30 April 2013

Mumbai- Slumdogs and Millionaires

When I saw "Slumdog Millionaire" in the cinema all those years ago, I immediately made my mind up: If India is that hardcore, I don't ever wanna go there, and especially not Mumbai. I would have to eat my words. Yes, "Slumdog Millionaire" is a great movie, but Mumbai(previously Bombay) is a whole lot more than a movie location.

In hindsight I've come to realize that in many cases of travelling in India, it is not the destination that is the most challenging and interesting, it is the journey itself. From Hampi we missed our train to Hubli where we could take a train to Mumbai. Because we didn't want to spend one night in Hubli(Kat and Aaron had a strict time budget), which by the way was a nice little city, we decided to take a chance on a night bus instead. We hadn't booked anything, since the ticket operator at the station told us there were always seats on the Mumbai buses. Apparently, he didn't know much because after asking most of the bus drivers at the station which bus was to Mumbai, we finally got the devastating news: The buses to Mumbai was packed to the brim. One of the other passengers who also wanted to get on the bus helped us suggesting that we could take the night bus to Pune and then take a train, three hours or so, to Mumbai. We were a bit lost at that point and figured that the closer we were to Mumbai the better. On the way we stopped several places during the night. It turned out we were lucky to get seats. After a couple of hours we made a stop and about ten people tried to get on. It was close to packed already and some of them sat down in the aisle committing themselves to get on the bus. One guy sat down with a blanket over him and leaned on my legs. I was too tired to make a deal out of it, but after a while the guy who sat next to me said something to him(this was one of the times I desperately wished I could speak Hindi) and they broke out into a fight(fists and everything) which led to the guy sitting on the floor getting off at the next stop. Needless to say I didn't get much sleep that night. We arrived in the early morning hours, rush hours I assume; the train station in Pune was so full that we could barely move. Because we would have to stand in the ticket line for what could be hours we decided to be crazy and get on the train without a ticket. We were obviously not the only ones. The train we wanted to take was so packed that it was like taken out of a photo or documentary, people were holding on for life, and so packed there wasn't a cm left to stand on. So we gave up on that and went back to the ticket booth and bought tickets on a different train, albeit not an express, but at least with assigned seats. 
Victoria Terminus Railway Station

As we reached our station and was met with the Victoria Terminus Station building; a beautiful, classic building like taken out of a fairy-tale, I was relieved. There were no sky scrapers, no air so polluted it's impossible to see five meters ahead of you and no slums. It later turned out we had been lucky. If we had gotten the first train we would have gotten off a Mumbai Central and not CST (previously Victoria Terminus) where we landed, our experience would have been completely different. We did go off at Central Mumbai one of the three days we spent there and found it to be very much like what I expected of a big, busy Indian city; noisy, polluted and in very bad shape.
Mumbai Central
Like usual we hadn't booked a hotel; it was hard to find accommodation online and also someone had ripped out the Mumbai pages in our Lonely Planet. It all worked out though. We got a perfect, newly renovated room for three in a quiet street and after a little bit of haggling we got a discount too. By the time we had gotten to Mumbai we were so used to haggling that it wasn't even an issue. We haggled everywhere and about everything.
Hotel Taj Mahal Palace

Gateway of India
The hotel was about a fifteen minute walk from Gateway of India and Hotel Taj Mahal Palace, two of India's most famous landmarks, located in Colaba, an area of South Mumbai. One thing I found cute in the beginning of the journey but annoying in the end, was Indians wanting to take photos with us. I never really understood why, it's just a really funny phenomenon. I took my touristy photos including a nipple photo of one of the towers of Hotel Taj Mahal Palace.

We also had a bit of a walk around amongst the other beautiful Victorian Buildings. The museum of Prince Wales is amazing, and an old super exclusive library that you would have to pay about $450 just to become a member of, and then some. South Mumbai is most popular among tourists because of the museums, art galleries, upscale restaurants and luxury brand shopping. In short, it is the Manhattan of Mumbai.

Official poster to "Jab Tak Hai Jaan"

By the end of the night we also watched a Bollywood movie, in hindi, and it was surprisingly easy to understand what was going on. I guess the recipe for most Indian movies is the same. Impossible love. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy wins girl back. Disappointingly the Indians in the movie theatre were not dancing or clapping loudly while watching, which was why we wanted to see the movie in the first place. It just wasn't that kind of theatre I guess. In despite of that it was actually really entertaining, a solid blockbuster with an impressive soundtrack(if you're in to that)and last but not least; the biggest Bollywood superstars around.
There are more than 12,5 million inhabitants in Mumbai(according to a survey anyway, it is probably a whole lot more) Only in the largest slum in Mumbai there are about one million people. 'Reality tours and travel' is a company that specializes in Slum tours, originally a project to break down the stereo types, but are also dedicated to provide English and computer classes for the residents with money from the slum tours. I never went because I felt it was wrong to look at the inhabitants like some sort of Zoo animals. Later I heard from friends who went, that the inhabitants welcome tourists, much  because it is easy for them to sell their products to tourists, meaning everything from embroidery, pottery, jewelry, bakery goods and leather.
 Cutting the grass with scissors; definitely need two people to that
In short, Mumbai is an intriguing city, mostly because of its diversity. From the extreme poverty of the slums, to parts where the richest people in India live. We saw obviously wealthy, brand wearing, Frappuccino drinking, highly educated and sophisticated Indians. But around the corner we found whole families living on the street. Our last day when we had to get to the train station at 4.30 am, there were rows of people sleeping under blankets on the street. Another day we saw teenagers doing heroin in the middle of the day, very publicly. We also saw a family living in their own garbage and excrements, and a naked baby laying in the middle of the streets, covered in dirt. It made a really strong impression, and was the first time I felt that I had seen more than I was prepared for. Experiences like that made me realize how lucky I've been to grow up where I did and in the family I did.
An apartment building we passed by; chaotic and shabby, but colorful; just like most of India.


1 comment:

  1. This is very lively and rich in detail with many aspects of Mumbai and Indian life. I seem to be able to follow you on your travels in complex India. It is really amazing that such wide differences can be found and be accepted as the norm so I must conclude that my norms are different from the Indian norms so that be it. Mumbai must be a really special place and you present it so well.