We all knew it was going to be a long journey from Udaipur to Mumbai, but nothing prepared us for just how exhausting it would be.With a short stop in the city of Ahmedabad in between, we got on a local bus which was quite strange – a deck of seats along the bottom deck, which we were on, and a row of sleeping spaces along the top. It wasn’t especially clean but I did manage to get a bit of sleep, until a woman getting on dropped a huge bag of monkey nuts on my leg, that is…
After a quick stop off to use a squat toilet – which I was well versed in after my trip to Uganda, but it was a first experience for some – we arrived at the house of Mahatma Gandhi in Ahmedabad, called the Gandhi Ashram, where he lived for a number of years. I confess I didn’t previously know a huge amount about Gandhi other than the fact he played a huge part in helping India gain its independence from British rule, so it was really interesting to learn more about his life and read some of his philosophies. I was in awe, and pleased to learn he was so pro gender equality.
One of my favourite quotes from him was: “To call women the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman… If by strength is meant moral power then woman is immeasurably man’s superior… if non-violence is the law of our being the future is with women.”
After leaving Gandhi Ashram we headed to a large shopping centre called Ahmedabad One, which basically felt like an Indian version of Westfield in London. Although it felt very western with designer brands and fast food stores like Subway and KFC, there were still some hilarious Indian touches, from a piano playing by itself in one corner to a huge games arcade in another, and a shop called Super 99 which we assumed would be like an Indian version of Poundland but everything was more expensive than 99 rupees anyway. Also security was much heavier than in UK shopping centres – they scan you and check your bags before you enter and check your receipts as you leave.
The journey to the railway station was pretty ridiculous – our tuk tuk drivers were all racing each other while singing at the top of their lungs and people in the streets were waving giant balloons at us. One thing I noticed about Ahmedabad was the pollution was the worst I’d seen in India so far.
At around 10pm we clambered onto a sleeper train from Ahmedabad to Mumbai. “How many people have cried on this train, Mo?” I asked our tour guide. “Oh, not that many,” he replied, which I’ll admit was not quite the answer I was looking for. The sleeper train was cramped, noisy and not in any way private, with three beds stacked on top of one another and 80 beds in each carriage. It was at least clean, but it was very uncomfortable and that made sleep near impossible. None of the Indians on the train seemed to want to sleep either (except, ironically, the man snoring loudly on the bed below me) and were talking a lot. This would just not have happened on a sleeper train in the UK; you would have got a loud, passive aggressive, “SHH! Some people are TRYING to sleep!”
Mumbai (formerly Bombay)
An eight-hour journey and less than an hour of sleep later, we emerged from the train out into the bright city of Mumbai, formerly Bombay which it was renamed by the British. Much cleaner, better roads, more advanced and with smartly dressed people walking around, it was clear we were in the financial district.
After breakfast in an Iranian cafe which was gloriously cheap but served the worst coffee I’ve ever tasted (you win some, you lose some) we went on a taxi tour around the city. Highlights included Gandhi’s house Mani Bhavan, which was his Mumbai headquarters, and contained a sequence of models depicting the significant events in his life. We even got to see his original flip flops.
I enjoyed seeing the Dhobi Ghat, the world’s largest open air launderette constructed in 1890, which looked insane with hundreds of pairs of jeans, shirts, towels and more spread everywhere – though it was colour-coded and very organised. The best part was when it rained and lots of people had to rush out and quickly take it all down!
We also looked at some of the views from the Marine Drive, Malabar Hill and the Hanging Gardens, saw the Gateway of India monument and visited the strange Tower of Silence, where Zoroastrians leave bodies to be eaten by vultures (thankfully we didn’t actually see that happening).
Our evening in Mumbai was spent at a Cuban-style bar but after just one cocktail I was exhausted from the lack of sleep on the overnight train, so we all had an early night in preparation for our flight to Goa tomorrow. It’s the final leg of our journey but I’m excited to get on beach at last.