|Happy not to ride in this …|
They decided to bus us to Mumbai for our rest day.
Mumbai (Bombay) is so big – 17 million people – there is no way to safely get in on a bike and the traffic was so heavy that even riding only 60k or so and busing the rest would have meant getting into the city late at night– there was 60k of trafficky suburbs and city to navigate before getting to the old colonial area on the tip of the peninsula where we are staying. So better to just get in a rattling old bus and check out the scenery on the way in. Which was OK with me.
Mumbai is a contrast. There is blatant display of money, modern high-rises, miniskirts, hand-holding couples, beach and ocean views, sophisticated stadiums and old colonial buildings alongside urban poverty, congestion, dirt and sprawl.
I’d been to Mumbai before- back when it was Bombay –as a college student and stayed with a host family for several days. We went to the beach and India Gate and Elephanta Island with my family and their friends. But my most vivid memory of that trip was not of the time with the family, but of the bus ride in from the port past a slum which was shacks and mud and children in knee deep filth and an odor that made you know that mud was crawling with disease. Dead silence on the bus – and that never happens with 30 college students.
Today I went back into a slum for a celebration and an entirely different experience, which I’ll describe more in a later post.
The night we got in I spent a lot of time with Lee and Kevin who are leaving tonight to back to Vancouver. We roamed around the markets and they did last minute shopping. We went to Leopold’s –an expatriate hangout that will serve you a steak (not easy to find in India) and had drinks. Then found a wonderful dinner and finally headed over to the waterfront where a woman passing by suggested we stop by a free concert with a famous traditional flutist who was performing in front of the India Gate. Lovely evening.
The old colonial area of Mumbai feels like an odd enclave after everywhere we’ve just been. Huge stone buildings. Luxury hotels. Beach boardwalks. Cobbled streets. Balconied multi-storied old homes from the 1800s. Lots of tourists. Lots of young Indians in western clothes. Lots of posing. Lots of Westerners enjoying the familiar of home, with lots of restaurants and bars charging premiums prices to accommodate the desires for an espresso or roast beef sandwich or pizza or cocktail.
But not far away were several homeless families camped down dark streets begging, cooking on the curbs, and sleeping in dark huddles on the sidewalks.
I’ve noticed in Mumbai and even as we’ve approached the coast in the last couple of days that people are getting significantly heavier. It’s particularly noticeable in the city and a real contrast to even a week ago. Overweight and obese people are one of best indicators of wealth and the luxury of a sedentary life – as America knows too well.
Mumbai is cricket crazy. It’s huge. It’s everywhere. Kids playing in the street and dirt lots. Fields with formal uniformed teams. INDIA national cricket team billboards, players on advertisements, fans in team shirts. Mumbai is hosting the world cricket championships this month so interest is peaked.
We had 6 new riders join us today, and seven are leaving. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone and to the second part of the trip as we head south tomorrow by ferry down the remote coast between Mumbai and Goa.