4 March 2012
Mike and I are relaxing in our “Super Deluxe Room” at Chateau Windsor Hotel in Churchgate, Mumbai. Its Gin & Limca hour (we cant find any cold tonic. No cold tonic; yes we’re roughing it). I know it sounds swish, but believe me it’s not. It’s in a concrete high-rise that is part apartment, part hotel. Complete with a caged lift the size of an aircraft toilet. However most aircraft don’t have a lift operator and two large tourists crammed in it. Not since the Ralph Fiennes Qantas incident has so much been shoved into such a tight space. But what it lacks in sophistication and glamour, our illustrious Chateau makes up for in character: that same tiny lift clacking between floors, the well-worn wooden steps on the five levels of staircase, the terrazzo floors, and the smiles in the hallways from each and every member of staff! We like it!
The journey to Mumbai was quite comfortable. Thank you Qantas. However arriving at Mumbai International Airport at 1.30am, after 19 hours travelling was a challenge. Fortunately the streets were quiet and our driver was not familiar with speeds less than 100 km per hour, so the last bit of our journey was a blur of ocean, slums and the relentless horn blasting.
Today we started with breakfast on the roof terrace, that looks over the Braybourne Cricket Oval, the ocean, and downtown Mumbai. We are in the old British part of Bombay, so it’s a mixture of Gothic Revival, Art Deco, Colonial and poured concrete with no style at all. Sounds picturesque doesn’t it, now add a sepia tone to that picture, and you have a vision of Mumbai in all it’s polluted glory.
We’ve wandered the old part, dodging the relatively small number of beggars (it’s a Sunday, so even they seem to have the day off). I know that sounds callous, but they are professional beggars and the moment you donate to one, you’re surrounded by mobs of them, some begging, some picking your pockets. I know from a past visit.
We visited the “Gateway to India” an Arc Du Triomphe-like structure on the sea wall built to celebrate the arrival of some British royals in the 1900s, and then ironically used by the British to celebrate as they left India on its independence. We were blessed by a holy man, who marked us with a red “kum kum” (no i didn’t make that up) mark on our forehead as he wound a piece of red and orange thread around our wrist. Of course a donation was essential for the small, but public ceremony. Naturally in the heat we both now have foreheads that look like we have a nasty rash or lipstick smeared over our brow. The constant walking and warm weather means we also have a very reddy orange wrist each, from our cotton bracelets.
I forgot to mention Cricket. I know – a game that is about as exciting as trying to deal with Indian bureaucracy. But today we walked through the green belt (well actually browny green) of Maidan Oval. About half a kilometre of public oval. This oval had approximately 50 separate and semi informal games going at once. A mixture of cricket whites, denim jeans and thongs/sandals, all playing around each other. Organised and polite chaos. The edge of the oval was awash with colourful saris, mangy dogs, and cricket desperates, all with a comment on the play. This wasn’t just confined to the Maiden Oval, as all through the side streets neighbourhood games were in full swing. The players of all ages were dodging the potholes, traffic, footpath markets, and washing lines of drying underwear and vibrant saris.
So all is good. We’ve been blessed by a holy man, we’re blessed to be able to come here, and we’re blessed that our curry lunch has not reacted in a negative way.