We arrived in Mumbai after spending another night in Bangkok airport (which we are getting to know quite well).
I had visited Mumbai (or Bombay as it is still called by many Indians)about 8 years ago. Just as when I first visited, I found the sights,sounds, smells and overall atmosphere were almost overwhelming at first. But surprisingly, it does not take long before you begin to take for granted what would have shocked or amazed a few days previously. (One of the facts that helps to explain somewhat the Mumbai experience is that the equivalent of the entire population of Canada is living in an area which I suspect is about the size of Greater Vancouver.) Here is some of what I recall of the 3 days we spent there ......
When you leave the airport you are suddenly transported into an apparent chaos of taxis, auto-rickshaws, cars, buses, trucks, cows and people - all weaving their way - in all conceivable directions - through rough and dirty streets within fractions of inches (literally) of each other.
I say apparent chaos as you eventually realise that there is some sort of bizarre system and order to the traffic. The drivers must be skilled in order to avoid mass carnage - though we did see one young girl who had just been hit on our way to our hotel.
We stayed at a hotel on Marine Drive - right on what I assume is the "bay" in "Bombay" and just South of the main beaches. Our friend Rohini - whom Sue had met in Vancouver and who now lives in Mumbai - has an apartment not far from where we stayed. Rohini, along with her husband and son, were tremendous hosts in the city. Rohini took us to see some fascinating places - temples, markets, restaurants, the VT train station, Gateway to India, the Taj Hotel - and plenty of shopping, which the women really enjoyed and even I have to admit I found a far more interesting experience than normal.
The walk along the Marine Drive seawall, crowded with people at sunset, was memorable, particularly as the "Queen's Necklace" of lights started to twinkle. Many of the buildings are shabby externally, including one near our hotel that contained a number of 12-15 million dollar apartments. I thought New York and London prices were over-the-top - but Mumbai seems to win the crazy real estate price award. Not far from Marine drive, several people pointed out to us an unusual-looking 24 floor apartment building. It was built by the guy who runs Reliance Corporation and accommodates his family of four (plus servants) - at an apparent cost of 2 billion dollars.
Not far away are the Mumbai slums in which millions of people live in shacks. Rohini's husband and son went into the main slum area, Dharavi, while we were there, as part of research for a book. Sandeep's comment was that they were just as much obviously foreigners in Dharavi as Sue and I are in India.
This is all part of the incredible mixture and contrasts that make up Mumbai. Walking to Rohini's apartment one evening, we walked past the Bombay Cricket Club - looking more British than Britain. We then got lost for a while and walked along streets among Victorian buildings surrounding some public playing fields which were packed with people playing impromptu cricket matches.
For one night we stayed in a hotel close to the airport (while in transit from Goa to Delhi). The street at night was packed with people, stalls, tiny shops and a mass of human activities on the road and broken sidewalks. The area gave a general impression of dirt and decay - but right in the middle was a brand new shiny
Transportation is a big part of the Mumbai experience - taxis being the core, Many of the Mumbai taxis are 50/60's vintage. We ended up squeezed into many beaten-up ones, at times with our luggage tied to the roof or wedged into an open trunk. They all have meters and are very cheap - except that it was almost impossible to get a taxi driver to turn the meter on for us and the price usually ended up being many times what it was meant to be ("foreigner pricing"). Sometimes we argued indignantly - other times we just went along and paid the extra few dollars.
During one taxi trip to Mumbai airport, we learned a little bit about Mumbai taxi maintenance. Our taxi was the oldest we had seen - literally falling apart - probably at the same rate as the elderly driver. While struggling to rattle up a flyover ramp the engine suddenly died. The driver let the car roll backwards down the ramp
through the traffic to a stop, jumped out and found what looked like the rusty lid of a jar lying in the gutter. He lifted the hood off the car, inserted the lid somewhere, got back in and - miraculously, the engine started. The driver beamed at us with the proudest (almost toothless) smile.
The Victoria Terminus train station (now renamed something I don't know how to spell) is a very impressive British Empire building that sees 2-3 million people pass through every day. Jessi and I had an interesting time working our way against a human tidal wave in a subway to get to meet Sue, Rohini and Krista at the main entrance.
One thing that had changed a lot since my previous visit to Mumbai was the airport. It used to be a place of dilapidated chaos in which I remember being amazed that my luggage somehow managed to appear. The international terminal is now modern and well organized. Both the international and domestic airports have the most security I have seen - with a big army presence including sand-bag gun emplacements. The army also run security screening and managed to find and confiscate the multitool I had in my carry-on - and which had evaded at least 12
previous airport screenings on our trip.
Our time in Mumbai went by very quickly. We have many good memories of the time and the wonderful meals we had with Rohini and her family - but soon it was time to leave and head South to the beaches of Goa.....