Bombay Mix

Marine Drive, Mumbai
With the weather starting to heat up in Dubai, we headed east at the start of May for a short break in Mumbai, India.  The trip was actually a surprise birthday getaway from Becky, and being only three hours from Dubai, it's pretty easy to get to and ticks off another place in our efforts to see more of this part of the world.
Cows in the road in India
On the way from the airport
Mumbai, a city of more than 18 million people (that's more than double the population of London), is a vast, sprawling, polluted but entirely fascinating place, a complete mix of rich and poor, smart and shabby, new and old.  The city is the commercial, financial and entertainment capital of India, and the wealthiest city in country.  We stayed in the Four Seasons hotel in Worli (fantastic hotel, incredible staff), which was a real retreat from the madness of the city outside.  As soon as you stepped foot out of the hotel and onto the streets you were met with cars, people and animals travelling in all directions - not for the faint-hearted.

Gateway of India
The Gateway of India

Elephanta sign
Our first day of sightseeing started at the Gateway of India, not a local supermarket but a monument built during the time of British and completed in 1924. Fighting through the throngs of people, we bought a ticket and boarded a boat headed for Elephanta Island, about 45 minutes out into Mumbai Harbour. The island has a spectacular series of Hindu and Buddist cave temples, dating from between the 5th and 8th centuries, although no-one is really sure who built them. The caves have sculptures of different gods carved into the rock and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.  The island itself gets its name from a large sculpture of an elephant found by the Portugese in the 17th century - there are no actual elephants here.

Elephanta caves
Elephanta Caves

Beware of monkeys
Monkey's what?

The island is also home to an array of other wildlife though, including hundreds of inquisitive monkeys that are attracted to tourists but mainly those carrying some kind of food. Having been forewarned about the threat they pose, we disposed of any snacks and were left to spectate as an unfortunate woman carrying a large packet of Doritos got to meet the monkeys up close. She put up a good fight but ultimately the little blighters won out, heading high into the trees with their potato-based prize, leaving the woman in a primate-induced shock.
Monkeys: beware
Having wandered through the caves and survived the monkey peril, we stopped for a few souvenirs and a bit of haggling before heading back to the boat.  On the way Becky came across a thirsty cow that appeared to be making it's way to the island's main bar.  However on entering the establishment the barman refused to serve him and told the cow to go and drink in some udder place.

Cow outside bar on Elephanta Island
The thirsty cow
Back on the mainland, we stopped at Crawford Market for a late lunch. The variety of food in Asia never ceases to amaze me and is always a highlight. (Despite this being India and the connotations that this brings, both Becky and I escaped without any major food-induced ‘upsets’ I am pleased to report).  The array of curries and other Indian foods on offer everywhere we went was mind-boggling.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus
Moving on, our hired cab driver took us on a tour around the city, including the Chhatrapati Shivaji, formerly known as Victoria Terminus, the historic railway station built to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. And very Victorian British it looks too.  We travelled along Marine Drive heading back to the hotel, battling the traffic at every turn.  The city has developed in a hap-hazard fashion and getting around, I imagine, is getting increasingly difficult at any sort of decent pace.  We drove past what is apparently the world's most expensive residence, called Antilia and owned by Mukesh Ambani, the 19th richest person in the world.  At 27 storeys high his house needs 600 staff to run and is valued at US$1 billion.  As I said, a city of contrasts.

Back at the hotel, the view from the rooftop bar was incredible. Directly over the road however was a large slum area, next to a crematorium with large chimneys pumping black smoke into the sky.  Everything in Mumbai is mixed up together, with pockets of slums all over and in between the wealthier areas.

View from the roof
Brunch at the Four Seasons Hotel, Mumbai
Birthday brunch
The next day was the birthday and while I try not to dwell on my advancing years these days, it was a great day.  Starting with chocolate cake and champagne for breakfast, courtesy of the Four Seasons, the plan for the day was to try out the hotel brunch to see how it compares to Dubai's best all you can eat affairs.  I have to say, it certainly held it's own, with Asian food from all over, free-flowing sparkling wine and cocktails, and stacks of desserts.  The only thing missing was a bed to collapse onto comatose from the food intake.
Disco taxi
The disco taxi

When we'd found the strength to move again, we headed out to some recommended bars in the area, Cafe Zoe and the Blue Frog.  Both are apparently local institutions and both were worthy of the recommendation.  After consuming the requisite number of drinks for a 34th birthday (ie not so many these days), we jumped into what appeared to be the disco taxi, complete with blue neon lights and Ganesha the elephant God to watch over us on our way back to the hotel.

Taj Mahal Palace HotelThe next day we spent our final few hours in Mumbai down by the coast again, visiting the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.  Opened in 1903 and scene of the Mumbai terrorist attacks in November 2008, during which more than 160 people were killed, the hotel has been restored and security there is now tighter than ever.  Once inside, we wandered through the hotel and found our way to a cafe that served every type of tea you could think of.  The hotel is pretty opulent and has hosted presidents, rock bands and dignitaries from countries all over the world.  The roads around the hotel are leafy and lined with expensive looking houses and you feel like you could be in London or New York.

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
After more photos and curry than is healthy, we set off to the airport and back to Dubai, having enjoyed a brief glimpse into this fascinating country and hoping to see more before too long.
Location: Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Victoria Terminus 491882066971625246

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