Our two days in Mumbai were, exhilarating, exotic and exhausting. The colours were eye-popping, the tastes were mouth-watering, and some of the smells were stomach-churning.
Everywhere you looked there was something photogenic – enthusiastic games of cricket being played out on the street, cows sitting by the side of the road, incredibly busy markets, people having haircuts on the pavement, shops piled high with colourful saris. This city is as close as you can get to sensory overload.
Our first day started gently – being a Sunday, there wasn’t too much traffic on the road in the morning (over the course of the day, the traffic volumes steadily increased, as did the volume of the constant hooting of the increasingly jammed roads). We decided to do a walking tour of Mumbai’s collection of Art Deco buildings – it’s a little known fact that Mumbai is home to the second largest collection of Art Deco in the world (after Miami), over 200 buildings. We started at the Oval Maidan, where the Bombay Deco buildings stare across at Mumbai’s more famous Victorian Gothic buildings in a fascinating architectural stand-off.
Mumbai is only just beginning to celebrate its Art Deco heritage (apparently it’s applied for UNESCO World Heritage status for them), so they are in varying states of disrepair, although some seem to have been renovated recently. We wandered through the Churchgate district which is being rapidly gentrified (although the construction work for the new, much-needed underground Metro system may hold that up), and then enjoyed the sea breezes on Marine Drive, with its sweep of graceful Deco buildings.
We then headed to the super-busy street markets along Bhuleshwar Road, and escaped the crowds (and the almost as relentless heat) at Shree Thaker, where we had a wonderful Thali lunch. Unfortunately, eating a ton of food and then emerging onto the chaotic streets and being blasted by furnace-like heat is a bit of a shock to the system, so we headed back to the A/C of the ship to cool down.
That evening, we had another World Cruise Event at the Trident Hotel – loads of effort had been put into re-creating scenes from Slumdog Millionaire and trying to capture the spirit of Mumbai. Another fun evening.
The next day, we had booked a private guide from Reality Tours to show us some more markets and to experience some of the transport systems of this huge city. We caught a bus to the amazing CST train station (probably Mumbai’s most impressive colonial relic), and we joined the hordes on the train system. Fortunately, we were going against the traffic but it was still pretty busy.
It’s a times like this that the scale of Mumbai hits you – a city crammed with 22 million people that seems like it’s on the verge of absolute chaos and gridlock that somehow still functions. We paid a brief visit to Dhoby Ghats, the world’s largest open-air laundry where hundreds of people toil away cleaning the city’s dirty washing. We saw the Dabba Wallahs in action at Churchgate station, as 5,000 people deliver personalised lunches to up to 200,000 people in one of the most amazing daily logistical exercises.
Mumbai is an exhausting city to be a part of, but the energy of the place is just awe-inspiring. Life isn’t easy here – it’s hot, dusty and humid, while the congestion and noise are relentless, never mind the prevailing poverty for a large chunk of the populace. However, there’s a colourful charm to this place that I just love – the people are friendly and there’s always something to see. Incredible India just about sums it up.