Travel notes: things I noticed in Mumbai

This post isn’t really a post, just a collection of observations from 3 days in Bombay.

Squeezed onto seven islands, each with a hazy high rise skyline, bordered by litter strewn beaches and breakers. Battered old non-AC taxis and rickshaw rides through busy roads like a street car rally. The constant symphony of car horns of every note and tone.

The ladies only train carriage; a man wheeling his torso on a make-shift skateboard through the spaces between us, sat up straight, head high, shouting about the passport covers he’s selling. Three hijab covered women use me as an arm rest as they haul their bodies out of their seats, mascara-heavy eyes smiling. Hot hot sunshine.

Non-AC taxis in Mumbai - cheaper and more fun than their AC brothers.
Non-AC taxis in Mumbai – cheaper and more fun than their AC brothers.

Sweet small children with open faces who call you ‘ma’am’ or ‘madam’, asking you to buy a postcard or bangle from their ‘small business’. Respectful sideways wobbles of the head as you explain – ‘no thank you’. Colaba’s crumbling colonial homes on attractive tree-lined streets decorated with roadworks bollards and barriers lit up with fairy lights like Christmas.

Laburnam Rd in Mumbai, near the Gandhi museum
Laburnam Rd in Mumbai, near the Gandhi museum

Hazy sunsets on a deep semi-clean beach. Teenage b-boys attempt head spins and break dance moves in front of a friendly crowd of mostly girls.

Swish shoreditch-esque restaurants in bling Bandra, the Pali Village cafe, serving European fusion cuisine at London prices in a concrete candle lit room. The rip off Polpo – tapas not Italian. California calm Yoga House cafe – exceptional marsala chai tea while we surf their wifi. A Polish reggae band play a bad soundsystem in a hot rooftop bar. Calcutta based indie pop band Neel and the Lightbulbs wow us in The Blue Frog with their sweet story-telling and killer guitar playing. Dancing to Metalica in Totos – drinks served by middle-aged men in super mario outfits.

Bandra B-Boys
Bandra B-Boys

Endorphin-filled Old Monk rum making for freestyle dancing to Kanye West in our friend’s cool bachelor apartment, the projector pointing at an angle along a white wall as video ballet dancers strike angular poses. Girls in cocktail dresses, short skirts, hot pants; put together and manicured, hair quaffed, high heels. The men with beautifully symmetrical faces and elegant cheek bones, wide shoulders and tiny waists. Toned, tall.

People travelling in gangs. Kind old men keen to point you in the right direction, issuing repeated warnings about being extra careful in bustling old Victoria train station.The mind-blowing opulence of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, built for princes and maharajas, every vase, chair, painting each something from a museum or art gallery.

Suite used by John and Yoko at the Taj Mahal Palace
Suite used by John and Yoko at the Taj Mahal Palace

Litter everywhere. Plastic bags bobbing in the sea. The mangrove marshes used as washing lines for Bandra’s slum-dwellers, kids running around as mums hang out colourful clothes to dry in the relentless sunshine. More car horns. Heat. Mobile phone rings. Italian restaurants.

A serene temple up some crumbling stairs, passing women say outside their front doors to catch some evening air. Serenity. Small children from Rajasthan ask us where we are from then run away giggling. Bazaars of coriander and chillis and red onions. Spices and garlic. Antique doors, compasses, time pieces, car parts.

Food markets near the Chor Bazaar
Food markets near the Chor Bazaar

Being on guard and letting it down. More speedy rickshaws who don’t know where they are going – directing them with iphone GPS on streets you’ve never been on. Energy. Assurance and confidence. Frustration at a 5% growth rate. A city and people getting up late but on the up.

One thought on “Travel notes: things I noticed in Mumbai

  1. Mumbai, a city like no other. I loved it and hated it in varying proportions. The energy, the beautiful colours, the bustle, the green, the stench, the imposing architecture like a dream from the past, the poverty, the heat.

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