Here we are, happy fugitives from the West Country storms, in bustling, colourful, noisy Mumbai, made to remember once again what it is about this insane country that we love and that always takes us by surprise. We’re staying at a hotel in Colaba, a stone’s throw from the celebrated Gateway to India and the imposing edifice of Tata’s Taj Mahal Palace hotel, scene of that dreadful terrorist attack five years ago. Not that you would attempt to throw a stone at either them. Security is evident everywhere with bag searches and armoured personnel carriers parked at the entrances. Stable doors and bolting horses and all that. Under blue skies, in 29deg heat cooled by a beautiful, slightly tainted breeze wafting off the Arabian Sea, we’ve spent the day exploring this part of the sprawling city, walking and taking the occasional 50p ride in the Lada taxis through the blaring chaotic miracle that is Mumbai traffic – it always threatens to come to a tangled standstill but never quite does. Here are one or two glimpses: in the street beneath the hotel window a diminutive girl in tinkling anklet bells walking a tightrope set up at way above head height between two lamp posts while her Rajasthani mother beats a drum and collects the rupees from passers by …. Painted on the hotel gates ‘No parking or your tyres will be deflated’ and on the wall a little further along ‘Do not urinate here … Do not make a nuisance of yourself’ …. Scores of women squatting amidst the overwhelming stench of fish and waste of the Sassoon Dock peeling vast piles of recently landed prawns …. the bizarre Gothic splendour of Mumbai’s central station with its towers and gaping gargoyles … Cows tethered to the lamp posts festooned with swags of wilting yellow flowers …. Brightly dressed Indian tourists queuing on the jetty for the little fleet of boats to take them on the hour’s ride out to Elephanta Island …and all the time the black kites circling overhead. Lunch was a 30p Marsala dhosa and a 10p fresh lime juice soda. This evening we wandered among the crowds gathering in the pink grey dusk on Chowpatty Beach and drove back along Marine Drive past the Mumbai cricket ground where Shastri hit six sixes in an over and Tendulkar played his last test. Then a little shopping and bargaining in the brightly lit street stalls which have sprung up all the pavements in this part of Colaba and vegetable fried rice for dinner. It’s been a meat and alcohol free day. There was the anticipated trekk around the streets trying to find an ATM that would let us take out some rupees and to find an Internet cafe where we could print off our train tickets. Five weeks at numbers 21 and 22 on the waiting list, then a week at 23 & 24; then, this morning, we check our status on the India Rail website to discover that our tickets were unexpectedly confirmed yesterday. So it’s up at 3.30 am tomorrow and an hour taxi ride to Dardar station for the 5am Shatabdi Express (Delhi to the southern tip of the continent) and, if the train is on time, nine hours later (and £9 the poorer for two 1st class air conditioned seats) we should be in Madgaon bartering for a tuk tuk to take us on the 40 minute journey to a ‘cottage’ on the beach in Palolem, Goa. It seems idyllic but experience suggests it will either be a hastily thrown up flimsy construction of bamboo and rattan or a concrete box. We will see …..
The photos here were nearly all taken with a mobile phone. Check out Rob ‘ s travel and landscape photography website for images taken with a camera at