Bombay wasn't about sightseeing. I did that last trip. This time it was about enjoying relaxing and catching up with Nicola and her family and exploring the areas in Bandra (a Bombay suburb) that I didn't see last year. It was about hanging out basically in a very 'normal' area that isn't frequented by tourists. Thankfully. Although I did try to persuade Nic to write a guide to the area.
New Years Eve saw the first party I've been to on a NYE for a LONG time. Pretty low key. Nice people. Beer. Food. Who needs more? Midnight was seen in with sparklers and setting on fire an effigy (no, not related to the effigy of Calvin mentioned in the Colva post) to burn out the old year.
After a couple of days chilling in Bandra we headed off to Matheran. Now, Matheran is another hill station like Ooty but couldn't be more different. For one thing, the weather was rather nice. For another, motorised vehicles are banned so there's no air pollution or horns being honked.
At just 90 minutes from Bombay, it's very popular with Bombayites (Bombayers?) and we saw very few foreign tourists. From the train, we took a taxi as far as we could and then had a 30-minute walk up to Matheran. Some people took horses but I didn't want to inflict my weight on a horse and the horses didn't look too healthy anyway.
There were lots of coolies around to carry peoples luggage for them, but that seemed awfully lazy to me, so I elected to carry my own up the hill.
Matheran has an obscene number of shoes being sold. Shoe shops and sidewalk shoe sellers were everywhere! And monkeys. Lots and lots of monkeys. I saw one jumping onto a climbing frame and swiping the kid out the way that was on it. I laughed. I'm evil.
There were also a LOT of hair salons and old-fashioned games places for hooping skittles and that kind of thing.
I found Matheran pretty charming. Save for the amount of garbage chucked around, but I've realised this is to be expected. One of the main pulls of Matheran are the amazing views from the top of the hill station and the walks to get to the view points. I'd have thought it may have occurred to people that they were spoiling these for others by throwing their food wrappings, empty pet bottles, etc around but the two didn't seem to be equated.
So, we walked lots and relaxed lots more and enjoyed our little mini-break there before returning to Bandra.
As I said, we walked up as no vehicles are allowed. There is an alternative. A toy train. But the queue was too big when we arrived and we didn't want to hang around a couple of hours waiting for the next one, so we'd walked. Once at Matheran we pre-booked the toy train tickets to come down. An hour and a half of chugging through beautiful crisp scenery - albeit in a tiny train squished between other people! Loved it! Oh and the hairpin bends were pretty interesting too!
Had another day and a bit in Bandra after that were we took in more sights including a Dhobi Ghat (sp?) where a large amount of Bandras laundry needs are taken care of. There's a massive one in Bombay that I'd seen last year, but with the Bandra one we were able to wander all around it taking photos and asking questions and watching the men (only men - although recently women have been allowed to press the clothes, apparantly) drawing up water fom wells and emptying it into huge tanks to soak clothing, bedding, etc. After that they beat the items by hand before moving to another tank (bath) where another man trampled it by foot. We then saw them wringing the water out by churning it round and round in a machine and then finally hanging it all up to dry in the sun.
We also took in a very old fruit and veg market that was interesting to see (and photograph) but not overrun by people.
Had all my hair chopped off in Bandra while I was there too.
I mentioned that women don't work in the dhobi ghats. Well, women DO work on building sites and in construction and seeing slim, sari'd women doing that kind of work was quite interesting - not really anything I'd seen before.
It's hard saying what highlights of the trip were, because there were many, but one thing I did really enjoy was on the final day going to see Nicola and Sanchia's old school. I'm quite proud to say we managed to disrupt almost every class that was being taught whilst there. We had three lovely girls show Nic and me around the school. The classrooms were small, with 50+ little old desks crammed in. Very England circa 1960's I thought! At lunchtime the hallways were splattered with kids outside their classrooms eating their lunches. It was fun chatting with some of the kids too and seeing what they were doing and how different it all looked from an English school and how different the kids were from Japanese kids!
And that was it. Time to come home. I spent FOURTEEN hours on the plane from Bombay to Tokyo. FOURTEEN. We were delayed for 90 minutes in Bombay AFTER getting on the plane and then delayed AGAIN for 90 minutes in Delhi (where we had to stop for an hour). And I didn't sleep the whole flight (although did sleep most of the bus ride home - which took about 2 hours cos of traffic).
Happy to be back? Hell, no! But I have lots of expectations and optimism for the year ahead. I think 2010 is going to be a good one. Can't be worse than 2009 anyway!