Hello Mumbai – finally

It’s my fifth trip to India, Jane’s six, Amy’s third, and finally we get to actually see Mumbai. Although we departed from here in 2011’s Monsoon Meandering trip, and we arrived here four weeks ago, we’ve never visited Mumbai.

I’ve been put off by the stories, the hotel costs, but I did want to see the bedlam and how modern it is. Immediately it felt like Mumbai was in a different country to Badami we’d just come from.

After a couple of hours rest in the hotel we walked to Vile Parle to get a train in – yes I know, another train after the morning’s chaos. It was a lot simpler this time, no rush-hour, no backpacks, getting off at the train’s terminus.

Now lunch time and having skipped breakfast it was food time. First choice was obvious, a Frankie roll, Mumbai’s famous fast food.

We stopped at the station’s Frankie stall – that’s it in the video – for some delicious food. The first of many I hoped, soon regretting the lack of days we had in Mumbai.

Photo requests galore

It was time to stroll on slowly through the parks and quiet wide roads to see the a few places. First up was the Gateway to India, from where the last British soldiers exited in 1948.

Having just rained it was like an ice rick for my flip-flops and avoiding tumbles became my occupation. It soon became the number one place for selfie requests, mainly of Amy of course. It was relentless so we didn’t spend long here and headed off to see the hotel nearby.

Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai

The Taj Mahal Hotel is a beautiful looking hotel in a prime position in Mumbai. I remember watching live footage of it during the November 2008 terror attacks, along with Leopold’s Cafe and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus – all of which we’d see today or tomorrow. A friend Jonathan who’d we’d met in 2009 in Ranthambhore comes here regularly so I was interested to see what the draw is. As lovely as it is, it’s not for us, or rather our budget.

Amy enjoy’s a coke float at Leopold’s

Some shopping followed as we headed to the Leopold Cafe – another focus of the 2008 attacks – for a cheeky beer for me, a tea for Jane and a coke float which made Amy happy.

The place was bustling and had a really nice vibe to it. I bought two of the glasses – they’re dishwasher safe, but unfortunately the writing isn’t.

We headed home, first to Vile Parle and got some wonderful food nearby at Shiv Sagar Veg Restaurant, this time opting for another Mumbai classic, Pav Bhaji, which I really enjoyed…once I’d looked around to see how you’re meant to eat it.

Pav Bhaji – I loved this and have tried to make it back home but it’s not the same

Mumbai arrival bonkers

You know I overplan things right? But on the plus side rarely does anything go wrong.

Well, buckle up.

Mumbai map

With no useful trains from Badami to Mumbai we got to Bagalkot but even then no trains went direct to Mumbai centre. Instead I’d planned to get off at Vasai Road, north of Mumbai. The train came in at 9:30am, after commuter rush hour, so we’d just catch a taxi, tuk-tuk or at worst a train, or so I thought.

I went off to find a taxi or tuk-tuk on the east side of the station, nothing. West side, nothing. No travel agents or places anywhere. We’re stuck, we’ll have to catch a train, but this place is so busy

Three tickets to Vile Parle station bought for less than £1 each and we head off to the train. It’s rammed. It feels like commuting from Waterloo’s Jubilee Line at rush hour, but without dignified queuing or any personal space.

Here’s a video someone else shot – this is normal Mumbai rush hour

We completely fail to get on two trains and some locals are getting annoyed with us because of our rucksacks taking up another person’s space each. One tells me to either go north and try and get on a train up there to return south, or wait here until it dies down a bit, he thinks around two hours should do it.

Stepping back we give up. I notice the ladies only carriage is relatively empty – by which I mean it might be possible to fit a single sardine in there, a small one maybe.

“Okay, Jane, here’s your tickets, here’s some money*, you need to get to Vile Parle or Andheri at worst, then get a tuk-tuk to Hotel International. Ladies Only carriage is there, meet you at the hotel.”. I help them onto the train which barely even stops, they only just fit in.

I’m unable to get on the next two trains so with sharpened elbows I make sure I get on the third and I’m pushed and squeezed more than ever before. A passenger helps me realise that the train is not going to Vile Parle but to Andheri, one station north, but to get off I’ve got to be on the other side of the train. How on earth!

Four stations from Andheri he instructs me to move towards the other side, I get at least a foot closer before the people piling in put me right back where I started. Three stations, two, one and I’m closer. I feel the stress levels rise as Andheri approaches. I’m out, it was easy, because I had dozens of people behind me wanting to get out too.

Outside the tuk-tuk tells me we won’t take me, then he will for Rs500, then he ups it. A police officer comes along and tells him to take me for Rs200 which I estimate distance-wise is three times too much. I would have done it for Rs600, or Rs1000, just to get to the hotel. Fifty minutes later I arrive, the traffic was mad and I feel guitly for thinking Rs200 was ripping me off, I tip him well.

The welcoming smile from the reception guy at Hotel International was so comforting, Jane and Amy had made it, but only recently.

*just in case you’re wondering, Jane prefers me to carry the cash, it’s not a chauvinism thing

Video: a short hop from Mumbai to Chennai

Although we landed in Mumbai our trip really started when we landed at Chennai, after spending two nights in Mumbai just in case our luggage never arrived with us. The ‘short hop’ was a 100 minute flight, across a bit and down a bit, showing just how big India is.
Currently we’re in Mamallapuram, or Mahabalipuram as it used to be known, or Mahabs as it’s called for short, or, as I call it, Hampi-by-the-sea.

Here’s a short video:

Suncity Cinema Sensation

Who’d have thought that we’d visit Dunkirk in India. Confused? I mean the new box office movie which was sensational!

We visited the nearby Sun City cinema and booked our tickets two hours early for a princely sum of Rs450, which is around £6, yes that’s right, for all of us. We got three tickets for less than the price of one in England. After buying our bargain bucket of popcorn and drinks (Rs190, about £2.50), we settled into our comfy seats and awaited the adverts and trailers. The screen lit up. Yeah, it’s starting!

Suddenly, the audience all stood up as the national anthem played, whilst a huge Indian flag fluttered on the screen. Slight awkward moment. Do we sit or stand? We decided to join in with everyone else. Perhaps this might catch on in UK? Or not!

Painted wall in the cinema, showing film directors

Immediately afterwards, Dunkirk started and within seconds – there were no trailers – we were totally engrossed, especially me, who might have jumped a few times (not a great idea when holding popcorn!).

I was really enjoying the movie when abruptly (about half way through) the screen went black. Damn a powercut, Amy thought, but no, the lights came up and people went out for refreshments. We weren’t expecting that!

It was great to experience the cinema in Mumbai, which is of course the centre of Bollywood. We’ll do this again but Bollywood style.

Mumbai accommodation – Hotel Airport International

Rs4200 £50
In Mumbai our accommodation for two nights is the Hotel Airport International, a fairly standard budget hotel very close to Mumbai’s domestic airport, not too far from the international airport. We stayed here at the end of our 2011 trip, arriving late by a 13 hour train from Goa and departing early for a flight home. We never really saw much of the hotel but it did us very well and I had no hesitation to stay here again.