Helen and Randall on the road

A bit about our adventures 2011-2012

Saturday 10th – Thursday 15th March: Bombay / Mumbai

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From Sula we took the train back to Bombay – we had to take ‘sleeper class’ on a regular train as *horrors* all the AC Chair Cars, 2 and 3 – tier A/C  seats were sold out. Given that it was a 4 hour journey (Tamsin, Charlie and I once spent 52 hour travelling from Delhi to Kerala in sleeper class) this wasn’t an issue and actually pretty civilised – we sat opposite a couple who were travelling for a conference, and they shared their rather lovely home-made sweets with us (after asking all the usual personal questions such as ‘where are your children’ and ‘why aren’t you married’, of course).

We got back hungry so headed to Marine Drive where we found ‘Pizza by the Bay’ in an old Art Deco building – a disappointing dining experience but great view, and from where we crossed the road to the Marine Drive promenade that stretches from Nariman Point round to Malabar Hill for a sunset stroll:

Bombay sunset.

Sunset over Malabar Hill, from Marine Drive.

We had originally planned to go to clubbing at Blue Frog but decided against it as we had an early start the next morning for our Bicycle Tour of Old Bombay. This tour had been recommended by Randall’s friend Shikha – a Bombayite – but I was a bit apprehensive knowing what I do about traffic in Indian cities…

We got up at 6 in order to walk to the starting point outside the Woodside Inn at Regal, the top of Colaba Causeway. It was a relief to see that the bikes were all in good condition and there were helmets too! As well as the guide and his colleague from the company, we were six people in total which was about right – the guide Jay said he had had 18 in the group before now, which I suspect would have been a bit hair-raising. As it was, the traffic on the Regal roundabout at 7am on a Sunday morning was pretty sparse, although I still had a minor panic at the realisation that I was navigating a major roundabout in Bombay ON A BICYCLE! ARRRRRRRRGGHHHH! After that we were mainly on quiet roads with little traffic at that time in the morning, with plenty of stops for Jay to give us the historical information:

Gateway to India, early morning cycle ride.

For example, did you know that the Gateway of India was not actually completed in time for the intended royal visit, although the last British administrator to leave India did leave through it?

Right next to the Gateway – vaguely remembered from my brief visit with Neil 18 years ago – is the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, now fully recovered and renovated after the horrendous terrorist attacks in 2008.

Taj Palace Hotel

After a casual ride up Marine Drive and past Churchgate into Kala Ghoda we stopped for a well-earned chai break at this famous Irani bakery in Fort area (near our hostel).

Yazdani Irani bakery

The original owner is quite old now and has Parkinsons and Alzheimers, but still hangs around the bakery with his family and staff taking care of him. He showed us newspaper clippings of him completing the Bombay Marathon fairly recently (with a guide) and photos on the wall of  him in his youth as a professional bodybuilder.

We had ‘brun’ and butter (a crispy, fluffy bread roll) but vowed to return for biscuits as apparently they make good ginger cookies and also:

They were really rather good!

 Next up was ‘VT‘, the St Pancras-esque main station from which we had already travelled to Sula, but where Jay pointed out all the incredible detail; carvings of all kinds of animals and faces that you wouldn’t notice at first glance, but once you start looking pop up everywhere.

VT / Victoria Terminus, or to give it its ‘proper’ and current name, Chhitrapati Shivaji Terminus / CST

Bombay Municipal Corporation building, another of the gothick-y buildings, this one opposite VT.

The tour ended back at the Woodside Inn with an incredible breakfast (so good that we went back twice later in the week!) that turned unto brunch and a few beers before we finally wandered back to our hostel for a nap, as later that evening we were meeting Shikha.

We decided to brave the public transport network and take the local train from VT up to Bandra where we were meeting Shikha, and after a couple of false starts managed to procure tickets and get ourselves to the right platform. Despite images of packed local trains with people hanging on to the roof and sides of the train it was actually quite civilised, although I suppose that if you are coming into town from the suburbs during rush hour it might be a different prospect.

Dr Grumpypants waiting for a train.

 We met Shikha (and her driver) at Bandra and went for a drive through her old haunts as it was where she grew up before stopping for drinks at Toto’s Garage and then a nearby late night place that actually did the full-on shutter-down lock in experience. This is also where, to my great amusement, Randall and Shikha got into an actual scrap about who paid the bill, that involved a tug of war over the bill wallet and spillage of beer:

As a result of the late night beers we failed to get up and go to Sassoon Dock in time for dawn, but I did manage to find a place to have a swim (the outdoor pool of the 5 Fitness Club. Not recommended until they find a way to stop the local birds roosting over it, and the attendant issues that result!) and we had a huge hangover breakfast in the Woodside Inn instead, before Randall worthily took the train to meet Shikha again for the Dharavi Slum Tour (see separate post) while I took a taxi and went to an upscale neighbourhood to visit a tailor for some dressmaking. Make of our choices what you will! We all met in Bandra later after I had finished with my tailoring and done battle with the train reservations system to get ‘tourist quota’ tickets for overbooked trains and went for ‘chaat‘ (Indian street-food) in a local restaurant:

Shikha dropped ups off at Bandra Fort, a popular sunset spot overlooking the Sea Link road bridge linking Bandra with Worli nearer to where we were staying:

Sunset at Bandra Fort

We took a taxi back and had him drive over the Sea Link for the amazing view of the lit-up night-time skyline.

The following morning we went to Woodside for breakfast again (well they had free wifi!) then I tried a different swimming club nearby in Mantralaya (much nicer). At midday it was time to meet up with Vijay, another ex work colleague of Randall’s, for brunch at Cafe Mondegar before heading to Elephanta Island to visit the caves:

Cafe Mondegar with its Mario Miranda murals on the walls. Great fun and good food.

The ferry to Elephanta

Inside the caves at Elephanta

Sunset boat trip back from Elephanta

Sunset over the sea

Sunset over the city

On arrival back on the mainland we stopped for coffee and cake before walking across the city to Marine Drive from where we took a taxi up to Worli to the Four Seasons hotel to visit their rooftop bar.

The Haji Ali Mosque – quite beautiful so we stopped to take photos on the way.

The AER 34th floor rooftop lounge of the Four Seasons  was a fantastic place for drinks but at £15 for a double G&T not really in our ‘backpacker’ price range! Still, really recommended – professional staff, beautiful decor and great views.

The next morning we finally managed to get up and go to Sassoon Dock, the main fish market of Bombay. The boats come in and the fish gets sold to the wholesalers as it comes off the boat, lots of yelling and jostling for position, with similar hecticness as the coolies (mostly women with large baskets on their heads) shuttle orders back and forward either to trucks or to ‘retailers’ with stalls/spots in the marketplace. Photography is supposedly not permitted so here are some google images:

After dawn had well and truly broken we walked back up the length of Colaba Causeway and had breakfast in the legendary Cafe Leopold before heading our respective ways – me to pick up my tailoring and Randall to pick up his fixed iPhone – then meeting back at the hostel to pack up bits and pieces to send home.

Posting things in India is always an experience – I remember Charlie and I being advised to always watch the stamps being franked as otherwise people would steal them. Posting parcels is fun as you have to get them stitched into a lined bag by the handy fellows who set up stalls outside the post office:

Here’s hoping these parcels make it!

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  1. […] market was as manic as the Bombay Sasson Dock Fish Market but in a different way; very much more mechanised, with porters zipping around on propane-powered […]


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