A group of twenty of us met a charming guide whose name I’m sad to say I didn’t record, because he was quite the master. At first, we marvelled at this man, with his three young assistants, for he was quite a character and we set off at quite a pace.
When we made our first stop at the Pydhonie market, we understood about the assistants…
Following his instructions to leave everything but our cameras on the bus, to follow him closely and ignore all approaches, we set off for a brisk fifteen minute walk through the most amazing, mind-blowing explosion of colour, noise, heat, dust, smells…..
We really have never experienced anything quite like it!
At times, we came to a halt, learned that we were about to cross the road and then literally ran to the other side dodging cars, cows, goats, motorbikes…now we see why three assistants were needed!
Once, I looked up in alarm to find I’d lost the others – I found myself standing beside a chap who I’d never seen before. But before I could panic, I heard “this way, Ma’am, hurry!” and one of those young men was at my elbow, ensuring that all of those distractions didn’t steer me away from the group.
Because I didn’t mention that this was a cloth market, did I?
We’ve shopped the night markets of Bangkok and Chiang Mai, the markets of Mong Kok in Hong Kong and wandered through the souks in various places. But never, ever have I seen/heard/smelled anything quite like this. For this isn’t a tourist place at all and not somewhere we’d have found ourselves had we not been brought, led and guided safely through the melee.
Because of course, along the way, we gathered one or two extras. Small hands would appear, our group of twenty became twenty five for a while until our young chaperones quickly steered us around a corner into a street of shoes, or bakery or food stands.
I walked with my Flip video camera running and heard “Here, Ma’am…I’m here…take my photo!”…everywhere someone was calling for our attention and we would have gladly stopped, snapped, shopped… Not for nothing had we been told to leave everything but our cameras on the bus. Because stopping would have been our downfall, it was clear.
After a breathless fifteen minutes, we poured onto the bus again and couldn’t quite believe what we had experienced. Our guide, bless him, stood at the front, counted and said “I sometimes get a little tense when I lead a group like that”
Applause all round – not least for the three young men who had ensured our safety, been so watchful and taken quiet but effective care of us. It was only 8pm and already we were buzzing!
And where did we go next? After a speedy tour of the seafront and a few other notable areas of Mumbai, we landed up in a cinema – the Excelsior – where a Bollywood movie was showing!
Not for us the ordinary seats, neither were we headed for the “de luxe” section. Oh no…we got to climb an extra few flights of steps to the “Executive” section (no matter that the cinema was empty at this point!) and we settled ourselves in the red vinyl covered reclining seats (well, they had a hinge at the base of the back) and waited for the extravaganza to begin. Gradually, people began to arrive in much the same way as we do ourselves, choosing to time our arrival as to miss the advertisements – in this case, not so much adverts but instructions to behave: no smoking, no spitting and to “turn cellphone off”. These instructions were scanned and projected onto the screen, including the parts deleted using a ball point pen and ruler.
We sat, enthralled as the movie began – “Thank You” was a typical Bollywood story of love, betrayal and mischief, something which in our circle would be definitely in the “rom-com”, though the group of young men who came to sit in the row in front of us were not really what I’d have thought as the romcom kind. Still, the settings were ultra-modern, luxurious and those of film stars, the characters good-looking, well-dressed and rather cardboard cutouts. There was the obligatory fight scene with post-production magic applied, dances, singing…all the key elements we love to watch, performed in Hindi, of course. No subtitles.
The real cruelty was leaving the cinema, full of these images of the high-life in some amalgam of a city – let’s call it Sydcouver or New Kong – populated by welldressed, beautiful people with all the trappings but then stepping over a family sleeping on the street right outside. This is certainly a city of huge contrasts.
One last stop to finish our evening. A short drive took us to the Arcade complex by the World Trade Centre and to “nightcap and nibbles”. We were more than ready for our bed, but still buzzing with excitement and keen to go with the flow, a couple of beers and a few Indian-flavoured tapas went down well.
We turned in at almost midnight, wishing the sweet young Indian immigration officer “sweet dreams” as he checked our papers on our return to the ship.
“You too, Madam” he said. “See you in the morning”.