MAKE IT TO MUMBAI
has been beautifully renovated, with the exception of the room where the attack took place, which has been left unchanged, as a museum. We felt a real sense of homecoming when we connected with the Chabad rabbi and his family in the centre and were invited to the Friday-night service (we had to show our passports and answer security questions to gain admission). It was a world away from home, with men in shorts and T-shirts and women in trousers or saris but the ambience was the same.
A half-day city tour is a good way to see the highlights. Inspired by St Pancras Station, the Victoria terminus, built in Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee year, is an astounding mix of domes, spires, Corinthian columns and minarets, described by journalist James Cameron as “VictorianGothic-Saracenic-Italianate-OrientalSt-Pancras-Baroque.”
At the Sassoon Docks we saw hundreds of women and children sitting on the street shelling prawns by hand. In the richly fragrant vegetable and spice markets, they were doing the same with garlic, selling it at £3 a kilo.
Mani Bhavan, Gandhi’s Bombay base between 1917 and 1934, stands in a pretty, tree-lined street. It is now a museum telling his life story.
The walls are decorated with photos and inscriptions of Gandhi’s philosophical sayings and, when you stand on the second-floor balcony where Gandhi stood to preach to crowds in the streets below, you can almost hear his words.
Our guide told us about life in the suburbs. The middle class are wedded to tradition — the husbands go to work, the children to school and the women cook the lunch. Lunch boxes are collected at 11am by a who delivers them to their destination school or office in the city by 1pm. The system runs super-efficiently, without the use of computers, spreadsheets or any grand technology, though each
has a mobile, so you can text if you are running late with your cooking.
Another Mumbai system is run by the — a vast open-air laundry. In such an overcrowded city, many people do not have space or facilities to do their own washing and hang it out and very few have washing machines.
For just a few rupees, your sheets and clothes are washed by hand in huge stone troughs, dried in the sun, ironed and returned. Again, no computers — they use an age-old marking system and, apparently, nothing has ever been returned to the wrong person.
We ended our stay in Mumbai with a tour of Dharavi, the largest slum in India — two thirds of a square mile that is home to 1.2 million people. Shocking, yet at times uplifting, it deeply moved us both.
We saw the cramped living conditions, the poor sanitation, the depressing filth of the working environment (the residents have jobs there, in “factories”, earning £1.80 for a 12-hour day). Yet despite the squalor, it is a successful enterprise, with an economy said to be worth £500 million per annum.
Our engaging 28-year-old guide had grown up there. “It was my home,” he told us. “I never knew anything different.” After the tour he was heading back to the 10ft x 10ft one-room windowless home that he shares with his parents, brother and grandmother. I asked whether his mum would be cooking dinner. His face broke into a broad grin. “Yes, of course,” he said. “And that’s the best food in the world.” Louisa flew with British Airways and stayed at the Taj Mahal Palace. Built in 1903, it has played host to royalty and showbiz for more than 100 years — most recently the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. A three-night stay, B&B, this March, at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, Mumbai in a deluxe sea-view room, with a half-day tour of the city and a Dharavi slum tour, costs £1,043 for a couple.
The dabbah wallah delivers lunch to your office’
Kaleidoscope of vegetables andabeaming welcome in the covered market.
Gateway of India, a ceremonial start or end point for your visit