Saturday, December 31, 2011

Visiting Mumbai - The Maximum City!

As always, our annual year end vacation was planned well in advance. Most of our vacations have been to places which were clean and green, cool and comfortable, relaxing and fresh, but this time we choose to do something different. Quite contrary to the word 'vacation' we picked up our destination that was fast and furious, mad and metropolitan city  of Mumbai, the Maximum City - The city that never Slips! 

So between 22nd Dec, 2011 to 28th Dec, 2011, we toured Mumbai and other places along with Harish, Lavanya and Sanjana.

Here are the pictures from our outing. The complete travellogue is presented below.

Visiting Mumbai - The maximum city!

Day 1: 22nd Dec, 2011 - Thursday:
We took GoAir's first flight out of Bangalore @ 5:55 AM but actually got airborne only at 8:30 AM, due to low visibility at Bangalore Airport due to Fog!. Harish and family were to take the Indigo's first flight @ 6:10, but also got stuck with us till 8:30 AM. After getting rusted in the flight for more than a couple of hours, the sun finally came out and we were cleared to take off. We reached Mumbai by 10 AM and took the pre-paid taxi out of the Chatrapathi Shivaji Airport to YMCA Central @ Colaba. (Rs. 390).

During our 1 and half hours long taxi ride from Airport to our hostel, we got the glimpse of the Mumbai high-rise buildings, Traffic at Peak hours and the people at large of Mumbai. We drove past Dadar, Mahalaxmi, Mahim, Marine Drive, Colaba and finally touched YMCA Central. YMCA Central is in an absolutely beautiful location on the southern-most tip of Mumbai, a stone-throw away from Gateway of India and the Taj Hotel. YMCA Central is one of the older buildings almost a 100 years old, found that our respective rooms to be very spotlessly clean with , very clean toilets, working AC, Wall mounted LCD TVs and Intercoms. The huge floor had a huge Hall, as big as 2 full sized badminton courts, and housed 4 Table Tennis tables, 2 Pianos (Furtados!), a multi-gym, Magazine/News Paper section, a Diaz for in-house performance and a few chairs and cushions. Overall, a very comfortable place to stay. My recommendation for anybody who would like to visit Mumbai, please reserve your accommodation here. The price tag of 2K per day is a steal for the location, convenience, amenities that this institution has to offer.

After checking in, the drowsiness and the hunger struck simultaneously and went hunting for food. Just a minute away from our hotel was the esteemed 'Colaba Causeway' road, and we spotted a 'Kamath Hotel very close by. We ordered the South Indian Thali and felt sorry that we ordered it. For the taste and quantity offered, we felt it was simply overpriced (Rs. 110). We felt that they should named it as 'Khao-mat' instead of 'Kamath'.

We strolled down the busy and packed streets of Colaba Causeway and headed into Gateway of India and the Majestic Taj Hotel. Such an awe-inspiring sight!. Really, amazing. Especially, when you see the section of Taj that got attacked during 27/11.

After a lot of discussions, we finally picked up tickets for the ferry to Elephanta Caves right at the entrance barricade of Gateway Of India (GOI) and got into the ferry @ 3:15 PM. (An adult ticket costs Rs. 130.) We were initially advised that this place is not so great to visit and better to be skipped from the list of places to visit in Mumbai. But we took the risk and just hopped on it.

The ferry ride took us through the seemingly smooth waters around the South East coast of Mumbai. We went past a lot of Naval and Merchant ships, big and small. Also saw a plenty of High-end private luxury Yachts anchored in the middle of the sea. (Apparently it can be hired @ Rs. 5.8K per hour!)

The onward ride took us about 1 hour and 15 minutes before we reached the Island of Elephanta Caves. It takes atleast 30 minutes of walk from the point we got off the ferry till we reached the entrance of the caves. On the way, we passed through a long stretch of Piers where the authorities have laid a mini-train which runs half a kilometer from the point we got off the boat till the foot of the hillock. This definitely eases some strain for the oldies and kids. Next section is the upward climb of the hills, which has about 300 steps. Shops on each side showcasing fancy articles, curios, and eatables can be found all along the steps.

On first sight, Elephanta caves looked awesome. Contrary to popular belief, the caves are very well maintained and looked beautiful. The sculptures inside the caves are mostly disfigured, (many of them have broken arms and faces), but still is worth a visit. The biggest stone carving is that of the '3-Murti'. Had a lot of problems taking a photograph of this sculpture and found that I was not alone. For some reason, many other folks complained of the same issue that cameras were not able to take photographs of sculptures inside the dark. After a lot haggling with options on the camera, was able to get just enough a decent photograph of this carving.

There are supposed to be 7 more such caves spread across the island, but with very little time in hand and the sun dropping fast and our energy levels draining quick, we took some time to seize the moment at the Elephanta caves and then hurried back to our ferry already full and ready leave back to Mumbai. Anybody having doubts on whether to see Elephanta caves or not, I would say that you would be missing one of the most beautiful visiting points in Mumbai of the many the city has to offer. Highly Recommended and must visit.

On our return journey, we saw the setting sun with cool wind blowing across our faces in calm water. We took the upper deck of our ferry this time and it was a pleasure ride all the way back to Gateway of India. It had been a long day for us and more so for the kids. Fully tired, dehydrated with the Mumbai humidity, we could not pull ourselves anymore and by 7:30 PM and could not even stand for a second to take decent pictures in front of the Taj or the Gateway of India. We had our dinner at a local snack bar on Colaba causeway (Ramnath Snacks) and hit the sacks.

Day 2: 23rd Dec 2011, Friday:
Somehow, I was a little disappointed that I was not able to get a good picture of the Majestic Taj and the Gateway of India the previous evening. So got up a little early and ran upto the GOI. There was not a single soul in sight and the lights still looked breathtaking as it was in the evening. Setup my makeshift Tripod and spent good time with my camera shooting what I wanted to in that one absolutely magnificient structure of Mumbai!. I am so happy I did that.

After a heavy breakfast at 'Shakahari Bhandar' right at the junction of of YMCA and 'Colaba Causeway' road, we went back to the GOI and booked our 'Mumbai Darshan' daily tour operated by a Private organisation. Costs Rs. 160 per person. But the organizers collect Rs. 300 per person as part of entry fee for various other points he would be showing in advance so that you don't have to waste time standing the long queues in front of the venue and waste precious time. You have the choice to choose the points you would like to get into and pay the fees accordingly.

Our first stop was the 'Prince of Wales' museum which is now named 'Chatrapathi Shivaji Vaastu Sangrahalaya'. 

At this point, I have been wondering what's with Mumbai re-christening all it's important buildings in the name of Shivaji. Agreed, Shivaji is the iconic Maratha leader and the founder of Maharashtra and in a way is the identity of every Marathi speaking person of Maharashtra. But somehow it does not make sense to rename every other building (constructed by Britishers) into 'Chatrapathi Shivaji'. The iconic 'Victoria Terminus' is now 'Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus (CST). The Sahar International Airport is now 'Chatrapathi Shivaji International Aiport. 'Price of Wales Museum' is now Chatrapathi Shivaji Vaastu Sangrahalaya'!. Please, give me a break.

Anyways, the 'Chatrapathi Shivaji Vaastu Sangrahalaya' (grrrr!) showcases artifacts related the evolutions of man, civilizations, fascinating stone carvings and edicts, rare collections of artifacts of various royal kingdoms and their weaponry, dresses, (courtesy Ratan Tata!). Overall, it’s a must visit in Mumbai and the kids thoroughly enjoyed the museum for the animal kingdom section of stuffed animals, reptiles, birds and fishes. (Must see for kids and elders who have forgotten they were kids too once upon a time!).

The next one hour was a drive past the famous buildings of Mumbai. The public announcement system in the bus gave clear highlights on each of the buildings we went past. Mantralaya, Assembly Hall, Nariman Point, Hotel Oberoi, Air India building Wankhede Stadium, Marine Drive, Taraporewala Aquarium, (closed due to renovation), houses of Bollywood celebrities like Amitabh Bachhan, Rajesh Khanna, Dev Anand, Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan, Rekha, Jakie Shroff, Farhan Akthar, Shabana Azmi. Sunil Shetty's H20, an adventure sports academy was spotted on the way as well. Sachin Tendulkar's house was a little tucked away inside in Bandra and we could only see the hind part of his house. Interestingly, Salman Khan still lives in an apartment that looked like a very decent accommodation not matching that of a Bollywood Superstar like him. Mukesh Ambani's multi-storeyed 'Billion Dollar Building was the cynosure of all eyes and this huge building offset from Peddar road was the most photographed!.

Our next stop was the Kamala Nehru Gardens with the famous 'Boot House' and the Hanging Gardens of Mumbai. Moment I saw the big shoe, I suddenly got my memories of my previous visit back in 1984, when I had come here when I was 9 years along with my parents. It was such a nice feeling to be back here. Its the same boot, same kids and the same feeling!. Nothing changed in 27 years! Pooja and Sanjana loved the place and we took some nice photographs of the view of the Juhu beach from the hill top. Across the street was the famous 'Hanging Gardens of Mumbai'. Apparently, the Brits constructed 3 huge container tanks for storing drinking water to supply the areas in and around Juhu. The containers were then concealed by growing trees and gardens over it and since the garden was 'apparently' not touching the solid earth (separated by the tanks), these gardens were called 'Hanging Gardens!'. That's some history right there. The tanks are definitely not in use now, but the gardens still give Mumbaikars of this area, some lungs to breathe.

Next to the Hanging Gardens are the Parsi 'Tower of silence'. After the death of a person from the Parsi family, the body is taken to a hospital where any organs that can be used are extracted. Then, the bodies are smeared with Honey, Sugar, and Ghee and laid to rest on the top of this 'Tower of Silence' for Vultures to feed. After a while, when only the bones remain, they are chemically treated that turn the bones into liquid / water which then is recycled into earth. The ideology here is that the human body should be utilized in every sense and should not go wasted. Parsis demand great respect from the society for this ideology.

Our next stop was the 'Orama 4D-movie @ Atria super mall'. As soon as we got into the theatre, we were given the customary 3D spectacles. A big pipe ran from one side of the theatre to the other on all rows and was wondering why. The movie started with a horror story of critters taking us through some dark and insanely roller coaster roads. Our chairs started shaking in-synch with the ride, water spraying onto our face every now and then when critters and other animals spit, lick on us (yuck!) and fans blowing hot and cold air on faces and legs as and when there is a movement of anything horrific. The kids loved it and so did the first timers too. But for the ones who have seen it earlier, it was unfortunately a routine and the cool AC being the only good thing about the movie. For me, I loved the ride at ‘Wonder La’ as it had a better movie and a better frightening experience overall.

We went past through the Mahalaxmi Temple which where we were to alight for a visit, but it being a Friday, (Lakshmi's day!), the crowd which started from the temple ran till about a kilometer into the main road. Had we wanted to take the darshan, it would have taken 4 hours in the hot sun and sweat and our tour guides recommended that we forego this venue in order to save the rest of day's visits.

Next stop was the Nehru Science Centre where we had a hemispherical screen with 3D Projection Camera. Movies such as the 'Animals of Madagascar', 'People of Tibet' and the great migration of animals in Botswana. The seating was very similar to the ones that are seen in a planetarium except the way of how the projector works. But overall a good experience for those who have not seen it earlier. 

We then were asked to have lunch at the cafeteria in the same building and then to go around the Nehru Science Center artifacts. The science activities were very similar to that of VITM in Bangalore and hence did not spend too much time on it and used that for a comfortable lunch instead!. Pooja and Sanjana did get some time to do some funny experiments in the few extra minutes we got before we boarded our day tour bus again.

Our bus then took the Bandra-Worli Sealink which is a bridge that connects Bandra and Worli over the sea, saving 45 minutes. It takes only 5 minutes on a 4 wheeler to cross this gigantic bridge and considered as an engineering marvel (Read as : 'Indian' Engineering Marvel).

It was about 4:30 PM when we reached Juhu beach. This was the last stop and we got down here and spent some time going around the beach. Juhu is a mediocre beach, and plain dirty. But for the fun activities on this beach, it would be another place not to visit in Mumbai. Pooja and Sanjana enjoyed some beach side shopping of Airplanes and Parachutes and also played a round of Giant Wheeling. The Juhu Chowpatty Chaat Stalls are right at the entrance of beach and had a lot of stalls each one demanding that we check their stall out. And exactly the reason we had come over there!. So our team got on to the act of trying out every other type of Chaat under the sun. After tasting a some varieties and stall-hopping, all of us came to the conclusion that the Chaats were probably better off outside of Chowpatty than inside. The local stalls where we had our Chaats on Street ends, cafes all around Mumbai were definitely better than the ones here. We felt a bit disappointed that Mumbai Chowpatty did not have enough oomph to keep our taste buds happy.

We waited for the sunset and then waited for half an hour at a bus stand waiting for bus-route-no. 28 to get back to Churchgate (Colaba), and finally saw one coming, but fully loaded. The bus reminded me of the 'bar-magnet' that moved through iron fillings. There was no chance we could survive on that bus and immediately hopped onto a Taxi and reached YMCA by 7:30 PM. 

When we got back to YMCA, there was a 'Piano' competition going on and about 20 kids who had come down from varios parts of Mumbai to participate were playing the Piano. The families of the participants were very well dressed and there was a huge gathering that night. I rested a few minutes to enjoy the music. The equipments used were top class (Furtados Piano). A first time for me to witness such a concert.

Got back to our rooms, had a quick shower and we were out again for our final event of the day!. First Day Night Show of 'Don 2' starring Shah Rukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra and Lara Dutta! Taking time to watch a move in the Bollywood capital of India is a must do for anybody visiting Bombay but getting tickets to a First Day Night Show was out of the world! 'Regal Cinema' theatre was a minute away from our hostel and we had purchased tickets for the night show while we were getting ready for breakfast before getting on to the day tour. 

The movie itself was a huge disappointment. The storyline was very predictable (Nothing can happen to Don, no matter what the situation was). Knowing Don 1, Don 2 should have had out of the world twists and turns but what came on the screen was everybody's guess. I keep watching 'Chota Bheem' the famous cartoon series with my daughter where 'Chota Bheem' is this one guy who knows everything and will win everything no matter what the odds are. Don 2 and Chota Bheem are pretty much the same!. SRK flopped with Ra 1 and now it is Don 2. ('Flop 3' must be on the cards!) Sorry if I have disappointed any die-hard Shah Rukh Khan fans who are reading this, but Don 2 is an outright flop movie in my books. SRK should learn something from Aamir Khan.

We returned back to our den by 12:30 AM only to wake up pretty late in the morning.

Day 3: 24th Dec 2011, Saturday:
With 2 full days of hectic action, we decided that we will take the day a bit easy. Having our usual morning breakfast at 'Shakhahari Bhandar', we walked our way to Churchgate Station about a Kilometer and half away from YMCA. On the way, we went past, ‘Oval Maidan’, a huge cricketing field where there were atleast 10 matches going on simultaneously. Situated right in front of the Bombay's university building, the background makes a very beautiful ground to play cricket. Sachin Tendulkar must have scored a million runs on this ground for sure.

My perception of Local Trains in Mumbai was heavy traffic, suffocation, dirty, rusty colored coaches, fragrance of rotten fish and sweaty people. We reached the Churchgate local railway station and found the station to have become ultra modern and the local trains looked bright with interiors bright and steely. No rotten fish smell, enough air for all to breathe, and people smell better!. Thanks to the Deodorants. Infact, I am so impressed with the Local Trains of Mumbai that I wish Bangalore Metro attains the connectivity like what the Mumbai Metro has achieved. More on the Local later... We took return tickets to Bandra as big girls wanted to 'start' their Shopping. We were advised to go to Linking Road near Bandra and so we did. 

Linking road is a heaven for shoppers for cheap cotton clothes, chappals, bags, shoes, leather stuff and other fancy items. After 4 hours of extensive shopping, and hungerstruck, we realized that we had crossed over from Bandra to Khar. We took an Auto rickshaw and landed at 'Vrindavan' hotel close to Khar railway station. The lunch was delightful. We took the local train again and reached Dadar terminal in 15 minutes. Came out of the station across the market, had a couple of Lassis and Chaas (buttermilk) and then took the taxi to the famous Siddi Vinayak Temple. Harish, Lavanya, Sanjana, Souji and Pooja completed their darshan of the temple, as I watched over the heavy shopping bags and the camera, which was not allowed inside the temple. The team completed their visits in 45 minutes and then we took another taxi back to Dadar from where we took the local towards Churchgate. We got down at Marine Lines station and walked a few 100 meters, right into the Queen's necklace of the acclaimed 'Marine Drive'. The most beautiful spot of Mumbai for lovely evenings.  A perfect place to enjoy the setting sun and the cool breeze. The view of the Mumbai city lights from this place is simply awesome!. The dedicated wide pavement allows for the folks to slow down, take a breath and nurse their souls in their busy lives. Marine Drive is an amazing place to visit during the setting sun and till as long as the mind gets to sleep. 

Tired of the day long activities, we took the taxi back to YMCA, had our lunch at the ‘Shakahari Bhandar’ hotel and rested for the day.

Day 4: 25th Dec 2011, Sunday: Christmas!
Got up late in the morning and after breakfast, took the taxi to Crawford market to do some more shopping. Next to it was the Fashion Street. Since it was the Sunday and the Christmas holiday, the shops were sparsely opened. We aborted the morning session of Shopping and took a taxi to Mumbai Central where we enquired about the trains and reservations to Lonavala and Khandala that we had planned for the next day. Post that, we went in search of 'Junka Bhakar' which was supposed to be a wonderful place to have the best Chapathi and Junka Subjees at down to earth prices. We did find one right across the main gate of Mumbai Central railway station, but the place looked like it assured a non-stop ticket to hospital considering the hygiene with which they were doing their business. So we skipped the place and the location and returned back to fashion street. Harish returned to YMCA with Pooja and Sanjana while I accompanied the ladies for the 2nd innings of shopping at Fashion Street. I sat down at the Bus stop post and spent 2 hours watching the ladies enjoy what they do best.

Later we walked all the way back from the Fashion street back to YMCA. On the way, we stopped at the Fort Area where we had the best Cane Juice in the world. The half glass full costs Rs. 5, Full glass @ Rs. 7 and Jumbo Glass costs Rs. 10! And the Jumbo glass is a full 750 ML (3/4 Liters!). Nowhere have I seen such pure and fresh cane juice at down to earth prices. We also had a couple of rounds of Paani Puri and Seva Puri before we reached YMCA. Later in the night, Soujanya and myself tried out the Arabian delicacy hotel 'Falafel's - The Veg hummus house' right at the junction of Regal Cinema theatre. We ordered the Original Falafel combo as well as the Hummus Meals. The meals had Pitas (a type of bread), Hummus (Chickpea paste), Pickled vegetables, a red sauce that was so hot that it can launch a person into outerspace, a lemon drink called Lemoneez and a Chocolate pastry (like the types of ‘Chocolava’ of Dominos). Overall the food was quite filling, and tasty as well. It was a new thing for us and we were happy that we tried something new. Would I want to try this once again?...Nah...I would go in for Mexican anytime!.

Day 5: 26th Dec 2011, Monday:
We woke up at 4 AM and got ready by 5 and reached VT by 5:20 AM. Took the tickets and got into the Indrayani Express at 5:40 AM. Thank god, we got seats and in no time we could see people standing and some sitting on the floor and foot-boards. Our train reached Lonavala by 8 AM and we had a struggling experience (the normal Mumbai style) as we were squeezed and pressed from all directions before being thrown out of the train with our luggage, but all in one piece. It was an activity that has to be experienced and enjoyed if one wishes to stay in Mumbai and travels by trains. Lonawala was pretty chill when we landed, but became warmer as the sun rose. Found a Udupi restaurant  just on the entrance to the NH4 highway and gatecrashed. The hotel served lip-smacking idlis, powa, shira and dosas. We also booked a Tata Indica for the local tour of Lonavala and Khandala. 

Our local tour started with a visit to the ''Raywood park' which had a temple of Shiva. The park itself was not a great hit and so was the temple. Next stop was the Bushi Dam. Streams that get formed from the valleys of the surrounding peaks bring in water into this man made reservoir and is a huge tourist attraction during the Rainy season when the entire valley looks green, unlike the time we visited where the hills looked grey and dull. The water level in the dam was about 30 feet atleast half less than what it is at full brim. There was hardly any water that was flowing out of the dam. Whatever little was going out was not making it a pretty sight either. The outlet actually runs through a series of small steps and during the rainy season, one can imagine that this would be an awesome place to visit. 

Another point was the nearby Lonavala lake, a huge area of which less than a quarter area contained water. The cab driver told us that during the rainy season, when the water is full, and so are the people, there is hardly any space left to park the cabs around the lake and the small road side shakcs demand Rs. 100 for an hour to park it in front of their shop. As of now, the area looked desolate!

We continued further in our car which took us higher into the hills, where we saw a huge lake in the middle of a plateau and look quite stunning. This was the 'INS Shivaji' Naval training center, in the middle of nowhere. We climbed further up into the mountainous  western ghats and were alighted at the Lion's point. This place was more of a view point that overlooks the valleys below. A hillock which looks like a sleeping Lion intersects the view from over the top and hence called the Lion's point. I guess the drop from the top of the hill to the bottom of the valley would be an easy 4000 feet!. Such an amazing sight and experience. It’s frightening that there are no barricades here and the ground has small pebbles that roll under the feet. So we had to hold onto one another to ensure that we didn't drop!.

We descended down the hills and moved towards 'Khandala' another hill station in striking distance of Lonavala. Our first stop was the 'Rajmachi Garden', where the kids spent some time playing the swing and sweating some energy. Other than it being a resting point, this garden doesn't have anything to boast, but probably looks great during the rainy season in tune with the beautiful mountains.

Walking distance away was the 'Rajmachi Garden' was the 'Sunset Point' which was not so great and a few meters away was the cris-crossing of Railway, Highway and the famous Mumbai-Pune Expressways running in 3-tier format that come out of one side and go through the tunnels underneath the hill we were standing. A good vantage point to feel the breeze and calm while watching the cars and the heavy vehicles zoom from one end to the other.

Since we completed all the tourist points by 1 PM, and we had the Cab till 7 PM, our driver suggested that we visit the new and famous 'Shirgaon Prati-Shiradi Sai Baba Temple' about 35 kms from Lonavala. We took the NH4 road that leads to 'Talegaon' closer to Pune and then to Shirgaon. The 'Prati-Shiradi' temple is supposed to have a replica of the Original Sai Baba Temple at Shiradi. The darshan happened in 15 minutes but the queue to the lunch took us forever. The dining room was huge 5 storeyed building, extensively decorated and awesome ambience, no lesser than a 5 * hotel. Food was served on posh dining tables! The only issue was that the other than the rice, everything on the menu had humungous amounts of garlic and we couldn't enjoy the 'Prasad'. 

Just outside the temple was a school where all the students and teachers were busy either participating playing Cricket or sitting in the gallery of their class cheering their teams. A primary school that is supported by the Shiradi Temple and later learnt that the kids not only study here, but also live inside the schools as they were all orphans picked up from all over Maharashtra. The Kids were so engrossed in their cricket match and the pride they had on their faces was as much as Dhoni would have had when he won the world cup.

We came back to Lonavala and the last point on the way was the 'Sunil's Celebrity Wax Museum'. Rs. 100 per person entry fee looked outrageous till one gets into it. There were Wax models of Gandhiji, Nehru, Ambedkar, Rajiv Gandhi, Kapil Dev, Satya Sai Baba, Putparthi Sai Baba, Mata Amritanandamayi, Sri Sri Sri Ravishankar, Hitler, Michael Jackson, Angelina Jolie, Jakeie Shroff, M. S. Subbalakshmi, Chatrapathi Shivaji (of course!) and a few Mallu politicos. The best one was that of Anna Hazare which really breathed life!. It was so amazingly well done that nobody would believe that it was a wax model. I would bet a hundred rupees on it for sure!. 

We were dropped at the Neeta Volvo Bus Point, where folks who prefer to get back to other places by bus are dropped off. This huge place close to the NH4 Highway has a huge building with retiring rooms, a huge bus stand, shopping arcade and a restaurant. We had done our bookings of the return journey over the Volvo as soon as we were 'thrown out of the train' when we reached Lonavala in the morning! Our return journey was scheduled at 7:30 PM. We did some shopping of the world-famous Lonovala Chikkis, Apricots, Jams and other stuff at the shops nearby, had some snacks and then got into our volvo. We got off at 'Sion' and picked up the local train to VT/CST. We ordered a few South Indian Thalis in a hotel nearby in later took a taxi back home. Lights off at 11 PM.

Day 6: 27th Dec 2011, Tuesday:
Lavanya had an episode of rashes due to something in the food the previous night and Sanjana had a fever and Harish did not get enough sleep during the day and hence they wanted to skip the morning session and asked us to continue with our tour of the day. So Soujanya, Pooja and I reached the Lion's gate of the Naval Dockyard on the way to VT in expectation that we could see the INS Vikrant which is now a part of the Naval Museum. To our dismay, we were told that it is open to public only on Saturdays and Sundays. So we contined to VT and picked up the Local to Andheri to do check out the place. As always, there was huge loads of people everywhere, and just opposite the railway station was a huge shopping market area. Soujanya quickly got onto the business, while I took shelter under a bus stand till she completed her activity. We walked to see if there was anything else and finding nothing interesting, took a taxi to 'Lokhandwala', another shopping destination. Lokhandwala was another street which offered a huge range of dress and dress materials. Most of our shopping was already over so this was more of a 'I have been there, I have done that' type of exercise. 

We had lunch at 'High Point' snack bar and tried the traditional 'Sabudana Khichidi, Faloodas and Chaats'. All were excellent and were happy we made a good choice. We took the taxi back to Andheri, picked the local again and returned back to VT and back to YMCA. After resting for sometime, we got out to the streets of Colaba Causeway and walked the full stretch once again. Later we dined at a different chaat hotel and this time the Chaat experience was much better than the rest. We then slowly moved our tired legs to reach the Gateway of India and sat there for an hour looking at the majestic buildings, towers, boats and ships. We returned back to YMCA by 9 PM.

Day 7: 28th Dec, 2011, Wednesday: - Last day of the tour
We checked out of the YMCA in the morning and kept our luggage at the cloak room. After a good breakfast at Ramanath Snacks Souji and Lavanya split up as they wanted to revisit Crawford market and Fashion Street. So Harish, myself and the kids revisited the 'Prince of Wales Museum' for a second round. This time we spent a leisurely time at the museum checking out the artifacts in more detail which we were not able to do when we came here during the day tour. The kids too, enjoyed the museum. We later walked towards the Fort Area and again had a good serving of the irresistible Jumbo Cane Juice and then headed back to YMCA. Lavanya and Souji had already been waiting for us. We picked our luggage got into a taxi, bade goodbye to YMCA and Colaba in general and left for the airport.

Our return flight via SpiceJet departed a wee bit later at 6:10 and reached Bangalore by 7:20PM. We bade goodbyes to Harish, Lavanya and Sanjana at BIAL and then took the CityTaxi and reached home by 9:30 PM. 

Overall Mumbai Experience:
At the beginning of our tour, I was of the impression that after the visit of Mumbai, I would accredit Bangalore as the best place to live in India. While that standing hasn't changed, Mumbai according to me, definitely takes the 2nd best city to live in India, and may be much ahead of Bangalore in infrastructure, history, convenience. The Local trains are so much better, faster and the connectivity it offers is unmatched. The food is cheaper than in Bangalore, Transportation is much evolved. Taxis, Rickshaws, Buses, Local etc...

Having said, the city's real estate is too costly to buy a plot and build a house. The population is exploding (12.5 Million and increasing!). The transportation systems are the nerve centers of the city and are currently stable but under increasing pressure. Any lapses will bring the city to a grinding halt. 

Fortunately the timing of our travel was during the Mumbai's winter  - Cool temperatures of (32 C) and lower humidity (35%) (Considering Mumbai standards). Even though we were sweating for the first couple of days, we got used to it by the 3rd day and did not cause much grief as we anticipated earlier. I am sure that would not be the case during the rest of the months of the year. 

A couple of things that I could not get my head around in Mumbai Locals was the habit of jumping onto the train in a hurry when there were hardly any people in the platform other than themselves. We were getting off Churchgate and our bogie was completely empty and there were 5 people waiting to get in a hurry. They blocked us few people getting out of the train, pushed us hard and jumped into the seats when there were another 100 seats vacant. Looks like jumping and rushing into a Local train, empty or not empty happens reflexively. Found this a very odd behavior. 

The other odd behavious I observed is the careless ease with which people spit right next to them whenever they choose, wherever they are and whatever they are doing. It appeared like 'Spitting is also my birthright' is a law here!

One incident that I loved in Mumbai happened while watching the 'Don 2' at Regal Cinema. We just settled down in our chairs as we got into the hall. The Cinema hall was just about getting full, the screen showed a few advertisements and then there was our Tricolour National Flag shown on the screen. In a split second the whole load of people chatting, talking on their mobiles, folks still searching for their seats stood up straight in absolute standstill attention. We did not realize what was happening and we got up too and stood along with the folks. In a couple of seconds, the National Anthem was played and everybody started singing it. Seems that this is a routine here in Mumbai / Maharashtra but something that is not in Karnataka. In sheer delight, we all sung our National Anthem with pride! It was such a great feeling to see that people if all ages, old and young, hip and shabby paid respects to our Flag and Anthem in Reflex!. An incident that I will never forget! I wish they make this a national standard across all parts of the country. I love Mumbai for this.

All my perceptions are based on the timing of my travel (during winter) and the place where we stayed (South Mumbai - Colaba), which is posh commercial area famous with tourists boasting wide roads, majestic old colonial buildings, fashionable people everywhere all the time, shops, restaurants, cinemas, museums, tourist attractions at stone throw distances. Had I stayed elsewhere in Mumbai such as Dadar / Bandra / or other places, and visited Mumbai during other months of the year, my perception of Mumbai might have been very different for sure.

With all said and done, we all loved the Mumbai experience and wish Mumbai is exactly the same way all across its width and breadth, when I penned this blog. At this point, if there is any other city I would want to live outside of Bangalore in India, then it would be Mumbai for sure!.

I would like to thank Deepa and Kitty for helping us with the reservations at YMCA Central. Thanks a lot, Deepa and Kitty! We loved the place and it was a pleasure to stay at YMCA.            


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At 10:28 PM, January 01, 2012, Anonymous MithunOnThe.Net said...

Great read Vinay, would have liked more photos of the places though :)

I need to visit Mumbai too. The last time I was there Pepsi was still called Lehar Pepsi!

At 11:10 AM, January 02, 2012, Blogger Vinay said...

Thanks a lot, Mithun,

A few places I missed visiting was the Naval Museum (INS Vikrant), which you need to get the entry tickets from 'Tiger's/Lion's gate' at Naval Dockyard between the road connecting Colaba to VT . Its open only on Saturday/Sunday and we missed this specific information thinking that it would be open on all the days.

Apart from this we could not cover Mahabaleshwar, Panchgani, and Bollywood Studios and other few places due to time constraints.


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Loved it!

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