Monday, 23 February 2015

India: Mumbai

With our time in India running away from us, we thought we'd better make a start on our Southern adventure. With budget being the main concern for us, we had no other option than to brave a 27 hour train journey from Varanasi to Mumbai, which was a massive 1,634KM, but costing just £6 (god we love you India!). We were really organised and planned for our meals to be delivered directly to us at certain train stations along the way using a company called TravelKhana. This is an amazing website which allows you to enter your travel details from where you view many different menus of local restaurants who will bring you food directly to your seat on the train. So there we were about 8 hours into our train journey and getting close to the train station where we had selected our dinner to be delivered. Bethan with her head hanging out of the window looking for mister food delivery man got a little apprehensive when 10 minutes into the stop we were still missing our meals. Suddenly the train began to pull away from the station and utter devastation set in as we found ourselves with nothing to eat! Luckily we were sharing our cabin with a very helpful Indian man who overheard our conversation and kindly phoned the company to see what was the issue. Apparently they had cancelled our order because we had not provided them with an Indian phone number in which to contact us. He didn't leave us starving though as at the next station he hopped off the train, ran quickly into the food stall there and came back with a thali for each of us, telling us "you are our guest, you cannot go hungry". This was the cutest thing ever! 

So after a pretty good nights sleep and numerous hours of entertaining ourselves on the train we finally arrived into Mumbai! After a 20 minute drive in the worlds coolest taxi we'd arrived at our hostel - Anjali Homestay. We really struggled to find somewhere that was within our budget so went on a recommendation of the previous hostel in Varanasi and booked this place. It's in the suburbs of Mumbai where most of the wealthy residents live, so the area was filled with places to eat and even a direct metro line into the other districts of the city. The owner of the hostel was really friendly, offered us loads of day tours and recommendations of what to do in Mumbai, we even left at the end of our stay with an invitation to his nieces wedding in a few weeks time down in Goa. 

We opted for a tour of Dharavi, one of the biggest slums in the world. When we decided on a slum tour we thought we'd be wading through a dirty dangerous neighbourhood filled with uneducated, unemployed poor people - oh how wrong we were! Photographs inside Dharavi were banned so unfortunately the only ones we can share are the sneaky few we took before entering. We were met at a nearby train station by a group of others from the hostel and our tour guide. Our tour guide introduced himself and told us his story of how he got his first job within the slum, then saw daily tours passing past his workshop and thought this was something he could be interested in doing. So he worked really hard and watched Hollywood movies as a way to learn English and eventually got himself a tour guide job. First, he took us to the working section of the slum which was filled with approximately 5000 business and 15,000 single room factories specialising in textile, pottery, leather and recycling. We were told how the slum makes over $500million  profit per year! The working conditions of some of the factories were awful, with toxic substances filling the air. Next we were taken to the residential section of the slum which is occupied by an estimated 1 million people, of both Hindi and Muslim religion. As the slum is greatly overpopulated sanitation is a major problem with an estimated one toilet per 1,440 residents. As a result the residents have resorted to creating a toileting area, which is basically a mass of open land in which they do their business. We were told how the slum is not necessarily occupied by poorer people, as many richer people choose to 'hide' in the slum to avoid paying for housing and taxes. We also saw that some of the children living in the slum are educated at the most prestigious private schools with very expensive fees. 

After our very intense tour of the slum we decided to catch a taxi into the Colaba area of the city - first stop, Leopold Cafe for lunch. We were shocked to learn that the cafe was one of the first sites to be targeted during the terror attacks of Mumbai in 2008, where bullet holes are still visible on some of the walls. As the cafe is quite famous, the prices were way out our budget so we went looking for somewhere else and luckily enough, just across the street we found a small restaurant serving delicious Indian food for very cheap indeed! Next stop in Colaba was the Gateway of India which was built to commemorate the landing of King George V and Queen Mary. It is referred to as the Gateway of India as in earlier times this would have been the first structure that visitors arriving by boat would have seen. As luck of timing really does seem to be on our side throughout our trip of India, we just to happened to visit the Gateway during a practice run of the upcoming 'Navy Day' celebrations.

The next morning we got into contact with a couple who we met during our stay in Amritsar, who just so happened to live within walking distance of the hostel we were staying. Nishi and Adith were kind enough to invite us into their home for lunch with their family, which we happily accepted. After the most amazing home cooked meal, Nishi showed us an album which contained everything about her and Adith since they met. It was the cutest thing ever, with hundreds of pictures of their vacations together and birthday surprises they had done for one another. It was lovely to see a couple so happy. After chatting away for numerous hours we soon realised our time in Mumbai was coming to an end, so we hurried off to catch our sleeper bus down to Goa. 

Here are a few pictures from our time in Mumbai:

Our first glimpse of Dharavi slum

Gateway of India
Taj Mahal Hotel
Navy Day Celebrations
I'll take this one :P

Sunset at the Gateway of India
'Women only' carriage on the Metro
Fun times with Nishi
Here we come Goa! 

Happy Wanderers

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