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McDonalds, Tom Cruise, the Laundromat and the taxi driver

Mumbai Travel Blog

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The Gateway of India (Mumbai, India)

Both Rens and I slept quite well on the train, we don’t feel the need to take a nap when we check into our hotel. Therefore, we just unpack a bit, have breakfast at the hotel and head out to explore Mumbai.

The first sight we visit is quite obvious, it’s The Gateway of India. This huge arch that faces Mumbai Harbour, was built in 1911 to celebrate the royal visit of the British King George V. Nowadays it’s a favorite hangout for locals, tourists and touts alike.

Since it’s still quite early there are only a few balloon sellers and a small group of locals, which is fine by us.

Locals taking pictures of us at The Gateway of India (Mumbai, India)
The couple of dozen locals that are there all want to have their picture taken with us on someone’s cell phone and we are starting to feel like statues at Madame Tussaud. The only remedy seems to be to take pictures of the crowd photographing us, which turns out to be great fun. Once we started this, we’re actually sorry to see the interest of taking pictures of us die.

Right behind the Gateway of India is the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, the most upscale hotel in Mumbai. It’s been around since 1903 and the outside looks quite nice. We’re not interested in taking a look inside, to us it’s just another expensive hotel. Little did we know that just over six week later, this hotel would be on every single news headline around the world because of the Mumbai attacks of November 27th 2008. The hotel suffered significant damage and from what I’ve heard, it’s still closed.

We take a taxi and head to the Colaba market, a small and colourfull market with mostly fruit and vegetable stalls.

The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower (Mumbai, India)
We’ve seen it all around India, but I still enjoy watching it: salesmen and -women putting a real effort in presenting their merchandise as nice as possible by laying and stacking it in neat rows or even pyramids. If love watching people put pride in their work.

The rest of the Colaba district is packed with street stalls, shops and bars and we stroll around for a while, buying some last souvenirs for family and friends and having a drink. A little later we even run into a McDonalds, our first one in India!, and we’re so overjoyed with it we go in and have lunch. When we are at home we never eat at McDonalds, however, when we are on the road we somehow always turn up there, one way or the other. I think it has something to do with eating something familiar that reminds you of home (I am a sucker for french fries!).

McDonalds in Mumbai is a bit different from what we are used to though.

The Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
There is no Big Mac, Cheeseburger or Quarterpounder. Since the Hindu’s don’t eat beef and the Muslims don’t eat pork, and McDonalds obviously didn’t want to leave anyone out, it only serves chicken and vegetarian burgers. Which is fine by me. As a vegetarian, I never had this much to choose from!

From Colaba we follow the Lonely Planet map in the guidebook to walk towards Victoria Terminus, and we end up in a completely British colonial district. There are neat sidewalks, buildings are old, gothic and unmistakably British and the only thing that reminds of India is the constant honking of horns and the small stalls that sell freshly squeezed juice from sugarcanes.

The Victoria Terminus is a huge train station, also known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.

The Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
And that’s just about the only thing that’s Indian about the entire building. It looks like the building was erected in Europe and somehow got lost.

It’s the busiest railway station in entire Asia, and we walk around for a bit, trying mostly to stay away from the crowds. The highlight of our visit to this station is an overwhelmingly enthusiastic local young man who runs towards my husband, screaming he looks just like Tom Cruise. For some reason, several Indians have said this during our trip and it’s getting more and more hilarious since Rens looks nothing like Tom Cruise (he’s a lot better looking).

Our next stop is the Ghandi Museum, which is located in a house where Ghandi actually stayed for a while when he was in Mumbai. It’s a very atmospheric place that shows some of his belongings (slippers, a spinning wheel, a small table he used) and it has several displays showing important moments in his life.

The Colaba market (Mumbai, India)
A trip to India is never complete without spending at least half an hour’s thought on India’s most legendary hero, and this museum is the ideal setting for it.

The last sight we visit today is a unique feature of Mumbai, the Dhobi Ghat. A dhobi is a traditional Indian laundryman, who will collect your dirty linen, wash it and return it neatly pressed on your doorstep. For a nickel and a dime.

The Dhobi Ghat is a huge Laundromat consisting of row upon row of concrete wash basins, all with a flogging stone. Around 200 dhobi families work together here, relentlessly pounding the dirt from the cities garments as they hundreds of years ago in exactly the same way. It’s quite a sight to see all these people doing their primitive work, but I also feel very sad for them.

The Colaba market (Mumbai, India)
They have to work so hard for so little money… ‘Regular’ Indian people do not bring their laundry here. It’s the hotels, hospitals and wealthy families who do so. Why won’t they pay a descent price for this service?

Being a dhobi is a hereditary profession, if your parents were dhobis, than you’ll be one too. It reminds me of slavery.

This is a side of India which is difficult to cope with, in many cases you’ll find merciless poverty without any means of escaping it behind the colourful culture and smiles of enthusiastic people.

 

It’s early in the evening and we’ve decided to go to a movie theatre to see a Bollywood movie.

The Colaba market (Mumbai, India)
No visit to Mumbai is complete without it. Our plan is to go to the cinema, get tickets, and then grab a quick bite to eat somewhere in that vicinity. However, when we get to the cinema, it turns out that all shows our completely sold out. We ask around and find out that there’s no use on finding another cinema. Since it’s a Friday night, everything will be sold out. We should have gotten tickets this morning.

We’re a bit bumped out, and stroll around thinking what to do next when we run onto a travel companion of ours, Belgian Rhaissa. She too failed to get a ticket, so we plan to go have dinner together somewhere nice. We flip through the Lonely Planet guidebook and decide we want to go to ‘Sheesha’, which is described as ‘a funky, roof-top place that takes homage to the Middle East with lounges and cushions ideal for elegant slumming’. According to the guide book it’s located in Northern Mumbai, so it may take a little longer to get there.

We hail a taxi and have the misfortune to catch another driver who doesn’t speak any English.

McDonalds at the Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
For some reason most taxi drivers in Mumbai don’t know English, but since the man seems to understand where we want to go, we get in anyway. Besides, it looks like rush hour has started, so it won’t be easy to find another taxi.

Rhaissa and I sit in the back, while Rens joins the driver up front. We move about an inch in fifteen minutes, so we just chat about how our day has been and what our plans are for the next day to kill time. Before we know it, an hour has passed. True, it’s very busy on the road, but we haven’t been completely still either. Rens uses his hands and feet to ask the driver if our destination is much farther, and he gestures we still have quite a bit of road to cover.

We’re starting to wonder if the driver actually did understand where we wanted to go, or that he is now taking us to some outskirt of town.

Adds for Bollywood movies at the Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
We spend another half hour in doubt, but once we see we are reaching the international airport we are sure we are not headed where we want to go.

Rens says and mimes to stop the car, since this can’t be the right way and that we should take another taxi, and although the driver keeps repeating the address we gave him and gestures that we have to move on, we get out. The man obviously has no idea what we mean.

We end up by the side of the road in some suburban area. There are no people on the streets, no taxi’s, not even normal traffic. It looks like the perfect place to get mugged.

After at least fifteen minutes we see a policeman across the street and we run towards him.

The Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
We ask him where we are and we explain where we wanted to go. We even tell him about the weird taxi driver who drove us straight out of the centre of Mumbai, right in the middle of nowhere. The police officer patiently lets us finish, looks at our map in the guidebook and then tells us we were going in the right direction and that it would have taken us about fifteen more minutes to get to the restaurant. It’s just that Northern Mumbai is a long way from Colaba, especially during heavy traffic.    

As if we weren’t feeling stupid enough as the police officer walks along, we also have to realize that it is near impossible to get another taxi. We haven’t seen one in the entire time we’ve been standing at the side of the road. As we discuss our options, Rens all of a sudden starts to smile. ‘Look, a taxi!’

Across from us a taxi holds still, but within a moment my husband’s smile fades.

The Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
From the open window the eyes of the taxi driver that got us there are looking at us with utmost pleasure.  

It was hands down the most hilarious moment in my entire career as a traveler. I mean, the look on that man’s face as we slowly walked to his taxi to admit we were wrong and if he would please allow us to get into his car again, was beyond priceless! He couldn’t have looked happier if he had just won the lottery.

We exhaust ourselves with apologies and he smiles with patience as if he is telling us: ‘I told you I knew where I was going. You’re stupid idiots who think you know everything better because you speak English and have a guide book’. And he has every right to do so.

Exactly fifteen minutes later he pulls up at the address we wanted to go to.

The Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
He takes his time to show us a knowingly smile and nods when we give him a huge tip. Boy, does he have an amusing story to share with his family at the dinner table tonight! I really hope he points out that we were standing by the side of the road, all alone, now aware that we were headed in the right direction, but that there was no other option than to repent and return to him again. It was a glorious moment for all Mumbai taxi drivers who at one point or another have been humiliated or mistreated by superior feeling tourists.  

The restaurant is absolutely wonderful and the food is fantastic, but let’s face it, it’s not even half as much fun having dinner at that place as it was to get there…

 


jethanad says:
:) this story is priceless - yes there are many good-hearted taxi-drivers who are eager to be of service. Of course the few bad apples get the most publicity.
Posted on: Jul 08, 2015
Liselore_Verschuren says:
I had no idea about those taxi drivers in Mumbai, I just thought it was strange nobody spoke English.
Personally, I'm very worried about the growing power of PVV, they disgust me...
Posted on: Aug 01, 2010
fransglobal says:
A lot of the taxi drivers in Mumbai are economic migrants from Bihar province and other poorer parts of India. They would not be well educated. This has led to many problems with local politicians drumming up protests against them which have turned violent on occasion.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shiv_Sena

Remind you of any Dutch party? PVV?
Posted on: Jul 28, 2010
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The Gateway of India (Mumbai, Indi…
The Gateway of India (Mumbai, Ind…
Locals taking pictures of us at Th…
Locals taking pictures of us at T…
The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower (Mu…
The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower (M…
The Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
The Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
The Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
The Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
The Colaba market (Mumbai, India)
The Colaba market (Mumbai, India)
The Colaba market (Mumbai, India)
The Colaba market (Mumbai, India)
The Colaba market (Mumbai, India)
The Colaba market (Mumbai, India)
McDonalds at the Colaba district (…
McDonalds at the Colaba district …
Adds for Bollywood movies at the C…
Adds for Bollywood movies at the …
The Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
The Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
The Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
The Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
The Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
The Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
The Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
The Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
The Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
The Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
The Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
The Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
The Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
The Colaba district (Mumbai, India)
A bus with an add for a Bollywood …
A bus with an add for a Bollywood…
Local young man is thrilled becaus…
Local young man is thrilled becau…
Victoria Terminus (Mumbai, India)
Victoria Terminus (Mumbai, India)
Victoria Terminus (Mumbai, India)
Victoria Terminus (Mumbai, India)
Victoria Terminus (Mumbai, India)
Victoria Terminus (Mumbai, India)
Victoria Terminus (Mumbai, India)
Victoria Terminus (Mumbai, India)
Victoria Terminus (Mumbai, India)
Victoria Terminus (Mumbai, India)
Victoria Terminus (Mumbai, India)
Victoria Terminus (Mumbai, India)
The Ghandi Museum (Mumbai, India)
The Ghandi Museum (Mumbai, India)
The Ghandi Museum (Mumbai, India)
The Ghandi Museum (Mumbai, India)
The Ghandi Museum (Mumbai, India)
The Ghandi Museum (Mumbai, India)
The Ghandi Museum (Mumbai, India)
The Ghandi Museum (Mumbai, India)
The Ghandi Museum (Mumbai, India)
The Ghandi Museum (Mumbai, India)
The Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai, India)
The Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai, India)
The Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai, India)
The Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai, India)
The Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai, India)
The Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai, India)
The Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai, India)
The Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai, India)
The Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai, India)
The Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai, India)
The Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai, India)
The Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai, India)
The Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai, India)
The Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai, India)
The Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai, India)
The Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai, India)
The Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai, India)
The Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai, India)
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