In the afternoon of Cochin we did our bike rides in the backwater area. We were picked up in a Tuk Tuk at the port and taken out of the city 10 to 15 miles to the backwater country where fortunately the traffic was a little less. Most of our biking was done going down small paths between the various fishing areas. People owned these fishing areas and actually had little lookout stands on stilts over top the water to ensure no one fished in their areas. We saw several people fishing along the way. Some just waded out into the water with a net and caught their meal for the day. We then stopped at a shop where they built wooden canoes. These were very large canoes and they used bread fruit trees for the lumber. They heated the wood to curve it along the length of the canoe. Coconut husks were sown into the canoes to create a seal for the wood plank joints. After seeing these canoes being built we were given a ride in a canoe. The canoe was plenty big enough to fit five people and our four bikes. We floated down one of the canals and saw all the Chinese fishing nets used by many of the homes along the canal. These nets were smaller than what we had previously seen and we were told that they could be operated by just one person. The homes were very small and many had roofs that required plastic tarps to keep out the rain. Some of the walls of the homes were under repair. It appeared that each home was a work in progress where they made repairs or additions as they got enough money to do the work. Even though some of the roofs were almost missing, almost every home had a TV antenna! We were later told that TV service was very cheap in India as was electricity. As we rode our bikes done the paths it was amazing how many of the Indian children would stop to say hi and “what is your name”. English is actually the official language of India although many people do not speak it. They are now teaching it in school and that was why the children all wanted to practice using it. We were obviously easily determined to be non-Indians as we rode our bikes if for no other reason than we were the only bikers with helmets on! Towards the end of our bike ride we came across a beach on the ocean which was very nice. It was a nice bike ride and a nice way to see some different parts of Cochin.
Goa was our second stop in India. Like Cochin we had been to Goa once before, five years ago. There was nothing we really wanted to do or see in Goa so we decided to make it a beach day. India supposedly has some very nice beaches. We took a taxi and went to one of the local beaches not too far from the cruise port. We were surprised to only see taxis at the port and no Tuk Tuks like we saw in Cochin. When we were here five years ago we saw mostly Tuk Tuks but they don’t seem to be very popular here anymore in Goa. It is also interesting that your taxi ride in Goa is round trip with the taxi driver waiting for you while you stay at the beach. The beach was nice and we were able to get a few chairs and an umbrella. The chairs were a little different in that they were wooden chaise chairs and weighed a ton. The time at the beach was enjoyable with a nice breeze and pretty blue skies. Boats could be seen out in the distance. The beach had several local Indian restaurants to grab a snack or a beer but since we were going to a specialty restaurant that night on the cruise ship we decided not spoil our appetites. We spent several hours at the beach before heading back to the ship. We had a pleasant and relaxing day in Goa.
Our third a final stop in India was in Mumbai. Sharon was very excited to make this stop because she wanted to visit the Dharavi Slum where Slum Dog Millionaire was filmed. In order to view the slums we had arranged a tour with a company called Tours by Locals. This is a company that allows you to search local tour guides for specific tours they offer in various cities. They charge a single fee for the tour and offer it to a specified number of people. We did this tour with just the two of us but we could have brought along another couple for the same price. It is a worthwhile tour company to consider if you like relatively private tours for a reasonable amount of money. Our guide was Shailesh who actually lived in the slums and turned out to be a great guide for the day. Since this was a private tour for us we were able to customize it to see what we wanted to see and we spent the majority of our time visiting the slum area. Mumbai is a city of more than 20 million people with more than 60% of them living in the slums. The particular slums we went to (where the movie had been filmed) is the third largest slum in the world (Brazil #1 and Pakistan #2) and covers a one square mile area. We weren’t allowed to take too many pictures in the slums but did take some from some overviews and at some specific areas. The slums were amazing! We had no idea that so much work was done there. While the people lived over head in buildings made of corrugated metal or plywood, the bottom portion of the building was used as a small business. The three primary businesses performed there were plastic recycling, leather production and clay pottery manufacture. The government sponsored these programs and it allowed the people to have very labor intensive jobs but make enough money to eat and keep a roof over their heads. There were bags and bags of plastic that were brought in and out of the slums for the plastics to be sorted by type, color and purity. After this work was done it was re-bagged and sent to manufacturing plants outside of Mumbai that made this recycled plastic into finished product. Corrugated boxes were recycled by cutting open the boxes and reprinting new information on the opposite side of the carton before reassembling them. Everything was recycled and reused! The hides from animals were brought into the slums were it was processed and made into finished leather products. We bought a few items as souvenirs. Another different area of the slums was dedicated to clay pottery making. They produced a great quantity of pots and sold them to stores for sale to people. As we walked along the streets of the slums, people hustled around and most everyone seemed happy. Many children wanted us to take their pictures. We were told about the making of the movie and in one alley where they filmed they decided to film a daylight scene at midnight so they had full use of the alley way. They had to use a great deal of power to light up the entire area to make it look bright enough for a daylight scene. We were told that no people in the slums received anything for the filming of the movie in their area. It was also interesting to find out that the film upon its completion could not be shown in India because the government thought that it showed a degrading look of the Indian people (i.e., beggars and crime, which neither did they have). Years later after the movie continued to gain popularity throughout the world, that ban was lifted. It was a very interesting morning viewing the slums and learning about it and the people there.
After our slum tour we asked our guide to take us to a good Indian restaurant in the area for lunch. He had just the place and we were treated to his favorite local Indian restaurant. While Greg had his beer, Sharon had some Indian rum with Pepsi (she actually had several of them!). The meal was great as we had an appetizer – a chopped pickle mixed in oil and Indian spices; rice; curry; vegetables and chicken with some of that great Indian flat bread. We thoroughly enjoyed the lunch and some more time to chat with our guide about the Indian lifestyle. The lunch was extremely inexpensive and we provided a large tip to show our thanks to the manager who was a good friend of our guide and took great care of us!
After lunch we visited another Indian laundry but this one was even more amazing. It is in the Guinness World Record as the largest outdoor laundry facility. Although the clothes were cleaned in the same manner as we had seen in Cochin, this laundry was so much larger in size and the people lived right where they did the laundry. We then went off and did some more touristic sightseeing. We saw the Gateway of India which is a large archway at the pier built in honor of King George V. Right next door is the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel which was built to replicate the Taj Mahal. One of the most beautiful buildings in the city was the Victoria Train Station where 90% of Mumbai’s population goes through every day! We visited the Hanging Garden which had a nice overlook of the city and the beach. We went by to visit the house that Gandhiji lived in for 17 years (1917-1934). It was more of a museum dedicated to his life. After that, we headed back to our ship and amazed at how much we had seen that day. We had a very fun and full day in Mumbai! Thanks Shailesh for sharing your city and home with us!
We are now heading across the Arabian Sea on our way to Muscat, Oman!
Sharon & Greg