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Thursday, 24 January 2013

Namaste Bombay!

So we are back in Bombay in the comfort and luxury of the Taj once more.

Yesterday morning was spent at Sangam, sitting in the sun and finishing off friendship bracelets, drinking morning Chai with everyone and chatting for ages! (By the way there is nothing quite like Indian Chai tea. You get it everywhere here and it is amazing! Not too too good for you but it only comes in little espresso size cups so you're ok! Basically half whole milk, half tea, mixed with sugar, ginger, cinnamon and any other spices you fancy. Divine, rich, creamy, spicy...I think I'm in love!) After lunch we got the bags ready and headed downstairs to get our rickshaw to the station. Everyone was waiting for us to send us off in their special way. We each received an official Sangam pin badge that you can only receive if you have stayed there. We handed out a few badges that we had for everyone, took photos, hugged and got in the rickshaw. As we pulled away they sang "Go Well and Safely" until we were out of earshot. It was really lovely. Even though we'd only stayed for 3 days (far too short for both of our likings!) we really felt welcome and like part of the Sangam family. It is a wonderful, beautiful place and I really recommend everyone visits if they can!
The train was easy (apart from having to lug our super heavy suitcase across the station, over the foot bridge,up the huge vertical steps onto the train and onto the luggage rack- too much shopping!) and on time once again and at 1930 we arrived at CST in Mumbai. We got a taxi to the Taj where we were greeted with a little welcome that we had not got at 3.00 in the morning when we last arrived. We popped down to the bar by the pool for a snack before settling down for a comfy night's kip.

This morning we got up quite early at 7.15 because we had booked a tour of Mumbai at 9.00. After breakfast we headed down to reception where we were met by our lovely tour guide. She showed us round the city in a car, stopping to get out and look at certain interesting spots. She was really knowledgeable and had some great information and facts about the city for us. Throughout the tour she explained a lot about how Bombay had grown from 7 separate islands, populated by around 10,000 fisherman and no one else to the heaving metropolis that it is today. It was absolutely fascinating!
First stop was the Gateway of India which, although we had seen it quite a few times and wandered round, it turned out we didn't know so much about. She told us about the mix of architecture, the functions that had happened there, why it was built etc. After that we saw CDT (Victoria Terminus- a UNESCO world heritage site), Pune university and high court buildings, a Jain temple (like a very very strict version of Hinduism, although an entirely separate religion), Marine Drive and Chowpatty beach, before coming to Malibar Hill and the Hanging Gardens. This was a very interesting stop for us because it is an area in which many Parsis live (including much of my family) and there are several places that are particularly important to Parsis here. She told us a bit about the history of the Parsis, much of which we knew but had never been able to relate to specific places. We saw the Tower of Silence from a little distance (no one is allowed in except families of the dead and even then they are only allowed so far). Parsis worship fire and the earth so do not bury or cremate their dead. Instead they lay the body in the Tower of Silence (a set of open wells, generally one each for men, women and children) and let the vultures destroy the body. The Hanging Gardens were beautiful. There are no hanging baskets or flowers as I expected. Instead, they are called the Hanging Gardens because they are built on top of a reservoir. There is six feet of soil between the water and you when you are there and so the gardens are "hanging" above the water.
Next we went to Mani Bhavan (Ghandiji's residence when he was in Mumbai). This was a fascinating place. It is a small building but so much about Mahatma Ghandi's life is packed into it. On the top floor is the telling of  his life through a series of scenes of dolls. They are exquisitely decorated, very detailed and a really unique way of showing his life. It was definitely my favourite part. On the floor below was the room which he stayed in, set up as it had been along with several spinning wheels. There was also the telling of different aspects of his life through pictures. This exhibition had pictures of him all throughout his life as well as copies of his letters sent to Hitler and President Roosevelt, a letter regarding him written by Albert Einstein and many others. On the bottom floor is the most extensive library on Mahatma Ghandi in the world.

Next on the tour we headed to Churchgate train station to see the Dabbawala. These are the men who run the most amazing lunch system in the world. Most workers in Mumbai travel anywhere from 1-3 hours to get to work each day as they have to live in the suburbs where it is less expensive. Indians are very traditional and their lunch must be cooked on the same day as it is eaten and they always have a cooked lunch (consists of daal, veg curry, chapatti etc). This would mean someone in their house having to get up at around 4am to cook their lunch before they headed to work. This is where the dabbawala step in. They visit the houses of the workers during the mid-morning to pick up the lunchbags that someone at home has just prepared while the workers are already at work. These are then all transported by train to Churchgate station where they are passed on to dabbawala on bikes or with handheld rickshaw trolleys or very large trays on their heads who then take them to the offices and distribute them. They deliver around 200000 lunches a day. What makes it even more amazing is that the majority of dabbawala are illiterate. Writing a name or office address on the boxes would not work. They have a unique coding system that they mark on the bags. No bag ever gets lost. It's absolutely incredible. They all arrive at the station between 11.45 and 12.00 and all lunches are distributed by 13.00. The dabbawala then collect all the boxes and have them back at the workers' houses before they get home! Such a clever system...
Our next stop was quite similar. It was to see another system that has become established in Mumbai and this is the one of the Dhobi. These are the locals who do laundry for residents and local businesses. In Mumbai they work in an area known as Dhobi Ghat which is in a slum area. They take in hundreds of thousands of pieces of linen every day, from hotel towels to precious saris, and wash them using traditional methods of rubbing and hitting them against the stone sinks they use, before returning them the next day, often ironed and starched. Like the dabbawala they are illiterate so have a complex coding system and similarly, linen is never lost or returned to the wrong owner.

After the tour, we were meant to be having lunch with Mehli but as he couldn't make it, we decided to sample the Indian Starbucks. It was fab-although we did have to go through a security check to get in. They had mostly similar drinks, without some of the specials but with some extras such as the green tea lattes. The food was completely different, all Indian in general. Mum had a Chai Tea Latte and a Banana and Coconut Muffin (apparently very yummy) and I had a Shaken Iced Green Tea with syrup. I also bought a Starbucks India mug because it's awesome.

After our coffee stop, we lay by the pool for a bit and had a quick swim before getting picked up to go and see Pesi. Pesi is my Granny's brother-in-law (he is also my Grandpa's first cousin-marrying in the family is common for Parsis!) We had tea at his apartment with him and chatted for a while before meeting his sister. He is 82 and his sister is 87 and they go for a daily walk together along Chowpatty beach! They dropped us back at the Taj as we were going out for dinner at Indigo, a very fancy restaurant.

We had a lovely time at dinner before heading back to the hotel and going to the Harbour Bar where Mum tried their signature cocktail-it came complete with story telling and flames as it was mixed before our eyes!

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