Wednesday 18 November 2015

Task 53: Travel by tuk tuk in Mumbai

At the beginning of the year we booked to go to Goa for a 10 day holiday. We needed to fly with British Airways in order to use our air miles (a little obsession of Andrew's I should add), which meant we couldn't fly direct. The most obvious transfer destination was Mumbai.  

I shall now reveal a Hunot cock-up of epic ignorance and stupidity......One evening we began to talk about the idea of having a 48 hour stopover in Mumbai city. We wondered what we could see or do whilst staying there. I was a bit distracted as I was in the middle of writing a report. 'What about the Taj Mahal? Is it anywhere near Mumbai?' I said, hardly raising my eyes from my laptop screen. Andrew wasn't sure. I quickly googled 'Taj Mahal Mumbai'. Up came pages and pages of links to the Taj Mahal Palace and a plethora of descriptive terms such as 'stunning....beautiful...... historic........memorable....' Yup, it seemed to be located in the Mumbai region. I returned to my work and Andrew duly booked our flights and hotels in Goa and Mumbai around a day's visit to the Taj Mahal. Later on I added the task 'Sit in front of the Taj Mahal' to my sixtyat60 list and felt a little whoosh of excitement to have included such a jewel in the crown in the Travel Task section.

A few weeks later Andrew met up with a friend of his who happens to be a long haul BA pilot. He came home looking bemused. 'Rob says that the Taj Mahal isn't anywhere near Mumbai,' he announced. 'Of course it is!' I retorted, 'I checked on Google remember? Look....' and I typed in 'Taj Mahal Mumbai' again. It was only then that we both realised that the Taj Mahal Palace is very splendid historic five star hotel. The Taj Mahal is (as I'm sure everyone in the world except us knows) in Agra, North India.  Here's a little map just to illustrate the point. Note to self - act in haste....

And so it was that 'Sit in front of the Taj Mahal' came to be swiftly replaced by the rather more prosaic 'Travel by tuk tuk in Mumbai'.  And why this particular task?  Well, the image of a tuk-tuk just popped into my head (probably the subliminal influence of Slumdog Millionaire and Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and it occurred to me that whilst Andrew and I have holidayed quite extensively over the years, we've never once stepped foot inside a tuk tuk. It seemed quite clear that it was a gap in our world traveller education that needed filling urgently. The Taj Mahal? So yesterday.

At this stage I must assure you that we took the tuk tuk task (try saying that quickly) every bit as seriously as its ill-fated predecessor. We arrived at Mumbai airport last weekend hot-wired for action. We hopped into a taxi and it wasn't long before we spotted our first tuk tuk or two.   

The roads were insanely busy and everyone was hootIng like crazy (as our taxi driver said 'Do not buy a car with a hooter that is broken in this city'). We were surrounded on all sides by tuk tuks weaving their way skilfully in and out of the traffic - surrounded, that is, until we crossed the amazing shiny new Bandra Bridge to the district we were due to stay in. In a flash all the tuk tuks disappeared. 'Where are all the tuk tuks?' we asked the taxi driver with some alarm. 'This is posh area" came the reply. 'Automatic rickshaw drivers not permitted - not educated.' Half an hour later we arrived at our hotel, feeling very sorry for the tuk tuk drivers and a little apprehensive for ourselves, as it seemed that we would have to re-enter an un-posh district of Mumbai to fulfil Task 53.

The next day we found ourselves another helpful taxi driver, called Sanjay, and explained our tuk tuk predicament to him. 'No problem Sir, Ma'am!' said Sanjay and without further ado he steered his taxi towards the Bandra district in search of an automatic rickshaw. We stopped at Victoria Station en route. It's one of the few fine-looking buildings that Mumbai possesses, and Sanjay insisted on stopping the car and photographing us as the traffic hurtled past just a couple of feet away.

Bandra district, 1130 hours. Andrew and I waited in the taxi whilst Sanjay entered into negotiation with (it has to be said) a slightly rough looking tuk tuk driver. Wheeling and dealing completed, Andrew and I stepped out of the taxi, clambered into the back of the tuk tuk and off we went. It was 38 degrees but the outside air acted as an effective cooling system as our driver hurtled through the streets at the rate of knots. He ducked and dived and hooted his horn constantly, and we experienced all the scents/odours and sounds of everyday Mumbai life, including the slum areas, street markets, roadside shrines, and cricket games, not to mention many bumps and potholes. The driver remained silent and focused throughout our trip and we sat in the back observing and absorbing everything around us. It was a memorable trip on many levels.

Half an hour later we were returned safe and sound to Sanjay. More wheeling and dealing took place between the two drivers. And then Sanjay drove us back to the relative tranquility and calmness of the 'posh' district, which in contrast seemed a little staid, although certainly not by European city standards.

So once again the sixtyat60 list has nudged me outside my comfort zone a little. And on reflection I think Andrew and I learnt as much about about India and Mumbai through a short ride in a tuk tuk as by visiting a beautiful but touristy attraction. Sanjay the taxi driver won't know that I'm thanking him for his help in this blog but I'll thank him just the same. And do you know what? I now have a strangely powerful urge to drive down Uckfield High Street hooting my horn......

I'm doing the sixtyat60challenge to raise funds for Alzheimer's Research UK. For further information or to make a donation please visit my JustGiving page at  

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