Sunday, May 13, 2007

Tying a Sari in Mumbai (it's easier than a toga!)

As you can see, when I bought it, the man gave me instructions in English, and after a few attempts I came up with this, I think it's a look a blonde Brit can pull off after all!

See, there's a costume party coming up, and I want to be prepared. I have bindis from back in Singapore and everything.

Our day in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) began at 11am, when we decided to go with the plan of hiring ONE taxi for the whole day, and seeing the best deal we could get. One of the drivers in the terminal looked just like Sammy Davis Jnr, and seemed really good fun, but alas his $40 offer just couldn't match our shrewd bartering techniques. Outside the terminal, we hired a guy who would take us round for the whole day, for 500 rupees which is pretty good, there's about 38 to $1 US. The taxis in Mumbai all look like this, straight out of the 1920s, no-frills metal Morris'.

Our tour started with a trip down Marine drive, on the shoreline of the Arabian sea, passing the sandy Chowpatty beach along the way. We got to the foot of Malabar Hill, where the rich live in mansions (there's a huge class divide here, over 50% of Mumbai's population are homeless, beggars are everywhere and the shanty towns we passed are huge) to the Jain Temple. Jainism, I just discovered, is a religion close to, but not the same as Hinduism. In the temple, which I was lucky enough to be able to go into, not being on my period (check out the sign, I'm telling the truth) there were two levels, a ground floor and an upper terrace cut away to show an exceptionally pretty, painted dome roof. We had removed our shoes and were careful not to point our feet at any of the numerous deities. So much was going on! People rang one of several bells on the ground floor, bedaubed themselves with paste that was being mixed in a corner, had trays of flowers and water pots which they anointed the deities' hands, knees, foreheads and in some case nipples with(!), knelt in worship, lit incense, made pictures with loose grains of rice on trays, including religious symbols, and sang in unison at one point. It was almost a bustling atmosphere and had a very positive, energetic vibe. I left feeling quite elated.

Next were the gardens, which although pretty could be avoided, and on to the Ghandi museum. This museum was Ghandi's house from 1917 to 1934, and his bed as he would've left it is still there. There's a big library, and some interesting pieces. For instance I never knew that Ghandi had a good relationship with Tolstoy. There's also a letter from Ghandi to Hitler, dated in November 1939, urging him that he is the only one who can now avoid a terrible loss of life in a new war, and even apologising if he behaved improperly by writing to beseach him to take a more peaceful course. If you look in the bottom left corner of the picture you can see it is addressed to Herr Hitler.

After the Ghandi house, we went to a place called Dhobi Gaot (probably spelled wrong) or the outdoor huge laundry. This place has to be seen to be believed. It's huge, and there are colour-coded shirts and underskirts etc. hung above corrugated iron dwellings, and people at the various basins thrashing out the garments as if their lives depended on it. Seriously, it's an eye-opener, and young children beg for chop-chop, or food, or one quarter, or a chocolate, often with even smaller babies in their arms all around you. They even cling to the taxi when you drive away.

We saw a passenger train go by. Look what's missing here (hint, normally they keep people safely in the train whilst it's in motion!)

We went next to buy my sari, in an unmarked up-the-stairs-to-the-back-room type shop. Eric bought some equally special threads, and to appease our driver, we went into another store as well, selling carpets. He told us, if we even go in, he gets paid an extra 100 rupees by the owners.

Next was the Gateway to India, which is an impressive structure, but ultimately funny to me because it was really meant to commemorate a visit from Queen Mary and King George V in 1911, but it was only finished in 1924, a few (OK, 13!) years late. Apparently the Royals made do with a big piece of cardboard as a welcome.

The Taj Mahal hotel (I know! Not the actual Taj Mahal, that will have to be left for next time, as will Elephanta island and the caves. It's tough when you only have 5 hours to see a place!) was right behind the gateway, and we went in for some sneaky air-con enjoyment, a restroom and a peak at the 1933 bar. It was built over a century ago, which is quite an achievement when you see it and consider the constraints of building in such a climate, and the rumour is that it was built back-to-front, and the beautiful facade is actually over a side-street. This a bizarre lie! Anyway....

On the way back to the car, Eric bought this drum, which has a special name that eludes me right now, from a man, because he met Eric's price of 200 rupees, about $6.

Back in the taxi, a well-dressed lady with her hands through our window, begging for a dollar from us, suddenly pointed to the new drum and laughed "This drum no good! Ha-Ha! No good! It's paper!" I guess she was referring to the 'leather' skin, I'm not sure, but it was an odd moment. She forgot to beg any more, she was laughing so much.

We went to Kyber, a restaurant that was recommended to us by our fellow crewmembers (sorry Brits! Kyber means something very unappetising in Cockney rhyming-slang I know, and I won't repeat it here, but the place came SO highly recommended!) and had amazingly good food. We had naan, poppadoms, fish curry tikka masala, a vegetable meatball in wicked cheesy sauce, raita ( spiced yoghurt with mint and cucmber) , mutton-cake things and a beer. And it didn't even burn my taste-buds too badly! Here we are, check out the spread, no small portions here!

It was, alas, time to head back, where the Sari-Challenge commenced, and here we are, full circle. An end to our time in Asia, and we're kinda sad.

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