Yes folks, Mumbai, India’s capital of cinema, on the west coast, to me is the polar opposite of Delhi. This might not be something everyone can see with the place, I admit, but whereas I have mostly nightmarish memories of Delhi, Mumbai is the opposite for me. In fact, I almost felt the place had a certain romance to it, and when I look through my meagre collection of photos that I took from my one visit, nearly twenty years ago, I feel a sort of fond melancholy from the memories I still have today.
It’s not that it’s the world’s most beautiful city, or cleanest city, it’s not. It’s not as if there isn’t a great of sadness to its past, being a colonial centre for so many years when India was ruled by the Untied Kingdom. Is it the safest city in the world? Definitely not. Pick pocketing and petty crime are not unknown, and for four days the city was held in the grip of a terrorist attack by ten men back in 2008 in one of the deadliest and longest terrorist sieges the world has known.
But there’s a real buzz about it. And I would say, a real friendliness. Wherever I went I would meet locals who just wanted to say ‘hi’ and chat, not expecting or asking for anything in return. My first day there, well I arrived in the middle of the night – but the day that followed I went for a walk. I walked past a large open area, a park, where the locals were playing cricket. And I asked to join in and two hours later….
And then I met a guy and we had dinner together and we chatted about the world, India and, of course, cricket.
Outside of the centre is Dhobi Ghat. It’s basically beachside, and it’s where a lot of washing gets done with areas of bathtubs and people scrubbing and wringing out linen. To get there I took a red double-decker bus, the likes of which you find in London, except the ones in Mumbai seemed to be significantly older. Whilst it was a reminder of colonial times, there was also something that was very ‘Mumbai’ about the buses. And again, a great place to meet the locals and chat.
Back to Dhobi Ghat, it was at the far end of a stretch of stony beach, not one to be utilising in getting some rays. And there were a lot of children running around, I presumed they were homeless but I could have been quite wrong. They were happy to have the photos taken. Today those children are all in their twenties, or maybe thirties, which is something that’s hard to fathom looking back at the photos.
I visited Ghandi’s old house, which was located in a leafy and presumably more upmarket suburb. I was with a couple of Australian girls I’d met at my hotel, and we’d ended up in a little shop with a few tables having a cold drink afterwards, and there were a group of students, around 18 to 20 years old, who invited us to join them and we chatted for quite a while.
There are a number of interesting buildings and suburbs in Mumbai. And just walking the streets and seeing the buildings is enough to let the city endure itself to you. Yes, most are colonial-era and represent British control, but at the same time today they are repurposed, or lived in by Indian families, or used for business.
The train station is grand – and was a scene in the terrorist attack in 2008. Take the sleeper to Goa as I did, my first experience of 2 A/C on Indian trains and one of the most comfortable overnight train journeys I’ve ever taken. The building is perhaps more impressive from the outside, inside it is a massively busy place with people pushing and shoving, trains coming and going and vendors looking for sales for food, drink, smokes, shoe polish, check your weight or whatever they can think of to make a rupee.
On the water’s front you have the Gateway to India and the Taj Mahal Hotel. The Gateway to India is this amazing stone arch which was built around 100 years ago (completed 1924) to commemorate the British King’s visit in 1911. Today it’s a meeting point and despite its pointing to the colonial past of the country, it’s still an emblem of the city.
The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel – the original hotel opened in 1903. It was commissioned by Jamsetji Tata, and today it has 560 rooms and 9 restaurants. It’s the main setting for the movie ‘Hotel Mumbai’, a film about the 2008 terrorist attack. I walked underneath it where there’s a sort of a mall and loads of shops, many selling jewellery there. And I walked through the lobby too, I just didn’t take any pictures inside.
One final thing I noticed in Mumbai when I was there – and a reason I want to go back is to see if it’s still the same – is the number of gramophones that were for sale, just on roadside stalls. If I could have taken one home I would have bought one, they all had the horns. They were quite beautiful.
Mumbai is a city still in my mind twenty years on. I hope one day I will get back there, to explore it more and to find new and unexpected things. Thanks for reading – May the Journey Never End!