Thursday, 1 December 2016

A Very Packed First Week in India!

We flew into Mumbai (or Bombay as the people still like to call it) on Wed (23rd Nov) where our hotel kindly collected us from the International Airport.


The view from our, very adequate, hotel room was a typical Mumbai suburb scene – very busy, very noisy and very exiting! The mirrored glass gave us a rather dulled down version of the incredibly bright and sun-scorched reality of the atmosphere outside.


On Thursday we boarded a train into central Mumbai. Having unknowingly bought 1st class day travel tickets we had to hurriedly board the train as it was leaving and found ourselves in the baggage compartment!


Our ‘treat’ for the day was to visit the huge laundry at Dhobi Ghat. On our last visit to the city we only had time for this view but this time we wanted to go inside.


The two of us had a guided tour by one of the managers and it was a real eye-opener and an incredible insight into how some Indians have to earn a living.


This man irons all day! He was incredibly skilled and fast at the job – setting out the material and then with just a few sweeps with the huge iron it was all done and folded.


The laundry washes, dries and irons brand new clothing from the manufacturers. These jeans, believe it or not, are high class branded names and destined for high street shops in Britain and the US to be sold for large amounts of money.


These shirts are the same – made in India, they are going to be sold for exorbitant prices in the west.


We were allowed to climb up on the roofs to get a better look. Not something which would be remotely considered on a factory tour in Britain!


They process thousands of jeans and shirts each day.



Most of the garments are hung out to dry in the sun but some manufacturers require tumble drying to save the fabric from the damaging sunlight.


We guess that these two delightful children were dressed up for the visitor to fall in love with and take a photo. A small payment was expected in return of course and we duly obliged – who wouldn’t?


Of course, someone had to get in on the act as well. The little boy’s face says it all! “Clear off, this is our photo-shoot!”


All the laundry from hospitals has to be boiled to reduce the risk of contamination. The clothes are put into these drums and heated over open fires.


Now this is a clever idea! Securing garments with pegs is time consuming and awkward so they twist the ropes and then open up the twists and push the clothes into the slot.


Charcoal heated irons are also still used on some garments.


These are Saris hanging out to dry.


The very dirty clothes are beaten on stone plinths. It’s a hard, back breaking job and God knows what their hands and feet are like at the end of the day! It’s also a place you don’t hang about too long or you’ll get a soaking as well!


We’re told up to 5000 people live and work in the laundry and this is a typical room where a family will live and sleep and sometimes even work in these rooms (usually ironing).  A worker typically earns £25 per month!


This is one of the many, many tumble driers used for the more “demanding” customers and the lovely people who live and work in this place are only too keen to have their little bit of fame!


Well, after half an hour of walking, looking, listening and talking to the people working in this vast laundry it’s hard to put into words the feelings we have. We really have no idea what hard work is in our western ‘velvet-lined’ lives.  We’re ashamed to say that after just walking around this place we needed to sit down and have drink so ……….


……. walking down the street outside the laundry ………


….. we made our way through some of the market stalls with wonderful fresh, clean fruit and vegetables for sale ……..


……… to a “local” bar which we reached through a heavy curtain across the door. Very little alcohol is sold in Mumbai bars so it was a soft drink amid constant and very puzzled stares from the other customers!


This is our little bar from the outside with the curtain across the door. As always people are welcoming and wonderful and we learn something at every turn we make.


From the laundry and back streets of Dhobi Ghat we made our way down to the water and the very touristy area around the Taj Palace Hotel ……..


……. and the Gateway of India. This magnificent edifice was erected in 1928 to make the landing of King George VI and Queen Mary on the 2nd December 1911 and is probably the most visited  building in Mumbai.


Later in the evening we ventured out again and had some food and then it as a ride back by Tuk-tuk – always an ‘interesting’ experience, especially in a traffic jam when there are six Tuk-tuks vying for the same bit of road!


Next day (Sat) we had virtually a whole day before our 21:30 flight down to Goa. The Vile Parle (pronounced ‘villy-parly’) neighbourhood, where we were staying, is a bustling, noisy, hot and incredibly interesting place. There was a little bar we returned to again and again where the staff treated us like locals after our first visit. Everywhere in India you have to get used to things which would be anathema in the west – like a tree growing across the pavement! The tree stays there and YOU walk around it!


But there are things that are very much the same as the west – like one man working hard to dig a hole and a dozen looking on! This hole is being dug in the road but there a no signs to divert traffic – you just steer round and go on your way. It all works just fine!


We booked an Uber taxi (we use them everywhere in the world if we can) to take us down to the beach for the day but after and hour and a half drive (Mumbai is a very big city!) the driver arrived at the waterfront next to the Taj Palace Hotel! Oh well, we made the most of it and walked along the sea wall. The Gateway to India can be seen quite clearly (leftish of the pic) and we didn't have far to walk from there before we ……….


……… arrived at a not so scenic bit! It’s all very much part of independent travel to come across the whole spectrum of life. In this area, not a stone’s throw from the Taj Palace, there are slums edging onto the putrid waterfront of vile smelling detritus. The wall in bottom rh corner of the pic had a plaque on it stating it had been built as part of the “beautification” of the waterfront.


Walking back from our very educational ramble along the seawall we took the opportunity to have a look inside the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and ………


……. very splendid indeed it was!


Very auspiciously the next day was the 8th anniversary of the Taj bombing (November 26, 2008). The memorial fountain to the side of the main foyer area commemorates that awful day.


After spending an hour having a drink with a couple of local chaps, and learning a good deal about current Indian politics and the chaotic and very damaging currency situation at the moment, we made our way back by train to our hotel in the Vile Parle area of the city. Our walk to the train station took us past a huge area with several cricket matches in progress, overlooked by some of Mumbai’s beautiful Victorian buildings.


The 40 minute train journey back to the hotel was at ‘rush hour’! If we thought that the London underground could get busy, this was a whole new scale! The floor area was completely covered by peoples feet and there was nowhere to put our feet as we tried to get through the crush to reach the (always open) door.


After the packed train ride back to collect our luggage the hotel kindly took us to the stunning International Airport for our domestic flight down to Goa. After an hour’s flight, and a very scary airport taxi ride in the dark to Candolim, we were met by our friends Dev and Rajaa in the early hours of Saturday morning at the apartment which will be our home for a while.


Our hectic pace was not yet over. One priority, after waking up on Saturday,  was to get our haircut for a special occasion on Sunday. Our barber friends, Talib, Ashraf and Hashim had been expecting us for some months and they were all very excited to see us, as we were them also. Here’s Doug with Talib after a couple of hours of extreme pampering.


On Sunday, in a borrowed car, Doug drove down to South Goa to Colva to be with our friend Bosco and his wife Sophia at the christening of their first child Slayden a beautiful month old baby boy.


It was exactly a year ago to the very weekend that we were at Bosco and Sophia’s wedding and it was a great privilege to be invited back to the same church for Slayden’s christening.


Here’s the pastor blessing the baby with Holy oil …………..


……… and here’s James (all gaga) holding Slayden for the first time after the service.


And a very rare one of Doug holding a baby!!


Goan christenings are large events as we learnt last year at another friends baby’s christening (wedding are even bigger events still, as we also discovered!). Here are the two proud parents in front of their “thrones” ready to greet all the guests and have photos taken.


The cutting of the cake is another important part of the celebrations…….


…. after which we all enjoyed a very tasty buffet meal and games organised for the children.


Later in the afternoon we were invited back to Bosco’s family home where we met up with our friend Julroy (and his motorbike!). It’s a very shiny Royal Enfield and it appeals much more to James than Doug. But here’s Doug trying to look “cool” on it but his feet won’t reach the ground!


Being at the family home and being able to relax we could catch up with Julroy and of course ………….


………have some quality time with the star of the show that day – Slayden. He was remarkably relaxed for his ‘one month old’, even when the celebratory firecrackers were set off quite a few time without warning! Slayden didn’t care but we almost needed to change our underwear!


Julroy decided to take us off to Colva Beach for the evening and to do that we needed to borrow Bosco’s motorbike. Wow! It’s been a very long time since James rode a ‘proper’ bike so a few details needed to be pointed out by Julroy who’s a very experienced biker.


Anyway, with Doug as Julroy’s pillion and James on his ‘own’ machine we made it safely down to Colva Beach for an evening at “49ers” bar. James was on a high due to his bike experience (let’s hope for Doug that it hasn’t lit the blue touch paper on James’ bucket list!)


After staying overnight at Bosco’s neighbours house the next day (Monday) we met up with Julroy again, this time for breakfast at café Jowenjo in the village of Cuncolim where he lives. The lady in the café recognised us from Agnel & Melissa’s daughters christening last year. (it’s definitely a very small world!)


After breakfast, and some shopping in Cuncolim market, we said farewell to Julroy (briefly!) and headed to the coast to Palolem where we spent the rest of the day and night on the beach. A quaint, and very basic, beach hut gave us rest for the night.


Next day (Tues), our last day in South Goa for this trip, we went a few more miles further south to have a look at Patnem Beach. The road there was very basic!


……. but the beach was a delight and well worth a longer stay some time.


Well, our return trip to North Goa took us back through Julroy’s village of Cuncolim so we briefly met up with him again. We enjoyed a glass of sugar cane juice – freshly mangled as always. Hope he minds his fingers!


After several passes through the mangle the sugar cane is then saved and fed to the cows so nothing is wasted.


The juice is superb and very refreshing. The look on James’ face is not distaste at the juice but agony due to falling down a hollow in Palolem the day before!


For a late lunch (we eat very little due to the heat and it was to be our first food of the day) we drove Julroy out to one of our all-time favourite spots – Joe’s Cove restaurant. It was he and Bosco who introduced us to this riverside haven.


Doug tried on Julroy’s cap and glasses – there is a certain “Lewis Hamilton look about him if you look long and hard!


There’s much wildlife to be seen around this beautiful part of South Goa – the Kingfishers are very much larger than the British species. Not a good shot here as the colours don’t show.



A final farewell to Julroy and we were on our way back to Candolim. We pass through an area of paddy fields on the way ………


………. and Doug did very well at his first spot of driving a car on India’s very busy roads.

Well, that was our first week packed full of experience and delight and already meeting up with so many friends. Now we plan to relax for a few days!

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