Five intersting days have followed our arrival in Mumbai. Through couchsurfing, we have been hosted by a local man around our age who has a 3 bedroom flat that he shares with a friend. We had the 3rd bedroom where there was not much but a mattress on the floor and a small table and a much needed fan on the ceiling.
Our host Danny has quite a few travellers staying with him of all nationalities. In fact, there was a German couple just leaving as we arrived. He works from home which enables him to do this and he tells us he really enjoys meeting people from other cultures.
Seda: Danny’s flatmate Rahul is a very shy man and we were told he rarely interacts with any guests and spends most of his evenings in his room after a quick hello. To my amazement, Rahul and Andy created a bond over their interest in cricket and before we knew it, they were laughing and chatting as if two old school friends had reunited after many years!
Rahul has spent entire evenings chatting to us on more than one occasion, and even came out for dinner with us which was great. Cricket, it would seem, is a multi cultural language. The place they took us to was an unlimited eat as much as you want Thali restaurant. You sit on one side of the table only so that the servers can walk around freely constantly bringing you top ups of each dish, breads and chutneys.
My sweet tooth took a liking to the yummy mango puree and after finishing mine and Andy’s, I gratefully accepted Danny’s who politely pretended to not like it too much! Oh, and he bought some more on the way home so we had a final round of mango puree before bed as well!
Andy: A regular visitor to Danny’s apartment is a “boy” (of 31) called Chotu. He is a small man who lives in one of the local slums but used to live with Danny for 8 years cooking and cleaning in exchange for accommodation. He is married now but still visits every day. Strangely, on the nights he visits, Chotu still cooks for Danny. Sometimes Seda and I have been dragged into their midnight snacking of rotis and paranthas. Chotu gives Danny a hug at the end of the night and goes to his 4-5 hours sleep. A very likeable, shy man who symbolises the struggles of life for a lot of Indian people who are uneducated.
He taught Seda how to make roti bread one evening from scratch. You could tell he enjoyed playing the role of teacher and smiled broadly as Seda called him Master!
Danny’s local advice to us was priceless, one of the things that’s great about couchsurfing. He told us about the local train system which we used a couple of times to have day trips into the City. Whilst there we visited the bustling Churchgate area with its multitude of shops, markets and restaurants. We took a stroll up “Fashion Street” on our way towards Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CST). This is the old station building, and really impressive it is too. We stood and marvelled at it for about 10 minutes.
Another place we visited on the waterfront of Mumbai was the Gateway of India. Opened in 1924 with the visit of King George V and Queen Mary, it again is a very impressive structure.
Next to it is the famous Taj Mahal Palace hotel, and its “New Wing” extension. It was a target in 2008 for the Mumbai attacks where many people were killed.
As we walked back towards town there were many people, young and old sitting on the sea wall every so often getting soaked by a rogue wave. It was a guessing game to see who’d get hit next which had everyone smiling and laughing. They didn’t seem to mind though which was probably because it was baking hot and they’d be dry within seconds.
Mumbai seemed much more civilised than Delhi. The decorative writing behind the lorries read “keep safe distance” instead of “blow horn”! The city was noticeably quieter. Strangely enough though there weren’t many western tourists which made us stand out quite a bit, especially when we took advice from Danny to go somewhere local that is not necessarily well known.
One day we went to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. It’s an enormous green belt area taking up one third of the whole area of Mumbai. It truly is massive, but don’t think Central or Hyde Park. Most of it is jungle and only a tiny fraction has paths and roads.
Seda: At the entrance to the park there were quite a few street food sellers and Andy and I, who are totally comfortable with Indian street food now (only took 6 weeks), were drawn to a sandwich stall where a man was meticulously preparing these interesting and colourful sandwiches. As well as adding 8 different ingredients to the sandwich, it was topped with crunchy bits and the man also was toasting them in the world’s smallest griddle pan!
At another corner, a nice little egg sandwich (Bread Omelette) vendor got some attention from us along with some samosas of course.
We hired bikes for a couple of hours as the distances were too big to walk. It was a very hot day, so we had multiple pit stops at the various fruit and drink sellers.
There were lots of wild monkeys living in the park too, and of course where there’s humans with food, they are never very far away. You could actually see the hierarchy within their groups from the youngsters right up to the dominant males. There were lots of noisy squabbles over food and chasing each other up and down the trees.
By far the most impressive sight for us in Mumbai was the Global Vipassana Pagoda. Again after some great advice from our host we caught the ferry across the mangroves instead of taking a much longer taxi ride around the bay. A ferry journey in Mumbai is something to be experienced. I love the colourful floral staff uniform…might suggest it for Freightliner drivers on Andy’s return to work.
Vipassana Pagoda is a magnificent golden domed structure built for the practice of Vipassana Bhudist meditation. It was built entirely out of hand carved stones and paid for purely by contributions which explains why it’s taken so long to build. It was a very spiritual place full of inspiration.
There is a designated meditation room where people get to try 10 minute sessions and Andy and I happened to be alone at our turn. We had a special meditation session with recorded instructions in English. Considering the deep voice of this recording contrasting with the supposedly calming affect of the words, I was worried that Andy would have found it difficult to focus on his meditation. Later on, he played me a YouTube recording of Captain Scarlet which has made it clear why he was biting his lip, trying not to laugh. As we completed our session, a member of staff asked us to wait as he was preparing an English language video which we found quite informative and helpful. Andy said his first meditation experience was good, apart from the instructions coming from The Mysterons!
We even had a meal on site which was delicious at cost price considering the non-profit element of the place.
We really enjoyed our first Couchsurfing experience and we got to see some amazing things in this city. The five days simply flew by in the blink of an eye, and before we knew what was happening we were at the airport again. Our host Danny was amazing, and he truly makes the best cup of Masala Chai in India! But alas, we must move on. There are more places to go, and people to meet.