INDIA | Wednesday, 8 September 2010 | Views 
We came prepared for a city that is bursting at the seams, and found relative calm. The streets were wide, the traffic un-jammed and there were even fewer people than we'd seen in many cities - in short, it was a pleasure to be there. Of course, Mumbai is home to 16 million people, and must have relentless crowds and crushed trains somewhere, just not where we went! It is such a huge city and we only scratched a few km of it. Sadly many of the people live in the slums we could see from the bus window, now made famous by Slumdog Millionaire, which are said to sprawl for ever increasing miles with thousands more arriving every day.
Our hotel was actually a Sally Army place, which was once a wonderful building, and is now damp and run by very sweet men for whom hapless would be a compliment. One guy spent quite some time filling in a form with the pen the wrong way up. On the up side, it was cheap, right next to the Gateway of India, within walking distance of lots of the sights and, most importantly, had a room.
The Gateway of India is, well, a gate. A more basic Arc de Triumph, built to commemorate George V's arrival in India, on Emma's birthday. It looks out over the sea, and opposite is the famous Taj Hotel. We took a fairly staid tea in the Taj, togged up in our smartest attire, sadly the meal was more style than substance, but fun to watch the touts and tourists milling around the Gateway. The Taj was built after its founder was turned away from the luxury 'no Indians please, we're British' hotel. So the rich industrialist built his own alternative, domed, marbled hotel which has become an institution and recently a symbol of anti-terrorism having been host to the disturbances some years ago.
We were really impressed by the Prince of Wales Museum, both by the displays and by the building itself. Oli was especially pleased to find stuffed animals galore. Many of the other 'sights' are old colonial buildings that can be picked up by walking around. I can't emphasise enough how much of a pleasure it was to simply stroll - finding cricket being played in the Maidan and stopping to watch, pausing in laid back cafes, promonading along the marina.
A morning in Central Mumbai on our way between Augrangabad and Ahmenabad gave us a chance to see a more funcional side of the city. Quite literally so as we stopped at the dhobi ghats: probably the biggest laundrette in the world. From a nearby bridge, you can see washing hanging on lines above, while below are lines of vats with people scrubbing, pounding and rinsing the cities' dirty clothes. Oli stopped for a shave on a street corner, much to the fascination of all the passers by. We also followed a side street filled with stalls selling yellow flowers, piles of bindi powder, and charms, which lead to Hindu temple complex by the sea. One of those wonderful traveller experiences where you join the queue, copy the other people in taking off your shoes etc, with absolutely no idea what it is you are about to enter!
Tags: colonial, cricket, ghats, mumbai, slums, temples