02/11/2009 - 03/11/2009
Mumbai is a really interesting city, running the gamut from the slums through the stock exchange, and also including the clothes washing ghats, antique and recycling districts, some new and old buildings, and some excellent food (the best tandoori chicken we found in India).
On the way to Mumbai, we were on a fancy train - it had power outlets. Unfortunately it had a safety feature whereby it was impossible to plug anything into the bottom holes without first lifting the (red) safety barrier by jamming a finger or pen into the top hole and pushing upward. Worst safety feature ever.
We spent a long time looking for a clock tower that is supposed to be very famous and reasonably close to the transit stop closest to - no one had heard of it when we asked for directions, and we walked about 5km - almost always in the right direction - before finding it. On the way there were a few interesting sites, like the stock exchange near which Mumbai's bankers snack on elaborately carved fruit towers. The clock tower itself is in fact the library of university campus, and access to the campus was blocked off by guards. The clock is ordinary, but next to it is a pretty church with spiral spires.
Mumbai being in India, there were a host of interesting random sights, like a dude sleeping in a basket and people carring big loads on their heads.
Near the main antique district is a large recycling district, with people taking apart cars and stacking parts of all sorts, using old clothes as inner liners to new clothes, etc.
The laundry ghat is a self-enclosed village where thousands of dhobi-whallahs (dalits, or untouchables) soak, soap, thrash, and clean industrial amounts of clothes. Laundry generally costs about 8 Rs (under 20 cents) per piece, including transport and the shopkeeper's costs and profits, and after seeing how long is spent on each step we'd estimate close to half an hour is spent on each piece. This specialized complex was built by the government several decades ago.
The Mumbai slums, made famous in Slumdog Millionaire, are an incredible place. We went without a guide, and we found hard work and entrepreneurship rather than the poverty and desperation we were expecting. Built over 1.5 square kilometers and constantly rumoured to be about to be cleared for development, the slums house hundreds of thousands of people, mostly labourers, mostly in ramshackle corrugated steel huts. There are also lots of businesses - shops taking apart electronics, shredding bumpers, selling used doors, making textiles and components to unknown devices.
My homeless-looking feet after a day in the slums
The city itself is a peninsula, actually 7 islands which were connected in the 19th century using landfill. Because of the shape of the city, being a sliver of land, it is possible the 3 transit lines all run northbound starting from city center and actually use the railway and become suburban trains north of the city (stops are 1km apart in the city and up to 15 km apart in the suburbs).