As soon as we arrived in Mumbai I fell in love with the city. After a good look around Colaba we found a room at The Sea Shore Hotel - a good look around and a couple of hours waiting in the hotel reception hoping that someone would check out. We were able to get a room, and although it was a little more than we'd paid for accommodation thus far - R990 (AUD18.47) - it was the best accommodation in the area, and it was still only nine bucks a night each.
We spent the rest of the day wandering around Colaba, Churchgate, and Fort - the traveller hub, and also one of the best places to be scouted to be an extra on a Bollywood. We headed for the India Gate - the monument built to commemorate the arrive of the British East India Company in India - which was impressive, and a great place to do some people watching. Mumbai's filled with old buildings reminiscent from it's time under Portuguese and British rule, and you can easily spend the afternoon wandering up and down the streets admiring the contrast between the old and new. We did! We then did what any western traveller hoping to be scouted for Bollywood does and went to McDonalds for lunch. One of the things that I like about travelling is having opportunity to see, do, and embrace, normal things in another country, culture, and society. I like to just live, and experience life in another place. It was really interesting to visit a fast food chain in India as you get to see a different side to life in India. In western countries it's typically people in lower socioeconomic classes that patron fast food restaurants. In India, it's the opposite. Fast food restaurants are full of wealthy families and rowdy teenagers hanging out with friends.
After lunch we wandered a little further into Mumbai and started chatting to a couple of America travellers who were heading to the Hanging Gardens - a park on a hill that overlooks Mumbai - and decided to tag along. The walk along Marine Drive, where real estate prices are among the highest in India, was beautiful, and the breeze coming from the Arabian Sea was refreshing in the heat. There's a bit of a hike to the park, but once you're there the views are worth it. Any local can point you in the right direction if you get a little lost. We said goodbye to the American travellers and hopped on a bus back to Colaba. After a quick refresh at the hotel we headed out to Bademiya - labelled street food on steroids by Lonely Planet. They weren't kidding! It was incredible. If you're ever in Mumbai you have to try it. If it wasn't expensive (for India) we'd have eaten there more often.
The next day, after a danish and frap at Starbucks, having not being scouted to be a Bollywood extra yet, we did a bit more sightseeing. We jumped on the metro - the local railway system that transports over 6.3 million people each day - and hopped of to see Haji Ali's Mosque and the dhobi ghats, the open air laundry where Mumbai's millions of residents send their laundry. We'd noticed a cinema close to our hotel, and on the way back popped in pick up tickets for the show later than evening. After a quick stop at Bademiya, we headed to the movies to see Himatwala. I picked up a big tub of caramel popcorn for R50 (AUD93c) too - I was all smiles and dancing in my seat by the time the movie finished.
If you've read Shantaram you'll know how excited I was to have breakfast at Leopalds. The cafe features heavily in the book, and there were whispers that Shantaram (that's the name the locals have given to the author) was in Mumbai. The food at Leopalds was average and overpriced, and we sat down once or twice and ordered, only to be told that frappe's weren't possible (although to be fair this does happen at lots of restaurants in India). To be completely honest, it's worth a look - you can see the bullets and some of the damage from the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks - but not worth going back.
While we were in Mumbai we also did a tour of the biggest slum in India, Dhavari. We chose to do our tour through Reality Tours, but we met travellers who arranged tours with slum residents and had a great time, and travellers who went with a local and got a tour of the pubs. If you can trust a local, and feel comfortable heading into the slum with them then go for it. Otherwise there are plenty of tour operators to choose from. The slum is not an unsafe place, but it is a place where you can easily get lost so a guide is a good choice. When we arrived at the slum it was nothing like I expected. It looks nothing like what you think a slum looks like. But then, what is a slum? By definition a slum is a house that occupies land that is owned by the government. But it doesn't necessarily mean poverty. Dhavari has an annual turnover of US65 billion per year. The residents in the slum churn out plastic, tin, garments, everything you can think of, and they run shops and restaurants. You could even mistake the streets of the slums for any street in India. In fact, may of the streets did look like streets I'd walked down on my trip. The only difference between those streets and the streets in Dhavari is that the government can come and knock it down whenever they want which sucks because people have built their lives on what would otherwise be a bare patch of land between two train tracks.
We then headed for the train station, and as we were waiting on the platform I noticed that it was a little busier than usual - we'd walked into a train station at rush hour, in India. When the train pulled into the station I knew we were going to have to do as the locals do - push. It's not as bad as it sounds once you get used to the idea and learn how to do it. Elbow are key, you can use them to stop anyone from pushing in front of you, and forget personal space - there is non of that on public transport in India. I squeezed myself into the crowd and pushed my way onto the train, but then lost sight of my travel buddy. Panicking only slightly, I stood on my tiptoes and look around. The guy standing next to me must have sensed my panic and pointed above everyones heads to the other side of the doorway and said 'he got on'. Even though they'd push you out of the way to get in front of you, the locals are actually really friendly on the train. I was the only female in the carriage, and the locals left me alot more room than they leave for each other and they moved around so that my travel buddy and I could stand together. When the train stopped at Churchgate, the last station, we went to jump off the train when a local grabbed my travel buddy's arm and yelled at us to shop and wait. We stopped and were thrown against the seats when a huge crowd of locals stampeded onto the train. I'd have been trampled if I hadn't quickly moved out of the way. I stood there in awe as this crowd engulfed the carriage and quickly filled up. We thanked the local guy and jumped off the train, still a little shocked. To give you an idea of how overcrowded the train was, the train cars are rated to carry 1700 passengers but in peak hour they carry around 4500 passengers.
We still hadn't been scouted to be an extra in a Bollywood movie, and were a little disappointed. But on our last day a traveller staying at the hotel on the floor below ours mentioned that the hotel bell boys had told her that a scout was looking for extras - but only males. I didn't want my travel buddy to miss out - and I don't mind living vicariously thorough his pictures - so we ran upstairs to chat to the bell boy. And like that, he was in. The next morning he set of shortly after the crack of dawn, and I set off on a walk abound Mumbai. Solo. I'd spent the best part of two months in India, and was confident in my ability to navigate the streets, the traffic, and bargain as hard as I could, but what really got to me on the day I went solo in Mumbai was the staring.
It's not uncommon to be stared at - male or female - in India. At first the starting didn't bother me, you put it down to curiosity, and to be honest, I was starting back as much as I was being stared at. But when I was starting at someone, and they looked at me, I looked away because I was taught that it's rude to stare as a child and have grown up living in a society where we quickly and politely look away when someone notices us looking. This isn't the case in India. They don't look away, and often they won't look away for hours and hours. And hours. My travel buddy had a guy stare at him for three hours straight on a train - the whole time we were on the train. After a while it makes you feel a little uncomfortable, but you ignore it, because trust me, yelling at the person doesn't make it stop, it makes it worse. It's not uncommon to be asked to be in photographs. It's also not uncommon to have photographs taken of you without being asked, and they're not subtle about it. On this day in Mumbai I was sitting on a wall eating corn on the cob and a group of guys close by started laughing and I realised they were taking pictures of me. I sat for a minute, thinking about how to react, and decided that I'd confront them. I walked over and said hello, and they all sort of just stared at me. I asked the guy with the phone if I could see the pictures of me and, of course, he said there weren't any. I grabbed his phone, found the pictures of me, quickly deleted them, and then walked away. When I was with my travel buddy this still happened, but when I was alone the attention I received was insane. I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in the stairwell with some travellers, chatting about our travels, and what the boys were doing in Bollywood.
Our long week in the city by the sea came to an end, and we jumped on an overnight bus to Aurangaba, ready to explore another destination.