Personal travel manager Aileen Collins discovers the real India and is rewarded with genuine experiences and memories that will last a lifetime. Aileen shares her story of her visit to Mumbai.
I was saying to my travelling companion Helen who had not spent serious time in India since 1979 that one of its assets is the delightful speaking voice of an educated Indian. Adi, our ‘Mumbai by Dawn’ guide who had absolutely no right to be so fresh and chirpy at five in the morning, soon displayed this from the very first ‘Hello Ladies’!
Having never been a fan of your standard ‘drive past monument and repeat the history’ sightseeing tour, I wanted the Mumbai which would intoxicate us (even on a religious dry day) and assault all the senses. This was soon put to the test by our visit to Sassoon Dock where – apart from a few plastic crates – we were transported to the India of centuries ago. Had we been seagulls in a previous life we would have been squawking with delight at the view of wriggling masses of sea life about to undertake its own reincarnation. Our crinkled noses knew way ahead where we were going as Adi had us skilfully weaving through the frenetic fish dock scene of yesteryear. We were pleased to hear that women rule the roost in controlling, buying, selling and distribution of the daily catches whilst it was the men’s role to trawl until the ice runs out and come back with enough fish to feed the 21 million-odd pulsating population of Mumbai.
Here we didn’t find the clinically correctness of Japanese fish markets, instead we were pleased with the supply of blue ‘overalls for the feet’ which not only protected our shoes but gave us good traction for the somewhat slippery paths we followed. The air is alive with the frenetic pace of those on a mission to deliver only the freshest catch to their customers and you often need to duck and side-step to make way for fast moving fully-laden old wooden trolleys.
Having dispensed with our new foot apparel we then moved onto the world of print. Mumbai still has one of the world’s largest readerships of newspapers. Here we saw men sitting on the sidewalks and under the portals of heritage buildings stacking ream after ream of newspapers which are then laden vicariously onto the most useful of all Indian transport – the bicycle! Balance must be an inherited gene in pedal wallahs as they cycle off to deliver the latest news in Hindi, English and local dialects.
Adi informed us that to survive in Mumbai many people work two or three jobs and the early morning news packer (with quite a different income to another Packer we know!) becomes a taxi driver or other occupation come sun-up. Our guide is the proof in the pudding. After the tour this adventurous black-bearded Batman becomes a mild-mannered engineer.
After a refreshing Marsala tea it was off to the fruit and vegetable markets. As a country with so many vegans you can imagine how highly they prize their produce. Freshness, is a vital ingredient of every Indian meal. Illegal pop-up fresh herb markets abound in the dawn hours and a blind eye is turned as long as every curry leaf and bunch of coriander leave the pavement before the Bombay bewitching hour of 8:30am when people power again takes over the streets.
Now a gift to our noses, we breathed in the scent of pink, white, and red roses, saffron-hued marigolds, and pastel lotus flowers while a lively exchange took place between sellers and buyers. If it’s a festival day the frenzy heightens and sales hit their peak.
However it’s not all about trade… the men, women, boys and girls of Mumbai also like the early mornings to exercise their bodies and minds. We visit a Mallakhamb centre where balancing on a pole and wrapping yourself around a rope or piece of silk is taught to be done with grace and charm … thank goodness I don’t have to represent Australia! Memo to Cirque de Soleil – source your new recruits here!
With the backdrop of breathtaking British-designed architecture juxtaposed between crammed apartment buildings, Hindu temples, Moslem mosques, Christian churches, green parks and up-and-coming towers Mumbai amazes with its almost clockwork precision of how to manage a city with so many and its ability to deliver every single daily requirement to doorsteps with the minimum of fuss. Sorry supermarkets – you’re never going to win here!
Adi delivers us back to the opulence of our one night treat at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and he has not only awakened our eyes ears and noses, but showed us how people working in co-operation complete the jigsaw of everyday life in early morning Mumbai. We have a new respect for this marvellous city.
If Aileen’s personal experience has inspired you to start thinking about your own Indian adventure, you can view her web profile to get in touch with her.