Well, the first flight from Madurai to Chennai was somewhat hair raising! About half way through, the plane suddenly jerked to the right and then seemed to fall quite some distance sharply which left Mum and me feeling pretty nervous for the rest of the flight. Luckily it was only 55 minutes and the second leg from Chennai to Mumbai was uneventful. We were incredibly relieved to arrive at our destination..
Arriving into Mumbai airport is like stepping into another world. I have never seen an airport so impressive; palm trees and plants dominate the arrival corridors and there are large almost exhibitions of examples of Indian furniture, clothing and architecture. The entrance of hotel housed in the terminal is flanked both sides by huge marine fish tanks full of coral and cichlids.
We arrived quite late, so it was the next day that we started to explore. Everywhere we went, Mum was surprised by the difference in the city since last they visited 8 years ago - testament to India's rapid progress and desire to "clean up" the city. Our car picked us up to take us around and show us some of the main sights. Mumbai is a massive city of around 20 million inhabitants and, like most cities, space is at a premium and huge apartment blocks are being built everywhere you look. The density of the population is a staggering 27,000 per square kilometer (in London it's 1,500!). In stark opposition to the new blocks were the snippets we saw of shanty towns. Rows upon rows of broken down and patched up dwellings with no sanitation or any real home comforts. Mumbai has the one of the largest shanty towns in the world, Dharavi, which was where Slumdog Millionaire was filmed. We didn't visit, but it is actually possible to have a slum tour - whilst it's billed as a way to see the "positive" side of these poorest areas showing some of the industries there, it seems to me like the ultimate in poverty porn and leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. Driving through the city, there are some difficult sights to see of people with no homes, whole families with tiny children living under the flyover - the goat hurding community in Athoor seem rich by comparison.
We visited the Ghandi Museum at Mani Bhavan - "Mani Bhavan, a modest two-storied building on the Laburnum Road in the comparatively quiet locality called Gamdevi, served for about seventeen eventful years (1917-1934) as the nerve centre in Bombay for Gandhiji’s activities. It belonged to Shri Revashankar Jagjeevan Jhaveri who was an ardent devotee of Gandhiji and his affectionate host during that period. Today Mani Bhavan is a hallowed memorial to Gandhiji, to his stay here and to the activities he initiated from here." There was a lot of information about Ghandi and the struggle for Indian independence from the British. As well as Ghandi's room which was preserved exactly how he used it when he stayed, there were also some dioramas depicting significant events in Ghandi's life including his visits to the UK during the 1930s.
Our driver took us to see many of the cities impressive landmarks including the Gateway of India which was built to commemmorate the arrival of King George VI and Queen Mary in 1911 - everywhere in Mumbai there are strong reminders of the British Colonial rule. We drove past the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, previously known as Victoria Terminus and still referred to as VT. This is the busiest station in India. The University of Mumbai is also housed in an impressive building finished in the 1870s and reminiscent of Cambridge or Oxford with beautiful helix staircases and Rajabai Clock Tower which was modelled on Big Ben. But some of the new buildings were pretty impressive too, not least the Saifee Hospital which, at night, is a sight to behold!
During the day we visited three very different temples. The Babu Amichand Panalal Adishwarji Jain Temple was incredibly ornate with carved pillars and large carved elephants at the entrance - it was built in 1812. The pinacle of the building is the colourful and intricate zodiac dome ceiling. The ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) temple was the first place in India where I could feel an understanding of what people are looking for when they say they come to India to "find themselves". The ceilings were unusually painted in pastel colours and the large open marble temple felt somehow peaceful and hopeful. There is a guesthouse here where visitors can stay and reflect upon Krishna and take part in the programmes held at the temple. Many of you will know the ISKCON movement having seen so called "Hare Krishnas" walking up and down Oxford Street chanting Hare Krishna and Hare Rama with ponytails and bells - George Harrison, of course, also made the movement famous.
Whilst there we met a man from Maruritius who had lived in Mumbai at the ISKCON for several years to follow Krishna and get closer to "self-reaslisation and God consciousness". Again, from my socialist viewpoint, I believe that humans have the means and the power to change our world without the help of an external supernatural force, but I also respect the right of others to practice their faith and here, when speaking to this man, I felt touched by the love he was so obviously emitting to those around him.
On the evening of Diwali, we again went out by car to have a look at the lights, we drove past so many shops with cascades of bright lights adorning them. The jewellery shops were particularly elaborate with gold and silver lights shining from every available surface. But for me, the best sights were the rows of apartment blocks whose balconies created colourful blocks of so many different colours and many had lanterns hanging down reminiscent of Chinese new year in Soho. Once we arrived back at the hotel, we walked out on to Juhu beach where we had a prime spot for viewing the fireworks from all sides (including right next to us!) - it was a wonderful atmosphere of celebration. Diwali is a five-day celebration, the third day is known as the festival of lights and marks the beginning of the new year in the Hindu calendar.
The following morning we took a trip to Crawford Market which included my first tuk tuk ride. We all squeezed into the small vehicle and whizzed off, although the streets were pretty quiet it was still an exciting journey to the station. I've got on my list to have a tuk tuk ride in Madurai which I think will be more of an adventure. It was then a train ride through the city to the market with the train doors open and people jumping on and off at the stations before the train had stopped! The market was pretty packed, although we we've been told since that it was no where near as busy as on a normal shopping day. It was interesting to have a look round at all the different stalls of clothes, kitchenware and toys, although the highlight for me was the beautiful Jama Masjid mosque at one end of the main market street with its intricate carved and domed rooves.
Before heading back to the station we stopped at a cafe to have a cold drink. Mum and I needed to use the facilities and asked where the ladies were - a small commotion ensued in which one of the members of staff shouted across to his colleague on the till explaining that there were two ladies who needed the loo. This seemed to create confusion amongst all the staff and Mum said to me "I think we need to be accompanied". We started to go up the stairs in the restaurant, but were stopped and led out of the building and through a small doorway between the shop fronts, we ascended one flight of stairs and another and another through all the dilapidated building exchanging bemused looks. The waiter led us to four doors in a completely run down corridor and unlocked the third door to reveal the facilities - an Indian toilet, which is basically an enamelled hole in the ground. But it was clean enough and we were grateful!
That evening we again went for a walk along Juhu beach where we came across another Puja, this time of Kali - Kali is the fierce aspect of the goddess Durga (whose puja we saw in Kanjakumari). The people who were there performing the puja were from Bengal as, in Bengal, the festival for Kali coincides with the third day of the Diwali festival dedicated to Lakshmi.
For our last day in Mumbai, Mum and I had a tour of some Bollywood studios! Before heading to the studios, we were taken past most of the homes of the big stars in Bollywood where, the previous evening, large crowds had gathered to catch a glimpse of their heroes arriving at the Diwali parties. The studios weren't really at all what either of us had expected, but it was very interesting. Our guide took us to two studios, both of which were, frankly, a right mess! At the first studio there was a film being shot and also a soap opera. He told us that the studios are booked for 12 hours a day, of that 8 hours are spent shooting, of this time, 40 minutes is usable and of that 40 minutes, only 20 actually ends up in the final film!
We were treated to a demonstration of some dancing by a troupe of four very good dancers and even had a bit of a go ourselves!
Walking through the different studios, we were suddenly in a hospital ward where an episode of a soap opera was being filmed. The director was very patient as some of the cast were in the toilet and on the phone and then one of the smaller actors woke up from his nap and began to cry! The most filming we saw was for another soap based in a palace. The leading actress was beautifully made up with a gorgeous outfit and the male lead was similarly well dressed. He must have been at least 6'5" and, in order to get the shot over his shoulder, the actress had to stand on a box and he had to stand with his legs apart! After they'd shot her one short piece to him the whole lighting, camera and director's set up had to be moved round so that his bit could also be shot - no wonder it takes so long! It didn't help that he kept messing up his lines and then everyone got a fit of giggles...
Overall we saw a lot of sides of Mumbai, some were truly heartbreaking and many were uplifting and hopeful they will all stay with me for the rest of my life.