We arrived in Mumbai at 23:50 on Mahatma Ghandi's birthday. Abbas and Ojas, our hosts from India Someday met us at the airport. We stepped outside and the heat was sweltering, it hit us and we knew we had arrived in India! Abbas is one of the founders of India Someday, and was going away the next day so took the time to collect us from the airport which was amazing. Ojas was our contact for the rest of the holiday. We found out after about 10 minutes that he was totally crazy about football. I think he knew more football facts than Chris (which is a lot!), so they hit it off straight away.
We all piled into Abbas little car and drove through the streets of Mumbai to our hotel. From the airport the suburb streets were piled with rubbish. There were dogs, a few cows and people sleeping everywhere on the side of the roads and under the bridges. I had been told about this, but it was a shock! Abbas was stopped twice to be breathalysed. He had to say his name in the policeman's face, while the officer smelt his breath! As we got closer to our hotel, the streets got wider and cleaner and were lined with trees... a totally different world to the one we'd just driven through! We checked into our hotel which was the second shock of our very short first day in India. It was basic. Like really basic. We were totally shattered and crashed falling asleep underneath our towels.
On our first full day in Mumbai we were met by Ojas. He showed us around his city for the day... we started at the Gateway of India which used to be the first view that visitors to Mumbai arriving by boat would see.
We walked down some of the lovely wide streets, hopped in a taxi to the ISKON Temple - Sri Sri Radha Krishna, a Hare Krishna temple which was a hive of activity and friendly faces. We were welcomed and asked if we would like some lunch, which we unfortunately had to turn down as we already had a lunch planned with our hosts.
We visited Mani Bhavan, the house of a friend of Mahatma Ghandi where he used to stay and which has now been turned into a Ghandi museum. After the museum, Sneha who helped plan our holiday joined us and we went to Govinda's for lunch, an amazing vegetarian restaurant next to the ISKON temple. Sneha and Ojas ordered all the food and we were treated to a feast of Indian food... nothing like what you would get at your standard Indian restaurant in the UK. I can't believe I didn't take any photos, I think I was too distracted by all the food in front of me, but I did ask Sneha and Ojas to remind me what we had; we tried dosa's, aloo paratha, cheese paratha, raita, chickpea chole, paneer mutter, paneer amritsari, masala kulcha, roti and sweet lime soda to drink. The food was flipping amazing and such a good intro to real Indian food. It also meant we were a bit more adventurous with what we chose for the rest of the trip!
After lunch we caught a taxi to Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, a huge open air laundry where all of the laundry from all the hotels and hospitals in Mumbai is done. We had a little tour and it is a serious military operation. They collect the washing from all over the city on bicycles, clean it to the highest standard and return the correct washing to the correct hotel room, it is absolutely amazing.
Next we caught a local train to Churchgate station. I jumped in the 'women only' compartment with Sneha which was a lot quieter. At one of the stops a group of woman all put their hijab's back on to get off the train and I only then realised that they had taken them off.
We visited the Crawford and Mangaldas Markets and it was mental. The noise, the colours, the people, bicycles, scooters all heading in different directions carrying boxes, baskets, shopping, all going about their business. The sound of the hooting was a constant sound we'd hear for the rest of the holiday. I thought it would stay with me forever and I would never hear quiet again... I had a moment where I just stood in one place and took it all in. I felt butterflies in my stomach... and had a massive smile on my face. It was exactly what I dreamed of when I imagined visiting India.
At the end of the day the heavens opened and it POURED with rain. We found some shelter in a cafe and had a chai. After waiting it out for as long as we could we said goodbye to Ojas and Sneha and walked back to our hotel through the rain. We dried off and went out for a beer.
On day 2 we were on India time and had a slow start. I bought a coconut for breakfast from the man at the end of our street. He sliced it open and handed it to me to drink the coconut water. When I'd finished he rapidly cut it up and gave me back to coconut flesh to eat. YUM! We walked to Kala Ghoda and caught a cab (for INR 30, which is 30p!) to Churchgate station and a local train to Andheri. Ojas met us again and we caught a tuk-tuk to his parents house for some of him mom's home-cooked food for lunch. Ojas's dad was a sailor for most of his career, which meant he visited loads of places including Durban a few times. He now runs a company that makes windows for London buses. For lunch we had three different dishes; creamy seafood, aubergine and chickpeas. We had never ending chapatis and a creamy sweet dish with nuts in for pudding, all while watching football! :-) I'm not too sure what they were called, but they were all super tasty!
After lunch we caught a tuk-tuk and train to Bandra, the home of all the Bollywood stars. It is a beautiful suburb by the sea with windy tree-lined streets. We visited Mount Mary Basilica and drove past houses with hundreds of people waiting outside in the hope of seeing the Bollywood actor who lived there. In the afternoon we went to Jehangir Art Gallery to see a local exhibition and then found an Irish Bar for some air conditioning and a cold drink!
On our last day, we went on a tour of Dharavi slum. I had mixed feelings about doing this as you really are having a tour of peoples misfortune. It turned out to be really fascinating though. We were met by our guide who was a student and lived in the slum with his family. The money we paid for the tour went towards education for the students who do the tours, wifi and buying computers. The students then give extra classes to the other children in the slum, so I felt that slightly justified the tour.
I was expecting to just walk through shacks where people lived. But there are about a million people living in Dharavi, and it is a hive of activity. There is 24 hour electricity, which they have to pay for and running water which is free and available for 3 hours a day. A lot of people live in basic brick houses and there was even a cinema. Most surprisingly for me there are thousands of small businesses employing thousands of really skilled people. We walked past loads of recycling, leather, dying, sewing, basket making and soap factories. Businesses making cakes, pastries and clay pots. Nothing is wasted, the material scraps from sewing is used for the fires to make the clay pots. There was a school (which came out as we walked past and ALL of the children wanted to say hi!) and a huge market selling fruit, veggies, chickens and some concerning fish covered in flies!
Compared to the cities we visited later in our trip, Mumbai was really quiet and a lovely introduction to India. No-one ever bothered us, or pressured us to buy anything, we were pretty much left to our own devices, other than getting stared at a lot, but that was sort of expected... We were particularly blessed to have our hosts to share food with, answer questions and to show us their city that they are so proud of!