Tuesday, 11 February 2014

A weekend in Bombay, part two

I'm terrible. I know I am. But if you too were lying in a hammock basking in the sunlight like an overfed kitten, you'd be reluctant to get up and write a blog post about something that feels a million weeks ago now.

me on a daily basis

 But it must be done. The woozy heat and spicy food are making my memory even worse and if I don't write it all down now I will soon forget and everything will blur into one big mirage of colour, spice and noise.

So, Bombay part two. (read part one here)

Saturday morning we all rolled out of the hotel ridiculously early and headed on a pilgrimage to The Pantry, where we had eaten our lunch the day before. We surrounded ourselves with glasses of smoothie and plates of delicious sugary western-ness (pancakes, waffles, french toast) and spent way too long guiltily enjoying the peaceful silence and simple, pale 'Farrow&Ball' style decor in a moments escape from the mania of Mumbai.

But we had a boat to catch!

Once again Lonely Planet was a dream and instructed us on a small island about an hour off the coast of Mumbai called Elephanta Island. The name alone sucked us in like little excited Winnie-the-Poohs and Piglets in search for the elusive 'heffalump'. Sally and I did our usual power walking and decided we'd wait for the others to catch up on the boat. The boat left.

So on an adventure for two we disappeared into the foggy sea until in all directions all you could see was grey nothingness. We even paid 10 rupees extra to sit on the top deck and get sunburnt, bargain.

When we finally approached the island the initial appearance looks like some abandoned 'Pirates of the Carribean' style island with derelict boats lying miserably on the beach looking wistfully out at the ocean and stray dogs/cows/goats aimlessly ambling around.

Immediately as the only white people tumbling off the boat the guys come swarming in assigning themselves as our tour guides and telling us uninteresting bits of trivia such as 'I live over there' to win us over. Our joint looks of disdain fronted with polite refusals eventually rid us of them and with a trusty book we explored the ancient caves ourselves.

'The Elephanta caves are a network of sculpted caves... the rock cut architecture has been dated back to between the 5th and 8th centuries. The Hindu caves contain rock cut stone sculptures, representing the Shaiva Hindu sect, dedicated to the god of Shiva.' Thank you Wikipedia.

Basically they are these stunning temple-like buildings cut into the rocky mountain and inside there are carvings of various Hindi gods and moments from Hindi stories. It's like real Indiana Jones stuff. As we circled the carvings in wonder we eventually saw everyone else had got the boat over too. They said they had agreed to pay a guy to be their guide and pointed him out to us. Stood there, of course, was the disgruntled face of the very man we had basically told to go away and leave us alone and he quietly, yet viciously, responded "yes, I know you". So funnily enough we didn't stick round with them for the tour...

Exploring around the various nooks and crannies we discovered the most amazing pool of water I have ever laid my eyes on, it was other-worldly.

This little circle in the rock revealed a glowing pool, fluorescent green with a black inky layer underneath creating mesmerizing marbled patterns.

OK it was just a grubby pond thing. But we were hypnotised. Once we discovered that throwing a coin in created psychedelic rings of green and black we sat in awe and threw every single last bit of metal we had in there. I think it had magical powers... Maybe I should have jumped in. Or drank from it. I could have fallen through into a fairytale world...

OK enough about the pond.

So, the monkeys. I love monkeys.

They're just so human but way more lovable. On top of some big sign that said something about BEWARE THE somethingorother there was sat the most amazing MONKEY and I just had to become best friends with them.

We bought some berries and tentatively held out a few in our hands, only for the big one to pounce and snatch the whole bag out of Sally's other hand.

 They were obsessed with Coca-cola as well and were running up and snatching it from little children's hands just to get their caffeine kick, aw so human!

On the boat back Sally and I perched on a table opposite a bench full of ancient little Indian women all wrapped up in blankets, peeking out at one another. After some initially awkward eye contact, a simple smile made us friends and they even asked if Sally was married, clearly trying to set her up. Then one of them got out a big bag of shelled nuts and scooped us out large handfuls to eat, which was amazing because turns out being Indiana Jones is hungry work.

After our surreal little boat trip Mumbai once again hit us with a bang and we needed food fast. This time we actually found Cafe Moshe and we sat upstairs in a tiny little alcove with windows overlooking the street, ideal for people watching (which is ten times better in India). The menu is as tiny as the cafe itself (and they don't actually have half the things on it) but no matter what you order it will be delicious. Especially the spiced hot chocolates.

The friendly staff even let us use there phone to book at a fancy restaurant we'd been eyeing up called Khyber (it had $$$ next to it in the Lonely Planet guide so we knew it was going to be classy). I can't really remember what happened after Cafe Moshe and before Khyber, I mean these hot chocolate things were really really good. I think they melted my memory into a chocolatey mess.

For about the grand total of 4 hours, Cafe Moshe was the best food I'd eaten my whole time in India, then came Khyber. Greeted at the grand, stone entrance we were escorted my waiters in suits up a white marble stairway to a large table surrounded by giant leather seats. Everything was stone, glass and pure class. The waiters stood around us all night in a circle of sycophancy which made you feel like you were one of the Bollywood elite that supposedly eat there all the time. They literally picked up your cutlery to move the food from the dish to your plate for you, and even presented us cans of diet coke in the same way a sommelier presents the finest wine. Of course we became a giggly embarrassment of Australian and English clumsiness and uncouth.

photo from khyberrestaurant.com

I ordered as recommended the Chicken Reshmi Kebab which was without a doubt the best curry I have ever eaten. Words cannot do justice this creamy, spicy yet sweet, just everything... nope just can't do it.

The only downside of it was that there was just too much. It sat there staring at me, screaming "why don't you love me?" and it broke my heart because I do love you Reshmi Kebab, but I just couldn't eat anymore. I asked for it to be put in a doggy-bag and in the end the tub they gave me was the size of a medium bucket because there was so much of this edible gold.

After a yummy pudding and way more drinks we paid the astronomical fee of like 25 GBP each and rolled home.

Quickly before returning to the hotel I ran down the dark street a little way, determined to give me amazing food to one of the hungry, homeless people. I knew I had no need for it, but at the same time was scared and hesitant that it would be seen as rude to assume they want my charity. I guess it's only the poor people of back home who can afford to be too proud for charity, because as I tentatively handed it over to a woman sleeping on the street with her two young children she literally threw her hands up to the air and did a cross across her body and seized it so thankfully and with such gratitude I can't believe for a second I nearly chickened out and threw it away.

We mostly spent the evening laying in bed, holding our huge stomachs and vowing never to eat so much again.

So of course the next morning the first thing we do is crawl back to Cafe Moshe and gorge ourselves in breakfast....

Next we slowly made our way up to the airport, hiring drivers to stick with us all day so we could stop and see some sights while leaving our luggage in their boots. It was actually Indian republic day, as well as Australia day, and so we bought some cute little badges but apart from that it was pretty quiet.

 Well, as quiet as Mumbai gets...

One of our stops was the Dhobi Ghat which is like a giant, human washing machine where all the hotels and everywhere send their dirty laundry to have it slapped and drowned and hung and beaten until it has cleaned its act up.

 Hundreds of washing lines littered with fabric adorn the rooftops like bunting and the rhythmic sound of the men flinging the wet cloth fills the air.

Next, we asked the drivers to take us to a shopping centre. We had driven past a glorious glass haven with the words ZARA and Mango on it, but the drivers insisted that they knew a much better place to shop. They took us to some Indian department store full of expensive miscellany which would satisfy all your grand tapestry rug needs and be perfect to buy an Indian wedding dress, not so much for anything else. But we sat down and asked where there was a cafe and in stead they brought us two free Pepsi so can't really complain.

Tired and with a serious food hangover we finally made it to the airport where we all stood around ratty and irritable and argued about how flights work.

After such a crazy weekend, it was glorious to be able to return to the peaceful safety of camp, and we noticed we'd even started calling it home.

To conclude, Mumbai is a beautiful hot mess of a city with stunning architecture next to cardboard homes, insane, rich food, colourful inhabitants and crazy taxi drivers, and I think it's just perfect.