Mumbai doesn't so much welcome you as smack you around the face and zap you with a cattle prod. There's an amazing energy to the city, it crackles with life. Every day over five hundred people move here, many fleeing lives of crushing poverty in rural India and, far from being oppressive and intimidating, the air is charged with optimism and high spirits. Clichéd as it might sound, Mumbai is the city of dreams.
Of course when 22 million people live in a city one third of the size of London then road chaos ensues. It took two hours to travel the 24 km journey from the airport to our lodgings in down-town Colaba but, you just take a deep breath and enjoy the ride, and we did. It was a Friday afternoon and on the rooftops of the slums were thousands of barefoot children flying kites and shrieking with unbridled joy.
Property prices in Mumbai are amongst the highest in the world and our budget required a serious rethink. Moti, a gorgeous Victorian-era colonial mansion, was recommended by both the Rough Guide & Lonely Planet and £30 got us a decent sized double room with an attached bathroom, fridge & TV (so we binged on Bollywood movies and pop videos) along with 24 hour hot water (a luxury!)
Our nearest neighbour was the magnificent Taj Mahal Palace hotel. The last time we'd seen the Taj was just days after the 2008 terrorist attacks, when 31 people lost their lives, and it brought tears to our eyes to see her restored to her former glory.
Built in 1903 after Indian philanthropist Jamsetji Tata was refused entrance to a "whites only" hotel and decided to create a hotel all of Mumbai could be proud of.
Directly opposite the Taj is the Gateway to India, built under British rule and completed in 1924. The first building those arriving by boat would have seen and the departure point when the British left India after Independence.
It attracts hundreds of people a day, none more so than at sunset when thousands of Mumbaikers and tourists flock for photos and a gossip.
Despite letting our bank know that we'd be in India until February the dozy b*stards blocked our card leaving us with £10 to our name but, accommodation aside, a tenner goes a long way in Mumbai. Access to the Gateway of India was free, local meals joint Kamat did a cracking veg thali for £1, the two hour taxi ride from the airport cost £5 and Moti had a fridge full of ice cold Kingfishers at £2 so we sat on the steps watching the world go by until we got through to the bank's telephone help line.
Chhatrapati Shivaji is not only a Gothic masterpiece but also the world's busiest train station. You'll recognise it from the final scene in Slumdog Millionaire (and if you've never seen the film then you're clearly mad).
As in previous visits, her cathedral-like beauty rendered us speechless.
Next stop was Crawford market, a bustling covered market built in 1869 and, in 1882, the first building in India to be lit by electricity.
Taking photos of the exterior an elderly couple on their way to do their weekly shop came to see what we were doing. That frieze is by Lockwood Kipling, Rudyard's father, I told them. Good heavens, we've lived here all our lives and never even noticed it, they said.
Currently undergoing a facelift, the fountain is also by Lockwood Kipling.
Time for fresh lime sodas in Badshah, a cafe serving thirsty shoppers since the days of the Raj.
We walked back to Moti to feast on the fresh fruit we'd bought from the market followed by hot showers and a siesta.
More of Mumbai coming very soon!
(More photos HERE)
Linking to Patti and the gang for Visible Monday.