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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mesmerizing Mumbai

We finally arrived in Mumbai, after a refueling delay in Amman at 2 am Jordanian time but 4.30 Mumbai time and had to wait about 40 mins and make two cell phone calls to fire up Arma Galaxy Hotel to come and pick us up as promised. So come 6 am Indian time, we finally hit the sack until about midday, after the proprietor tried to claim for two days lodging because we had arrived so early, until I pointed out we were leaving nearly as early next morning. But they did honour their free airport pickup and drop off and did have air-con and a partially viable internet, if you wanted to sit in the open air foyer facing the street.

Traffic jam in the tuk-tuk

We then set out to try to get from the airport area of the hotel to the waterfront of Colaba, which proved to be a gargantuan undertaking. Firstly we had to take a tuk-tuk west across Northern Bombay to the north-south rail line at Andheri Station, through thick traffic stranded by road construction with copious tuk-tuks squeezed between buses and heavy trucks. At one point there was a deserted tuk-tuk right in the middle of the congested road causing a traffic jam apparently left there because the driver had bashed his head through the windscreen and was injured somewhere.

A series of images of the Andheri area

When we arrived at the station the vicinity was crowded and we were immediately besieged by largely naked child-mothers with babies begging for small change which we gave a couple of rupees each to out of the change from the tuk-tuk fare. We then struggled through the crowds at the station and up the stairs to the crowded overpass with another string of child beggars, these ones displaying gestures of deformity. However India is ever compassionate and helpful - a man immediately showed us which platform to catch the train and walked all the way over to the other side with us to show us how to buy a little book of tickets worth anything from 1 rupee to 8 ( 45 rupees = $1 US) which you can punch in a machine to use to board a train (although no one ever checked on the two trains we boarded) to avoid standing in the queues to get rail tickets.

Intense crowds around the Andheri station

Bombay has no hint of an effective metropolitan transport system but just the original rail lines combined with hideous local busses and an oceanic cohort of dilapidated taxis and tuk-tuks. The trains are beat up overcrowded overflowing with people hanging out the doors. They are running every couple of minutes and had a section reserved for disabled which did give us a bit of room and a seat on the way in to Churchgate the most southerly terminus, although still a kilometre or two from Colaba and the Gateway of India through which the Pakistani terrorists came in boats to create mayhem in the city.

This is definitely not what we expected from Bombay the economic hub of the new Indian economy, currently growing at 8.8% per annum.

The trains are beat up and often bulging with people hanging out the doors

and forever crowded inside

The beach at Churchgate

A panorama of the coastal scene

So after a min-meal - a small sized vegetarian plate, we walked down to the coastal promenade and then caught a taxi to Colaba and the India Gate passing a number of the colonial architectural wonders along the way.

A mini-meal for 80 rupees. The vegetarian plate is always a good bet for avoiding Delhi belly.

A series of images of some of the architectural wonders of Colaba

The Eros cinema

A panorama of the infamous Gateway of India famed for the terrorist attack.

The return journey was a case of canny experience. The un-metered taxi there cost 50 R, the metered one on the way back to Churchgate 20. The train back we knew the stations and counted down to Andheri. The metered tuk-tuk back to the hotel cost 34 R while the one on the way out tried for 60 and bargained to 50. Of course 50 R is little more than $1 US so the rides were all literally 'dirt cheap' and one wonders how the drivers can break even, let alone pay the fuel and rental charges on the machines, which they generally don't own.

Just as we returned, the rain came down in buckets brooding doom but light relief from the scorching deserts of Jordan and the burning European wastes from Andalucia to Crete.

A Jesus image in the rain

A building by the hotel. Many of the buildings become covered in mould.

Next morning at 7 we were up to get our flight to Singapore. When we arrived at the Quantas counter, we we're persuaded to use a wheelchair - I have only done this once in Crete because they claimed the plane was away down the runway - this time to avoid the queues in immigration.

A slum settlement intruding on the airport which is subject to imminent demolition.

Aerial view of Mumbai with slum dwellings in mid-city spaces

This proved a nightmare as we lost autonomy, because we had a minder to push the chair, who nearly took us through security before we had drunk up the remaining breakfast, and then it proved completely bizarre, trying to deal with x-ray machines with a lot of electronic equipment when they were going nearly berserk with multiple checks and searches, picking up Christine's nail files in the x-ray and then trying to not let her on the plane because her day pack, which had been thoroughly searched had its security stamp on the wrong side of her luggage tag.

However it did work like a charm in Singapore, to whisk us in through immigration and quickly to baggage claim and on to the Air Asia check-in for our ongoing flight to Bali which we we're anxious we might miss because of the narrow time window between the two flights.

Resplendent comfort - an entire row of four seats each on the flight to Singapore

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