First day in Mumbai was greeted with a sleep in. We placed the “please do not disturb” signs on both room’s external door knobs and hoped for the best. It worked! Apparently the YMCA serve tea to the rooms in the mornings, but we thought it best to pass the chai this time round. We had to fix up some late night debts we incurred in the wee small hours of our arrival – the porter who paid for my cab (as I didn’t have any small rupee change) and our 3-nights of accommodation which had been booked via Dr Moses but not paid for yet. We needed to make another night’s reservation here too (as Moses had booked 3 nights not 4).
While in Mumbai, I needed to track down an authorised Mac repair store to work out my broken Mac screen. We found the local Apple store and got in touch with Moses’ friend Cyril who could liaise with the store on our behalf. We discovered that the YMCA Bombay Central (where we are staying) is located in the heart of Colaba and right round the corner from the Gateway of India. As we were leaving the reception area of the YMCA, a phone call came through from Moses’ friend Cyril. He was concerned that it was costing too much to repair, and worried that they would change the internals of my lap top and suggested they maybe do the work in front of him? He was going to make a few other calls and get back to me. But he didn’t. We had already got a quote pre-departure in Melbourne, and they said India Apple would be able to fix it at similar price.
We finally ventured out into the streets of Colaba, Mumbai.
Our first visit was a stroll to the Gateway of India, with the picturesque backdrop of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in the background and the bay on the other side. I was in awe of the Gateway of India – it’s grandness and intricately carved details. It was the place where the last of the British troops finally left India for good – and now stood as a symbolic reminder of Indian independence. The Gateway is situated on a large square, crowded and heavily guarded. To get to the actual Gateway monument, we had to go through security scans of body and possessions. We got through without any major issue. The small boats on the Gateway bay bobbing below. The sun shone, the girls debated at whether or not this was a gateway – Dacey saying over again “it’s a dome, not a gateway!” Looking at the Gateway, and turning around to face the street was the looming Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Looking grand but slightly tired on the outside and in need of a fresh paint job.
It was at The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel where the terrorist attacks in 2008 took place. I vaguely recall seeing them transpire on the news channels at home.
We purchased a map of Mumbai of a map selling man, and we started walking off when another friendly and larger than life man, Raj, approached us selling his tour of Mumbai. He spoke very good English and was a very happy up beat man. We instantly had rapport with him, albeit with a healthy dose of scepticism, but we talked about the tours we could go on and at what cost. I really wanted to go on the Dharavi slum tour, and a tour of the city including Dhobi Ghat the oldest and largest open air laundry in India. We said we’d think about it with a point to our heads, and asked if he knew where we could get a SIM card for my iPhone. He knew a place and we followed Raj out of the Gateway square and up a busy street into a long and narrow shop that supplied everything from detergents, journals and toe clippers to SIM cards. We talked about purchasing 2 SIMs: one for my iPhone and the other for a Dongle (portable wifi). I handed over my passport and 3 photos. The charger of the Dongle was not charging the Dongle, so we were able to purchase a new charger (much better than a new battery) and was able to get a SIM and data on it. By paying a little more, we were able to connect within minutes and so I called Cyril back from my iPhone in the street.
Next plan was to find the Apple shop located in Colaba area. It was called Unicorn. “Yes that easy” Raj replied and we walked where he directed us to go, promising to call him tonight if we were to book a Mumbai city or slum tour with his company tomorrow. We stumbled easily onto the Unicorn shop, white and spacious like all the Apple shops across the world, and yes even in gritty India.
The best thing for me to do was to go back and get my the lap top and bring it to the Unicorn shop for a quote on repairs. So I walked back with Charlie and Dacey to our central YMCA accommodation, grabbed the lap top while Steve, Ash and Billie searched for cashed up atms and we met back at the Apple Unicorn shop. We spent a while there. And a bit more. It drove Steve utterly crazy. He totally dislikes anything Apple due to the way they operate and channel users into using and upgrading their products. He mentioned a couple of times of wanting to bomb the place! So we tried to abate his agitation and I took over talking with the Apple quote man.
Repair of the LCD screen was going to cost 42,000 rupees ($913) to replace the screen with a 90-day warranty (same as in Australia). However, the delivery of the parts may not arrive in time before we left Mumbai (and we already had our flight booked for the Punjab). The other option was to trade in my broken lap top and upgrade to a new one – a MacAir for another 10,000 rupees more (which included the $300 buyback of my broken lap top). They could transfer files but not apps. This included my Microsoft Office suite – unless I had the key with me (which I don’t). I would have to repurchase the software. We contemplated lots of different options, stood around in the whiteness of the shop (by now Steve was happy to kill himself). We returned to the hotel and looked at the girls’ Mac lap tops – Charlie’s Air was early 2015, Ash’s Air (my former lap top) 2013, but it had MS Office suite on it already. Hmmm…what to do. I was in a real quarry. We decided to stick to the original plan, and get my broken lap top screen repaired.
We had showers, and got ready to head out to confirm the fixing of my lap top and to go to Leopold’s Café – the place that features heavily in the book Shantaram. First stop – Apple Unicorn, but the bad news – the shop manager said the parts would not come in time most likely. I had my hopes dashed, and again I was contemplating what to do. We’d go out for dinner, and discuss best way forward.
Raj, our new best friend, had told us Leopold’s was just up the Causeway Road not far from YMCA. He also mentioned to us on the Gateway square that he was friends with the author Gregory David Roberts. I was mesmerised from that point on and wanted to visit the place. I was living the book while reading the book! We found it easily – fully packed! We waited momentarily downstairs on the roadside for a table of 6 and before we knew it we were ushered inside upstairs. Tables, music, and cool air rushed at our weary faces. We sat at a table for 6, with a reserved sign placed on it. If it was someone else’s table already we would move but we never had to.
It was to become one of the best night’s we’ve enjoyed together so far on our trip and probably one of the most expensive 6,500 Rupee (A$135). Great music, great food, great drinks, great wait staff. But it was bloomin’ icy cold in there! I decided, after a gin or two, to forget the repairing of my Mac screen – I would make do with what we had – an add-on UBS plug in screen would suffice. Let’s move on please.
We have noticed that the homeless hang outside the foreign places like Apple stores and Leopold’s. Young girls holding babies approach us begging for money to pay for milk for their baby. They nudge at you with their small hands, and hang about like flies. Some try and sell things like bangles made from real jasmine for 10 rupees (Dacey got caught out with this one a few times). It’s heart wrenching, but we walk on and leave them behind. Dacey wants to give money or milk to all of them. If only it were that easy. Such a complicated issue. In the book Shantaram they talk about brown sugar, and so too did the elderly banker man sitting next to us on the train to Mumbai. Once he knew that Steve was in the police force back home, he shared stories of India’s brown sugar drug issues. Some of these beggars wanted food and/or rupee money to spend on brown sugar or other illicit substances. It was anyone’s guess. And we continued to walk on, trying to lose them, or with exceptionally trying beggars shooing them away like an annoying hungry cat.
Steve called Mumbai tour organiser Raj and negotiated the price for 2 tours after we had got a couple of other quotes – one tour tomorrow to Dharavi Slum, the next day a tour of Mumbai city both for 10,000 rupees (A$213) with an English speaking guide. We were set to finally see some of the sites I had only heard about or seen on documentaries back home.
We walked back to the YMCA – finding it quite easy to navigate in and around the hotel now. Not once did we feel unsafe or threatened. We are really starting to enjoy this city.
We had two bags of washing that I didn’t want to do, washing by hand in the room. I would pop down early in the morning to place into reception laundry. I was happy to do the smalls, but not the large items including girls’ tracksuit pants.