Bike Tour- 17 mins
Today, I went on a bicycle tour of South Mumbai. It was scheduled to start at 6:15 in the morning. I reached CST then night before and had planned to stay at one of the retiring rooms at CST. However, after staying long in the line for the rooms, I came to know that the rooms for that night were full and I could not get one before 8 the next morning. Bummer! I ventured out with the plan that I will find the meeting point for the tour and then use Maps to find accommodation around me. I spotted Cafe Coffee Day to one side when I reached the main road and I decided to have another Watermelon Spritz, which I had enjoyed after the cashier’s recommendation a couple of days before. I walked out again sipping the refreshing drink, and a call came from Buaji. I was hoping it wouldn’t and since I didn’t want to mislead them, I admitted I had not found accommodation as planned. Fufaji called back to tell that there was a “Narsingh Lodge” close to the station, closely “Hotel Sheetal”, which I had spotted. I ventured around and asked a guy and came to know that it was just around the corner. Sure enough, I found it easily, but it was actually called “Nrisingh Lodge”. There were single beds available for the night for Rs. 500. I would have preferred a room for myself, and even had the plan in the back of my mind to go to a hotel, order room service but I decided that this will be a new experience in itself.
Fittingly, I had withdrawn exactly Rs. 500 before I left the station, thinking I would probably need it for accommodation. I was taken up to floor 3 by a rickety looking lift, through a hallway; with beds to one side to a larger room. This one had about 6 beds with a chair and table in the middle. I was given a bed close to a window overlooking the main road. The bed had a small lockable compartment but since I didn’t have a lock with me, I knew I had to keep my bag closely when I slept. I spent a few moments sat on the bed, took some photos and ventured out again. I had seen a Burger King across the road and had thought of having maybe a Whopper. But the light was off and the shutter was half down by that time, and I decided to let it be. There was also a McDonald’s nearby and it looked open, but I didn’t feel like it. With my earlier plan of finding accommodation close to the tour’s meeting point, “Hotel Kailash Parbat” in tatters, I thought maybe I’d walk to it so I know the route to take in the morning.
I passed a little street cart where they were serving dinner. I felt especially tempted by rotis seemingly being prepared on a coal fire, but I kept on. I received a call from Papa and I told him where I was going. But after the call, a wave of laziness washed over me and I started feeling it was futile to walk the whole way, which was close to 3 km, which would have probably taken me about half an hour. I walked back and on a whim decided to have hot rotis and sabzi for dinner. But, to my disappointment, the rotis were not fresh. One guy asked to reheat them and I realised that maybe that was what I had seen earlier. But anyway, it was an okay dinner, but a nice experience nonetheless. I went back around the corner to the lodge and prepared to sleep.
But it did not really come. Maybe it was because of my bag. I had alarms set for 4:33 and had decided I should leave by 5:30 the latest. I ended up checking out at 5:15 because I had become very restless. I opened the map and set off. The route seemed easy enough with no real turns. A very little distance after I left, my internet went away and my location stopped updating, but thankfully the path was still showing. I crossed a naval defence area and finally reached Regal Cinema and I breathed a sigh of relief. I had read that the meeting point was ahead on the road here. I reached the meeting point well in advance, at about 5:50. On my commute, a taxi had passed me but it was going in a different direction than I was. I spotted two people in the back. I am convinced that the same taxi came round to the meet point a little while after I had reached. Those tourists had also been searching for the meeting point, and I had a little word with the driver who told me he had been confused with what the tourists had been telling him, apparently. They were Germans; Peter and Friederike had come here to attend a wedding. They have a friend who had stayed at their place in Hannover while working there. There were also other families he had stayed with, and for his wedding, had invited them to Mumbai. Peter and Friederike had come with a group of 9 people in total for the wedding. In a short while, Lotfi arrived, a New Yorker of Algerian descent. It was his 4th day in Mumbai. Then Anneka and Susan arrived, from Canada. Well, not from Canada, per se; but from where they were staying. Our guide, Nainesh a.k.a. Nano arrived on time and introduced himself and took our names. Siddhi arrived, the second guide and introductions happened. It turned out that there were two more people yet to come and it was decided that Siddhi would wait on them and the rest would walk to the bike shop, a couple of lanes ahead. “Happy Cycles” was closed (duh), but there was a guard sleeping outside the shop and many locked cycles filled the pavement. Nano took out a few company cycles and had us cycle around a bit to adjust ourselves to them. After a bit of seat adjusting, brake and bell testing, we were ready to leave. We left on our bikes with Siddhi, and I never did come to know what happened to the two people who hadn’t arrived.
Our first stop was the Gateway and Hotel Taj. After a short ride we were there. Nano instructed us to find some identification so that we knew which bike was whose. There was a tag on mine “033” so it was simple. Coincidentally, the bed I was given the previous night was also “33”. There was no such tag on Anneka and Friederike’s bikes, but Anneka observed that they could differentiate them by the seat’s height, which made me chuckle; Friederike is very tall, 6’ 2” or maybe 3”. At every stop we made, the guides would tell us about the place. Sometimes one of them would stay back to look after the bikes. Although, at places like Marine Drive, it was not necessary, I was later told.
Next, we went to CST Station and stopped beside the main road. I got to know that there used to be a statue of Queen Victoria that was mysteriously stolen one night and no one knows for sure where it went. Well, someone surely knows, or knew. It apparently turned up in Delhi’s flea market later, but these claims were unverified. The space the statue occupied has never been filled.
Next, we went to Crawford Market. The market is more busy early in the morning, when trucks come and stuff is unloaded. When we reached, it was relatively subdued. From the inside, it looked like the kind of market you might see in a Bollywood movie, and there was one particular place which seemed like one I have seen in some movie before.
Another stop was Mumba Devi Mandir, from where Mumbai gets its name. We were warned beforehand that fake priests might try and coax you to put “teeka” on your forehead and then ask for money. We were told the reasons behind ringing the bell while entering a temple and why people hang chilies and lemon together, but I am somewhat hazy on those now.
I think we made a stop for tea after the temple. I had coffee. Peter and Friederike confirmed the German way of doing “3” (Drei Glaser!) and Peter told me about the man who had his middle and ring fingers cut off in a sawmill accident ordering shots using his index finger, thumb and pinky. I also did my best to answer Friederike’s questions about the “ota” and a little place that had a small “puja ghar” on the wall. We also had a laugh over the way I nodded my head at something; they were confused if I was nodding for yes or no. Friederike was also pleasantly surprised that I had heard of a little city outside of Hamburg called Hannover and that they have a football team called “Hannover 96”. She had assumed I would be more into cricket. Booyah!
We went to the flower market next, I think. I didn’t take photos everywhere we went so I don’t have those for hints. Anyway, the market was very narrow and we had to walk along with our bikes in tow. A merchant gave a rose each to Anneka and Susan. Susan had earlier been very excited at the mention of flower market, saying she loves flowers. Nano told us that earlier, Crawford Market had flowers but it shifted because it was getting too congested. Some other things like veggies had to be moved too.
We went to the cow shelter next, I think. Walking, I had a little chat with Lotfi about tea and coffee. He told me his mum was addicted to coffee and must have it whenever she wakes up, even if it’s 4 in the morning. Apart from cows, there were also swarms of pigeons, and “swans!”, Anneka excitedly exclaimed. The pigeons were taking off in droves, their flapping feathers collectively making a loud and heavy sound. It amazed me. We were told that people can donate their cows to the place if they had a genuine reason to do so and that they take in diseased and sick cows and take care of them. We fed the little calves and the cows some and patted them. We were told about why the cow is such a sacred animal for the Hindus and how useful it had been in ancient times.
Next, we rode for Marine Drive, stopping for a pee break on the way. The city had woken up by now and the roads were much more active. The traffic was had Friederike scared, whose brakes were not working properly. She seemed to be in a perpetual state of worry, constantly ringing the bell. Even though they were probably not used to driving in traffic like this, everyone rode sensibly and there was no incident. At times, the traffic itself seemed to adjust to our little group passing by. At Marine Drive, we parked our bikes on one side of the road and crossed to the other side. Nano told us about the Ambanis and an incident on one of his tours. Talking about Mukesh Ambani’s family, he had referred to his progeny as “elephant children” and a girl at the back of bus they were in called him over and showed photos and a video, of the Ambanis with herself with them. She turned out to be the then-girlfriend of one of his sons. Twist! Before we left, Siddhi taught Susan a dance move of Michael Jackson’s and we took some group photos.
From Marine Drive, we rode on for Sasoon Dock, which was the last stop on the tour. I felt a little sad; I had been enjoying myself. It was a long time after I was riding and I was also feeling nice about being able to talk/hold a conversation with others. Even though I am shy and reserved by nature, I said at least one sentence to each of my fellow tour members, which is probably some sort of personal achievement. At the dock, we were warned beforehand that if anyone was a vegetarian or could be grossed out, they could stay behind. It was immediately obvious to me that no one would, and none did. I was most in the danger of feeling nauseous but I found out that I could hold my own. We were shown prawns; lots of them and eels, stingray and a baby shark, apart for a variety of fishes. There were hired hands, women who were sat cleaning the prawns. Nano told us that they are paid Rs. 120-130 an hour and not by the quantity of prawns they get through which seemed to surprise others. I made a mental note to wash my shoes once I reached my room.
Finished with all the stops on the tour, we made our way to a restaurant to have breakfast. Nano showed Peter and Friederike the menu that had pictures and explained what Idli, Dosa and Puri Bhaji was. I was sat with them; Lotfi, Anneka, Susan and Siddhi occupied the table behind me. Nano initially took the table on my left but later joined in. Friederike pulled my leg with my head nodding while I was giving my order. It made me laugh and I realised I was nodding in that odd way subconsciously. She asked me if she was supposed to eat puri-bhaji using her hands. Peter said that he was texting his wife that they both had “made it” and I admitted that I was under the assumption that he and Friederike were together. It made him laugh and he corrected me saying that Friederike was his daughter but he’ll take it as a compliment. I complimented him back saying he looked quite young. Friederike asked me if I had any siblings. On the topic of Mumbai traffic and how chaotic it was, I said that in Germany, all this is quite systematic. Peter chimed in that there were special lanes for bicycles there and even for parking cars. In case of smaller roads, there is still a bike lane and motorists get in trouble if they do not respect it. He also said that the traffic was not as scary as he had expected. It was his first time in India and Friederike’s second. Peter told me that they had sent her off to India when she was 14-15. They have a friend here so they were assured she’d be in good hands. Somehow the conversation drifted to Peter telling me I knew a lot about Germany and wondered where had I acquired this knowledge. I told him I know what I knew from watching shows and movies which made him curious what movies had I watched. I replied “Das Boot” and “Lola Rennt”. He inquired if I knew any German and I replied “nein” which made him chuckle, I remember. I admitted I just knew a couple of words. He admitted that he was impressed. I considered this exchange the highlight of my interactions on the tour.
Nano then joined us and we were made aware that he can glass paint and also plays Kabaddi professionally. He’s trying to make the state team and get into a company team, saying they pay good money. He also teaches painting to kids and though not much of a photographer himself, passes along that knowledge. Lotfi passed around his iPhone asking us to give us our emails so that he can us the photos he took on the tour. Peter took inside and out photos of his Masala Dosa which was amusing to me and he seemed to enjoy having it. Though initially finding the puris too hot, I showed the trick of poking holes in the puris to Friederike and how to eat them. It was such a contrast showing her how to do these little things I have been doing since I was little. She did not know what puris were and asked me what they were called. She later noted she wasn’t able to finish her bhaji. I told her she could get extra puris to finish her bhaji but she was “good”. Seeing me mix my remaining bhaji and chutney and eating them with a spoon, she proceeded to do the same herself and made an admirable effort.
It was late by this time and though the tour was supposed to end at 10, it was past 11 at this point. Peter asked me if it was convention to tip our two guides. He and Friederike then said their goodbyes. I did mine and Lotfi, Anneka and Susan seemed to be in the process of leaving themselves. I asked Nano outside how long would it take to reach CST and if I would be able to make it since I had my train at 12:45. He said I would easily make it and that I should take a cab. He even proceeded to hail one for me but that particular cab driver did not want to stop. I inquired how long would it take me to walk and he said 20 mins, so I decided I would walk instead. I had to ask for the correct direction to the station a couple of times, and I reached well early with 25 mins to go.
As Margaret Jo McCullen and Teri Rialto would say, “good times”.