Mumbai, India – 22nd to 23rd March
We arrived at the ghost town like airport of Udaipur and as the tumble weed blew through the departure lounge we sat in anticipation for today we were flying to the bustling city of Mumbai! We were only staying for one night so we it was a whistle stop in a city that has so much to offer.
Once referred to as Bombay but renamed following the end of the British imperial period in 1947, Mumbai is now the epicentre of the multi billion film industry known as Bollywood and is the financial and commercial capital of India. Bollywood films are renowned world wide for there entertaining plots with a enticing India mix of action, drama, love and comedy, there is something for everyone. The magnificent music and extravagant dancing let alone makes it worth the watch. Have a look at one of the more recent blockbuster films named ‘Bang Bang’ and you’ll understand exactly what I mean.
We boarded the Jet Airways, Airbus A320 plane and thrusted off the runway towards the heavens above. During the flight I was sat next to a rather obese Indian gentlemen who resided and worked in Mumbai. He worked in construction and was obviously quite wealthy. We began to exchange pleasantries, I explained my recent actions with regard to quitting my job in the Aerospace industry to travel and he in turn shared his experiences with parts of the world he had travelled. He was a well travelled, interesting and very religious.
The Indian gentleman was a member of the Jain religion. Jainism teaches that the way to liberation and bliss is to live lives of harmlessness and renunciation.The essence of Jainism is concern for the welfare of every being in the universe and for the health of the universe itself. They believe that animals and plants, as well as human beings, contain living souls. Each of these souls are considered of equal value and should be treated with respect and compassion and thus Jains are strict vegetarians and live in a way that minimises their use of the world’s resources.
The man told me he knew an equivalent to what the Western world would call a ‘Saint’. This statement in itself took me back but never the less I intriguingly listened to him as he continued. He told me this Saint would know my seven past and future lives. The Saint could travel the world in less than a minute. My jaw widened. The Saint was never born and will never die. This Saint could be in a hundred places at once. I was flabbergasted to say the least but skeptical at the same time. The man showed me pictures of said Saint and he understood I wouldn’t be able to fathom what he was telling me. “Look at his glowing face” he said proudly. I nodded.
Who am I to dismiss what this obviously well educated and successful man was telling me. I took it as an interesting conversation and a sneak peak into a religion I had never even heard of. He also told me he was an avid fan of travel. He would work ten months a year and travel two. He explained how he believed this was the best way to do it as prolonged exposure to travel reduces your amazement threshold. “Oh look there’s a temple, there’s a mountain, there’s a lake” he sarcastically said. We laughed together. Maybe he had a point but I certainly hadn’t reached my threshold in India.
He left me with two interesting points as our plane descended through the candy floss like clouds and gently touched the dusty Airport runway. Try to be happy regardless of what was happening externally to me and to “Learn, Earn, Return”. Learn something and learn it well. Earn money, feed your family and put a roof over your head. Return something. Give to charity or give something back to a community. That simple rhyme has stuck in my head and to be honest it’s not a bad mantra to live your life by.
We finally arrived in Mumbai! Cosmopolitan, vibrant, exciting and one of the most breathtaking skylines I have ever seen. Mumbai is the most populous, wealthiest and metropolitan city in India. With a population around 19 million it is also the eighth most popular city in the world.
We headed out for an evening meal, as it was already late. On the walk towards the restaurant I felt someone relentlessly tapping my back. I turned to look. Stood with a painstakingly ill looking baby was a scantily clad lady begging for money. I didn’t know what to do.
Begging is part and parcel in Mumbai. Sometimes it’s a limbless man, others it’s an acrobatic performing child and many a times an elderly person just sitting on the street. As a British person or just simply a human with a sense of morality I’m not equipped to deal with this. Our tour leader instructs us not to give to beggars as many are tied up in Mafia begging circles and the baby, I believed to be sick, has in fact been rented and drugged by the women carrying her. I’m not quite sure how this makes it better…
I try to shake it off but I can’t even pull myself together to order food at the restaurant. This particular moment was by far the hardest part of the trip emotionally for me. I couldn’t comprehend why that situation should even happen and why no-one was stopping it.
I finally compose myself and zone back into the moment. We’re dining in a very Americanised restaurant tonight. As we sit at the table the reminiscence of bullets shot through glass windows stare back at us. The restaurant was one of many targets in Mumbai during a terrorist attack in November 2008 or 911 as it’s often referred to. Twelve co-ordinated shootings and bombings reigned terror through the city over four days.
My food arrives. It’s Kerala kebab. This is a dish consisting of chicken stuffed with mutton (goat). It’s sensational. We gobble down our main meal followed by a mouth watering cheesecake and head out to a cocktail bar around the corner called ‘The Social’. Cosmopolitan, edgy, cool and well designed it would be at home in London’s Camden Town or Bristol’s Gloucester Road. Interesting spins on classics such as a ‘Earl of Gin’ and a ‘Screw Social Driver’ that arrives smoking with steamed ice and a real screwdriver to stir it with, can be purchased at ridiculously cheap prices. Western music is played amongst Bollywood tracks and modern Indian music as locals drink as if they’d learnt from the British. One girl could barely stand. It was nice to feel at home for once.
We awoke early the next day as we had a jam packed day of sight seeing in the near unbearable heat and humidity of enchanting Mumbai. Our first stop was Mani Bhavan. A museum built in the home that Mahatma Gandhi lived in from 1917 to 1934. Gandhi was the preeminent leader of Indian independence movement in British-ruled India. Employing nonviolent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. Indians widely describe Gandhi as the father of the nation. One interesting fact closer to home is that we share same birthday.
Next we headed to South Mumbai to check out the beach and the glorious skyline. I didn’t even know their was a beach in Mumbai!
We then stopped for a sweltering walk in a picturesque park and were treated with an aerial view of the beach we just strolled upon.
As our taxi driver muscled his way through the relentless Indian traffic he suddenly stopped. “Look, look”. I couldn’t figure out what he was pointing to. I finally spotted it. Springing out of the ground and towering above all other buildings like an early adolescent hitting a growth spurt before the rest of his classmates stood (in my opinion) a vulgar high rised apartment. India’s richest billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s lives in this 27-storey skyscraper residence which has often been dubbed as the world’s costliest property at over $1 billion.
We stopped off in the Mumbai laundrette. These homes and the people living in them service thousands upon thousands of businesses and families. They wash and dry workwear and personal clothing on a scale I’ve never seen before. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to complain about my own washing again.
Another interesting service in Mumbai is the Dabha Wala. These people cook and deliver food to over 300,000 people day! The numbers are incomprehensible.
We opted out of the subsequent tour of the slums. Neither of us felt comfortable invading people’s homes and parading through with a camera when none of the fees for the tour were given to the locals. We looked at them from a distance and spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the busy streets of Mumbai and painstakingly trying to order food at a local restaurant.
In the evening we caught an auto rickshaw to ‘The Queens Necklace’ which gains its name from the necklace like feature created when the lights around the bay are seen from passing aeroplanes. We sat on the edge of the coast and watched the sun peacefully descend and sink into the deep blue sea’s horizon.
“Learn, Earn, Return”