She’s a go getter – Mumbai

On Monday the alarm goes off at 4.00am in Dhaka so we can catch our flight to Mumbai. Neville has generously offered his work car and driver for the trip, even more generously, Kahled has agreed. Neville is up and about to see us off, and Lea comes to the airport with us. Check-in and immigration are blissfully smooth, and even the security checking isn’t over the top. We board on time, boarding is vaguely managed, and we even take off on time. The plane is pretty close to full, particularly of Bangladeshis travelling to Dubai to work. I am seated next to one who is an office cleaner.

We arrive in Mumbai early, and praise be, our car and driver are waiting for us. Mumbai airport at 10.0am is remarkably quiet, I gather that most flights here land after midnight. A doubtful moment or two at immigration; India has very strict rules about spending sixty days out of the country between visits, however we have the appropriate permission in our visas. My official double-checks, however Kerry’s seeks the advice of another officer before stamping her approval. Allowed back into the country we are waved through the next checkpoint, and through customs as the family ahead apparently have something to declare but have joined the green channel.

It takes an hour or so to reach our accommodation in south Mumbai, the area known as Colaba. This is actually very central to many landmark tourist destinations, and the Gateway to India, and the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel are just two streets away. Once we have registered with the hotel we take lunch, and Kerry takes an afternoon nap.

Ian hits the local streets. Colaba Causeway is full of shops, street stalls, and hawkers. This is hard sell city, and I am pursued relentlessly to make any purchase. I follow a man to a store for made to measure suits (what on earth made me do that?) and the owner works hard showing me fabric which he says is Armani and Boss, but unless those houses have taken to polyester and viscose blends, I think this just isn’t so. He asks how much I pay for suits in Australia, and I tell him the real figure. Reader, I am pathologically honest. He says he can do it for half that price. I suspect he could do it for half again, and still be making money. I am making excuses, like I know where his store is, I am in Mumbai until the end of the week, and I will be back. He offers his hand and asks me to promise I will return. I hold my hands up to surrender and say “I cannot promise”, and make my escape.

Back on the causeway I am greeted by someone who looks like a devotee at the local temple. Before I know it my wrist is tied with red and orange cotton for luck, I am, after a quick mantra from my assailant, given something sweet to eat, for even more luck. I am given more cotton to keep in my pocket (yes, even more luck) and to top it off, a marigold flower, also for my pocket. Luckiest of all is the one thousand rupees I am now expected to donate to the temple. How could I be so slow?

There are serious stores here, such as Nike and Reebok, and a Swiss Watches shop, into which I venture. All the female staff are seated behind their brand counter and each immediately stands when I enter. I am looking for a specific watch which they don’t carry, so my visit is short indeed.

I cross to the other side of the street, where the footpath is in shade, and there are no stalls lining the path, only stores. I take temporary refuge in the Wesleyan Church. It is marginally cooler than the hot and humid conditions on the street, more importantly it is blissfully quiet and peaceful. Restored, I return to the challenges outside. I do a lap of several blocks, and every single store holder tries to get you into their store. I find something resembling a supermarket to purchase additional drinking water, and much needed tissues, before heading back to the hotel at around 4.00pm.

We go out at around 7.00pm for dinner, to a hip little cafe at the end of our street, spotted on my earlier walk. It is so hip, it is not yet happening, at least not at this hour. The (international) food is both interesting and quality, and best of all, they promise espresso. And they deliver. Our first real and half-decent coffee in three weeks is a great end to the day.

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