Monday 12 February 2007

Mumbai - Bombay. BIG city!

My flight was with one of the India Ryanair type companies, Kingfisher, but it was ten times better. It took off more or less on time, we were presented with a zip-up plastic bag which as well as earphones for the video entertainment screen, had a couple of sweets to suck during takeoff and a rather nice biro. My veg meal was also pretty good. All this for less than 35 quid for 850km.

I was rather dreading Mumbai airport as guidebooks and fellow travellers have warned me of the touts. I ignored all offers of taxis and almost by accident discovered the pre-payment taxi queue. Mumbai actually seems to operate with taxis which have meters and printout sheets telling you waht the rate is!

The drive into Mumbai was pretty impressive. It was by now night, and I got the impression of a huge city with high rise blocks and neon lights everywhere, and fast moving often five-lane traffic. Well, it would be five lanes if people stuck to the lanes...

I was booked into a hotel called Volga II. We eventually found the road, thanks to my Lonely Planet map. I have since discovered that Mumbai taxi drivers rarely speak English and I get the feeling that they have not taken the equivalent of the London black cab city knowledge test.

As soon as I stepped out of the taxi, I was approached by touts egging me to come to Hotel Volga. No, no, I said, I already have a reservation in Hotel Volga II. Whereupon a smoother guy appeared and said he was the manager of Hotel Volga II, produced a crd for the hotel, and said they were the same group. It was ten in the evening, so I gave in.

Perhaps I should have insisted. The 'hotel' is up three flights of an extremely dirty staircase, my room is at the end of a manky corridor, with a washroom and staff kitchen immediately outside, and the room itself is one of the dingiest I have stayed in. The sheet (singular - lots of cheaper places only offer a bottom sheet) looks clean, but the rubbish basket has not been emptied, the floor of the shower room looks dodgy (I have emptied my Dettol bottle on it) and the shower drain is blocked. I'm going to avoid too much washing till London!

Not a bad night, once the guys in the corridor outside went to bed around midnight. This morning it was raining! Apart from a couple of drops in my first week, this is the first real rain on this trip, and even this stopped after an hour, but it left Mumbai grey and muggy for the morning (it has cleared up this afternoon).

I'm in Colaba, the most famous touristy area of Mumbai, less than 400 metres from the Gateway of India (through which the British troops left India for the last time at Independence) and decided to do a walking tour of this area.

First impressions: Mumbai is dirty. The streets are dirty, even in front of the posh upmarket hotel Taj Mahal, which overlooks the Gateway of India, and the sea is visibly polluted. The grey weather did not help, but I was a little disappointed by my walk: Mumbai's grandiose buildings turn out to be a rather drab grey or yellow brick colour. Why was I expecting red, as in Rajasthan?

I then made my way along a broad highway with large museums (closed on Mondays), colleges, clubs and libraries on either side. I was immediately plunged into Victorian London - Indian style. These grand colonial piles were clearly built by architects of the school of the V&A. They are impressive, and quite unlike anything else I have seen in India, but as I said, I found their colours drab. It doesnt help that it is difficult to look properly at buildings when concealed by hoardings, railings (with guards forbidding entry for photos) and five lanes of traffic in front.

I passed the law court area, with lawyers walking past in black suits and white cravat like neckerchiefs. Next to the courts was the University of Bombay, another Victorian pile, and in front of it Oval Maidan, where I think international cricket matches are played. Today there were about four games being played,ranging from a serious one with most people in white to a handful of s small, Moslem boys.

I moved on to the Oxford Bookshop, where I bought the Edward Luce book (hardback)for less than a fiver. Final stop, a fabric shop, where I bought three metres of silk, also for less than a fiver. (Sadly I dont have time to get a tailor to make it up into a long shirt for me.)

Now I'm going to my horrible room for a good read. I'm feeling better, but still queasy, and am just marking time till I set off for the airport tomorrow morning. A pity, as I think other areas of Mumbai deserve to be explored, but only if you have lots of stamina.

So - - this is probably my last entry from India. Thanks to all who have written - and congrats for sticking with my verbose blog to the end. I look forward to seeing if any of the photos are worth adding to these words (sadly none of Varkala).



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