I am back!
The flight to Mumbai went without a hitch. Jet Airways once again surpassed themselves, it is comfortable, the food is excellent and the in-flight entertainment is…well… entertaining.
As we (we being, one intrepid traveller and one very intrepid mother, on a five week sojourn to (in my opinion) the best country in the world, ever) touched down in Mumbai, I began the series of warnings, preparing my mother for the onslaught ahead. The scram for taxis, people trying helpfully to grab our bags, the heat, the noise. India. But as India is always surprising, none of this happened. We sailed through immigration (having sensibly filled in our immigration cards – unlike some other Goa-bound travellers I could mention!), baggage claim was a breeze and despite the only ATM machine at the airport not working, we managed to change up enough Rupees for our taxi ride into town.
Once having secured our very own black and yellow cab we commenced the forty-five minute journey. Retracing my exact first steps in India some nine and a half months previous. Then the taxi driver decided to take some elaborate detour and we ended up driving around for well over an hour. Finally we reached our destination: YWCA Colaba. Downtown Mumbai, don’t you know! I favour this hotel because aside from its central location, it is fairly reasonably priced, spotlessly clean, they provide towels, soap and hot water, have A/C and TV’s in the rooms and give you free breakfast and dinner – what more could a girl want?
Our first day in Mumbai was spent shopping. Mummy needed ‘appropriate’ attire and in my book that means (as I am sure you are aware) Salwar Kameez. There were two ways to achieve this goal either off the peg or a visit to a tailor. To purchase your tailor-made Salwar Kameez you must first buy the cloth. This will come in colour coordinated packages containing the material for the trousers (salwar) the contrasting yet matching material for the dress (kameez) and accompanying scarf (dupatta). The dupatta is artfully draped across the chest with the tails hanging down the back and although is very attractive its main function is to preserve one’s modesty by covering the breasts. This bundle is then taken to the tailor and he will measure and design, to your specification, and return within about 24-48 hours one ‘suit’.
We didn’t have 24 hours as Mum needed clothes now, so we made our way to ‘Cotton Cottage’ and ‘Fab India’ where we had great fun mixing and matching colours to create an outfit. Here the method is slightly different as everything is readymade but not coordinated so first one chooses the kameez and then the other pieces to match.
Kitted out with her new clothes we made our way to the perfume shop. But on our way the monsoon stopped us in our tracks and with water dripping down our necks and swirling round our ankles we dashed into the nearest restaurant. We feasted on Dal Makhani, veg Biryani and Paneer Butter Masala. Once the rains had abated we braved the streets once again and managed to find the perfume shop that has eluded me each and every time I have been to Mumbai.
We sat on the padded sofas as ornate decanter after ornate cut-glass bottle was proffered. The perfumier handed us the stoppers so we could smell the rich oils. Every now and then he would sneakily manage to spread some on us. A little Kashmeri Rose on my left sleeve, a smear of White Musk on my dupatta, Opium on the back of my right hand and Jasmine over the other side of my dupatta. As the heady smells were starting to make my head spin and I was sure I was starting to smell like an Arabian brothel (I have no actual frame of reference for this and it was purely conjecture on my part). Mum and decided we better hurry up, choose and get out. Our final choices were Kashmeri Rose, Frangipani, Lemongrass and the mysterious Ice Burg!
As we left the shop we spotted a cloth shop displaying beautiful salwar kameez in the windows and we dived in. After the shop assistants had pulled out over forty different colourful packages we made our choices: mine an olive green number and mum a baby pink and white ensemble. ‘Master’ was then summoned to measure us and we spent a happy half hour giving instructions as to neck shape front and back, sleeve length, dress length, salwar size and other intricate measurements as well. With assurances that we could collect them on the morrow we jounced back out on to the busy Mumbai streets.
Ducking past the street stalls selling everything from magnified watches to gaudy plastic, sparkly Ganeshes, from “very good price” pashminas to “it’s free for looking” silky bags. The sing-song of their wares ringing in our ears we decided to end the day in “Leopold’s Cafe”. A Mumbai institution and watering hole since 1871, Leopold’s is also famous for its Shantaram connection and one of the places the terrorists attacked during their raid on Mumbai in 2008. The bullet holes in the wall a sombre reminder. We had fresh grape juice and I had a large kingfisher all to myself.
We barely shuffled our way back down the street and flopped into our hard but clean beds for a well deserved sleep. And thus ended our very first day together in India – so far, ten points to the mother for getting stuck in!