Bleary eyed, we arrived into Mumbai on the overnight train, 12 hours after leaving Falna.
Hot, sweaty, and still wearing clothes from the day before, we jumped into our awaiting taxi’s, and headed into Central Mumbai, where we would be staying at the Hotel Royal Castle.
Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay), is India’s largest city with over 16 million inhabitants. It is one of the biggest urban sprawls on the planet, and generates one third of the country’s income. Its port handles half of the country’s foreign trade and the city is also home to one of the most prolific movie industries in the entire world.
Despite much of the city seeing a great deal of wealth, Mumbai is perhaps more famous for its poverty and it’s slums, where over half of Mumbai’s population live.
Bombay was renamed Mumbai in 1996. The name change was unpopular with the locals when it was first announced, however, overtime people have adjusted, although there are still plenty of references to Bombay throughout the city.
January was a perfect time to visit, as although the temperatures were in the early 30C’s, the heat was bearable and not as humid as it can be at other times of the year.
It was hard not to notice the heat as soon as we stepped off the train. It was the first place we had arrived in where we didn’t have to wear our jackets for a start!
Thankfully, Hotel Royal Castle was also the first hotel we had stayed in since Delhi, where the shower water was more than tepid!
We had a couple of hours to freshen up, enjoy the warm water and to relax a bit before we would be heading out on our orientation tour with Afsha. As a gesture of goodwill, we also discovered we would be receiving a free meal that evening due to the mishap on the train the night before.
With time to kill after freshening up and finally digging out the summer clothes I had brought with me, I headed out into Mumbai for a little explore with Asmaa and Donna.
It was nice to head out with no real plan, and to just wander around the streets around our hotel.
As we strolled through the streets, we came across the Hanging Gardens of Mumbai which are situated at the top of Malabar Hill. Malabar Hill is one of South Mumbai’s most desirable neighborhoods. With its sky scrapers and beautiful green scenery, I could certainly see why. The terraced gardens provide incredible views over the city, and after spending all night on a cramped train surrounded by lovely, but loud Indian college kids, it was nice to walk around the gardens in near silence. We pretty much had the park to ourselves. It felt like a little slice of heaven.
Shortly after arriving back at the hotel, it was time to catch up with the rest of the group, as we headed back out into the streets of Mumbai for our orientation tour.
This time we headed towards the coastline and to Chowpatty Beach. Pollution levels are so high around this area that although the beach is a lovely place to hangout, going into the sea is definitely a no go.
Parallel to the beach is Marine Drive, which is where the lone surviving terrorist from the 26/11 attack on Mumbai was caught and arrested. Marine Drive is Mumbai’s main promenade. It’s an eight lane highway (not that you would believe it…) with a wide pavement for locals and tourists alike to stroll down.
Whilst we were on the beach, Afsha started to explain the history of a popular Indian sport called Kabaddi. Kabaddi is a team sport whereby teams of 7 play what is effectively like a game of ‘tag’. The person trying to ‘tag’ the people on the other team constantly says ‘Kabaddi’ whilst they run around trying to ‘tag’ people.
A group of school children overheard Afsha talking about Kabaddi and made their way over to us with their teachers. The teachers explained that the children had wanted to demonstrate to us how to play the game.
So they set up in front of us, and put on a great little spectacle for us to watch. Afterwards, as is incredibly common in India, it was time for a ‘photoshoot’, as we had our photos taken with at first the children and then the teachers too.
Chowpatty Beach is one of the locals favorite hangouts. Locals love to gather here in the evenings and at weekends, to walk along the beach, sit on the sand, to eat from the beach side food shacks, whilst the sun goes down on another day.
After our first experience of Kabaddi, it was time to move on to The Gateway of India which is located at the far southern end of the peninsula. The Gateway to India is one of the most iconic landmarks in Mumbai, and was built in 1924 to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911.
The landmark was originally intended to be used for the ceremonial disembarkment of passengers as they came off the sea, but it is better known for the part it played in 1947 when the last of the British soldiers on Indian soil marched to their waiting ship, as the Union Jack lowered for the last time.
The best time to visit the landmark is just before sunset. Thousands of visitors gather at the landmark to watch the sunset, and to have their photo’s taken in front of the landmark.
From the Gateway to India, we crossed over the road to the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Part of the Itinerary for the following day was to visit the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel for High Tea (more to come on that in my next post, along with photo’s), but for now it was an opportunity to take a brief look inside at the grandeur of the entrance hall and a sneaky peak at the room we would be enjoying high tea in the following day.
It was then time to make our way back through the bazaars, which were now lit beautifully against the darkening Mumbai sky, as we headed towards the restaurant ready for dinner.
Afsha had booked us into this American style bar where they brought us endless food for the next couple of hours! For the first time on our trip, there was a decent bar and a dancefloor…there’s only one place tourists are going to end up quite frankly…
After a fantastic day exploring Mumbai, it was soon time to head back to the hotel for a good nights sleep. The following day would be Chu and Eric’s last day with us, as they would be staying in Mumbai for the remainder of their time in India, as we made our way, on our second overnight train, to Goa.