A NIGHT IN SOUTH MUMBAI
We came in time for the Diwali, the Festival of Lights and a time of family reunions and gift-giving for Hindus. On the eve of the Diwali, our counterparts graciously took us to South Mumbai, a place I personally fell in love with. Because we came at night, it had a different appeal. Some of the stately Edwardian buildings were lit while others were obscured by the evening darkness.
For that evening, our friends first brought us to a South Mumbai institution, Mondegar’s Café. Inside, one can get the old Escolta feel as if one was being transported to 1950s Manila. It was packed to the seams. However, it was also a witness to a violent and sad chapter of Mumbai history when Islamic radicals sprayed bullets into the café as they shut down Mumbai, culminating with their occupation of The Taj Mahal Hotel. After having some beer and chicken tandoor, our colleagues took us to this famous street side joint called Bademiya, a hit among Mumbai young professionals. It was street food but it looked clean and with hot grills, it was really appealing. The set-up was you ordered your food and when these would be ready, the dishes would be brought to your car… hood or trunk! What we did was we opened our car’s hood, laid out news papers and the food on paper plates and voila, we had a hearty dinner! We ordered some of Bademiya’s popular offerings: chicken tikka rolls (super spicy!) and lamb and chicken brains with lots of onions and soft, warm roti.
Going home, we took the train. Now, you must agree with me, with all those scenes we’ve seen on Discovery Channel or National Geographic of Indian trains bursting with people and the occasional monkey climbing in the coaches, we’ve already developed our pre-conceived notions of what a train ride in India could be like. Well, since we rode the train from the terminus at a very late hour on the eve of the Diwali, we didn’t experience anything eventful…until we got to our stop. Upon arriving at our stop, someone was pushed out of the coach and he hit the platform with a loud thud, eliciting screams from the white tourists!
DIWALI IN MUMBAI
Diwali in Mumbai fell on a Thursday and Francis and I began our day tour around South Mumbai roughly after lunch. We alighted our car at Colaba, which was the street shopping area in South Mumbai. After an hour or so of going through boutiques (Francis managed to buy his girlfriend an elegant cashmere jacket perfect for a fall outdoor affair), we had a quick lunch at Leopold’s, a popular café frequented by tourists who might be after either Indian or continental fare.
Afterwards, we began our walk from Colaba past the
Bombay High Court,
the Municipal Corporation Building
and on to the iconic and breathtaking Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, an impressive edifice of combined Indo-Saracenic and High Victorian Gothic Revival styles replete with ornamentation and topped by a dome.
Our walk through canopied streets and excellently laid out avenues reminded Francis of New York while I felt I was back in Europe.
A lot of my preconceived notions of India were erased because of our trip to South Mumbai. India is indeed a multi-faceted country. We intended to have a short break at the McDonald’s across CST as we booked an Uber but because of mobile data and roaming problems, it took almost 30 minutes before the driver finally got our call and made the move to go to where we were. Apparently in India, the drivers wouldn’t drive until you call them.
From there, we went to Bandara, a hip coastal town, which was frequented by Mumbai’s middle class youths and expatriate community. We settled in this placed called Corniche, an al fresco café on the beachfront. We were lucky because we made it to their happy hour promotion, which was “Buy 1 Drink, Get 1 Drink”. We then bought one bottle of red Indian wine to get another one free! Throughout Mumbai during Diwali, we saw floral carpets with oil lamps everywhere, ranging from elegant ones to the more simpler displays.
LAST DAY IN MUMBAI
On my last day in Mumbai, Vineeta graciously took me around South Mumbai. We walked along tree-lined streets and grand avenues that reminded me of Paris and Madrid. Upon my request, she also brought me to the textile market, Mangaldas where I splurged on beautiful fabrics for my polos. The qualities of the cloths were superb while the prints were very unique. She also brought me to a famous eatery that served traditional Indian food on banana leaves.
After lunch, I went to Bandara again to visit the Catholic basilica of Holy Mary, which sports a neo-gothic style. I noticed that the locals also prayed at the sanctuary area in the same posture as they would in Hindi temples. Finally, before I flew out of India, I had an afternoon drink on the rooftop restaurant of the Sea Palace Hotel, which afforded me fantastic sunset views of the Bay of Mumbai. It was a quiet afternoon that left me feeling extremely grateful for my once-in-a-lifetime experience in India.