May 25-28, 2016
Sleeper Bus to Mumbai
We spent the night on an overnight bus from Udaipur to Mumbai. Goodbye little lake side town, hello big city (one of the biggest in India with a population of approx. 22 million).
Locating the bus at the road side station in Udaipur was tricky. It was at an informal street-side location with no signs or any indication of bus destinations, times, or numbers. Somehow, with only a few minutes to spare we stumbled upon our bus.
What an interesting bus it was- two levels of beds in cubbies with sliding doors for privacy (and air conditioning, thank goodness). To the left of the center aisle were double beds and on the right, single beds. We found our second-level double bed and settled in. We quickly realize that the second level is not the best choice- we bumped around all night and were unable to watch a movie or read for fear of motion sickness. But we had a nice reprieve from the bumps at a road side stop for dinner- delicious veg biryani, chana (chickpea) masala and chapati all for only $2.70! Interestingly enough, the quality of the food seems to be uniform across restaurants- whether roadside stand, rest stop, local restaurant or fancy restaurant, it's all comparable and good. The only difference really seems to be price. Despite the location, the ingredients are pretty much the same and the preparation the same, so the dishes ultimately taste very similar. Which is great because a $2.70 meal will taste just as good as one for triple that price at a fancier place.
Back on the bus, we tried to locate the bathroom which was promised. We opened a door in the front of the bus but only saw a small empty space like a closet, it did however smell like urine. A guy on the bus peeked in the closet too and we determined it couldn't possibly be a bathroom. Later in the night however, I woke up really needing to go, and approached the driver to ask if he could stop for a bathroom break, instead he pointed to the smelly closet. I tentatively stepped in and noticed a hole the size of a quarter on the floor in the corner. How silly of me not to have known earlier that a hole in the floor constituted a toilet (definitely the most primitive of squat toilet's we've encountered). You have to be a cautious pee-er to make sure you don't get splashed when the bus makes abrupt turns or stops.
Arriving in Mumbai
The bus arrived into Mumbai two hours later than expected. The traffic slowed to a crawl as we approached the city. The humidity and presence of palms trees confirmed our more southern and tropical location. We passed by large slums which makes for an interesting contrast against the large buildings and sky scrapers of the city. We read that 55% of Mumbai's population live in these slums, making them the biggest slums in all Asia. A funny sight on top of almost all of these small buildings with corrugated tin roofs are the presence of satellite dishes.
A Day of Sight Seeing
Arriving in the morning allowed us to get an early start for exploring. We covered a large portion of the city on foot. We walked to Girgaon Chowpatty, a small strip of beach, which was unfortunately strewn with litter and rough looking people sleeping under palm trees. Lonely Planet warns against going in the water stating that it is toxic. We continued walking along Marine Drive and stopped by Crawford Market. This half indoor-half outdoor market had a bountiful fruit selection. We couldn't resist the ripe red pomegranates and bought one to share.
From the market we headed south passing the elaborate train station Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. We walked through a public cricket field and found our way into a more European looking part of town. The presence of street vendors disappeared replaced by larger buildings with more intricate architecture, fancier stores, more orderly traffic thanks to traffic lights, and nice hotels. We arrived at the Gateway of India which was incredibly crowded with Indian tourists. Of course we were stopped by some of these tourists for obligatory, "it's a white person" selfies. Usually we don't mind and even get a kick out of it. But we appreciate it much more when people ask permission to take our photos.
The Mall and Malabar Hill
On our second day in the city we went to the train station to purchase tickets to Goa for the following night. After finally figuring out the system for purchasing train tickets online and acquiring an Indian sim card to do so, we learned that we have met our quota of train tickets for the month. We can only buy 6 tickets per month online. So, we are now forced to seek out tourist offices where they have a foreign tourist ticket allotment. At the tourist office we were able to buy two tickets to Goa and avoid the last minute booking fees, so it actually worked out well.
From the tourist office we took a local train to the mall (what a much more efficient way to get around and avoid the honking chaos of street traffic!) We figured a day inside in the air conditioning would be perfect. Though we read the mall was one of the largest in India, we were disappointed when we arrived (we've been spoiled by American malls). The layout didn't make sense and there were three separate buildings each with only a few stores. Inside the mall was an incredibly lavish grocery store with fancy western products. We helped ourselves to every free sample available (and then some) and marveled at the selection of mangoes- no less than six different varieties. A 12 pack of mangoes was $30! On the street they are 20 rupees per mango! It's crazy to think that anyone can afford these prices this based on our observations of the demographics we've encountered. But there does exist some allusive-super-elite class of people that seem to elude us. They have their own drivers, servants and gated communities. It doesn't seem that they mingle with the common people often.
From the mall we headed to Malabar hill, a nice suburb by the beach. On the hill were large apartment complexes for wealthy people. Wealthy people living on hills seems to be trend in Mumbai as we noticed it the following day as well in Bandra, another nice suburb. In Bandra we spent the day relaxing in a cafe over coffee and awaited our overnight train to Goa. Beaches here we come!