india mumbai bombay - backpacking around the world in 333 days
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around the world in 333 days

REPORT 7 - Oct. 2000

India - Mumbai
Formerly known as Bombay

If London and New York pulsate to a 24-hour rhythm, then Mumbai can only be said to convulse. Polluted, overpopulated and at times down right filthy, this metropolis proves to be India's capital in everything but name. A staggering 50% of Mumbai's estimated 15 million inhabitants are thought to live on the streets, while at the same time, an ever-expanding plethora of bars and restaurants cater for Mumbai's other residents, the seriously rich.

After six week in India, maybe we had become a little hardened to the scenes of poverty all around, as Mumbai did not live up to its terrible reputation. Yes, the smell is disgusting and disfigured beggars and street children can be heart wrenching, but ignore the sceptics and, like us, you will find plenty of gems lurking beneath the urban detritus.

A trip to Mumbai would not be complete without a visit to the Gateway of India, its most recognisable landmark. Built in honour of the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911, it was once the main gateway into India. Today though it only serves to welcome back day-trippers from the nearby Elephanta Island. India gate was extremely busy, the surrounding concourse full of balloon sellers, peanut vendors and snake charmers, all vying for our last rupees. The gate itself is a large and impressive structure, with scenic views across the harbour but the crowds meant we moved on quickly. Overlooking the scene is the grand Taj Mahal hotel, where Bollywood movie stars and ministers stay when they are in town.

A five-minute walk from India gate, past the remarkable Flora fountain, brings you to Colaba Causeway, Mumbai's version of Oxford St. Crammed full of western shops, cinemas, bars and restaurants the causeway is the place where young Mumbai hipsters hang out. Unfortunately, there are as many street vendors as there are shops, making it crowded and a little seedy, but for those who like to shop, this could be paradise. Stores such as Levi's and Benetton sell clothes for around half the price of those in the U.K!

South of Colaba Causeway we smelt out the fish market at Sassoon docks, which was enough to put us off eating fish in Mumbai again. Dumped on the filthy floor was the day's catch - piles of fish of all descriptions surrounded by flies. The most staggering sight was the hundreds of women and children who squatted in the piles of shrimps shelling them by hand. The stench of fish was unbelievable but the colour and life of the market proved to be an eye-opener. Unfortunately the markets location near to the military docks meant that photography was strictly prohibited.

The next day we went in search of more real life action at the Municipal Dhobi Ghats, where Mumbai sends its laundry. We were lucky enough to be allowed to enter the ghats, which are usually off limits to visitors and what a sight it was. Apart from the odd Ariel packet lying around, it felt like we had stepped back in time about two centuries. Men and boys scrubbed away, beating the clothes to a pulp by hand and thrashing them on stone slaps. The water was a murky grey colour, so I was surprised at how clean and fresh smelling the clothes hanging up looked.

Providing a sharp contrast to the ghats is Marine drive, home to the richest of India's residents. Movie stars and celebrities make this 'the' place to live in Mumbai and tatty looking apartments regularly change hands for millions of dollars. It was nicknamed the 'Queens necklace' by the British because of the dramatic curve of its streetlights. At the top of Marine Drive is Chowpatty beach where, it seems, Mumbai dumps its rubbish but it still draws hordes of Indian tourists eager to have their picture taken next to the sea.

Mumbai was our final stop in and maybe we caught a glimpse of the India of the future. As the financial capital, Mumbai seemed a million miles away from the rural existence we had seen on the camel safari. It is hard to believe that the so advanced and the so technically backward can exist alongside each other in the same country. Part of India's beauty, though, is its diversity and unfortunately in our short six-week stay we only got to see a fraction of it. From the terror of the bus journeys, to the breathtaking first sights of the Taj Mahal, we will never forget our stay. We saw the unbelievable and we saw the shocking but the friendliness of the people in spite of such adversity was truly touching and will remain with us forever.

Jon & liz
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Gateway of India


Taj Mahal Hotel


The Flora Fountain


Municipal Dhobi Ghats

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REPORT ARCHIVE
The Beginning 14 - THAILAND Bangkok
01 - INDIA Delhi 15 - THAILAND Bridge Over the River Kwai
02 - INDIA Agra Taj Mahal 16 - THAILAND Chang Mai - The Long Necks
03 - INDIA Jaipur 17 - AUSTRALIA Kakadu National Park
04 - INDIA Camel Safari 18 - AUSTRALIA Ayers Rock
05 - INDIA Mount Abu 19 - AUSTRALIA Great barrier Reef
06 - INDIA Goa 20 - AUSTRALIA Fraser Island
07 - INDIA Mumbai (Bombay) 21 - AUSTRALIA Sydney
08 - HONG KONG 22 - NEW ZEALAND South Island
09 - PHILIPPINES Boracay & Panglao Island 23 - NEW ZEALAND North Island
10 - PHILIPPINES Bohol Chocolate Hills 24 - USA Hawaii Oahu Island
11 - PHILIPPINES Banaue Rice Terraces 25 - USA San Francisco
12 - MALAYSIA Kuala Lumpur 26 - USA Washington DC
13 - MALAYSIA Penang, Georgetown 27 - USA New York
  28 - UK - THE END
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