So after exploring the less obvious areas of India, we finally got round to doing the mainstream routes starting with Mumbai and Agra.
Arriving in Mumbai we were back in another bustling city full of extreme heat, overcrowding and pollution and you know what? We absolutely loved it!
However, things did not get off to the best start as accommodation was hard to come by, especially for a backpacker! Paying almost up to £13 a bed in a hostel and £20 for a private room, Mumbai was one of India’s most expensive regions for accommodation but you did not exactly get what you paid for.
On our first night after another long and uncomfortable journey, we were excited for a shower and a comfortable bed. The shower was decent enough (standard dripping taps and stained towels) we rolled into bed and drifted off. Before long we were tossing and turning and itching bites all over our body, we have had more than our fair share of mosquito bites in our time and were almost immune to them by now but these were different. After waking up in the middle of the night to check for gnats we turned the light on and found tens of lumps all over our bodies from bed bugs!
With no one at reception we laid the stained towels down and tried to sleep through the bites and come the morning K had a lump in his eye the size of a golf ball. We reported the issue to reception who were very apologetic and allowed us to change rooms. This was thankfully our first and last case of bed bugs from our travels and it was not an experience we wished to suffer through again!
Mumbai itself was a beautiful city, full of British architecture and incredible buildings, we walked from Central Station, past the Asiatic Society Library and military base and visited the ‘Prince of Wales Museum’, or to the locals Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalay (definitely worth a visit to see the stunning grounds), before eventually reaching the Gateway of India. A major tourist attraction, the gateway was crammed with people and security but it was still a fantastic place to be. The usual fluttering of senses tingled you to your core as you immersed yourself into India’s culture. You look from the street stalls, families living on the streets and animals roaming the roads and then lift your head to the great Gateway of India. Extraordinary.
A stone’s throw away is The Taj Hotel, a lavish and grand hotel which epitomises exactly what India does so right. In spite of the extreme poverty, dangers and various flaws, India enables itself to offer the very highest of standards to those willing to pay for it. K’s mother came to visit us in India and met us in Mumbai in an emotional and long awaited re-acquaintance between mother and son. We decided to go for Tea at the Taj and were not disappointed.
As soon as the air con hits you and the doors close, you are in an entirely different place. A world of designer brands, gold and silver service greets you in such a way that even the most luxurious of Western brands would struggle to match. The walls are lined with marble and gold as you pass through the corridors before finding the grand staircase leading to the restaurant. The Taj Hotel really is all it’s made up to be and if you ever wish to try the finer things India has to offer then this is the place to be.
Mumbai is the perfect example of the wealth contrast and how extreme the casting is from rich to poor in India, going from the Taj Hotel, to the slums of the city…
Normally when you see a film set in another country you’re often told they are not an accurate representation or things are exaggerated. We took a slums tour in Mumbai with the fantastic “Mystical Mumbai Tours” (A great trustworthy tour operator… hard to find in India!) and actually visited the exact locations of Slumdog Millionaire where it looked like the movie was filmed yesterday. The word slum is thrown around a lot these days but this area in Mumbai was on another level. There were mountains of rubbish, children roaming riot, unbathed and underfed, animals around every corner and yet everything seemed to work. The alleys were so small, if you took a wrong turn you’d had no choice but to continue walking as there was simply not enough room to turn around. If you’re claustrophobic, then this place definitely isn’t for you!
Despite the millions of people living in severe poverty the whole place just seemed to click. Everybody knew everyone and each had a role to play in this community. It’s not until you climb onto the roof of one of the seemingly collapsing buildings that you realise just how big the slums are. They go on for as far as the eye can see with each person trying to break through financial barriers in the home of Bollywood.
The main cities of India seem to get a lot of stick from tourists, but we threw ourselves right in and fell in love with Mumbai. Yes, it was sweaty, dirty and busy, but there was another side that we adored. The buildings, the people, the buzz, the food, and learning all about the culture.
Travelling with K’s mum we decided to show her a bit of the backpacker lifestyle we had now been living for so long and took her on a rickety old bus journey through the night to get to Agra. Flying round the bends at over 100mph, we must admit she handled it very well!
We spent a few nights in Gujurat, Rajasthan and Jaipur and we would love to tell you every detail but if we did that this would be more of a book and less of a blog. Watch out for the hardback version of KHTravels coming soon!
Agra is famous for one thing and one thing only. We had been looking forward to seeing this monument ever since we stepped onto that first plane when leaving Heathrow and now we were almost there. Stories have been told and a million and one pictures have been taken but until you’re there, until you see the sun rise over it and until you feel the marble beneath your feet you never really understand just how incredible it is. The Taj Mahal.
Arriving early for sunrise, our hostel was a short walk away from one of the new seven wonders of the world. The number of self-proclaimed tour guides almost outnumber the tourists but this is one of those places where you do your research beforehand and you just come to absorb the beauty. The whole place is huge, as you walk through gates and first set eyes on the marble marvel you gain a sense of accomplishment, like you’ve really done something and you’ve now seen something you’ll remember forever. In reality you’ve done nothing but open your eyes but this magnificent structure has stood strong for almost four centuries and still looks as awe provoking as ever.
The Indian sun is one of the most beautiful sights in the world, it sounds strange to hear that because the sun is the same anywhere in the world, but it really is different here. Rising over the dusty plains and shining through the pollution, it symbolises hope. That another day is here and anything is possible. Combine that with the wonders of the Taj Mahal and you create something that lasts a lifetime and goes beyond words.