Saturday, November 23, 2013

My Mumbai

Mumbai was my first city in India, and the one that made the greatest impression on me, so I was quite excited to get back.  As soon as I left the plane and felt the warm Mumbai air, and smelled its salty aroma, it felt like all the bad from this year was behind me, worlds away.  It was relieving and comforting, an emotional homecoming.

Last time, when I travelled with Russ and his Mom, we went full Western style, staying at the posh Trident in South Mumbai.  It was great, and the most pampered I've ever been.  I wanted a more authentic (and cheaper) experience this time, so, other than my birthday stay in Chennai, I stayed in "local" hotels.  In Mumbai, I stayed in the Bandra neighbourhood, which is a very popular with Mumbaikars for a night out on the town.  It's a bit away from the city's heart in South Mumbai, which meant I got to go local and commute on Mumbai's famous trains; a 20-minute ride to Churchgate (the terminus in the South) costs 10p.  (Cheap, until I learned a monthly pass is £1.30.)

Mumbai was originally an island city, but the gaps between islands were long ago filled in, creating a long, thin peninsula that the city is squeezed onto.  Since I visited two years ago, Mumbai has grown by about two million people, but the city, constrained by its geography, has gotten no bigger.  Though there are developments akin to Britain's new towns, such as Navi (New) Mumbai across the harbour, most of those people are jostling for space in old Mumbai.  More than half of them find that space in slums.  The result is a relentless crush of humanity; everywhere you go, any time of day or night, there are just so many people competing for space with you.  I knew this from my first visit, but sequestered away in my citadel of a hotel, ferried from sight to sight in a private car, I didn't truly feel it.

Having done the Dharavi "slum tour" and main city sightseeing last time, this trip was more about random exploring, and drinks at The Dome, my favourite spot in the city.  I took the "Mumbai by Night" tour, which was tame and overlapped with what I'd seen before, but it was nice to see the city through a different lens.

It was a great start to my holiday, and I will definitely keep it my port of entry when I go back; this city deserves more exploration.


Late-night Mumbai.

Khar Road station, with a familiar design.

Me on a non-peak train.  I was surprised by how wide they were after the tubes we squeeze through in London; they are even wider than New York's.

Even when cars aren't packed, people stand near/at/out the doorless portals, gaining a modicum of relief from the ceaseless heat.

In India, it's perfectly acceptable for same-sex friends to be physically affectionate.  All over the city, you see guys walking holding hands, arms wrapped around each other, or, as above, sleeping on a shoulder.

Mumbaikers make the most of every inch of space.  In this underground footpath, alongside the rivers of people, others are flogging goods from food to clothing on the tables they have set up as a casual marketplace.

I visited Haji Ali Dargah (readers of Shantaram will remember this as the mosque the protagonist lives near), and you cannot have an exposed head in the mosque, so I adorned this very fetching bandana.

Everywhere you go, there are hundreds and hundreds of people.  This is the walk to Haji Ali Dargah.

At the rocky beach behind the mosque, families and friends looking for a place to enjoy the cooling effect of the polluted waters of the Arabian Sea.

The vast majority of Indians work in the informal economy, and people live, work and sleep anywhere they can.

Whole families live, and socialise, on the streets. 

These are some of the slums that make up the homes of more than half the city's people.

And just down the road, is Antilia, the world's most expensive private residence.

Ancient walks side by side with modernity in Mumbai.

Stroking a street cow for good luck.

Tony residences and offices spread back from Marine Drive (aka, The Queen's Necklace), in South Mumbai.

And I enjoyed a snack and cold beer above it all at the Dome.

Girgaum Chowpatty, Mumbai's beach, is always crowded with people.  Lovers sneak there for a kiss away from their crowded homes and nosey neighbours.

Me at Bandra Bandstand, Bollywood's own Walk of the Stars.

And in front of the Sealink, a rare piece of modern infrastructure in the city.

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