It was the eleventh day of my Uncover India tour and it began with a six-hour local bus ride to Ahmedabad. The journey passed before we knew it, and we soon found ourselves in the largest city in the state of Gujarat.
Once we arrived, we headed straight to the area of Sabarmati, where we visited Mahatma Ghandi’s famous Ashram.
Opening in 1917, the Ashram was built as a place of religious retreat and for Ghandi’s followers to carry on the search for Truth and develop Fearlessness. Ghandi stayed there for twelve years before embarking on the Salt March, with many of his followers, to the coast of the Arabian Sea, around 240 miles away.
This nonviolent protest against the repressive salt tax implemented by the British, was the first act in a larger campaign against the British rule in India. The Salt March, or Salt Satyagraha, led Gandhi to gain widespread support in India, as well as worldwide attention.
Now a museum where we were able to learn about its rich history, the Ghandi Ashram was a very peaceful place, situated right next to the Sabarmati River.
We ate a delicious Thali lunch and then had plenty of time to explore the ashram.
The rest of the day was spent at the nearby shopping centre, as we passed the time before our night train to Mumbai by browsing the shops.
It was then time to board the eight hour train to our next destination.
This was not particularly comfortable, and I remember I couldn’t sit up without banging my head and there was constant rocking which made me feel a little travel sick. I can also recall there being an elderly man who was producing disturbing coughing and wheezing noises all night, which made it sound like he was dying, but luckily he was fine (though I hope he has since seen a doctor!) and we eventually made it to Mumbai!
We disembarked from our train and headed to our hotel to check in, feeling exhausted but finally enjoying some Indian heat for the first time.
Mumbai was formerly known as Bombay, as the Portuguese called it “Bom Bahia”, meaning Good Bay, when they colonised India in 1661. The British then anglicised it as “Bombay” when they gained possession of the city in the 17th century. Finally in 1995, the city’s name was changed to Mumbai, after the goddess Mumbadev, to reflect its heritage.
Mumbai is the capital city of the state of Maharashtra and the largest city in India, with the second-largest population (after Delhi) of 17 million people. It is also home to the Bollywood industry.
Though our rooms in the hotel were not yet available, we were given the chance to quickly freshen up in one shared room and we were then ready to undertake a taxi tour of the bustling metropolis.
We were split up into three taxis and our first destination was a view of the Arabian Sea on Marine Drive, officially called Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Road, which is a long, curved beachfront promenade with views of the city.
One of Mumbai’s star attractions, Chowpatty Beach is located on the northern side of Marine Drive. Locally known as Girgaum Chowpatty, this public beach serves as a favourite picnic spot among locals and tourists.
We continued on our drive, passing the Wilson College, one of India’s oldest colleges, specialising in science and the arts.
Our next stop was to Mahatma Ghandi’s house, Mani Bhavan, which was the focal point of Gandhi’s political activities in Mumbai between 1917 and 1934. Though not belonging to Ghandi, his friend hosted him at the house whenever he visited Mumbai. It was from here that Gandhi initiated the civil disobedience act. The old two-storey home is now a museum and research centre. It is a very impressive building and is popular with tourists who want to find out more about India’s ‘Great Soul’.
We then visited Radha Gopinath, a Hare Krishna Temple. We were allowed to enter if we removed our shoes and we were given a sugar and coconut square to eat, a Hare Krishna custom of generosity and sharing.
We passed Mumbai’s Jain Temple, a popular place of religious significance and then headed to the Hanging Gardens. These beautiful terraced gardens are set on Malabar Hill, with a viewing gallery at the top, providing views of Mumbai.
Our next destination was to the Tower of Silence, or Parsee Bawdi. This is a graveyard and religious site for Zoroastrians. Parsee people place their dead within a tower, where the bodies are consumed by birds. We were told that there were around 70,000 Parsee bodies here. It is also listed as one of the most haunted sites in India.
We made a brief stop at Antilla House, a 27-storey building with 600 rooms. It is the world’s most expensive private residential property, valued at 1 billion USD.
After a brief break for lunch, our tour continued with views of Haji Ali Dargah, a celebrated Islamic Shrine, which we could see located on a pier, making it look like it was floating in the middle of the Arabian Sea.
Then, in a huge contrast to the luxurious Antilla House, we visited the Dharavi Slums. Though Mumbai is India’s financial capital, it is home to one of the largest slums in the world.
Despite battling basic issues like hygiene and sanitation, the slums are a big centre of commerce and trade. Many businesses are based there and brands such as Gucci are made in the slums. We were told that there are some areas of the slums with richer houses, home to doctors and engineers for example, but there is also a lot of poverty present, which was incredibly sad to see.
The film Slumdog Millionaire was set in the Dharavi Slums and it gives viewers an authentic look at life there.
The penultimate stop on our Mumbai Taxi Tour took us to Dhobi Ghat, an open air laundromat. The washers, known as ‘dhobis’ work in the open to clean clothes from the nearby hotels and hospitals. Constructed in 1890, Dhobi Ghat is the world’s largest outdoor laundry service, and it was fascinating to watch the workers using age-old methods on such a large scale.
Finally, (and by this time we were exhausted after struggling to sleep the previous night on our train to Mumbai), we visited Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, previously called Victoria Terminus, due to the fact it was opened in 1887, during Queen Victoria’s fiftieth year on the throne.
The station’s history and Gothic-style architectural beauty caused it to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is one of the busiest railway stations in India.
After a brief chance to rest our heads in our hotel rooms, we met our group for dinner and saw the Gateway of India on our way. This emblematic landmark was constructed to memorialize King George V and Queen Mary’s visit to India in 1911.
Dinner was much anticipated, as our tour leader Ash was from Mumbai and knew the best spots. He took us to an iconic food stall called Bademiya and I had two absolutely delicious wraps.
Our time in Ahmedabad and Mumbai had been brief, but before we knew it, we were waking up early the following morning and catching a flight to Goa.
It only took just over an hour to arrive in Northern Goa, and we then travelled in taxis to our accommodation. Though a few members of the tour were continuing through North India and some were even venturing to neighbouring Sri Lanka, this was my final destination of my Uncover India tour with G Adventures. It was an excellent chance to relax on the beaches of Calangute, Goa, before I departed for further travel.
I spent the final couple of days relaxing with my tour friends until they left, sunbathing and eating wonderful authentic Indian food for the last time.
Ash asked us all to stay in touch and we promised we would speak on our WhatsApp group. He also informed us that money from our tour went to Salaam Baalak Trust, an NGO for children from the streets, that provides them care and protection through education, vocational training and mental health facilities. I was really pleased to hear that our travel money was going to such a good cause.
On one of my last days in Goa, I ventured to the post office to finally send my elephant wall hanging home. This was an interesting affair as a lovely lady who worked there stitched up my parcel by hand as she chatted to me about life in Goa.
On my final day at the beach, I was offered the chance to have a massage and get my toe nails painted by a very friendly woman. I took up this opportunity as it was inexpensive, but made a huge difference to her. She then showed me her selection of jewellery, and I bought a lovely bracelet for my mum, as a souvenir. My new friend even rode me back to my accommodation on her moped (my first ever experience on a moped!).
Upon leaving Goa, I took a taxi to the airport and I remember my driver’s excitement at the new bridge that had just opened on our route. We even saw people getting out of their cars to take selfies on it.
It was now time to bid India farewell and head on a flight to my next exciting destination. Watch this space to find out all about my new adventures in Tantalising Thailand.