Day 1 – Mumbai
Our trip to India spanned 16 days and was almost four holidays in one. In Part 1, we visited Mumbai and a friend, Stuti, and her husband Sahil. In Part 2, we fly to Goa for two days in Panaji, Goa’s capital, followed by an Indian wedding in Candolim. Part 3, we travelled overnight on a rice boat along the Chapora river before flying to New Delhi for two days which included a day trip to the Taj Mahal. For the grand finale, we visited the Jim Corbett National Park and spent four days on safari before making the long trip home.
We were so excited about our holiday and after flying on so many short distance trips with just hand luggage, the first thing we attempted to do was go straight through to security with the large suitcase. The lady on the front looked at us like we were crazy and sent us on our way.
Our India trip was made up of four parts, our first stop was Mumbai to see a Uni friend and her husband. It was both of our first times in India and Jack’s second time out of Europe. As we were landing in Mumbai, the stark contrast between rich and poor was clear to see. Surrounding the edge of the airport was a slum which literally bordered the airport security fence.
We jumped in a taxi from the airport to Stuti and Sahil’s with our large suitcase on top of the car. Our first experience on the road was exactly as expected, no one staying in lanes, whole families on scooters, lots of different types of vehicle, and animal for that matter, a little bit of chaos and after stopping to ask four different people directions and calling Stuti twice, we made it to their apartment!
We settled in for some lunch of paneer curry with fried rice and chapati and to find out a little more about what Stuti had in store for our trip. Jack will often joke that I normally plan our trips down to the hour but I had left Mumbai up to Stuti. I had told her we want to see lots of different things, love a good market and wanted to do stuff that she hadn’t necessarily done either.
Our first stop was Haji Ali Dargah, a mosque and tomb built in 1431. Built on a small islet, you can only visit it when the tide is out as you have to walk along a narrow pathway which is swallowed up by the sea when the tide is in. It reminded me a little of visiting Elizabeth Castle in Jersey with my grandparents when I was younger as it has a similar setup.
Every day whole families come to visit the site and to be blessed. At one point I was swatted with a bunch of peacock feathers. We also took an offering to leave at the shrine. The outside was decorated beautifully and there were some workers sat on bamboo scaffolding mending parts of it as we wandered around.
A group of Sufi musicians sang the entire time we were there and created the perfect background music.
Whole families visit here to play in the sea surrounding Haji Ali Dargah. We walked out on the rocks and I was so busy trying to watch where I was going, hold up Stuti who had worn slip-on shoes and hold onto my headscarf that at one point I slipped on the rocks and landed hard of my bum. Que very large bruise for the rest of the holiday!
As with my trip to China, it amazed me how people can just sleep in what I can only describe as chaos with cars, bikes and people making lots of noise.
It was like being back in China, as there was also lots of moments where people would stand in front of me and take a selfie with me in the background. People weren’t shy or trying to hide the fact that they were filming me as they walked past either. Sahil took great pride in making sure that he got in the way of as many of the pictures as possible. I feel a bit sorry for all the people who now have a photo of him with his thumb up in the background of one of their photos. He had said he had heard people talking about white people being harassed with photos but never experienced it first hand.
One of the things that Stuti was desperate for us to try was a custard apple yoghurt called sitafal cream which we picked up from outside the main entrance. It was fair to say that Jack and I practically had a fight over who was going to finish it!
While we were waiting for our sitafal cream to be packaged up, we saw a sign scrolling through numerous messages about driving including the two below; ‘Lane Driving is Sane Driving’ and ‘Speed is a Limit and Not a Target’.
We headed back to her apartment to chill and catch up before heading out for dinner and drinks. The first bar we were to was called The Bar Stock Exchange. They didn’t have a fixed price menu, instead, it ran as a stock exchange based on real-time demand. If lots of people are ordering one type of drink, the price goes up, while the fewer people who are drinking another type, the price goes down. It was such a cool concept and large screens all around the bar constantly told you the price of a drink!
Stuti and Sahil were keen to make us try as many different things as possible while we were there, so we spent a lot of time visiting places to order one or two things on the menu to share and then moved onto the next place. Here we ordered some Indian inspired Chinese food, Kung Pao Potatoes and chilli chicken. They also some really cool graffiti.
We then headed to another bar called Toit which was a brewery where the boys tried some different beers.
The final place we visited was called Flea Bazaar Cafe. It reminded me a little of Dinerama in London but was basically a large space with multiple food places, a bar and a DJ. We ordered a tunday kebab from a place called Lucknowee and chicken rolls from Goila which were a bit like burritos. All of the food we ate on this day set off our holiday perfectly.
Within Flea Bazaar Cafe there was a shop. I attempted to bargain for a pair of sunglasses in a drunken state and got my 0’s in the wrong place. It turned out I hadn’t learnt the currency yet and had tried to barter to pay him more than he had actually asked for.
On the way out Stuti made us eat some paan, a betel leaf filled with nut, coconut, spices and some fruits which by the way is not nice and the leaf stays in your mouth forever! They are meant to be eaten after your meal to help digest your food and most have cardamom in to freshen your breath.
I did not like it and spent most of the taxi journey home choking on it!
Every morning Stuti and Sahil’s cook comes to cook a meal. Stuti had asked her specifically to make us some more traditional meals and some of their favourites while we were there. It blew my mind when I heard that they pay her just £40 a month which is just crazy to me! They also have a cleaner comes every day for £20 a month. Sahil was particularly excited about this evenings meal as it was one of his favourites!
We also watched the parakeets flying around in the park opposite their apartment. In the morning they come and sit on their bedroom windowsill and are the most beautiful bright green.
After breakfast, we headed out to the Gateway of India to get a boat over to Elephanta Island. The Gateway of India is a monument built to commemorate King George V and Queen Mary’s visit to India in 1911. It is an impressive sight and the area is constantly surrounded by people taking photos. Despite this being one of the more touristy things to do in Mumbai, even here all of the tourists were mostly Indian. It also sits next to the Taj Mahal Hotel which dwarfs the monument next to it!
We bought a ticket for the boat to take us over to Elephanta Island and an hour later we arrived having paid an extra amount to sit on the top deck of the boat.
Something we quickly learnt in India was that people do not like to walk anywhere and taxi and rickshaw drivers do not understand why you would not get into their cab and chose to walk. On docking at Elephanta Island, you can get a train to take you from the boat to the bottom of the hill for a small fee, or walk less than a kilometre. The queue for the train could have filled it twice over and they would have almost definitely waited for longer standing for the train than it would have taken to just walk. There were cows everywhere! At the end of the train drop off stop you can pay to enter the Island itself.
On Elephanta Island there are a collection of cave temples built into the rock dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. Intricately carved, they’ve been subject to a lot of damage over the years, but are still beautiful to see.
I decided that I needed to use the toilet which cost 5 rupees for women and 2 rupees for women. I was reminded of the inability of some Indian people to queue and wait for their turn. Every time a door opened in the toilet, a bunch of women would basically smash their way in and the lady who was trying to get out would be lucky to escape. It was hilarious to watch, but I did manage to actually pee.
We were just generally stood around people, monkey and cow watching when a guy knelt down and started taking some photos of a monkey. A cow walked up behind him and literally took him out, knocking him to the ground and just walked on by.
After a quick bite to each at the bottom of the hill, we bought some ice lollies and we headed up the hill to the caves. My mango ice lolly was amazing and anyone who knows me knows that I like a good ice cream; however, something else also had its eyes on my ice cream. A large female monkey locked eyes with me and headed straight towards me. I knew not to argue and just dropped my ice cream for it. I might have had my rabies shot, but I was not about to test it out!
I was gutted, but we carried on up through the market to get to the caves. There were some really beautiful things in the market, but one of my favourite moments was when Stuti asked one of the sellers for a price of a large piece of amethyst stone, the seller looked at Stuti, then looked at me the very obvious white girl, looked back at Stuti and with an obvious smirk on her face said 2000 rupees (£20), Stuti scoffed and we walked away. Stuti told me that if I liked something or she liked something that I had to not be there for the negotiation as my whiteness would ruin any negotiations. Sahil asked again about the same piece of amethyst on the way down and was told it was 600 rupees.
We finally made it up the hill to the caves without being attacked by any monkeys and still with money in our pockets and paid again to get into the caves themselves. There are no signs explaining anything anywhere so we had to do a little more reading up when we got back. You can not beat a little bit of Wikipedia! Dating back to the 5th-9th Century, the caves hold sculptures and small temples of Hindu and Buddhist ideas.
An awful lot is damaged which is such a shame as they are so impressive. To still hold the rock above, large decorated columns are staggered throughout. Inside there are large sculptures of the Hindu God Shiva and stories relating to them. They were really beautiful completely unexpected.
On the way back through the market, I did find some bits I wanted to buy, first up was an elephant printed on silk and the second was an old postcard which had two green parakeets hand painted on it. Stuti later translated the postcard which had been sent into a radio station as a request for a song. The parakeets are the same as the ones that come and sit on her windowsill in the apartment and fly around the park outside, so we felt it was a very fitting souvenir from our time in Mumbai.
After getting the boat back over to the mainland, we attempted to take our own photos in front of the Gateway of India. There were thousands of people around which made it hard in itself; however, it was made significantly harder again by the people who followed us around trying to take photos with us in the background. Every time we attempted to stand, a group would station themselves just in front of us and edge ever closer. At one point they’d formed a queue to try and get in on the action. I honestly do not know how celebrities cope.
From the Gateway of India, we went for a walk to get out and about in central Mumbai. First up was the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. There were lots of large pieces of cool art, including a large three-headed horse, a colourful piece made out of wheel spokes along with lots of interactive displays, as well as numerous artists of all kinds selling their creations from little stalls. At one point a group of men pulled a statue of Ganesh came past chanting.
Just outside of the art festival we found a young girl on a tightrope. Her balance was incredible and at one point she carried a plate across the rope in her feet, while carrying a pole and balancing numerous pots on her head. I was also obsessed with how colourful the buses and trucks all are. On every corner, you will find a food stall selling a different type of Indian dish and the mix of traditional Indian clothing and western style dress is fascinating to see.
Some of the buildings are so English inspired that they wouldn’t look out of place in central London.
This is where the start of our food tour started. One of the places we were told we had to go to was an old Parsi cafe. The one we headed to was called Stadium Restaurant where we were introduced to bun maska, a sweet bread roll with chai tea which we ate alongside some veg puffs. I love bread and butter by itself, so this was a dream to me and it was cheap as chips.
The second restaurant we headed to was called Shree Sunder and served more local food and we ordered a range of dishes including pav bhaji (a mix of spiced vegetables mashed up and served with bread), doha (a flat pancake style savoury dish with butter), dahi batata chaat (a potato and yoghurt dish served in pani puri which hollow fried round crisps) and sev (small pieces of crunchy noodles made from chickpea flour paste). The four of us ate for less than £5.
We jumped in a cab and stopped just around the corner from Stuti and Sahil’s apartment at the vegetable market to pick up the ingredients for the cook’s dishes for tomorrow.
Stuti and Sahil showed us lots of different types of fruit and vegetables that we do not often see and the market sellers took great pride in talking us through the million different types of lentils and rice they had for sale.
The herb seller where we bought a massive bunch of coriander, took so much interest in me, he asked his friend to take a photo of me pretending to buy a bunch of parsley from him!
We headed back to the apartment to chill and digest before dinner and Stuti and I popped next door to visit her neighbours newborn baby. She had just been fed when we arrived and quickly settled on my lap and fell asleep. She was yet to be named, but her name had to begin with the letter G because of the alignment of the stars at the time of her birth. I also learnt that it was custom to pierce a baby girls ears pretty much as soon as they’re born and her nose when she was about 8 or 9. I remember the arguments I had with my mum who refused to let me get my ears pierced until I was 13 when she finally gave in!
For dinner, we had one turned out to be our favourite dish of the holiday! It was called baingan bharta which is a smoked aubergine curry along with lentil daal served with chapatis.
Indian custom is to eat with your hands and Sahil found it hilarious watching me make what he described as baingan burritos. It became an interesting topic of discussion between cultural differences and how Jack and I as kids when we used our hands were told to stop playing with our food, yet Stuti and Sahil both agreed that to them, using cutlery not only changed the taste of their food, but they didn’t feel satisfied with their dinner if they used it. I admired the skill of scooping up your food with your hands throughout our trip and never really got the hang of it.
To make up for the monkey stealing my first ice-cream we ordered an ice cream delivery from naturals, which definitely made up for it!
For breakfast, Stuti had asked her cook to make upma, a south Indian dish make of course rice flour which is kind of like porridge.
As it was now Monday, Sahil had to go to work and Stuti, Jack and I spent the morning chilling at the apartment. Sahil popped home for lunch, where Jack and I fought over the remaining baingan bharta from yesterday and had a kidney bean curry called rajma chawal, with a coriander and mint dip. Stuti also made us buttermilk called chaas, a yoghurt based drink, which she loves, so much so that when Jack and I declared we didn’t she finished both of ours as well.
After lunch, we headed off to Crawford Market, a large wholesale market that sold everything you could think of including flowers, jewellery, material and spices. Jack became fascinated with people watching and taking photos but it became very clear that tourists, especially white ones, don’t tend to visit this market. Jack complained at one point that his attempt at taking photos was quite difficult as everyone was just looking straight at him!
Before leaving home, I had visited an Indian fabric shop to buy some latkans, tassel-like pieces that you attached to the end of the ties of your skirts. I had really struggled to choose between about 5 different ones that matched my skirt, but in Crawford Market I was amazed by the range of styles and colours and wondered how anyone ever made a choice!
I did manage to find some jewellery to complete my outfit for the wedding which I was very happy with. In England, you walk into a shop and everything is on display for you to chose from. In India, you walk into a shop, tell them what kind of thing you’re looking for and they produce, open and unwrap pieces out of boxes for you to chose from. I felt like I was wasting their time and was being rude by constantly saying no to what they were showing me; however, Stuti said that it was very normal and just how people shopped in India, as long as I was polite I could stay as long as needed without feeling bad for not buying anything. In one jewellery shop, we encountered a woman who was shouting at the staff in the shop as they continued to produce items in front of her. After she left, Stuti translated that she was telling them that she was very busy and did not have time to spend and that they needed to help her quicker, something that apparently happens far too often.
I could have spent hours in the fabric section of the market where I felt like I stroked every roll of material as we walked past. The spice section was our go to and we stocked up on a range of things for cheap which ended up stinking out our suitcase and all of our clothes for the remainder of our trip. At one point later in New Delhi, I had to move the spices from the bedroom into the living room of our apartment because the smell was so strong!
After exploring the market, we were to Kayani Cafe, another parsi cafe and enjoyed some more bun maska chai and we bought a cake to take home with us to celebrate my birthday.
For dinner, one of Sahil’s friends joined us and we ordered some Chinese food including some dumplings and a noodle dish which were completely different from the Chinese food you get at home.
It was then that I explained that one of my ancestors had at one point been the Governor of Bombay. Stuti told me off and said that I should have been using that in my favour to get discounts during our trip!
For our last morning in Mumbai, Stuti’s cook had made us a rice breakfast called poha. We thanked her a lot and made sure that Stuti translated to ensure she knew we had enjoyed all of the food that she had cooked us during our stay.
We packed up our stuff and headed to the airport to get our flight to Goa.
Stay tuned for Part 2 in Goa!
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