Travel through india with us...
Leave your pre-conceived Western ideas, concepts, and thoughts at home, and travel with us briefly through the most colourful, warm, friendly, chaotic, vibrant, rich, abjectly poor, spiritual, rural, technologically advanced, and ultimately highly contradictory India.
Mumbai is the financial capital of India, with a population of 20 million, living in a range of accommodation from serious ghetto’s to a $2 billion dollar high-rise mansion for 5 people! You immediately realise that the volume of tuk-tuks, scooters, motor-bikes, and cars on the road is like nothing you’ve experienced previously, and you have to acclimatise to the Indians “style” of driving very quickly. No-one drives fast, but there are no robots nor any stop streets / yields, and traffic flows around you in an amazing fashion.
The general rule is that whoever has the nose of their vehicle in front of you, has right of way ((whether it be a car, a scooter carrying between one and five people, an elephant, a tuk-tuk carrying anything from a driver and a single passenger to a driver and ten passengers, a truck, a camel, a Mahindra 6 seater jeep carrying twenty people, a bus, a horse or a mule, a bicycle, a rickshaw, a bicycle rickshaw, a camel rickshaw or water carrier, a combine harvester, a tractor and trailer, a carriage being pushed by a person, a vegetable trolley). Makes no difference if you’re coming out of a side street, whether you’re travelling against the traffic on a highway, going straight, going round a traffic circle, overtaking wherever you’d like, or turning into a side street against the flow of traffic, as long as you hoot and your front wheels are ahead of or in front of another vehicle, you have right of way.
The constant hooting initially drives you mad, but you quickly realise that that is the way it works, acting as an early warning system of your intentions. And surprisingly, we saw no accidents on our travels, so it obviously works well. But, we had many, of what we thought of as near misses, but were actually just the way it is. Bottom line, if you’re not Indian, don’t drive in India!!
Mumbai is a series of islands linked together. You drive in from the old and decrepit airport (they’re building an new state of the art airport alongside this one), past broken down, dirty suburbs, over the ultra-modern causeway, passing the memorial to a Muslim Saint built on a spit of an island 500m into the sea, and into the more affluent suburbs. The Dhobi Ghat, the open-air laundry, is an amazing sight of open air concrete wash pits with flogging stones and what appears to be filthy water, but where these families (the Dhobis) wash the cities laundry and hang it all out in the various colours. So you see row after row of whites, blues, greens, pinks, purples, etc, all spotless and shiny in the sun. A visit to the Prince of Wales Museum built in a weird mixture of Gothic and Moorish architecture crowned with a white dome, had us viewing the ancient Indus Valley collection of artefacts, some dating as far back as 2000 BC! Plus a tour of the Natural History Society museum, which allowed us to see examples of the local flora and fauna.
Next up we drove around some of the islands, along Malabar Hill seeing differing styles of homes and the open-air crematorium – the Tower of Silence – built by the Parsis which allows for the crows and vultures to clean things up! Food was brilliant, both at the Hotel Trident Nariman Point as well at Trishnas where we had crab, prawns, and “pomfret”, the local fish, in various guises, as well as our first taste of Kingfisher Beer in man-size 650ml bottles!
That afternoon we visited the Gateway to India, built to commemorate King George and Queen Mary’s visit to India in 1911, a trip via ferry to Elephanta Island to see the first of many temples in India, these temples are hewn into the mountain side and are an absolute architectural feat in themselves. Lunch at the Khyber Restaurant was a wonderful introduction to various other authentic Indian meals, all superb. Then it was shopping time for Indian clothes for the girls, a drink at Leopold’s for the boys, before the boys also bought into the shopping spree! Then it was off to the Taj Hotel for G&T’s, and our first taste of these drinks being served at R190 each! And not even Bombay Sapphire, as they’d run out of it! We ended our first day in incredible india with a quick flight to Udaipur where we would find our spot for the first night.
More on that next time...