A Travellerspoint blog

7.11.10: Colaba, Mumbai, India

The madness of Colaba

We started the day on a hunt for the 'typical' Indian breakfast. Still on a whacked-out sleep schedule, we had missed breakfast on the first day. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and, by far, my favorite meal, so I was anxious to find out what I was in store for. We got to the restaurant and started with a large glass of apple juice, which was sweet-smelling, slightly clumpy, and non-transparent, in other words, it was superb and fresh.
Then, having no idea what anything on the menu was, I randomly picked something called Masala dosa.
When it came out it looked like a piece of art accompanied by two sauces (you know how I love my sauces). A treasured classic of southern India, a dosa is a crepe-like mixture of fermented rice flour and dhal. The masala dosa, the classic dosa, is stuffed with spiced potatoes, onions and curry leaves. The sauces that traditionally accompany it are a bowl of hot orange sambar (soupy lentils) and another bowl of mild coconut chanti (chutney). It is not something to miss out on!

After breakfast we decided to check out of our hotel and head down to Colaba, a more touristy area of Mumbai that sprawls down the cities southernmost peninsula. Colaba is a lively district filled with street stalls, markets, bars, traffic, and swarming with people. There is a new shocker at every turn; naked children on sidewalks, adult men peeing where ever they like, teenage boys swimming amongst the garbage infested sea,
it's a feast for your senses.

We checked into out new hostel, even bigger than the last, it's not the Ritz, but I was stoked just to have air conditioning.
It's amazing how your standards plummet dramatically downhill when you've been traveling in third world countries. I find myself getting excited about small things like warm water, cold beverages, and shower curtains. Going back to my mother’s all-natural stocked refrigerator and immaculately clean home is going to seem like Buckingham Palace. Any of the places I've stayed in over the past months would surely fail a white glove test and I shutter to think about the results of a black light test.
We decided to start the days explorations with a walking tour of the city.
We started at the Gateway of India, just a block down from our new hotel. Facing out into the tip of Mumbai's harbor stands this colossal colonial archway, that was built in 1911 to commemorate the royal visit of King George V.
It is big and bold and the gatherings of masses of people give it a bazaar-like quality.
People pedal everything from giant balloons (for the life of me I can’t figure out why anyone would buy such a thing or how anyone even makes a living selling them) ice cream, roasted nuts, leis, and henna.
There are Indian and foreign tourists, beggars, and peddlers, and it's a great place to people watch (although you can't stand idly by for long without being pressured to buy something).

Next we were on to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sangrahalaya Museum (try saying that ten times fast) also known as the, more pronounceable, Prince Of Wales Museum.
This was noted in the guidebook as the biggest and best museum in Mumbai and, along with the Gateway of India, was built to commemorate King George V's first visit to India.
This mammoth museum houses British, Islamic, and Hindu architecture from all over India as well as sculptures, paintings, ornaments, coins, armor and weaponry.
All the artifacts inside were remarkable but the exterior architecture of the beautiful domed building, as well as the gardens adjoining it was equally as impressive.
We walked around for a little while longer and went back to the hotel.
We had been told that the final world cup game was on at 3pm and it was pushing 2:59. As we hustled up the stairs of our hotel and surfed through all the channels twice we still couldn't find it. We looked up on the ever-handy iPhone that the game wasn't going to be broadcast until midnight.
Here is another interesting yet inconvenient aspect of Indian life; if an Indian person can't decipher what you are saying, didn't hear you, or doesn't know the answer to a question you are asking, instead of responding appropriately with 'what' or 'I don't know' you will, most likely always get a fabricated answer. Another common way to answer you is by a sideways head wobble, which to any westerner would clearly mean no, but to the people of India, answering like a bobble-head doll can translate to: yes, maybe, or sometimes. This alternate way of communication has screwed us over more than a few times.

With no game on for another nine hours, we decided that a power nap would do a body good so off to dreamland I went. It was a peaceful 45 minutes of rest until I was abruptly woken by an awful banging of construction that was so close it was as if someone was jack hammering through my skull. This is by far the worst way to wake up from a nap and I was less than pleased. This devil hammering went on for another twenty minutes until I dragged my grumpiness downstairs to see what I had done so wrong to deserve this torture. The manager told me that the construction was on the third floor and that since the hotel only owned the first two floors, there was nothing he could do. I glared at him with eyes of death, the hammering still echoing in my brain, and envisioned my hands gripping tightly around his cheerful neck before I turned on my heels and marched upstairs. My nap was over. I threw my stuff in my purse and ran out of the hotel as fast as I could just to get the unrelenting pounding to stop.

I was back on the hectic streets in no time, getting hounded from all angles to buy stuff for 'very good price'. From toddlers to the elderly, everyone was trying to convince me to buy crap I didn't need, nor did I want. It is pandemonium, immovable pleading, promises, negotiating and renegotiating, it is all a game and I, the targeted tourist, am just a pawn.

"Hello madam, you like pashmina?"
"No thank you, just looking."
"It very soft, good quality, I give you good price madam."
"How much"
"400 madam, good quality"
"Oh no thank you."
"Ok 300 madam, good price"
"No thanks"
"350 madam, it's pashmina"
"You just said 300"
"good price madam"

This never-ending haggling exchange from every angle quickly wears me down and eventually I get into fight or flight mode. The constant conning and annoying, unwanted banter is enough to turn me into an asshole and soon my 'no thank you’s' turn to nippy preemptive "No's". Their tenacious sales tactics drive me out of the market. I did find time in my maze of 'madam' callers to stop and get some henna along the way, a right of passage for a tourist in India.

We ate some dinner at a classy Indian restaurant, Ali Baba, where I enjoyed some fresh mint tea and keema naan (Indian bread filled with minced meat) before an appetizer of aloo chaat (Indian spiced potatoes) and handi mutton as an entree.
I know it looks like a spoonful of slop but it was scrumptious slop!

Posted by emichele 20:11 Archived in India

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You missed your calling as a writer! It was sooooo nice to talk to you tonight. I surmise that you will not be applying for one of the "American" jobs as a customer service representative for the US Sallie Mae loans - yes- in India! Even our government is a traitor. Love you. Mom

by Kris Cohn

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