A couple of weeks ago, my wife said “I’m going to Mumbia for the New Year break, do you want to go?” Well, I could have said no, instead I said “yeah sure”. Her retort was “It is in India you know.”
The reason she said that was not a stab at my geographical knowledge, it was to remind me that I had said that I never wanted to return to India, because the last time I went there I spent three weeks on the toilet and lost twenty pounds. Now, I could have said no and stayed home or even gone elsewhere on my own, but I decided to live dangerously. So, we were off to Mumbai.
India now, finally, has started a Visa On Arrival system, of sorts. Most VOA countries, you deplane, maybe pay a fee, and they stamp your passport. India? Oh no. Before you leave you have to fill out a long form which is intended basically to make sure you are not a Pakistani. In fact I think if you are a fan of the Pakistani National Cricket Team, you would be denied. Then you email it to them and wait. Within 48 hours we had our approved status paperwork back. We got off the plane in Mumbai and there was no one in line at the VOA station. Could this really be the place? Yes it was. It was New Year’s eve at about 10:00 o’clock, so maybe team B was working. In all, it took five guys to process the paperwork. “No, push this button, no push that button. What does this button do?” It went on for a half hour. Then we had to have our fingerprints entered into their system, electronically. That took a half dozen tries. But finally the VOA was stamped into the passport.
Mumbai is the largest city in India and the 4th largest city in the world. I hate crowds and in India crowds are like trees in the woods. I was a bit worried about it, and with reason. Just let me say that India needs population control, badly. Every street is difficult to navigate on foot or in a car, especially in a car. It can take a half hour to go a block while horns honk out of control. I was in my own version of hell. What I kept imagining was that this experience was what the entire planet was going to be like in 50 years. Without population control, or a major plague, there will be 20 billion people on this planet by the time a toddler of today reaches my age. When I was born, there were 3.5 billion souls on this planet. Today there are over 7 billion and growing exponentially. India and China are just warnings.
But before you go away thinking I did not have an interesting trip, please read on.
Our first full day there we toured the entire city with an excellent service called Be The Local Tours and Travel. I can highly recommend them, They know the city inside and out.
Mumbai, for all the tremendous swarms of people is amazingly clean. There are two reasons for this. Early education teaches children that litter is unhealthy as well as ugly.The other reason is that the government employs what can be called litter police. If you toss litter on the street and are seen by one of these people, they will stop you and ask you pick it up and deposit it in one of many rubbish cans. This is supposed to shame you out of doing it again. If you refuse to pick it up, they do not fine you, they arrest you, hence clean streets. Great idea!
Mumbai was known as Bombay until about 20 years ago. Why did they change it? I do not know or care, as long as they do not change the name of the gin. Some people still call it Bombay, and some call it BomBai.
Back when it was still Bombay, it was the home of Mahatma Gandhi.
Many travelers are too high and mighty to visit a slum. I have heard the reasons why, but I find them shallow. We visited the Dharavi slum made famous in Slum Dog Millionaire. We did not find any millionaires, needless to say. We went on a tour led by Reality Tours. I highly recommend them. Check them out at Realitygives.org. They donate their profits to improving life inside Dharavi. Photos are forbidden within the slum, to be kind to the slum dwellers. However the Reality Tours web site has some excellent photos. I stole a couple off the web, here they are.
Another example of ambition in the midst of poverty is the worlds largest outdoor laundry.
That is it for our trip to Bombay, oops, Bombai, oops Mumbai. Obviously I am not sitting on the toilet this time, I was more careful with what I ate and only drank beer.
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