Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Travels in India, 2016 - Bombay's Buildings & Beaches (& A Charity Shop Bargain)

If you hadn't already noticed I'm more than a bit obsessed with Mumbai, so here's the vintage sheepskin I found for a £1 in a charity shop yesterday if you're bored with the travelogue.

The heat of India seems but a dim & distant memory today, its blinking freezing!

On our third day in Mumbai we ate Achoori eggs for breakfast - a Parsi dish of scrambled eggs with chilli, coriander and green mango. So good that my toes still curl at the memory.

Armed with a page torn from an ancient Lonely Planet we took their suggested heritage walk. If you're a fan of Victorian architecture you could spend hours drooling over the (mostly) wonderfully preserved Bombay Gothic masterpieces.

Majestic House, Colaba & the Rajabai Tower (inspired by London's Big Ben)

The Police headquarters & the University of Bombay library.
The David Sassoon Reading Rooms & Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation Building

(See loads more photos HERE)

If I ever come into loads of money this Marine Drive mansion (or one very similar), opposite the Gateway on India will be mine

St Thomas's Cathedral was built by the British in 1718 for employees of the East India Company.

It looks almost identical to our parish church. Strange to see something so quintessentially British so far from home.

We spent ages reading the carved stone memorials from the eras of East India Company rule and of the British Raj, many with incredibly graphic descriptions of men being "barbarously tortured to death" or "submitting to the ferocity of the sun", of entire families submitting to cholera & typhoid or of dying on the boat on their journey to start a new life. The memorial in the centre is for a former British governor of Varanasi, the carving is how he would have looked, as he'd converted to Hinduism to marry an Indian woman.

There's more to Mumbai's architectural heritage than Bombay Gothic. Mumbai is said to have more Art Deco than anywhere else in the world.

Many of these buildings were on busy roads so I risked life and limb trying to capture them!

The Lonely Planet estimated our walk would take a couple of hours but it took us five. Not many Westerners tend to wander far from their hotels and, being a bit of a novelty, we were asked to pose for loads of pictures. Over the years I think Jon & I must have appeared in thousands of Indian photo albums and Facebook pages.

There's plenty of distractions along the way, impromptu market stalls and street cats to name but a few.

On a Sunday several of the art galleries (Mumbai has a hugely popular arts scene) sell works by local artists from the pavements outside.

After a siesta we did what thousands of Mumbaikers do and headed to Chowpatty beach to watch the sunset.

We simply had to stuff our faces with Mumbai's most popular street food (and our very favourite spicy snack), bhelpuri.

Rich or poor, Chowpatty Beach is the place to be. Nobody needs money to enjoy the sunset.

Some of these children have very little, not even a pair of shoes to their name, but look at the joy on their faces.

After posing for yet more photos with friendly strangers we made our way to Marine Drive, returning to Basilico as the food the night before was just so good.

Its business as usual for us, we're trading with Judy's at Bristol on Saturday (HERE) & Cardiff on Sunday (HERE). Come and see us and I promise we'll try not to bore you with travel tales!

Monday, 8 February 2016

Travels in India, 2016 - Salaam Bombay

When we saw £17 flights from Goa to Mumbai we couldn't say no. We'd been before but no matter, we're not bucket list types. We don't visit places just to tick them off and impress our mates. If we love somewhere we'll go back again and again. Some people claim to have "done" a country after staying in an all-inclusive for a fortnight, after 16 years and some 25 visits we've barely scratched India's surface.

Mumbai doesn't so much welcome you as smack you around the face and zap you with a cattle prod. There's an amazing energy to the city, it crackles with life. Every day over five hundred people move here, many fleeing lives of crushing poverty in rural India and, far from being oppressive and intimidating, the air is charged with optimism and high spirits. Clichéd as it might sound, Mumbai is the city of dreams.

Of course when 22 million people live in a city one third of the size of London then road chaos ensues. It took two hours to travel the 24 km journey from the airport to our lodgings in down-town Colaba but, you just take a deep breath and enjoy the ride, and we did. It was a Friday afternoon and on the rooftops of the slums were thousands of barefoot children flying kites and shrieking with unbridled joy.

Property prices in Mumbai are amongst the highest in the world and our budget required a serious rethink. Moti, a gorgeous Victorian-era colonial mansion, was recommended by both the Rough Guide & Lonely Planet and £30 got us a decent sized double room with an attached bathroom, fridge & TV (so we binged on Bollywood movies and pop videos) along with 24 hour hot water (a luxury!)

Our nearest neighbour was the magnificent Taj Mahal Palace hotel. The last time we'd seen the Taj was just days after the 2008 terrorist attacks, when 31 people lost their lives, and it brought tears to our eyes to see her restored to her former glory.

Built in 1903 after Indian philanthropist Jamsetji Tata was refused entrance to a "whites only" hotel and decided to create a hotel all of Mumbai could be proud of.

Directly opposite the Taj is the Gateway to India, built under British rule and completed in 1924. The first building those arriving by boat would have seen and the departure point when the British left India after Independence.

It attracts hundreds of people a day, none more so than at sunset when thousands of Mumbaikers and tourists flock for photos and a gossip.

Despite letting our bank know that we'd be in India until February the dozy b*stards blocked our card leaving us with £10 to our name but, accommodation aside, a tenner goes a long way in Mumbai. Access to the Gateway of India was free, local meals joint Kamat did a cracking veg thali for £1, the two hour taxi ride from the airport cost £5 and Moti had a fridge full of ice cold Kingfishers at £2 so we sat on the steps watching the world go by until we got through to the bank's telephone help line.

Next morning, after a puri bhaji breakfast & masala chai we walked to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, still referred to as Victoria Terminus or VT by many.

 It might sound a bit odd, hanging around a railway station when you're not planning on catching a train but not all stations are VT. A UNESCO World Heritage site, designed by architectural engineer, Frederick Stevens, in 1878 and finally completed nine years later in time for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee.

Chhatrapati Shivaji is not only a Gothic masterpiece but also the world's busiest train station. You'll recognise it from the final scene in Slumdog Millionaire (and if you've never seen the film then you're clearly mad).

As in previous visits, her cathedral-like beauty rendered us speechless.

Next stop was Crawford market, a bustling covered market built in 1869 and, in 1882, the first building in India to be lit by electricity.

Taking photos of the exterior an elderly couple on their way to do their weekly shop came to see what we were doing. That frieze is by Lockwood Kipling, Rudyard's father, I told them. Good heavens, we've lived here all our lives and never even noticed it, they said.

Currently undergoing a facelift, the fountain is also by Lockwood Kipling.

Time for fresh lime sodas in Badshah, a cafe serving thirsty shoppers since the days of the Raj.

We walked back to Moti to feast on the fresh fruit we'd bought from the market followed by hot showers and a siesta.

Finances again accessible we could now afford to watch the sunset from a swanky roof top bar of a glamorous Art Deco hotel on Marine Drive followed by a delicious Lebanese dinner in hip & happening restaurant, Basilico.

More of Mumbai coming very soon!

(More photos HERE)

Linking to Patti and the gang for Visible Monday.