We had a good 2hrs 50min flight with Emirates to Mumbai and after an hour and a half taxi ride we arrived at the Taj Vivanta hotel in Cuffe Parade.  We are two hours ahead of Dubai and two hours behind Perth.              INDIA MAP 002         

We met a nice young Indian who lives in Mumbai and he gave us some good recommendations for restaurants.  We tried one that night – the “Santoor” where we hd an excellent meal of tandoori chicken, aloo jeera and delicious mixed vegetables in a spicy tomato sauce.

The crackers and fireworks for Diwali had already started and there were a few loud crackers during the night. Diwali was the 13th November and the hotel came and gave us sweets in the morning.

At the Gateway of India a lot of Indians were enjoying their Diwali holiday and we walked past the Taj Palace on the Arabian sea.We had a bit of lunch at “Leopold Cafe” which was targeted in the Mumbai bombings a few years ago and which was made famous in the book “Shantaram”.  The food however was nothing special and it has been run by the same Iranian family for many years.

We caught a non air conditioned old fiat taxi to the suburb of Bandra over an hour away where we walked around the markets and had a lime/soda drink which is very refreshing.  In Dubai it is made also with mint making it very tasty.  As the taxi driver said there was “very traffic” because of the holiday with everyone out and about.

We went to “Khyber at Fort” for dinner where a lot of local families – Grandparents, children and grandchildren were enjoying Diwali.  It was a very atmospheric restaurant.

We went back to our 9th floor room and watched the fireworks exploding all around us.

We took an old Fiat taxi with an archaic meter to Bandra.   At the destination the taxi driver then ignored the meter and got out a piece of paper with fares from and to various places. It was over an hour’s trip and the charge was only $4.50 so we thought that was fair!

In front of the hotel they had done a beautiful decoration with flowers and petals for Diwali and inside the hotel there were beautiful displays of various patterns of coloured sand and flowers on the floors.

Near the Gateway area and I had some trousers shortened for $1.50 at the tiniest stall on Colaba Causeway with a nice man sitting  behind his old sewing machine and clothes piled high behind him.  We had a reasonable coffee at Starbucks which is very ornately decorated and comfortable and air conditioned.  The temperature outside was quite pleasant – about 32 degrees.

Mumbai is a contrast of rich and poor, opulence and squalor but it is a very vibrant city with people trying to eke out an existence with anything they have.  If they have a brush they want to shine your shoes even if they are sneakers but you have to give them full marks for trying.  There are very tall, upmarket appartment buildings next to slum areas.  There is a lot of building of high rise flats and they hope to be rid of the slum areas in 10years time.  Apparently a lot of the people from the slums are moved into the flats but feel isolated and miss the village atmosphere of the slums and some move back into them.  I suppose they will work it out eventually as long as they have gardens or places where people can gather and feel part of a community (like they have organized in China).

We walked down Mahatma Gandhi drive to the David Sassoon library which is like stepping back into the Victorian era.  We were allowed inside to have a look around and told not to make a noise in the reading room although the sign said “members only”.

Next door was the upmarket Westside department store which is only small but has a good wine section and small supermarket and where we bought some good quality Tshirts and cotton clothing for $10 each.

We decided to see one temple and it was the Mahalakshmi temple which is apparently one of the holiest and the place to go at Diwali.  The main day to celebrate Diwali was the previous day so we thought that it wouldn’t be so busy the next day – WRONG!  There were tens of thousands of people queued up to give their offerings.  We saw a small queque and thought it didn’t look too bad.  If we had known the extent of the queue which wound it’s way up, down and around the alleyways we would have forgone the experience.  Women were lined up on one side (and were ushered along first) and men on the other side.   I took a photo well outside the temple of the lines of people and was nearly pounced upon by two policemen who told me not to take photos.  I of course agreed and said that there were no signs against taking photos and that I would not be taking any more.

We were the only westerners there so were great objects of interest.  We had to take our shoes off hundreds metres before we got into the temple and instead of me having spiritual thoughts as I was swept along, all I could think of was when could I get into the shower and scrub my feet!  If I had wanted to opt out there was no way I could do so with the crush of women around me especially on the final lap to the inner sanctum of the temple.  It was quite claustrophobic for me and  normally it doesn’t worry me.  My main thought was to get out and rescue Maurice who does suffer from clautrophobia and who I knew wouldn’t make it into the temple.  When I got near the altar there were about six swamis dressed in orange loin cloths collecting all the offerings and one spotted me and motioned me to come forward which was a feat in itself.  He then blessed me and handed me two sticky rice sweets.  The one thing I don’t like is having sticky hands so I generously gave them to two deserving little children as I ran back along the line to find Maurice.  He was nearly at panic stations so he managed to escape a bit further on with guards trying to stop him who thought he was trying to push his way forward!  It was an experience  – not to be repeated.

We caught a taxi back to collect my trousers and I did wonder if he would ever find them again but he brought them out like a rabbit from a hat and they had been done well.

We then walked back to our hotel on “Cuffe Parade” – had a long shower and a whisky in that order. We got talking to Evarist the doorman at the hotel who was a lovely chap.  He told us that he had worked at the hotel since day 1 – 40 years ago and that the hotel was situated on reclaimed land.  He was going to retire in April and visit his sisters in Melbourne and Sydney.

He recommended that we go and see a church past the military barracks which were close by and which was a memorial to the British soldiers who had died in the Afghan wars.  He also told us that Cuffe Parade was so named because the German and Italian prisoners were marched along the street in handcuffs during the Second World War.

If you were walking from the hotel the staff would give you bottles of water which was a nice touch as well as complimentary fruit every day.

We found a lovely vegetarian restaurant called “Chetana” for dinner that night. We had eaten there last time we were in Mumbai and I couldn’t remember the name of it but we managed to find it again.  They have a bookshop attached to the restaurant so I bought a nice looking cookbook for $6.  I had a delicious Thali which they keep replenishing when the small dish was finished.  At every restaurant that we visited we were given delicious little onions or fried lentils as an appetizer.  The same was true in Dubai where we were given either hoummos and bread or fresh spinach leaves and cheese and bread at the Iranian restaurant at no extra cost.

We had not arranged any food for the 22hour overnight journey so asked the hotel to prepare some sandwiches and juice for the trip.  We asked for three sandwiches and apple juice and thought it was a bit expensive when it turned out to be more than the train fare!  On inspection they had given us six sandwiches, chips and drinks – we weren’t going to go hungry!

We had transport organized to the station about an hour away for which we were very grateful.  We had experienced Indian railway stations before and thought it a good move as the station was teeming with people, luggage and goods of every kind.

Our driver was very nice pointing out things along the way.  He organised the porters and stayed with us until the train was unlocked and we could make our way to our airconditioned carriage.  There was no first class carriage so it was 2AC instead. The airconditioning worked so well we needed jumpers.  The journey began on time which was a good sign.  We had a little family of husband, wife and small son opposite us for a few hours and then we had the compartment to ourselves for most of the night.  We had a young couple join us somewhere through the night.

When we left Mumbai the scenery was very similar for many hours – fields of grain of some kind with a few grass huts dotted amongst them and it was much drier than further south. This then made way to quite dense jungle.    On waking the scenery was quite different with lots of lush looking palm trees and rivers and small villages along the way.  It was pleasantly cool early in the morning standing by the open door.

Photography from the compartment was impossible due to the dirty windows.

A nice I.T. chap I met by the door gave us his timetable so that we could see how many stops we had until we got off as there were no announcements.  We had made 19 stops from Goa and a number more from when we left Mumbai. It really was the milk run.  The train service was good with a chap coming around before meal time to see if we wanted to order breakfast, lunch or dinner and then all during the day and in the morning  there was a constant steam of men walking up and down the train announcing the sale of chai, coffee, biscuits and all sorts of Indian foods, the names of most we couldn’t recognise.

We had enough sandwiches to keep us going so only bought cups of very sweet chai or coffee.  We didn’t get much sleep as the carriages were very busy with people getting on and off most of the night.

The houses looked very neat on the whole in the south and my I.T. friend told me that most people paint their houses after the monsoon rains.  They do like a rather bright and gaudy colours for the outside of their houses.