On the train down to Mumbai there was an American marine called Lee on the berth below who was on his last leave before being deployed to Afghanistan, he was trying to see as much of India in 2 weeks as he possibly could. We sorted meeting up in Leopolds later that evening for beers and maybe some grub.
As we stepped off the train the comfort of air conditioning is swept away from you and the insane heat and pungent smell of India hit me once again, at this point mainly a combination of sweat and urine. The heat is something else, I thought it had been heavy so far but Mumbai takes it that little bit further averaging around 36-39 degrees. Your clothes instantly stick to your skin and every step seems to take twice as much effort. Figured out how to get a local train down to lower Mumbai. As they don't have an underground system as with most other major cities (including Delhi) Mumbai has a huge, heaving suburban train network and any stereotypes you might have heard are probably true. When it gets busy, it gets BUSY. People hang out the doors and windows and the stations get so full it's impossible to move. Despite this it's ridiculously cheap, my 15 minute journey to lower Mumbai cost about 8p. I tried the classic running after a moving train and swinging in on the pole and actually pulled it off. I'm not sure whether I got any street cred or just ended up looking like a t*** ha. It's an awesome way to see Mumbai as you cruise at high speed down one of the cities main arteries, with the hustle and bustle going on either side of the wide open doors, wind rushing through the carriage.
After heading to Colaba the main tourist region in lower Mumbai and finding the first place full I decided to take Lukes advice and rock up to IGH (India Guest House). At first I couldn't quite believe I was in the right place, the building was literally a crumbling relic, half gutted by scaffolding and ongoing internal renovations. As you climb 3 stories' you find yourself smack bang at the lobby, they had a couple of free rooms and it was so hilarious I couldn't help but laugh. I could probably have touched all 4 walls at once if I reached out and had dirty shared bathrooms dorm style. Buuut it was insanely cheap, especially by Mumbai standards where accommodation prices skyrocket. After checking out Colaba I decided I really liked Mumbai, it's the closest you'll ever get to a Western city in this country and is an incredible clash of time and class. Plush clean cafes, restaurants and shops line the streets. Subway, maccy D's, Rebok, Nike even Gucci have stores here yet outside you still are presented with row after row of cheap stalls and a huge homeless population. The cows for the majority are gone but dogs still freely roam the streets. The roads are crammed not with Rickshaws but with black cabs and red buses. With huge imposing colonial buildings dotted around between crumbling slums, the quote "London on Acid" begins to make sense. In my mind it is a bizarre mutation of London, mixed in with a bit of New York with a good batch of India sprinkled in for good measure. Why this is not the capital over the dump of Delhi is something that makes no sense to me but that's the way it goes I guess. Had some food and beers in Leopold's and loved the place straight from the offset. The place is western traveler central, full of Brits, Germans, Ozzies, Kiwis etc etc and the 4 pint tube pitchers they attach to the table and let you vend yourself instantly became a favourite.
Mumbai also seems to be a pretty liberal city, in a few short hours I'd been offered weed more often than the several days in Amsterdam, admittedly you don't need to be offered it in Amsterdam but still.
At night time the streets of Colaba are full with people sleeping beside their packed up stalls, and there are beggars everywhere. When you see a little kid crying his eyes out because he's so hungry, wearing a ragged and torn t-shirt it really does tug a little at your heart strings and challenge your morals. For the first time in India I gave him some money. 10p to us is nothing but to someone like that it can buy a couple of very basic meals.
Met Steph as CST - the huge imposing colonial station - a day later on the 14th. It reminded me a bit of Paddington, only far bigger, busier, smelling worse and full of people sleeping on the floors. She looked disheveled and more than a little warm and I didn't blame her. This is a seriously mental country to step of a plane into if you've never been before. Admittedly Mumbai is infinitely better than Delhi but still. While I was waiting I'd started reading Shantaram - an awesome book about an Australian convict who escapes from prison and smuggles his way to Mumbai to start a new life. I laughed when I realized the first place he stays is India Guest House and that a lot of the action takes place in Leopolds! Back at IGH switched to a double room, not quite sure how but they had managed to fit 2 beds into a room not much bigger than my single box room. But at £6 a night I wasn't complaining too much. Later we got a train down to Goa sorted for 4 days time and then chilled in Leopolds. Randomly ran into the ozzies and kiwi from Udaipur and had some beers in the upstairs bar til pretty late on with a few other travelers. Chatted to a girl from STA who mentioned they'd got an all expenses paid trip to Fiji earlier in the year - maybe that's what I should try and do with my life when I get back!
Checked out a lot of Mumbai (I won't say the rest because the place is vast) over the next few days. Marine drive as the sun sets is incredible. It is essentially a curved mile long road that runs all the way up the coastal side of the city with Chowpatty beach at the top. Walking through sand and seeing people playing in the (toxic) sea with skyscrapers all around and ahead across the water is a surreal yet awesome sight. There was an ice-cream stand selling cornettos for 30p, score. Found a sports bar in Colaba later showing premiership football, sadly not the Newcastle match but we did get to watch Man United and Arsenal at the same time on different TV's which was a laugh. India is a bizarre 5 and ½ hours ahead of GMT so kick off time is at 8.30pm. Was some good banter in the bar and seemed to be another place frequented by Westerners in and amongst all the Indians.
Had a Maccy D's and watched the new Bond movie the following afternoon, a very India few hours haha. The cinema was well nice, proper balcony and everything. £1.50 ticket and 60p for popcorn made a nice change from England. There are also no adverts or trailers at the beginning which was a little bit of a shame as I was looking forward to trailers for some hilarious Bollywood films seeing as we'd organized to be extras in Bollywood the following morning! Bizarrely just before the film started they play the Indian national anthem and everyone stands and puts their hand on their chest. As well as that they had a 5 minute intermission in the middle of the movie, seriously strange stuff.
Had a hilariously rowdy night with the Miks and a couple other guys in Gokul bar that night just round the corner from Leopold's on dangerously cheap rum. £4 for a biggish bottle and 20p a bottle of coke, at those prices it gets messy quickly. Stumbled back to IGH at god knows what time and slept straight through our big Bollywood debut - s***! Thankfully the guy at the lobby sorted out another contact for us and we were on to do it again at 7am the next morning.
After getting a cheeky subway we salvaged the day by doing a cheap taxi tour of Mumbai. Annoyingly the guides English was like trying to understand a drunken hobo but thankfully most of it was self explanatory. Ghandi's house, which like Anne Franks in Amsterdam had been converted into a museum, was really interesting, as were the huge street washing ghats unique apparently to Mumbai. From the bridge above you can see men energetically washing clothes for as far as the eye can see, all neatly arranged by colour and fabric. We also got a glimpse into the Northern slums which as with Delhi shock you by the levels of poverty. Row after row of makeshift corrugated iron and wood homes housing huge familes squeeze into every possible space so that there is barely enough room for anything to fit down the street. Amazingly though despite the raw exterior, inside a lot of them looked neat and tidy, I even saw the odd TV or computer. Among the slums was what is apparently the remnants of a once thriving red light district. Sure enough there were a few rows of doors and windows with prostitutes sitting outside, the vast majority of which apparently come from disaster and war-torn regions outside of India. The streets old name, literally meaning "f***-street" is still in common use, as with "Bombay" - the cities old colonial name.
We also checked out Elephanta Island which was an hour long boat ride out of the Colaba habour, a nice harbour situated beside the Gateway to India monument and below the impressive Taj Hotel, a stunning 5* hotel frequented by business people and rich tourists and we openly wished we had the money to spend a night or 2 in it. It contrasts heavily with several of the run down buildings directly behind it. Elephanta Island is mental and consists of a few ancient Buddhist caves and rock carvings surrounded by dogs and monkeys fighting everywhere. The caves were pretty impressive but I was almost sure we weren't going to leave the island without rabies! The climb to the top is also an absolute beast, and in the 39 deg heat is not exactly the most fun in the world. We laughed at the fact you could hire 2 men to carry you all the way up to the top on a colonial style chair, if I'd had the money I might have been tempted just for kicks.
The next day we did Bollywood and it was definitely a memorable experience, we met up with 3 other westerners, 2 Germans and a Belgium and were shuttled up to the Bollywood district in the North of Mumbai bright and early. There was an obvious set when we got there and round the back were the trailers and general crew area - it was a bombsite, almost literally. A crumbling warehouse was where they gave us a basic breakfast and then our costumes. I was put in the most ridiculous shiny suit, with a jacket stretching down past my knees and matching trousers. Also got a pair of shoes about 3 sizes too big, with no socks. It's hard being a celebrity! From chatting to a few people who'd done it, some just a couple days prior I was expecting to do a lot of sitting around with maybe one or 2 short scenes but they proper bummed off us and put us in loads of scenes, sometimes right at the front. We must have been on our feet half the day so if I'm not in that movie even if just for a few seconds I'll not be happy! Even briefly chatted to a couple of the stars at one point during the break. Or at least I think they were, it's hard to be star struck when you have no idea who anyone is. Anyway the movie's called 'Teen Patti' and is all about gambling - the Bollywood version of the '21' apparently so I may well see if I can nab it on DVD whenever it comes out - which may be a while.
Rocked up to CST in the evening after one last Leopold's session to catch our overnight train down to Goa. I was going to miss Mumbai but will definitely be good to get out of the cities which is all I've seen of India so far, and plus we both couldn't wait to just chill out on the beach in Goa. After exploring the epic station we eventually found our train which was literally about half a km long, we were roughing it in Sleeper Class. £4 for a 13 hour journey. Roughing it is certainly the best word to use as christ was it dirty and when Steph told me she'd seen a cockroach I hoped she was joking but nope sure enough they were crawling around. The people in sleeper obviously mustn't have been expecting Westerners because they stared and stared. While I may now be used to it doesn't stop being infuriatingly annoying. Steph got it even worse and I had to end up telling a couple of them to w*** off before they would divert their gaze. Fun nights sleep ahead!