McDonalds, Tom Cruise, the Laundromat and the taxi driver
Mumbai Travel Blog› entry 36 of 37 › view all entries
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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…