mumbai a day longer than necessary, but to be honest we are just lucky to have been able to get a train ticket for tonight to Goa and dodge what the rough guide names as ‘one of the worst bus journeys in India’. So we’ve chilled in many cafes in search of WiFi (something weirdly lacking for such a developed connected city), seen a terrible Vince Vaughn film and now back to chilling before our 11pm train.
By tomorrow lunchtime we should hopefully be in Goa, on the beach with some glistening sea water spread before us, sweltering in the sub-continent’s heat. Happy December!