Thursday, April 10, 2014

Early morning starts and high tea in Mumbai

What can be said about early morning starts? 5 am should not be allowed to exist.  We had a flight to Mumbai.  The hotel had thoughtfully supplied breakfast in a brown paper bag. It consisted of 2 hard boiled eggs, a very  sugary fruit drink and a cheese sandwich.

A word about cheese and the Indian subcontinent. Apart from curd and paneer they don't really do cheese.  So forget about vintage cheddars, camembert or a nice stilton, in this part of the world cheese means that shiny bland plastic wrapped cheese slice found in kids' lunch boxes.

The flight was uneventful, thanks we suspect in large part to Ravi who we came to realise was swanlike in his endeavours.  Calm on the surface but paddling furiously underneath where no one could see.

Mumbai. Largest city in India with a population roughly the size of Australia's.  If we thought Delhi was noisy , it had nothing on the horn honking of Mumbai.   Melbourne taxi drivers of Indian extraction have my respect if they ever drove a taxi in Mumbai.  Melbourne must be a doddle in comparison. Nerves of steel, the reflexes of a cat and the ability to practically make conversation with a car horn are all essentials for taxi driving in Mumbai.

The thing that makes Mumbai a bit easier for tourists than New Delhi is that the streets are wider and are all named.  We will remember Mumbai for a couple of institutions; both involving food and drink.  The first is Leopolds cafe.  It's decorated in a rather quirky 50s style.  Apparently it has been around since the 1890s.  The other is the hotel The Taj Palace which shot to world fame as being the site  of that infamous terrorist attack a few years ago.  This is a pity because it truly is magnificent and apparently the owner has a policy of admitting just about everyone regardless of scruffiness because he himself was once refused admission to an upmarket hotel, which is how we came to be enjoying that most British of Institutions; a high tea.  The room overlooked another famous Mumbai landmark, the India Gate and the Water.   When you think of high tea it calls to mind cucumber sandwiches, scones, jam and cream and perhaps a couple of cakes. There was that.....then the buffet. Never seen so much food. Decisions, decisions.  We made such pigs of ourselves that we disappointed Ravi somewhat that evening by barely touching the food he had ordered at the kebab place he took us to. It looked nothing special. Very basic indeed but we were told from 11.30 pm or so you could see Bollywood stars roll up in their fancy cars and order meals to go.

Another specialty of the place is goat brains. This didn't really appeal. The texture rather than the flavour as it was sort of mashed and rather gelatinous in texture.  I have never seen someone shovel down a dish with as much gusto as Ravi.  Funnily enough he made little effort to persuade us to try  this dish and once one plate was consumed he would order us another which he would then eat.  Good to see a man enjoying his grub  even if it us spiced mooshed up goat brains.

Back to the hotel for a late night departure on the train to Goa.  But oh no.  Dan had bought a painting. Admittedly not a very expensive one but he had left it at the kebab place.  Much drama ensued as a taxi driver was despatched to retrieve it. But alas despite a phone call to explain the situation the cafe  people wouldn't give it to the driver so Dan and Emma set off in the taxi to retrieve it.  I don't know what the whole exercise cost him but it must have added significantly to the cost of the painting.  This became something of an albatross around his neck as for the rest of the trip he was constantly asked by group members if he had rembered his painting.

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