We flew into Mumbai from Goa on Wednesday, January 3rd to the prospect of not being able to get transport to our hotel, about 45 km’s away in Colaba, part of Old Mumbai in the south. Over several days in Mumbai thousands of Dalits had hit the streets causing the closure of major arterial highways, the Metro, trains and public transportation. The protests were against the violence and discrimination they say they face everyday and against the recent violence that claimed the life of a young man during caste clashes near the city of Pune. Dalit, meaning “oppressed” in Sanskrit is the term mostly used for the castes in India that are described as the “Untouchables”. There are over 200 million and many suffer social deprivation and economic exclusion. Fortunately things had cooled down by the time our flight arrived so we were able to get a taxi and safely make our way to our hotel.
We had two days to explore Mumbai before flying to Delhi and we made almost every minute count. On Thursday we covered a huge area taking in the Gateway of India, built on the waterfront in 1924 to commemorate the landing of King George V and Queen Mary on their visit to India in 1911 and used as the exit point in 1948 for the last British troops to leave India following the countries independence in 1947, signalling the end of British rule. From there we wandered next door along the waterfront taking in the sights of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel where in 2008 the hotel was one of 12 Mumbai terrorist targets of the Pakistan based Laskar-eTaiba Islamic terrorist organization.
We quickly walked past and made our way to the hustle and bustle of the Colaba Street Market, a labyrinth of narrow congested semi streets and alleyways where everything imaginable was available and, we were the only foreigners there which is just how we like it.
Next stop was Sassoon Dock with the original plan to visit the Sassoon Dock Art Project but this was not to be. It closed December 31st to make way for a very large fisherman dock rehabilitation and improvement project but we were definitely not let down. The dock is still one of the oldest functioning fisherman docks in Mumbai and one of the largest fish markets in the city. The initial smell was, well, smelly but after a very short period of time you get used to it. We arrived later in the morning so missed some of the larger fish being processed but we were met with an amazing sight of many groups of primarily women sitting on their haunches on the wet concrete floor hand peeling giant mounds of fresh shrimp of varying size. It was an amazing sight to behold.
Finally, a long walk back along Colaba Causeway, a great place for sidewalk shopping, car and rickshaw and cow dung dodging, school children and finally a late lunch at Pa Pa Ya, a little Asian Fusion restaurant right next door to our hotel. Phew! Dinner was low-key at the “Happening” Colaba Social Restaurant, also right next door on the other side of our hotel.
Our second and final day before departing Mumbai was spent walking great distances once again. This time we headed north of our hotel and began our day at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, better know as the Indian National Museum. We spent three hours viewing extraordinary history of India represented by historical art pieces, textiles, carvings, paintings and all things histo-artsy. (my word).
Following the museum we continued north to the famous Flora Fountain which was unfortunately cordoned off and covered due to the construction of a new Metro station so we veered west and hit the ocean side, a few km’s south of the famous Chowpatty Beach, made famous by the late Peter Sellers movie “I left my patatty on Chowpatty”.
Sore feet and a little pooped we took a tuk tuk back to our hotel and headed over to the legendary Leopold Cafe (Leopold’s was also a terrorist target in the 2008 attacks in Mumbai) where we hoped to enjoy a reasonably priced beer or two and have something to eat. It was not to be. We had two 650 ml bottles of Budweiser of all things. Total in CAD, $20.00 so we blew that place in a hurry, had a beer at a fish and chips place for 1/3 the cost and then had some great appetizers and much more affordable drinks at Havana’s, a very cool bar at the Gordon Hotel and then crashed with sore feet, soot filled nostrils and the knowledge that the air and traffic will only be worse, much worse at our next stop, Delhi.