Mumbai is, like all of the world’s largest cities, not truly part of the country in which it is based. Even the hotel staff described it as ‘not really real India’ Have you been to Delhi yet?” they’d say. It is a massive financial centre and as a result, some of the wealthiest people in the world have property there, (like the widely disliked Mukesh Ambani and his billion-dollar home) but on the other side, there is untold poverty, mainly concentrated in Asia’s largest Slum called Dharavi.
We actually had a guided tour of Dharavi but sadly, in an effort to flog us postcards, they had a strict ‘no cameras policy’. Instead, they gave us a link to a gallery of 10 or so generic images that weren’t remotely representative of our visit. While I found the tour fascinating, this thinly veiled attempt at profiting based on ‘no photos’ to sell some sub-par postcards really gets my back up. End rant.
Anyway, the slum is enormous and covers a vast area of 217 hectares (535 acres). The trade is mostly recycling anything from plastic to aluminium among other things. The conditions are squalid and filthy, but not as bad as we had anticipated and to be honest, it was much like the older parts of some of the other cities we had visited up to this point. What is amazing is the economy there. According to both our guide and our good friend Wikipedia, the area provides a whopping $500,000,000 turnover to the Mumbai economy - which clearly they see very little of in return.
We actually didn’t get up to much in Mumbai other than a couple of tours (more on the food tour later). We spent some time catching up with ourselves, getting some rest after a manic 7 weeks of travelling and adjusting to out new temporary surroundings.
The food tours in India are an excellent way of sampling the tasty and varied street food of the local areas. Mumbai is slightly different as it’s less about the local delicacies - due to the city’s diversity - than being able to sample food from all around India. The food is delicious and varied. One thing we learned was to pick the busy stalls. This means a good reputation and a lower chance of potential complications.
Sadly (for me), I had shrunk the odds of enjoying the tour earlier in the day by visiting a Subway and it was not until we were half way though the excellent tour in Mumbai that I had to make a dash for the nearest washroom. I don’t want to go into detail (and I am sure you don’t want me to either) but let me say this. Having been proud of avoiding the long-drop toilets for 7 weeks, having to use one ‘in anger’ as a 1st time is not advisable. A little practice would have come in handy in my moment of need.
I had to return to the group, make my excuses - although they all clearly knew the situation but were very polite. - and we headed back to the hotel
Getting to Hampi is a true pain in the arse - unless it’s a Tuesday. Honestly. Unless it’s a Tuesday, there is no decent internal flight from Mumbai to the ‘local’ airport. Instead, we flew to Belagaum and then took a 7-hour taxi for the remaining 300km! My friend Chris (who insisted we fit Hampi in - ‘because it’s amazing’) was not a popular chap during this journey. It was remarkably tedious.
So, we had a dreadful journey but with faith in Chris’ judgment, cracked on, checked in and planned an early(ish) start the following day as we only had one before heading to Goa.
One day was not enough. Hampi is a fascinating complex of ruins from India’s long history. It is surrounded by huge banana plantations, giving the ruins a jungle-like feel - much like where the ‘King of the Swingers’ lives in the old Jungle Book cartoon. The designs are intricate, fascinating and elaborate with huge variation from the palaces and statues, step wells and water systems.
We were only a few hours in and soon realised there was too much to see in a day. We had picked up a local tuk-tuk man. We picked the more shy one that morning as we’d grown tired of being hounded outside hotels and we were so lucky. This chap was excellent. He barely spoke any English but we were able to show him a rough route on the map. He understood and diligently took us around for the day, adding in a number of smaller and arguably more interesting temples, off ‘the trail’.
Hampi’s main temple was closed when we arrived after our busy morning - they typically close between 12:30 and 2pm during the heat of the day. We felt this was an opportunity to have some lunch with our friendly tuk-tuk driver, relying on the waiter to translate for us as he was at first apprehensive to order anything. I have never seen anyone eat as fast as he did when his thali arrived.
We then headed back to the main temple to find out that while it had been closed ‘over lunch’, the paving slabs were super-heated to just less than the temperature of the sun on our compulsorily bare feet! Dashing from shaded patch to shaded patch to save our feet, we managed to get in before it got too busy. I only learned too late that the shade was not only popular with those of us struggling with the heated floor. It was also popular with the monkeys. They would gather together in small groups - some looking like they were reading and would occasionally strategically crap just where we were tip-toeing about in bare feet! Rank!
Chris was forgiven. Our only regret was that we didn’t have enough time there. Hampi could easily fill 3 days. The town, while small was characterful and lively. The temples were so spaced out and numerous that a slower pace and more ‘absorption time’ would have been great but sadly, we didn’t have that luxury. However, we were very glad to have been coerced into visiting this fascinating area.