Marvellously Manic Mumbai

11 January 2019

Vasai——> Mulund East.  48km. 7 Jan.

So our journey into the greater Mumbai area started here.  As we are not on a specific agenda we decided to take it slowly in terms of  distance covered and do it over 2 days. So we left the hotel in Vasai a bit later than normal as we had less than 50km to Mulund East in the north-eastern suburbs of Mumbai to stay with a WarmShowers host. We planned to take smaller roads where possible so the route was initially quite hilly, and then took us through some industrial towns which were very busy. In Bhiwadi I had a very funny and bizarre interaction with a traffic cop who made me stop, then shook my hand and invited me for tea.  When I politely declined he then asked if I wanted a morning whisky…maybe that’s how they deal with the traffic there but needless to say I declined that as well!

We stopped for lunch in a snack joint in Kasheli, thinking it was a restaurant, but it only had snacks.  We didn’t know what to order so pointed at another diner’s meal and said “2 of those please”. What we got was apparently a traditional snack of the area which is like Bombay mix in a spicy sauce with a white burger bun.  Really delicious!

As we got closer to the city even though we were on a secondary road traffic got a whole lot busier and chaotic.  As we don’t have horns both of us have taken to making loud vocal beeping noises, which confuses the hell out of drivers who have their windows down! At one point I lost Nigel on this junction….

…and when I could see him looking for me I had to absolutely shout from the bottom of my stomach to make myself heard above the din.  I think I popped a few eardrums of the nearby tuk tuk drivers in the process, but he heard me and we were soon on our way again.  I really need to learn to whistle!!

We got to destination a bit early and as Mayuri our host wouldn’t be home until after 4pm we found a cafe nearby to kill some time and to eat more.  Mayuri is a doctor and a fellow cyclist and when we got to her place she was really welcoming and easy to get on with.

She lives with her mother but recently bought and renovated an apartment in the building opposite, which is where we were staying.  So we had a lovely 2-bed apartment to ourselves and were the first people to stay there overnight!

We noticed as we came into the Mumbai suburb of Mulund East how men and women were both more western in their dress than we have seen so far, and speaking with Mayuri she has very western and powerful views on life in general and women in society. One thing she told us, which we were amazed by, is that many women in India prefer to stay married even if the person is abusive/lazy/alcoholic/not very nice rather than endure the social stigma of being divorced or single. More shocking to us is that being widowed has the same social stigma in India as being single or divorced, which means that at social functions or other important events eg weddings, they get relegated to the back and are treated as second class citizens.  Seriously, who would choose to or has control over being widowed??!

We headed out for dinner, which is our first experience of dining out with a local.  Mayuri drove to a local restaurant and we were quite surprised how jammed the roads were at 8pm…rush hour goes on until about 9pm here.   Had a fantastic dinner in a very western-style place…they even had toilet roll in the toilets, which is a first for us I think.  A friend of hers Anil  joined us at the end of our meal so we all headed back to the apartment together. Anil is an experienced long-distance cyclist so gave us loads of tips and deteiled routes to follow for the next part of our journey, which was fantastic.  But it turned into a very late night as we didn’t finish until 1.30…by which time we both had red gritty eyes from tiredness and I am surprised we hadn’t both turned into pumpkins at that stage!

Mulund East—-> Old Bombay/South Mumbai.  34 km. 8 Jan.

We had breakfast with Mayuri before she went to work and at 10am we left to head towards south Mumbai, hoping the worst of the rush hour traffic had gone.  That may have been the case, but our ride into the centre was 34km of intense, scary cycling..almost on a par with our ride into Istanbul but without the rain.  And to top that we were pretty shattered because of our late night and the fact that this was our 12th consecutive day cycling.

The first part of the journey was on an expressway where the cars, buses, trucks and tuk-tuks were absolutely flying along it.  Not a problem in itself as we stay on the inside lane, but it was quite frightening getting through exit junctions as we had to keep straight with really fast traffic cutting us up to pull off the highway.  Nigel got his back wheel bumped by a tuk tuk joining the expressway but thankfully it only wobbled him a bit and he didn’t fall off, but still pretty horrific to see it happen from behind, as well as hear the tuk-tuc screech around him!

Once off the expressway traffic got heavier, which meant it slowed down a bit –  but we still had the keep going straight over multiple flyovers and navigate the manic drivers turning off.  At one stage when we were stopped at traffic lights Nigel said we had done 14km and I seriously wondered if I had another 30km in me…but I knew I had to keep going because if we stopped it would be hard to get started again.  Our accommodation was near Gateway of India along the waterfront so we ploughed on and got there around 12.30, glad to just get off the bikes knowing we had we couple of days to rest and recover from a mentally exhausting journey.  Checked in, had an afternoon snooze and then felt human enough to explore the delights that Mumbai has to offer.

Mumbai.  0 km.  9 & 10 Jan.

Mumbai was known as Bombay until 1995 when the political party Shiv Sena came into power.  They saw Bombay as a legacy of British colonialism and wanted the city’s name to reflect its Maratha heritage and its main goddess Mumbadevi, so renamed it Mumbai.  The southern part of the city where we are staying is the old Bombay area and there is evidence of the old colonial architecture everywhere.

In our 2.5 days here we did lots of walking to take in the sights, sounds and smells of the city. We visited the Gateway of India, which was built to commemorate the visit of King George and Queen Mary to the city but also marks the spot from where British soldiers last departed India after centuries of colonial rule.

We walked through the Colaba area, taking in the posh houses along the waterfront …

…as well as touristy markets and a big military area.  And we just came upon what is known as the Afghan church which was built by the Britidh to commemorate the British who died in the first Anglo-Afghan war.

We walked Marine drive in the very smoggy morning…

…visited the very iconic train station – Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus- which reminded us very much of the Houses of Parliament.

Nigel tried to teach me the rules of cricket whilst we watched a game being played near the Bombay High Court and clock tower…but to me it’s still men playing rounders!!

As Mumbai is the home of Bollywood we visited a great Art Deco cinema to take in a Bollywood film called Simmba. which we both really enjoyed despite the bizarre storyline (good cop turned bad, then good again), and it all being in Hindi (but not a taxing plot to follow)!

Our only complaint is that it didn’t have enough Bollywood dancing for our liking –  as that is really contagious and you just can’t help getting involved!

The Mumbai that we have experienced feels like a very affluent city; although we know there are slums here (which we haven’t seen), we have seen as many big posh cars as we would in London.  It is also by far the cleanest and most westernised place we have visited in India yet, and although it’s very densely populated it didn’t feel too crowded or claustrophobic to us. (Population-wise it’s on a par with or even more populated than Delhi, but over a smaller area). Having stayed in the affluent suburbs of Mulund East and the tourist area of Colaba we feel we got a nice snapshot of the city during our short visit, but surprisingly and disappointingly the food hasn’t been as great as we hoped it would be – especially in the Colaba area.  However on our last day we discovered a local restaurant at lunchtime (called Gokul), described on Google as a “shady but not creepy bar”, but the food was the best we have had here. And as it was just around the corner from where we were staying, we decided to go back in the evening.  And how glad are we that we did that…the place was full of locals, drinking beers and whisky and watching cricket on the telly….like a proper pub that served good food! We loved it  – mostly because it was just buzzing with locals on a regular Thursday night and maybe because we timed it well that we were the only westerners there and one seemed to care!

All in all we have had a few enjoyable days here but it’s definitely not our favourite city  – for no particular reason other than we just haven’t fallen in love with it. But I guess we can’t love everywhere we visit – all part of the life cycling experience!

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