A Travellerspoint blog

Bombay!

sunny 34 °C

Bombay or Mumbai...just a couple of days here and I've discovered the name change is contentious!

I'm happy to say that the spreadsheet is going strong. We went slightly off piste on Wednesday after we got chatting to a local in Leopold bar who insisted on showing us around all day. Amusingly and without realising it, he showed us all the places I had planned for us to see on Day 6 on Day 5, meaning we gained an additional day to explore...now that's what I call efficiency!

Bombay is a modern, trendy, friendly and very humid city. Full of lavish 5-star hotels and palaces together with slumdogs and extreme poverty. But very different from raw Delhi. I'm glad I've experienced the contrast of both. We are staying in Colaba in the south, close to the Arabian sea and a bustling district full of street stalls, markets and bars.

After dropping off our backpacks in the hostel and having a wash in the bucket we went to the infamous Leopold Cafe to get a fruit lassi. A bit too touristy for my liking, I sat next to the window looking out onto the street which still has the bullet holes from the 2008 terrorist attack. A lot of places in Bombay now have stringent security checks; it's like going to the airport where your belongings are scanned and you are fully searched. We explored the south of the city which is made up of some beautiful buildings, many neogothic in style. At the Gateway of India we agreed to have a photo with a local and suddenly we were swamped by teenage girls in colourful saris who all wanted a photo. A male photographer would pop up from somewhere and take the group photo and then we were asked by a new set of people. It became a bit ridiculous and we had to start politely refusing, but it was so funny that so many people want a photo with a couple of scruffy travellers from England! From the gate we went onto the Oval Maiden area where men and young boys were playing cricket in the sun, browsed the Crawford market and chilled out in the serene Malabar Hill district. We even got cheeky and used the toilets in the 5-star Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotels which were very nice and different from what we were used to! As beautiful and elegant as these hotel buildings are, they could be any expensive hotel in any city...we both agreed we much prefer seeing India the travellers way :)

A lot of local people are very keen to chat to us and show us photos of their families and ask about the UK. Very surprisingly to me, all the people we have met are really positive about when the British ruled India. When I travel I'm usually embarrassed to be British! As usual I gravitate to the subject of politics and the people we have spoken to have very strong opinions on India's current government, the divide between social classes and the economic growth the country has been experiencing over recent years.

At night we walked along the Marina Drive Promenade to Chowpatty beach and saw the most amazing sunset. As the sun goes down all the twinkling lights around the bay give it the name "the queen's necklace". Today we went to Elephanta Island and tonight we plan to experience the nightlife here which is apparently really good. Tomorrow we head to the Southern region of India called Kerala. I think it's predicted some thunderstorms until early next week, and while I would love to continue catching the rays, I do love a good tropical storm too. Hopefully we won't get into difficulties getting there, we are flying with Air India due to time constraints...they don't have the greatest safety record :S Thanks to those praying for our health and safety...all good so hoping that will continue!

The adventure continues....

Posted by hanaldinho 04:23 Archived in India Comments (0)

Delhi to Mumbai (Bombay)

By sleeper train baby!!!!

sunny 33 °C

Hellooooo from sunny hot Mumbai!!! Amanda and I have arrived safely after taking an overnight sleeper train from Delhi...what an experience!!! We are currently sat in Colaba in the smallest internet cafe which is probably no bigger than a bathroom. So to recap the last 24 hours...

Our last day in Delhi was very relaxed. We found a very cute roof-top cafe with mismatching tables, chairs and colourful plastic coverings. We ordered some chai masala tea and spicy vegetable samosas and were served by a very sweet and polite waiter. I am finding Indian people very helpful and kind, apart from the touts of course! Likewise they seem to appreciate it when you openly show your gratitude and smile. After our snack we went back to the hostel to pick up our backpacks and met the funniest lovely older couple from Somerset just checking in. Very excited to meet someone from the south-west we chatted for a while and I was even more excited to hear that they purposefully travel for 5 months each year over the winter because they can't stand the cold and dark weather. I told them I empathise sooooo much. We shared a moment :) I'd love to still be travelling like this when i'm their age. Here's hoping...

We checked out of the hostel and walked through the dusty, busy streets to the New Delhi train station where every other person wanted to show us where to go and which area we should be going to. I'd read in the lonely planet that tourist spots and train stations are full of touts to avoid so I had to get a bit assertive, bordering on rude to get rid of them. Even though the railway network is really efficient and organised, we still felt a bit disorientated so asked for help from the porters who directed us to our platform. Our cabin on the train was awesome. 2 x 2 seats, one on top of the other which fold out into beds at night and a door/curtain to separate you from the other cabins and passengers. We shared the cabin with an older man and a younger guy who we assumed was his son. The older man looked us up and down a lot and started the usual questions of where were we from, where were we going, how long are we in India, do we like spicy food etc. He thought it was particularly funny to see our reaction when a mouse ran across the floor from under our seats, commenting that mice are very common on trains! It was a really fun experience sitting chatting to him and watching the scenery outside while we got served food which we didn't recognise. Sleeping on the train while travelling is something i've always wanted to do. It wasn't the best nights sleep i've had as the train moved around quite a lot. But it was brilliant.

We arrived in Mumbai at 8.45am, on time! Amanda commented that i'm very jolly in the mornings...I don't think anyone would agree from back home!! As soon as we got off the train we were swamped by taxi drivers, again it was time to get assertive and ask a porter! We took a local train to Church Gate and then found a hostel in Colaba. Again it's basic and I will continue washing in a bucket but it's all good and the staff are lovely.

Mumbai seems a lot more of a modern city than Delhi, although i've heard it's also a city of extreme difference between rich and poor. But there are actually pavements!! And the traffic, although still busy, doesn't seem half as mad as in Delhi. I've not seen any rickshaws or tuck-tucks, just loads of old English cars. Today we are going to explore some of the sights and tonight maybe head to Chowpatty beach to eat street food and hopefully catch a good sunset.

Can't believe it's only Wednesday...feel like we've already done so much....

Apologies to those back in UK but IT'S SO HOT HERE I LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by hanaldinho 22:13 Archived in India Comments (0)

Delhi to Agra

And the magnificent Taj Mahal :)

To be a good driver in India you need a good horn, good breaks and good luck.

These were the words of our taxi driver as he slammed the breaks on hard to narrowly miss hitting a truck on one side and motorbike on the other. Wing mirrors are a no-no; they would make your vehicle too wide. No time to indicate either. I chose to ride up front and so felt like I was in a video game, regularly coming up beneath the trailer of a lorry before we swerved at the last second to fit into a narrow gap that had miraculously appeared. Despite the craziness of the traffic I felt very serene. The rawness, diversity and adventure of travelling makes me feel unusually relaxed, awakening something in my soul that creates a sense of feeling...alive. Even when you are blessed to live in a very multi-cultural city like Manchester, nothing quite beats being in another place where life seems totally different to your own normality back home.

Day 3 and we were headed from Delhi down south to Agra, to visit the famous Taj Mahal. It was a 5.30 wake-up for Amanda and I, as we wondered downstairs bleary eyed we bumped into a couple of female travellers from California who'd just arrived in Delhi from the south. They heard we were off to Agra and so asked if they could join us. Always one to embrace new friends in the travelling community we said sure! It was a good decision since one of the girls, Juliet, has been studying in India for 5 months and so gave us loads of tips and contacts for Kerala as well as helping us translate the menus! It was great to chat to them both and share a mutual passion for backpacking and seeing the world. Juliet is also going to head with us to Mumbai later today so it's exciting the journey together will continue for a little while longer.

Agra is around 3-4 hours drive from Delhi in "good" traffic. On the way there we stopped for breakfast at the side of the road and ordered sweet coffee, chai and mix parantha with chilli. It's a bit strange eating spicy food for breakfast but i'm getting used to it and still can't believe how cheap food and drink are. When we arrived in Agra the temperature was much hotter than Delhi, it was great to feel the sun of our faces. Not anywhere else since I was covered up in the Indian attire I'd bartered for in the bazaars on Sunday.

The entrance to the Taj Mahal was full of tourists, mainly Indian. In fact i've not seen that many foreign tourists since i've been here. It seems the Indian people haven't either because in addition to being stared at, people regularly take photos or film us. Really blatantly too, which is funny since good travelling etiquette is to avoid taking photos of locals, unless you get their permission. It's not been a negative experience though and people have been friendly and kind. They find women travelling alone quite intriguing too, we regularly get asked where we are from, what do we do, what work do our parents do, how long are we in India for, what do we think of Delhi. The women in the silk markets told us we were very lucky to be allowed to travel by ourselves, for them this would not be an option.

For some reason if you're foreign you get to queue jump at the Taj Mahal. Which felt horribly uncomfortable, yet we were forced to go through the railings and walk past everyone else queuing in the heat. It felt like the walk of shame and we tried to get through as quickly as possible and with minimal eye contact! The locals seemed to be loving it though, one man even climbed up onto the railings to take a photo of us and a couple of women wanted a group photo so that she could take back to her home in the country and show her family she met some goras at the Taj! We got through security and into an impressive huge entrance gate made out of marble. It was a beautifully clear day and as we walked through the gate we caught our first glimpse of a perfectly formed and very recognisable white dome.

And then there it was....

...the breathtakingly beautiful Taj Mahal; more impressive than any photo and truly magnificent, huge and bright. The only other monument that's blown me away in a similar way was Christ the Redeemer in Rio. Taj Mahal means Crown Palace and is an extravagant expression of love by an Emperor for his wife who died after giving birth to 14 children in 18 years. It was explained to us that the Emperor's first two wives were arranged marriages. But the third wife he married for love. She died aged 35 and the Emperor was so devastated that he built the Taj Mahal in her memory, which is where her body is buried. It took 22 years to build and is made out of white marble and precious stones that have been intricately hand crafted into the marble. The design is really clever, the way it is raised off the ground gives a perfect backdrop to the clear sky and the four pillars have been built leaning 2 degrees out so that if there was an earthquake they would fall away from the main temple.

After spending time at the Taj Mahal we went to see some of the ancestors of those involved in its construction, to show us how the marble and stones are crafted. After the demonstration the four of us were asked if we had any questions. Since no-one was speaking there was an awkward silence and I felt compelled to fill it. The only question I could think of was "did any women help with the building of the Taj Mahal or was it just men?" The guide looked slightly shocked and his response was to say of course not, since women's hands are made and blessed by God only for cooking good food for the men". Fortunately I don't think he was offended by my question and I resisted the temptation to point out that women's hands are good for many things...manipulating Microsoft Excel being one example :)

Our drive home was much longer than the one there, and after 6 hours I arrived back to the hotel feeling tired, dirty and ready to eat a sacred cow or two. But it had been a brilliant day. Today we leave Delhi and travel south-west to Mumbai, by train - i'm very excited about experiencing the Indian railway system!! We are taking a sleeper train overnight and the journey is expected to last at least 16 hours. I think it's going to be really funny....:)

Posted by hanaldinho 23:48 Archived in India Comments (0)

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