I was very, very wrong about Mumbai. My first impressions of it being a spaced out haven were thrown out of the air-conditioned window at 10am when we got stuck in one of the worst traffic jams that I have ever seen in my life. In fact, Mumbai is a huge traffic jam. The drivers here add on 30 minutes to every journey between 7am and 11pm to account for being stuck…that is basically all of the hours that we could possibly be awake! No wonder that the air quality is so poor here – they actually have meters to measure the quality when the smog gets critical – but if you looked over the bay, you could probably work this out all by yourself.
When I came here for the first time and spent time with my cousin Pooja, I had made a list of all of the things that I wanted to do. As soon as she saw that list, she laughed at me and then crossed off all but three – you can only do things very slowly in Mumbai. It may be one of the fastest paces in the world, but nothing happens quickly. One great example of this is the bank. It took a total of 1:45 hours for my Dad to check the balance of his account and make a deposit in the government Bank of India – think about the kiosk in your local Natwest and be grateful for your waiting times. In all this time, I was baking in the noonday Sun, realising that I should have eaten breakfast rather than frying outside.
However, things were about to change. Walking past an unassuming restaurant, Gokul Lite stood out with its menu as a takeaway next door. I saw falafel on the menu and decided that my stomach would finally be able to take it. I can only describe it as the best thing I have ever consumed in India. An unassuming roti roll, I wasn’t expecting much, but it was just indescribably amazing and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who is in South Mumbai any time soon. Another thing worth seeing is the Colaba Causeway. It is the first time I have seen Europeans in India, and I imagine a huge tourist attraction.
Turning right on the corner of the famous Café Mondegar (the same bar that Pooja and I had visited until the early hours last year) it is a canopied stretch for a couple of kilometres of the best wares that you can get in Mumbai for the cheapest price. If you can live with the constant pushing and the fact that the walkway itself shouldn’t be able to accommodate anything more than a single file line, you can find a good bargain here. Within the space of an hour, we were able to cover the gifts for more than half a dozen of our friends and I managed to nab myself a beautiful wallet. I don’t think we spent more than twenty quid in total and we bought some drinks along the way.
Leaving the Causeway, we made our way to the famous Juhu Beach. Considering how chaotic the city is, and even how busy the beach itself is, there was nothing that compared to looking out over the horizon just before sunset. I am not a beach holiday sort of person, but feeling the sand beneath my toes and the waves lapping up against my ankles, I realised how much I had missed this sort of thing. There was no need to do anything but just stand and admire what was in front of us.
Although as you can imagine, the quiet didn’t last for long. It wasn’t too long before men in red trilbys were asking us if we wanted a photo taken, showing us albums of previous happy customers. Waiters from the nearby street stalls were dragging us away by the arm and telling us how good their food was. Strange men were selling questionable snacks from mobile clay ovens that were strapped around their neck. Indians seem to know a business opportunity when they see one.
Rather than being harangued by the local street sellers, the family we had come to see invited us to the Shiv Sagar restaurant, a five minute walk from the beach. It served the best pau bhaji I have ever had, and I don’t even like the stuff. This is the sort of thing that has started to become quite frequent now. Every time we sit down to eat, it surpasses my expectations and I am shocked how the smallest of places can produce the most incredible food. Shiv Sagar itself is world-renowned and it can’t sit more than 30 people at a time.
I guess that is what I am starting to like about Mumbai. Regardless of it being busy, there are so many nooks and crannies with fantastic things on offer. You just have to be willing to brave the congestion and find them.