Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Gateway of India, Art, Beach, Food and Tea

Out latish, and I hop in a taxi to the Gateway of India, a 20r fare, probably paying too much as the chap agreed too readily. I’m suspicious of meters here as they are all out of date and therefore all use these conversion charts to ramp the fare up from what the meter says.

The Gateway of India

Arriving, there are a few touts which I ignore with my mp3 player. The story behind this enormous archway is that it was built in 1924, in the Islamic styles of 16th-century Gujarat, intended as a symbolic entry point for those arriving at the continent from Europe. Instead the last British troops marched ceremoniously through it in 1948.

This is also the point from when the boats leave going to Elephant Island, Mumbai’s top tourist attraction. The weather’s not looking great though, and I decide not to go.

The boats going to Elephant Island

So, past the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, built by JN Tata, a Parsi industrialist, after he was refused entry to one of the European hotels on account of being a “native”.

The Taj Hotel

I walk around Colaba, the foreigner backpacker area (supposedly). On my way to a modern art gallery, I pass a busy vegetarian restaurant, and of course have to pop in. My policy on food the last few days has been that if I pass somewhere busy, unless I’m actually feeling full, I pop in for tea and something to nibble. This has to stop!

Anyway, I’m happy sticking to vegetarian food here, as the majority of people are vegetarian, for religious reasons (apparently UK has highest proportion of vegetarians for non-religious reasons). It’s worth going with the majority – given the general state of hygiene here, I’d hate to imagine meat, how it’s prepared, and how long it hangs around for!

Another dosa, this one supposedly paneer, not that I could find any in it

An idli, sort of rice-cake, in a yoghurt-like sauce

Reminds me of Nepal, when Raju invited Adrian and myself for a feast at his mother-in-law’s house, which was wonderful, except because we were special guests, they prepared meat, which was, put kindly, not the highlight of the meal!

By the way, I’ve decided to stop posting photos of cups of tea. I might bundle them into a spot the difference competition at some point in the future, but for now just assume that everything I eat is washed down by a 50% tea 50% sugar mix. Will I ever be able to drink unsweetened tea again after this country? Pippi will be pleased!


Next the National Gallery of Modern Art, a beautiful stone domed structure built by Sir Cowasji Jehangir. Unfortunately photography is not allowed, always annoying when this is the case. I sneaked a couple of shots, but my favourite pieces were too-well guarded!

The charge for entry was 10r, or 150r for foreigners. They then made an issue when I handed them a 500 note, saying they didn’t have change. I replied that I had change for the local price, but if they were going to charge me 15x the standard price they can jolly well find some change.

Next across the road to the Jehangir Art Gallery, a commercial gallery with weekly rotating shows by different artists, with most works for sale, hence no entry fee.

Better than art..

Next door is the Prince of Wales Museum, this time with local price 10r and foreigner 300. I’m sorry, this is too much, I decide I’ve had enough of being ripped off for the day, I am not paying THIRTY TIMES the local price for entry, so decide instead to wander the city in the light rain.

Walking in the rain
Further along the street is Bombay University, designed by Gilbert Scott of St. Pancreas fame, looking, as LP describe it “like a 15-century Italian masterpiece dropped into the middle of an Indian metropolis”, and the High Court, an imposing structure.

I head behind the University, across the Oval Maidan, one of the best-known grass areas, where kids play football in the mud and rain.

The clocktower, the Rajabhai Tower, seems to be at the back of the university, and is obviously a city icon of some kind, as it’s one of the few postcard shots I can find!

The other side of the maidan is the Oxford Book Store and Cha bar.

I stock up on penguin classics, then enjoy “Nan Such” tea and a salad! Salad, who would have thought it! Against the traveller’s rules, but I need some green stuff after three days of curry!

Train to Chowpatty
It’s chucking it down as I head up to Churchgate train station. This is the other main station in the area, and seems to serve the local routes more than CST.

I buy a second-class ticket to Charni station, which costs 8 rupees, and catch the next train heading that way. It’s only two stops, effectively round the bay to Chowpatty Beach. The train itself is filthy. There are no doors, so people hang out of the sides, even though it’s not that busy now.

Chowpatty Beach, at the end of Marine Drive, a road stretching round from where I was earlier, is apparently all on reclaimed land from Back Bay. LP advises against swimming. There are a collection of tatty fairground rides on one side. Most people seem to be having fun.


My final stop of the day is Kotachiwadi, a hamlet (wadi) which has survived unscathed from a previous era - two story colonial houses line narrow streets, a small Christian enclave. I am here to eat at Anantashram. Apparently Mumbaiites will travel across town to enjoy the curried chicken or fried fish.

I’m seated by a friendly chap, who asks me if I came here because of LP, and then launches into a long apology about the entry which states that the staff are “surly”! He says his brothers don’t speak English, hence why the reviewer may have had this impression. I order some fish.

The chap tells me this area was originally populated by British officers, who when they left gave their houses to their orderlies and servants. He’s a friendly chap who tells me all about his work on cruise liners selling jewels. He doesn’t stop when my food arrives. Eventually I am left to eat!

My meal is a fried pomfret fish served sitting on top of a pot of curry, with rice and chapatti. It’s nice, though I start off badly with a mouthful of bones when I cleave the flesh apart the wrong way. The restaurant is interesting, in that the majority of it is filled with “tables for one”. It looks like the platform for a solitaire competition!

I walk back to my hotel but get slightly lost and end up wading through my rugby pitch maidan again! Always good to wash ones feet before getting home, I always say! As I’m not full to bursting point, I pop into the local restaurant for tea, but end up ordering what my neighbours have, which is aloo with chapatti.

Time for bed, possibly with a few episodes of King of the Hill before sleep. Thank you Lewis!!

Quiet Sunday
They really do Sundays here. Nothing is open! Almost all the restaurants and shops around the main station have their shutters down. I’m a bit surprised to be honest. Main post office is open, so I get some stamps for postcards. They turn out to not be sticky at all.


I walk around town, the streets are almost suspiciously quiet. I guess most of the people working around here live further out in the suburbs and so are not about today. Even all the internet cafes, which are hard to find at the best of times, are closed! I end up back at my 20r per hour one, which is open. You really would have thought India would be teaming with cafés – in general under-developed countries where not so many people have computers at home tend to go mad for cafés, but here there are literally hardly any. I don’t understand it. And no wifi anywhere either.

Partially for something to do, and partially because it allegedly has free wifi, I decide to go to a large shopping mall called InOrbit, which is a fair way away – I have to take a train from Churchgate to Malad, which takes about an hour. There I ask a few people where the mall is – it’s supposed to be the biggest in Mumbai. No one has heard of it. No “Local Area Information” in the stations here!

Eventually I find a security guard who knows it, and writes down the name on a piece of paper for me, which I show to the auto-rickshaw driver. These are two seater things bolted on to the front of a motorbike, and on the roads they are remarkably like bumper cards, swarming about, squeezing through the smallest gaps, etc.

The meter goes up incredibly slowly – the 20 minute journey slowly creeps up to 2 rupees and 60p. I was thinking how cheap this was, then the driver started demanding more money. Not speaking any English, we were about to get into a punch up, then I beckoned a passer-by to help out. He asked the driver for his card. Ahhh, conversion cards. I had read about these.

Basically they hardly ever update the meters on taxis and rickshaws, so instead they carry tables around with them. This was ridiculous though, as he multipled 2.6rupees up to 26! Usually these tables are a temporary measure – it’s mad to have almost no relation between the source number and what they’re going to charge you.

The mall is unexciting, and there is wifi, but it’s not apparently connected to the actual internet. I have a beer and some nibbles then head back, sharing the rickshaw with a friendly chap from near Calcutta, who insists on paying for it at the end. He says it’s friendship day today. I wait for the con, but he’s being genuine. Perhaps I should drop my guard slightly.

Early start, I have a flight to Calcutta. I’m almost escorted off the premises by one of the helpful lads. I’ve decided rather than take a traffic-jam-prone cab, I’ll take a train to near the airport, then rickshaw or walk it from there.

The train is not too busy, it’s about 7am. LP strongly suggests not trying this route in rush hour. I can understand. Even at quiet times the trains are still what one would describe as fairly busy, particularly between certain stations.

The train passes a putrid river, the awful smell filling the carriage and making me retch. I can see people washing and brushing teeth with fingers in the water. I actually feel sick thinking about it.
Walk to airport

Bombay airport has free wifi, which my phone could use when I arrived a few days ago. Not today though. Vista in particular seems to be very fussy about DNS. According to windows the primary DNS server is not responding. There’s a chap sitting a couple of tables from me happily surfing, so why can I not? How frustrating in a country with almost no internet access, to find it only not to be able to use it, for no good reason!

As seems to be the way in India, they don’t let you into the terminal until you show them a ticket. I have an e-ticket. The army types guarding the door don’t seem to have grasped this concept, so I have to go to the IndiGo office to get a print out of my itinerary. Check in, breakfast at a coffee shop, then a brand-new A320 direct to Calcutta. All fairly smooth. Suspiciously so...

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