We're just in Starbucks!.. Yes, Starbucks! And thought we had better get everything down. We've seen tonnes in Mumbai!
Bomb!ay is the only way to describe this hectic, frantic but beautiful city.
We arrived at 6 am after a 12 hour sleepless train journey to be hit by a wall of bad smell. We witnessed hundreds of people rushing around and stepped over bodies lying on obscure pieces of floor, trying to catch some sleep with the headache of noise all around them. We finally got to our hotel after the taxi man had no idea where to go, and after Dan tipped him twice the rate of the taxi fare by accident.
From outside it looked rough and we had to climb three flights of stars to find it but when we did we were pleasantly surprised with the world's most comfiest bed and clean and modern facilities. We even had wifi in our room and a TV with English films on!
Our first trip out into Mumbai was to the area of Colaba to book our slums tour. It was something Amiee didn't want to miss but Dan was a little worried about how safe it would be. We went to the Gateway of India first, as it was nearby and we wanted it to be the first thing we saw in Mumbai. Despite getting harassed by touts the Gateway was magnificent and surrounded some beautiful architecture like the Taj Mahal palace hotel.
We also got our photo taken about 3 times which was weird but apparently they take the pictures to show their friends their "new white friends". While we were at the Gateway we also got approached by a holy man who gave us a jasmine flower, put some orange paste between our eyes, wrapped our wrist with some string and said good luck before saying we need to make a donation and 100 rupees isn't enough. Hustled.
After the Gateway we tried to find the Reality Tours office - the main company offering slums tours. We went down a few roads and found this shop which the rough guide told us to go to. We had to climb some stairs of the shop do a right through a rickety old door. It was like a beginning to hostel or something. Then we saw in a wardrobe shaped office a man cramped up and we asked to book the tour. He was really helpful but it made Dan a bit dubious about how good the tour guide was going to be. We opted for the long tour because it included a driver and stopped off at some other interesting places on route to the slum.
Amiee has been reading a book called Shantaram, the true story of an Austrailian prison escapee who flees to Mumbai, and wanted us to go to a cafe called Leopolds which is featured highly in the book. The place was funky with loads of different pictures on the walls, but it was unavoidable to see all the bullet holes in the walls from the famous Mumbai terrorist attack in 2008.
Then we followed the walking tour map in our guide book to see all the famous buildings and museums. This took us a few hours and we saw lots of amazingly grand buildings such as the police headquarters, the high court, and the Prince of Wales museum which housed lots of interesting exhibits from Indian history. It also had a Natural History section filled with hundreds of stuffed animals and fish species, which we enjoyed but it was a bit freaky.
On the way back to our hotel we passed through Oval Maiden. This is a large grassed area next to the high court where the Indian men play cricket before work, on their lunch breaks, and after work. At any given opportunity. There were also what looked like teams having training sessions. Ask any Indian.. Cricket isn't a game, it's a religion here. And when they play against Pakistan, it's a war! (Something one of our cheeky tour guides said to us)
We had some lunch and a lay down for a few hours, watched a film or two from our comfy beds, before going for a sunset stroll along the road outside our hotel. Marine Drive is a busy coastal road known as India's Miami. All the wealthy live on Marine drive and this is where they come to hang out, for a jog, or to do some romancing haha.
We were up bright and early the next morning ready for the slums tour. We met our guide and the 3 people accompanying us outside the company office and got into our fancy car to begin the tour. Our guides name was Sonny and he had excellent English and was so knowledgeable about everywhere we visited. We drove through Mumbai's red light district where we heard all about its history and how the sex trafficking works here. Prostitution is illegal in India but the government turn a blind eye to the millionaire mafia gangs who are behind this industry.
Then we stepped out the car for a look over Dhobi Ghat. This is the largest outside laundry area in India. Every day laundry from all over Mumbai, from hotels and the textile industry, comes to Dhobi Ghat where it is washed and dried by thousands of workers. These are mainly men who live with their families in fabricated huts around the laundry area. The clothes are sorted by colour and material and the men then wash upto 10 items per minute in soapy water. They then smack them against the rocks and put them in a presser machine to get rid of all the water. The clothes can then be seen hanging out to dry in the sun, still sorted by colour. Then they always make their way back to the right owners.
The next stop was Mumbai's racecourse. It was only being used for training, so we only saw a few horses galloping around. It was huge and Sonny told us how the betting worked here and also how the government are planning to demolish the course to build an amusement park. Whilst we were stood on the bridge looking over the race course a tiny street girl, she must have been around 4 years old, ran up to Amiee and wrapped her arms around her leg, squeezing it tight and staring up with a big smile.
Then to Dharavi. India's multimillion pound slum. The slum was created over one hundred years ago making it a legal slum, unlike many of the thousands of slums across India. It is the most famous of the slums for its incredible commercial and industrial success, as well as the filming of Slumdog Millionare, in which many of Dharavi's children featured. We entered the commercial area first and we're instantly greeted by a strong cloud of pollution. The air seemed to make our eyes water and our heads bang. We were shown the area responsible for most of the slums income, the recycling area. The slum workers collect and are delivered millions of recyclable materials such as cardboard, aluminium and plastic. We watched the dirty male workers tipping a whole host of used plastic items into a chopping machine (which we also saw amazing being created next door by completely uneducated men). The different types of plastic were sorted by type and colour and crushed until they form tiny little pellets. These pellets are then taken to plastic companies and used to produce a huge variety of every day plastic items. This generates a large portion of the slums overall annual generation of around 600 million American dollars.
The slums commercial area is mainly occupied by migrant workers who sleep in the tiny factory buildings amongst the dirt and dangers. The business owners usually pay them around 200 rupees (£2) per day as well as feeding and clothing them. The working conditions were terrible. The men were covered in dirt, wore no protective equipment, and worked over 12 hours days, 6 days a week. But all of them did their jobs with huge smiles on their faces, often joking around with each other but never stopping their work for a second. We also saw many small textile factories where men sewed clothing. They even produced brilliant copies of designer brands. These working conditions were lots better than those of the men using dangerous machinery in cramped, dark spaces or using harsh and harmful chemicals each day.
We climbed to the top of the plastic factory roof. Up two sets of ladders which a middle aged woman climbed with a 20 kilo bag of plastic beads balanced on her head. The roof was pretty unstable and the view stretched over the whole slum. Sonny talked to us about all the boundaries whilst rooftop next to us was releasing huge clouds of dirty smog from the aluminum melting process.
Walking around the slums, the most shocking thing was the lack of space and the filth. The floor was constantly gooey to tread on and we learned how around 15000 people share one toilet. We had to squeeze down the narrowest, darkest alleys but all the faces peeping out from there tiny homes were filled with smiles. The children were all so happy, repeatedly shouting "Hi, Hi, Hi!" as they played amongest a huge mound of rubbish.
We moved around the maze of fabricated houses so quickly that it was difficult to take everything in, especially as we were constantly having to watch our step. Whilst squeezing down one narrow pathway, we passed a family squeezed into a room of only a few square metres, watching cartoon network! There were satellite dishes all over the place and even 3G Internet connection!
After passing through the predominately Muslim area, we moved on to the Hindu area. Many more wealthy families lived in concrete houses of different colours and we watched as women made poppadoms and dried them in the sun's heat.
We also visited a community centre where the NGO our tour supported held English lessons and computer classes for people in the slums. It was great to see where 80 percent of our money for the tour was going. We visited another area filled with businesses; shops, restaurants, food stalls, barbers. You name it, the slums has got it. They also have their own police station, a number of schools for the slum children, and a number of health clinics.
All in all, we came away from the tour bewildered! Despite the lack of space and the toxic sludge everywhere, Dharavi slum was in no way, shape or form a bad place to live. These were not homeless or penniless people, they had homes, all be them cramped, with a community, and a lot of love. Some very wealthy business men lived and worked there.
Never judge a book by its cover.
Last night we planned to see a Bollywood movie at one of the hundreds of cinemas in Mumbai. But when we arrived there wasn't much of a choice of films, the cinema wasn't busy like we expected, and we were told they weren't showing any English subtitles. So unfortunately we missed the Bollywood experience in Mumbai! But we did still do something that evening which was a lot of fun!
Reality tours don't just run slums tours, although this is what they specialise in. So we made our way to the office to see if there was any space on the street food tour which started an hour later. Thankfully they had a space for us. We had wanted to sample some street food whilst in India but we were a bit worried about being out in the dark too late on the busy streets and we had no idea what dishes to try and what we're the best stalls to visit.
We met our tour guides at the train station, along with a middle aged couple from.. wait for it... BIRMINGHAM! We spent all night jabbering away to them, so lost in conversation at some points that we almost lost the guides. The 6 of us took a train to Chowpatty beach to sample the kinds of food available there. The guides were, like on the slums tour, very informative and a good laugh! They provided us with mineral water, napkins and hand sanitiser and we were ready to rumple. We tried 3 savoury dishes at the beach and a range of Indian ice cream flavours. All of us absolutely loved the pani puri, which was a spherical crisp which they put a whole in and dip into 2 different sauces, one sweet one sour. You have to put the whole thing in your mouth at once and when you bite into it the taste is amazing.
Then we took a very busy taxi ride to Muhammad Ali road - the predominately Muslim area famous for the street food. The street were packed full and by now it was dark out. As we were walking we had to constantly dodge motorbikes and beggars. A small girl persisted to follow us tapping our legs for money for around 10 minutes. The guides told us not to give her anything as all the others would then hound us.
We went into a tiny seated area while the guides ordered our next 3 dishes from outside. We had chicken rolls, chicken sandwiches and egg rolls. The chicken roll was delicious. Spicy chicken wrapped tightly in a crispy dough. We tried a beef kebab dish and then moved on to desserts. We had handmade icecream of a selection of flavours and then visited the jilabi stall. These famous Indian desserts are made from a sweet dough which is deep fried, left to cool and then soaked in sugar water. They were very greasy and the sweetest things we had ever tasted. They didn't do down too well haha. The tour finished around 9.30pm then we shared a taxi with Lisa and Tim as we were all staying on Marine Drive.
The next day we had a much needed lie in and took a walked to Britannia and Co restaurant for lunch. We had seen this place on Rick Steins India, a family run resturant serving Parsee and Iranian dishes. There was a huge crowd outside and we waited over half an hour to be seated, but we didnt mind as that said a lot about the food. The resturant was rammed full of people and decorated with portraits of her majesty and Ghandi, and there was even a huge cardboard cutout of Will and Kate!
We were served by the 90 something old man who appeared on the TV show and ordered the famous berry pilau. He was so humbling and asked us to pass a message onto the Queen asking her to return to India and also asked if we ever see baby Prince George to give him a kiss, haha. The food was hands down the best thing we have tasted in India.
Now its time to catch our flight to Udaipur, Rajasthan. The city of lakes and the most romantic city in India, apparently..