Wednesday 9th December
Trip advisor reports said that the breakfasts at the Trident are only average. Well either they are talking complete nonsense, or the kitchen team have recently upped their game! The breakfast buffet stretched over four tables with two separate stations where chefs cook omelettes and pancakes etc for western and Indian menus. There was every possible fruit, cereal and juice including cucumber, watermelon, lime, guava alongside the usual orange and pineapple with a variety of Indian lassi (plain, sweet or salted)! and chilled latte coffee. The range of Indian and oriental dishes was vast, and for us Brits there were eggs, bacon, smoked salmon etc any way you like. Every colour/shape/flavour and form of bread or pastry that you can imagine was there - all freshly baked. Quite astonishing! The head chef was wandering table to table asking what we might like. It was all there - salmon and asparagus, Bircher muesli, brioche with pineapple jam. Anything we could think of!
They have a demanding clientele. Mumbai is essentially the commercial capital of India (Delhi is the political capital and Calcutta the cultural capital) so many of the diners here are businessmen and many are from the Middle East. They have a different set of standards and treat hotel staff very rudely. Uncomfortable for us to watch and hear, but the staff just shrug and move on.
Today we once again went for the Indian breakfast menu and, with the help of our waiter ordered, ate and enjoyed a Masala Dosa and an Uttapam. Essentially these are both pancakes served with spiced vegetables and chutneys. Delicious.
After breakfast we were off to see Mumbai with our guide Malti. Today was very different from our previous tours, the history was much more recent and Malti was a social worker who worked for many years in the famous slums of Mumbai. She was able to give us some interesting insight into present day Indian culture. For example she explained that the people we have seen sleeping on the pavements are, by and large, not beggars/addicts/alcoholics but migrants and workers who have been working on the land over the summer and have now arrived in Mumbai seeking unskilled work over the winter months. They will usually sleep on the streets before finding a place in the slum city. The latter is, in many areas, an organised community of workers and their families, some temporary, some permanent, and many people actively choose to live in the slum village for a period of time in order to be able to earn a good wage in the city whilst saving money for their futures. That said, there are also a lot of beggars and drop outs in the streets and over 40% of the inhabitants of Mumbai live below the poverty line.
The historical sights we toured around today were mainly from the twentieth century and had British names, recently changed to Indian names 1998, for example the Victoria Station, now called the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, and the Prince of Wales museum now called the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya Museum (doesn't exactly trip off the tongue!!).
First stop today was the Victoria Station designed by the same architect that designed St Pancras station. It's the hub of the city, and transports 3 million people every day, including the Dabba wallahs who are famous for collecting and delivering the 200,000 tiffin boxes of curry lunches to workers in the city from their kitchens at home every day. A feat of organisation that runs like a well oiled machine.
This was normal every day life and Malti simply couldn't understand how or why the British would simply take their own packed lunch or buy a snack. Every day her husband has home made curry and rice delivered from their home to his office desk at 12.30.
The food boxes are labelled, collected, stacked in crates in the rear carriage of the train, then unloaded into the appropriate cycle rickshaws for each area and office block, and delivered. The station is surrounded by trees and is an attractive building that looks very British, there are throngs of people and cars around it.
After that we drove through the city and learnt about the various districts, such as the slum village and areas where the Persian Farsi community lives. Wealthy families like the Tatas, who run many charitable organisations as well as other wealthy people such as the man who built and lives in one of the world's most expensive homes - a two billion pound skyscraper in the centre of Mumbai, where he lives with his wife and three children and thirty staff!
Malti talked about her work with Mother Theresa to try to improve the lives of the poorest families.
Next stop the open laundry where we look out over the city's biggest clothes washing organisation. This is run entirely by men and there are long rows of tanks where the clothes and bedding are washed, rinsed, bleached or blued before being hung out in the sun to dry, on row after row of twisted rope clothes lines. The dry clothes are then carefully folded and taken to be pressed and returned to their owners by cycle rickshaw after three days. From where we stood we could see men stripped to the waist working in the tanks and rows of gleaming white sheets and pillow cases, lines of cream coloured uniform tunics, jeans and trousers, coloured kameezes. We could also see bundles of laundry arriving in the back of cycle rickshaws. Almost all the linen from the city's hotels and hospitals is processed here. Everything is labelled, nothing gets lost - it's another amazing feat of organisation and effort.
Next stop was to the so called hanging gardens. We drove up above the city to a park like area where a play school were meeting and small Indian children in crisp and neat red and white uniforms were running everywhere, whilst their mothers watched. Very different to the small urchins we had seen playing with sticks in the dirt near the slums.
From this garden there was a great view back along the bay from Chowpatty beach along Marine Parade to the Trident hotel - a good place to walk later.
Malti told us about the festival of Ganesh when thousands of people gather on this beach with icons of Ganesh which they immerse in the sea as one of their ritual celebrations.
The hanging gardens were on the opposite side of the road, and their creation was quite a story.
The city of Mumbai is well supplied with water from surrounding rivers flowing down to the sea, and from collecting rainwater in the rainy season. There is a good system of pipe work to supply homes and businesses. As the city grew, a more comprehensive system was needed and so a pumping station and reservoir was created on the top of the hill. The reservoir was open to the sky. Next door to this reservoir is a large Farsi community and a building called the Tower of silence. After a funeral, this is where the dead body lies. The Farsi religion believe that the body should be returned to nature, so the body is placed on a sloping slab facing the sun so that the vultures can pick the bones clean. The bones then separate and gradually slide off the slab into a pit underneath. Unfortunately what happened was that the vultures started to decline in numbers. The work started to be done by black kites and crows who had a habit of dropping pieces of human remains into the reservoir.
It was therefore decided to put a concrete roof over the reservoir and to create a garden on top of that.
We wandered the gardens and watched the black kites circling overhead...
Next stop was the Gandhi Museum at Mani Bhavan. This small building houses dozens of photographs and documents as well as a series of cases containing model figures depicting his life.
Last stop today was the Gateway of India. This was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary when they visited in 1911. Ironically it was also the gate through which the last of the British forces left when Independence was declared in 1948.
The gate is near to the jetties where boats leave for Elaphanta island. It is also close to the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, a beautiful hotel that was hit by the bombings in 2003 and 2008.
Back at the Trident we repeated our winning formula for yesterday and had high tea at the Verandah. As usual we felt hot and grubby and it was lovely to slip into the cool hotel lobby with its lovely fountains and plants. After two pots of masala chai and a selection of samosas, salads, sandwiches, cakes and desserts we felt ready to face the world again. We set off to walk along Marine Parade to Chowpatty beach and maybe try some of the street food that the beach is famous for in the early evenings. It was an interesting walk of about 2km each way. We met and passed just about every shape and size of human being imaginable. There were elderly Asian couples, formally dressed, groups of young Asian men walking along holding hands, families with small children, young couples in more western dress, a few tourists and a couple of runners. They all seemed oblivious to the horrible smell and the litter everywhere. What I think they all appreciated was the space and open air which was probably a marked contrast to the places where they lived and worked.
We watched the sunset from the sea wall and then walked on towards the bright lights and noises of the city. It was hot and stuffy but made bearable by the sea breeze.
As we might have predicted, the beach, although spacious, was dirty and litter strewn and crowded with people. Even here we were pestered by people wanting to take a photograph of us with their family. The food stalls smelled tasty enough and there were lots of local people tucking in but we weren't tempted. We had asked Malti about what to eat earlier in the day and she was pretty cautious and the general impression was one of 'well you could try something but at your own risk...'
Hmmm...with a two hour flight to Kochi tomorrow we decided not to indulge and instead walked back along the sea front to the hotel rooftop pool and gym. The pool was deserted and refreshing. From this vantage point we could see and hear the lights and sounds of the city from a safe distance!!
Dinner was more adventurous tonight and we sampled the curry menu before retiring to pack and be ready for our 4.30 departure to the airport tomorrow morning!