Thursday 30 Nov
We were sceptical about visiting another big city in India after sampling the 'delights' of the capital (see Delhi blog). Thankfully Mumbai is nothing like Delhi. It's modern, clean and charismatic and we had a lot of fun. We'd planned to only visit a couple of 'sights' in Mumbai but in the end we failed to do even that. The first was a Jain temple, but after 2 hours aimlessly wandering around we gave up. The second was The Tower of Silence, a place where Parsi's bring their dead basically to be eaten by vultures. There are only a few left in India now, apparently due to the decline in vultures. I wanted to see The Mumbai Tower of Silence because it features in so much Indian literature, but understandably it was closed to non Indian residents. Instead we gave up trying to 'see things', bought a copy of 'Time Out Mumbai', walked around admiring the architecture, soaked up the atmosphere, shopped, ate and drank.
After spending the previous few weeks in some of India's more holy places where meat and alcohol is unavailable, the bars and restaurants of Mumbai were a welcome relief. The food was incredible and we gorged ourselves on Mumbai's many culinary delights, trying everything from the crowded street food stalls to high class fish restaurants. It was all good. We were also lucky enough to hook up with Manjari, an old friend we'd first met in Mongolia. She was a lawyer in Mumbai and showed us all the best places to eat. She also showed us the best place to go Sari shopping, possibly the most elegant and stylish dress in the world. I loved it, trying on all sorts of fabulous fabrics and jewellery whilst Rob sat in a corner looking bored! After being on the road for so long it was lovely to be able to just hang out and enjoy city life in the company of friends.
We hung out on Chowpatty beach watching the sun go down over the city skyline with the cool kids in their Diesel jeans, and Ralph Lauren shirts. This was the first time we'd seen anything of India's much talked about new elite in our 2 months of being here. In some ways parts of Mumbai could be any other European city, with its British architecture, traffic lights (notably absent in many other Indian cities) bars and coffee shops. We went to a very trendy bar in the Fort area where we were staying. It was dark and smokey, and everyone was slouched on big cushions chatting or smoking hooker pipes. It had all the atmosphere of the trendy Moroccan restaurant/bars you find in Covent Garden. It was only when we tried to order a beer that we realised everyone else was drinking coffee and fruit juice.
Of course Mumbai isn't all designer shops and restaurants. It also has the largest slums in the world. Something we only saw as we were leaving. Thousands of wooden shacks and cardboard boxes line the road out to the airport. The biggest story in the newspapers whilst we were there was about a pissed up teenager who mowed down some pavement dwellers with his Land Rover as he was cruising up and down Marine Drive on a Saturday night. Opinion in the paper was divided over which party was to blame.