Back in India - Mumbai
Jan 18, 2017
|The morning starts with an overly complicated customs process. Wait till your number is called while you panic whether you will get processed before your tour starts. And then only once you have your yellow landing card you have to through 3 police check stops showing the card and passport copy. Finally we meet our guide Samil or Sam.
He is a young college student working part time but very knowledgeable and great sense of humour. We start at the Gateway to India. Built by King George V in 1911 to commemorate the visit with his wife Queen Mary. More significantly when the British rule ended the Brits left through this gate.
Different from last year there is much security around the gate and the beautiful Tag Palace Hotel. The Tag being one of 6 sites in the terrorist bombings of 2008. Seven Pakistani terrorists attack two hotels, a hospital and other government building, all planned out weeks before. Overall 276 people died including 6 of the terrorists and over 700 were injured. Inside the Taj is a memorial to the 30+ people, primarily foreigners, who died there.
The hotel is stunning built by Tata, the wealthiest Indian, after he went to a different hotel during British rule that had a sign saying “dogs and Indians not allowed”. There are many beautiful buildings in Mumbai all owned by the government. As they took over from British rule the government only kept the nice buildings the rest they gave to the people.
Our next stop is Sassoon docks, the oldest in the area active since 1871. It is a major beehive of activity yet according to Sam it is actually quiet as it is the Kite festival. In India 70% of the catch is exported but how much of that does the fisherman actually see. The streets are filled with women cleaning prawns for which they get 10 rupees or $0.20 for a kilo and therefore about 50 rupees an hour.
Our next stop is the Dhobi Ghats or outdoor laundry. We were here last year but it was late in the day and quiet. Today there are men bashing jeans on cement walls, scrubbing shirts and working primitive washing and drying machines. Fascinating, especially when you consider that 20% is commercial ... ie hotel sheets.
We now stop at the origin of cricket, Mumbai’s Big Ben and the High Courts all in a single square. Of course as with all streets they are wild with traffic and honking. As Sam tells us ‘everywhere in the world when you get in the car you check the breaks first but in India it is the horn, if that works it is all good’.
We take the scenic route along Marine Dr or the Queen’s necklace. Stopping next at the home of Ghandi, Mani Bharan, where he lived from 1917-31. It does a great job of explaining his life. Interestingly he was key to the development of the flag. The Saffron colour for courage and sacrifice, White for truth and peace, Green for faith and strength and the wheel depicting his famous spinning wheel for motion.
While we visit Sam arranges for our lunch, an Indian burger and Parapha. The former being a pakhora in a bun with spices.. although you can have sweet mayonis or mayonnaise. The parapha a corn and wheat flour with a real kick. Of course I am dying with the heat and I got the mild version.
Next stop is through the rich area of Malabar Hill although you don’t see many fabulous homes. At the top is the Hanging Gardens, a bit disappointing. Not very beautiful but could be just time of year. But from here we can see the 26 floor single home of the richest Indian, Mukesh Ambani, and industrialist and telecom giant.
While Tata has more money he gives away 80%. Ambani apparently does not as the first 6 floors are for his 223 cars and the 7th is half movie theater, half McDonald’s. Yes McDonald’s! 605 people live in here but only 5 are the family.
Our last viewing is the Tower of Silence. Hard to see through the trees but we can view the stairs up to the well. Here those of the Parsee religion dumped dead bodies’ into a well where they are eaten by birds and other animals.
While our tour is supposed to end Sam asks if we would like to add on a 1.5 hours to the largest slum, Dharavi. As we have time before sail away we are in and how fascinating. This is biggest of slums with over 2 million people. There are over 200 slum areas in Mumbai with 15m people out of the 22m in total.
In this slum the people have worked hard to eliminate the prostitution, drugs and mafia. Today they have gone big into recycling, particularly plastic. Collecting items all over India they bring them back to breakdown and sell back. All of this done is tiny little cement rooms.
We bob and weave through the alleys on the commercial side and then cross over to the residential side. Here we watch the guys making Khamani out of just wheat flour, butter and salt. 90% of Indians have this every day for breakfast.
They have to be organized only 4 hours of water in the morning. They store it for use the rest of the day till the next morning. At the same time they only get electricity in the evenings cooking during the day is on ash or wood stoves.
Now we go deep into a series of incredibly narrow and low alleys. It is very dark and in trying to pass a small child I step into a deep water hole. Water that is disgusting...fortunately I am wearing socks. It takes a good scrub and 2 days to dry.
This is truly right out of Slumdog Millionaire. There are 10000 alley ways like this and this one is short. How they find their way even with house numbers is amazing.
We also pass 4 different schools. Private, semi-private, foundation and government. If you were to judge the level of education then it would be 100, 80, 70 and 0%. The latter sadly more important to get the kids free food and clothing then an education.
As we wander out Sam shares that we are only 10 minutes from his home in the Slum. Just goes to show that there is a wide range of people in the slums. His mother a teacher and father a lab tech yet this is what they can afford.
Back on ship for cocktails and drinks. I now have the beginning of a sore throat. Oh no ..