Friday, 1 August 2008

31 July – 1 August 2008 : The Sights of Mumbai

After escaping from our first hotel – it smelt of mothballs, the sheets were dirty, cobwebs on the curtains and you had to ask for the hot water to be switched on – we moved to the Fort area of the city. As its a tourist hub, we blew our daily budget just on our accommodation. Oh well. It was worth it for air conditioning (94% humidity) and clean sheets.

After a magnificent, belly busting meal at Kailash Parbat, we had a quick after dinner walk, passing a vegetable market and visiting the Taj Mahal Palace hotel. The hotel, completed in 1903, is the place to stay in Mumbai and has a spectacular staircase.

Just across from the hotel is the Gateway of India, completed in 1924. It commemorates the first visit by a British Royal – King George V – to India. To honour our visit, the City Council dressed the Gateway in scaffolding. A pleasant evening stroll.

The next day, welcoming in August, we went for a stroll along the Marine Drive promenade to Chowpatty Beach. A building covered in wonky, bamboo scaffolding caught our eye. Four floors up, a man was simultaneously balancing and painting the wall. A poster at the bottom of the building stated: “Bombs, climate change and inflation are crippling the nation.” We thought that one fall would do more than just to cripple the man! Once on the promenade, we had to dodge the big (and toxic) waves which broke over the defences and soaked the path.

Stopping for ice cream was a welcome relief before we headed to the Mahatma Ghandi Museum at Mani Bhavan. This is where Ghandi stayed during his visits to Mumbai.

Following our history lesson, we headed over to the 'floating' Haji Ali Mosque. Next was the Mahalaxi Dhobi Ghat, where the dirty laundry of Mumbai is hand washed.

The walk back to our hotel then skirted the (off-limits and hidden) Towers of Silence. Apparently, the Parsi community leave their dead at the top of these towers to be picked clean by vultures.

Parts of the city definitely have a faded, colonial charm with some magnificent examples of fine architecture. At the same time, and often next door, other buildings are in various states of disrepair yet still inhabited. The colonial architecture in parts of the Fort area reminded us of London and Bath. The beach front has lots of examples of Art Deco buildings.

Culture shock well and truly hit us in the face today. It was disturbing to see small children sleeping in the underpasses, naked children begging in the streets, and rubbish collecting between buildings. The smells are very varied here. Within a second, you can go from the foul stench of sewage to the most delightful aromas of fine food cooking.

Some wealthy people clearly feel the need for some personal security. This was evidenced by an armed guard exiting a Hummer car, pistol in hand. Jen first thought an armed robbery was about to take place. Andy didn't notice anything and almost bumped into the guard.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

27 - 30 July 2008: Goodbye Indonesia – hello India!

On our last few days in Indonesia, we travelled to Bandung and stayed with a family we'd met on Gunung Rinjani in Lombok. Mark and Yanti very kindly put us up for two nights. Their two sons – Lawrence (13) and Berton (7) – were rather good at the card game Uno and repeatedly beat Andy.

On Monday, Lawrence and Jacko the dog took us on a lovely walk over the hills. On the way, we passed the caves of Gua Pakar, dug out by the Japanese during World War II for use as ammunition stores. We also stopped off at Mark and Yanti's cattle farm where they keep around 19 cows.

We had lunch in Lembang which is home to a racecourse with some fine racehorses. This took Jen back in time to her riding days, as the brown horse in the picture reminded her of one of the family's horses, Windom Peak.

During Tuesday we flew from Jakarta to Mumbai (Bombay) via Hong Kong (where we'll be returning in December). Hong Kong airport was very impressive and modern – and so clean! Passengers walk through a gate which checks the body temperature in case of SARS. The flights were uneventful, apart from flying around some huge clouds over central India which were illuminated from within by large electrical storms. The clouds were almost at the height we were flying at.

Today, we are resting after the flights and staying in the Chembur district of Mumbai. It's +27°C, overcast and humid, but no monsoon rain yet today. Tomorrow, we'll head to the central district of Fort and Churchgate. The last seven weeks in Indonesia had prepared us well for a country like India, so there's been no culture shocks so far. The internet is really fast here in Mumbai, so we may be able to Skype again.

Curry Count: 2 Delhi Belly Count: 0.