THE KAERU KID: Mumbai — Scene of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’

Editor’s Note: This is the final part a four-part series.

The Farm Villa driver took me to the Ranthambore train station, where I caught a 16-hour trip to Mumbai. I had a sleeper reservation, though it was not very private or comfortable, but the price was just a little over $20. Making a train reservation is almost impossible online, but the Farm Villa owner knew how to arrange it. Sheets, a blanket, pillow and towel were provided for passengers. Farm Villa was going to provide dinner for me to take on the train, but I forgot to ask, and they forgot to give it to me. Fortunately, I had lots of snacks from home to munch on. My iPad with Shure earbuds provided entertainment on this long trip when I wasn’t sleeping. Avoid this train if possible. If you can afford to fly, the nearest airport is in Jaipur, and you might find rates that are less than $120 by booking in advance.

No announcements are made for train stops, so one must know the time of arrival at the desired stop. Fortunately, I got off at the correct station. I paid less than a dollar for a tuk-tuk to my Airbnb domicile, which cost $14 a night for a private room and bath. Fortunately, Wi-Fi, which is always an important amenity, was provided. My host and his mother were very hospitable. They told me to let their maid and cook know if I wanted anything. The mother made a delicious vegetarian breakfast. After a quick shower, I was ready to head to the main sites.

A TIGHT SQUEEZE — The train to Mumbai, from the Kaeru Kid's lodgings, which were far from the city's center, was rather packed. photo by the Kaeru Kid

A TIGHT SQUEEZE — The train to Mumbai, from the Kaeru Kid’s lodgings, which were far from the city’s center, was rather packed. photo by the Kaeru Kid

Unfortunately, my abode was situated far from the center, and required an hour-long local train ride. Every Indian in the region must have been on the train, but luckily the train’s starting station was near my location. I don’t see how passengers further down were able to squeeze in, but try they did. The nine-car train is rated to carry 1,700 passengers, but studies indicate that they actually carry up to 4,500. I was glad I had no companion who would be constantly complaining, since hearing my own monku inner voice was enough. Being in such tight quarters must be a pickpocketer’s dream, but I didn’t encounter any problems.

The name Mumbai comes from Mumba (Mumbadevi, a local Hindu goddess) and “Aai” in Marathi meaning mother. The Portuguese named the area of seven islands, which has a natural deep harbor, Bom Baim (good little bay). The British Anglicized it to Bombay when they took control from the Portuguese. India renamed Bombay Mumbai to remove reminders of British colonial rule. Mumbai is the largest city in India, with a population of approximately 18 million, and the most prosperous, because it is the commercial and entertainment center. It is said to be the world’s fifth or sixth largest city population in the world, depending on the source.

The train ended at Church Gate Station, which is a little more than a mile’s walk past interesting buildings, or a cheap — 22 rupees — (0.41 cents) taxi ride to the harbor area where the Gateway to India, which incorporates elements of Rome’s triumphal arch, was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. The gateway was completed in 1924 and is now the most visited tourist site in Mumbai.
There were several ticket booths selling ferry boat tickets to Elephanta Island at a cost of 130 rupees (less than $2.50) for a deluxe boat and for 20 rupees less (about 37 cents) one could take a smaller economy boat.

There are no trips on Mondays, so plan accordingly. The ferryboats depart every half hour, and take about an hour to reach the island. It costs an extra 10 rupees (20 cents) to go on the upper deck.
The entrance fee to the Elephanta Caves was less than $5 for foreigners and 20 cents for Indian citizens. I was told guides charge almost $50 for their services, but since most information can be obtained from guidebooks or downloading information from the Internet, save your money. Allot about four hours for the total visit, including the ferry ride.

Elephanta Caves or Island was named for a huge stone elephant that early Portuguese navigators found there. You won’t see it because it was cut up and reassembled at the Victoria Gardens Zoo in Mumbai. The seven caves are remarkable for being carved out of huge granite rocks, and contain statues devoted to Shiva, one of the most important Hindu deities. Ellora and Ajanta caves north of Mumbai are said to be much more impressive, but since I did not visit, I cannot verify this statement. It’s believed that there are around 1,200 cave temples in India.

On the following day, arrangements were made via mumbaimagic.com for a local Mumbai tour for 2,000 rupees (around $37). The owner, a woman named Deepa, is very efficient and courteous. A young male Muslim student was the tour leader, and he took us on a walking tour of the British Heritage District: the Gateway of India, Regal Circle, Prince of Wales Museum, Kala Ghoda (means Black Horse but now refers to a district where in the past a black statue of King Edward VII on a horse was once located but no longer here), Bombay University, High Court, Oval Maidan (large sports area for soccer and cricket), the Churchgate area and Victoria Terminus, and Mani Bhavan (Gandhi’s Mumbai home that is now a very interesting museum). A welcome rest stop at Swati Snacks included tasting sweets. The tour concluded with a view of Dhobi Ghat from a bridge to marvel at the extensive open-air laundry area, which is completely blanketed by hand-washed clothes. This tour could have been done independently very easily with a good map.

Among those in the small group tour were David and Ann Sakai, University of California, Berkeley grads who live in San Diego. David confided in me that a visit to India was a lifelong dream, but Ann was not keen on the idea. In order to assuage her concerns, he used frequent flyer miles to upgrade to business class flights and then booked an Indian luxury tour, staying at the best hotels. I neglected to ask the name of the tour company, but the cost was $20,000 for both of them for a little more than two weeks, and that did not include their airfare. They were staying at the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai, and their rack rate ranges from $500 to nearly $2,000 a night. He probably got an actual rate of around $200, and because there were few guests, he was upgraded to a suite whose rack rate was close to $1,000 a night. When I told him about my frugal lodgings, he was too polite to say anything, but his disgusted look said it all.

He was taking this local tour independently from their scheduled visits, as he wanted to visit the Dharavi slums as well. We were the only ones on this part of the visit. We were asked not to take photographs in the slum area. However, one can see photos at: http://tinyurl.com/y64q998.

Dharavi is among the largest slums in Mumbai. Try to read Wikipedia’s entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dharavi) before visiting to get more information than the guide provides. Our guide and his family live here.

They are in the flour and grain business, and are fairly affluent. He said they like living in the area because of its central location, which provides his family with many business opportunities, given the many bakeries here. Many Mumbai residents refuse to work for the low-paying bakery wages, but many Northern Indian immigrants are simply looking for work opportunities.

The major source of income is recycling plastic, glass, metals and paper, and then creating products from these sources. A billion dollars is generated from here, based on tax figures collected. Workers, primarily men from all over India, gravitate here to earn $3 to 4 a day. Many scrimp on their living expenses, and send the remaining money home to their families who are waiting.

Rent for the government-owned slum land is about $2 a day. Water is provided during a three-hour block time just as it is for the rest of the city. During the time of water delivery, it is stored in large plastic barrels and concrete water holders. The amazing jumble of electrical wires running outside of buildings must lead to fires, but we’re told that residents who store water close-by quickly extinguish them.

While a number of homes may not have flush toilets, there are public toilets scattered throughout the area, and the situation didn’t seem as bad as portrayed by other articles or photos.

Amazingly, the world’s most expensive private residence built for just six inhabitants, and costing more than $1 billion dollars, is so close by (www.smartplanet.com/blog/cities/first-look-inside-the-worlds-most-expensive-house/3224).

The hard-working industrious inhabitants living in such conditions with hardly any amenities impressed me. Our guide said there is no prostitution here, and that the amount of crime and drug use is about the same as other areas of Mumbai. He has never seen a real gun in this locale. He was Muslim and told us they are in the minority in Mumbai, similar to the rest of India, but that all religions live in harmony here. I didn’t ask about the Pakistan-trained Islamist terrorist attacks in Mumbai that was caused by the conflict in Kashmir. I wondered if David and his wife knew that the Oberoi Hotel was the scene of some of the violence?

In 1949, India declared illegal the use of the term, and the underlying implications, of the term “Untouchables.” Tours of this area are becoming popular because some scenes in the Academy Award-winning film “Slumdog Millionaire” were filmed hereabouts. Inhabitants were not pleased to see distortions about the conditions depicted. Other journalists’ accounts of conditions differ from my impression, and you may even come away with another view by visiting the area.

The bottom line is: Don’t miss a tour of the slum area. My other suggestions for India include bringing some facemasks when encountering dusty conditions, and also to dab a little perfume on oneself when entering foul-smelling areas. As usual, wear a head covering in tropical climates, use sunscreen liberally, carry and drink only bottled water, and carry a small container of hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

Las Vegas Tidbits

The ramen craze in Las Vegas continues. The latest entry is Shoku Ramen, which has the same owners as Bachi Burger. They have wisely placed it next door to their original burger joint at 470 East Windmill Lane #110, Las Vegas; (702) 897-0978. Even I am beginning to enjoy ramen, because it is tasty and filling for a frugal price. A location near the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus would be an ideal place for a noodle shop, and they could call it Ramen Rebels. If you have never seen the movie “Tampopo,” watch it on Netflix or check it out from your local library. I guarantee you will rush out for a bowl of ramen after watching it.

The Kaeru Kid lives in Las Vegas and hopes readers will send him comments at KaeruKid@yahoo.com. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

 

 

Comments

  1. Kaeru Kid says

    A link to the most expensive home in the world that still works:
    http://tinyurl.com/aepgmqe

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