24th November – Bombay Bicycle Club

Another awful night sleep, not helped by the builders refurbishing the room opposite hammering/drilling away even after the hotel staff told them to stop. They were still working at 9pm!

Regardless of the lack of sleep, no stopping us, time for some cycling in Bombay! (gulp)

Leaving the hotel at 6am whilst Mumbai was still sleeping was very eerie. The birds had just started waking up and calling to the sun, dogs were scavenging the roads for food, and young boys cleaning the flash cars down residential roads.

The bike tour took around three hours with a south Indian breakfast to finish off (masala dosa no less). Our two guides were Nitesh and Rajesh. It was such an amazing experience – one minute you’re cycling down empty streets with people sleeping on the paths, or old gals sweeping the pavements… the next you’re scooting across one of the busiest cross-sections of road in the city. Doing this tour made me realise one thing: there is nothing to be scared about in Mumbai. It works.The little pangs of anxiety that crop up into your stomach just disappeared the longer the tour went on.

We stopped off at numerous places; the famous train station, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, still referred to locally as Victoria Terminus (from British days), the main Hindu temple in Mumbai, Mumbadevi Temple, which is where the city gets its name from. My personal highlights were the cow sanctuary and Sassoon Dock.

The sanctuary homes around 350 cows, stinks to high heaven but is a lovely and unexpected site to see in a 20 million+ metropolis. A lot of businessmen come in before they start work, pay for some food to feed the cows as an offering to the Gods (if not known, cows are seen as a spiritual animal within Hinduism, therefore not eaten and quite rightly allowed to roam the streets).

Sassoon Dock is a famous fish market, incredibly vibrant place full of all colours, fish and smells. Luckily for me, as I don’t have a sense of smell (Anosmia), I loved it and could have stayed watching the activity for hours. Saw a whole wide range of fish, shellfish, and even a hammerhead shark!. Our guide told us that for three months of the year it is illegal to fish in the Arabian Sea. This helps the fish population re-grow, a great idea and should be enforced in all waters I think. Another thing I noticed was the amount of women and girls kneeling or squatting around a massive pile of prawns, sifiting out the good, edible ones. Their saris were so brightly coloured, I assumed it was tradition within the Koli community, who are the original inhabitants of Mumbai. The guide told me the reason the colours were so vibrant was that they were the cheapest due to the dye used. Rajesh also said that a lot of the girls and women seen are the fishermans wifes and children, and a lot of them have to stop going to school in order to help out, so a bit sad to hear. The Cow Sanctuary, Sassoon Dock, and Hindu Temple permitted no pictures, therefore the ones below are taken from the internet.

If you come to Mumbai, I suggest you do this tour with Reality. Not cheap in backpacker terms (£40-50 each), but 80% of the profit gets put back into community funded schemes to help educate children. Our two guides were fantastic, and I trusted Rajesh so much that I didn’t really have any fear in cycling the roads.

On to the nightlife…. the bars don’t like you drinking if you’re not eating as well. Alcohol drank on its own isn’t considered acceptable. Shame for Brits!

Mumbai offers other cuisines and not just Indian, therefore I am making the most of it, as I know some rural parts we are heading to may be a tad restrictive. Had pasta, pizza and toastie already.

I’ve already got used to seeing people sleeping rough, just a way of Mumbai / India. However, have not adjusted to seeing a grandmother and grandchild sleeping roughly 10 yards away from a Bentley dealership. The paradox between rich and poor is so clear here it’s astounding. On the plus side, when cycling I noticed a family who were sleeping rough preparing their little boy for school, for some education is the only way out.

Places…

High Street Phoenix Mall – cause a girl needs to shop! This place was posh, too posh for us. Was amazed they actually let us in with shorts and sandals on.

Café Zoe – Mediterranean style restaurant, lovely meal and great ambience. Could have been something that you find in Hackney, an old mill converted into a café/bar area. Very nice.

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