India – Mumbai – More markets, temples and cows

Crawford MarketAll week so far we had been transported around the city in style. From the elaborate limousine provided by the Oberoi to transfer us from the airport, to the luxury cars provided by our guide Amish for our general sightseeing, we had travelled in air-conditioned comfort. But for today he thought we ought to try an alternative, so we went back to Crawford Market by taxi. A Mumbai taxi isn’t quite like a British one. It was small, bumpy, had a lurid mock leopard-skin fabric tacked on to the roof, and a gaping hole just to the left side of the clutch pedal. It also had quite the friendliest taxi-driver you could ever hope to meet.

Fruit marketHe dropped us off outside Crawford Market, which we had visited two days earlier, but it has so many nooks and crannies that it was well worth a revisit. It was the first real opportunity we’d had to appreciate its structure from the outside. Its windows and archways are decorated with alternating red and white bricks in a very Moorish style – you could be in Cordoba. We went in, to discover we were in the fruits district. Rows and rows of highly polished colourful apples gleamed in their boxes, piles of grapes Under tarpaulinoverflowed their bowls, the pineapples, mangoes and oranges all looked highly delectable. Stacked above them, massive baskets lined with the brightest colour foil paper making outstanding diamond shaped designs – presumably to display future produce.

In the outside area too, the fruit market continues. Under tattered tarpaulins, traders spend the day stacking, chatting, displaying, and putting the world to rights while the good citizens of Mumbai carefully select the prize items. It’s fascinating to see all the different people here going about their business – an incredible hub of activity. The paths can be quite narrow, so the porters have perfected the ability of carrying a basket with one hand over their head,On me 'ead so as to squeeze through with a full load. Others simply stack baskets on their head. Alongside the fruit, the other popular items for sale in this area are caged birds. In some locations they are for sale so that you can release them for good karma. I’m not quite so sure here – some of them are rather exotic looking creatures, and they also sell birdcages too. Still, no doubt if you are wealthy, you can release an expensive bird for a much classier kind of karma.

A tough jobThe last time Mrs Chrisparkle and I went to India, in 2006, we visited a shop in Agra and bought a few reasonably priced, reasonably smart clothes that still survive in our wardrobes today. We had mentioned to Amish that we wanted to go to a decent shop for a little clothes-hunting, and he suggested Dia. Great choice! We spent the best part of an hour trying on shirts and trousers, checking out belts and bags, and looking at costume jewellery, all of it very good quality at sensible prices. Mrs C took to the process like a woman possessed. She was in and out of the changing room appearing in different colour trousers each time, asking our opinions of each colour and style. After a while something happened, and Amish and I just started to laugh. I can’t quite remember why, but we ended up giggling like schoolgirls. As Mrs C was failing to attract our attention for the next couture critique, the lady trying to assist simply said to her “let them play” and so she carried on the important task of fashion consultant. Well, there’s only so much clothes shopping a guy can take, after all. But we bought wisely in that shop – and we’re still very pleased with our purchases.

Street sellersBack out on to the streets, and they really were thronging. Pedestrians, taxis, motorbikes, cars, carts and buses all compete for enough space to carry out their business. You need to be aware of your surroundings at times to be safe, as any kind of vehicle can suddenly sneak up on you from any angle without your realising! Street sellers wander around offering you bags, sunglasses, watches; there was one very friendly lady from whom we had bought a couple of bags two days earlier, who we subsequently kept on bumping into. Every time we crossed a road in Mumbai, she seemed to be there! She was happy to pose for a photograph. There was another seller offering “Genuine Ray-Bans”; extraordinarily good value for Genuine Ray-Bans, I must say. I guess there’s no rent to pay when you’re just wandering around with the goods. We couldn’t resist the bargain; and for the rest of the day Amish and I roamed around looking like a transcontinental version of the Blues Brothers.

Clothes BazaarInto another market now, this time the Clothes Bazaar at Mangaldas Market. Not only clothes, but all fabrics – sheets, towels, tablecloths, and more. There’s a huge range of products and I’m sure you could spend hours delving through what’s on offer; but we sensed that it was the kind of place that if you stopped and looked interested you would be pounced upon. In comparison to the bright hustle and bustle of Crawford Market it felt quite dark and oppressive, and I think we preferred our clothes shopping experience that we enjoyed earlier.

Fruit stallOutside it was a good opportunity to observe two different forms of street refreshment. One was a fruit stall – where the brightest red watermelons were cut into triangles and stacked to form a little melon mountain on a plate, and it looked so refreshing in the Mumbai heat. The man running it also had golden pineapples and orange coloured mangoes – a really healthy snack option. Almost next door to him was one of these strange contraptions, the mobile sugar cane juice stall. Sugar Cane juiceOn demand the man feeds sugar canes into this thing that looks like a cross between a mangle and a shredder, and out pours this sweet drink to which everyone in Mumbai appears to be addicted.

We stumbled across yet another market – the Zaveri Bazaar, where you will find all the jewellery you could want, from the cheap and cheerful costume stuff to top of the range ultra-exclusive. Mrs C was looking dangerously interested in some of these shops – Zaveri BazaarI had to try diversionary tactics like “someone as beautiful as you doesn’t need such fripperies” and “oh look there’s a cow obstructing the entrance to that expensive jewellers.” It kind of worked. It was fascinating to see the contrast between scruffy hard-working street life and the high value glamour actually inside some of the shops. It was as though Cartier had just opened up in Skelmersdale.

Bombay PanjrapoleHeading under a sign that reads “Bombay Panjrapole, established 1834” you enter an area given over to the welfare of animals. Primarily, it’s a place you can go to feed the cows. We went to inspect the healthy-looking sacred beasties whilst Amish went off in search of leaves and grass (to feed the cows, I should add). The office marked Veterinary Dispensary was overflowing with the stuff – it’s obviously the cure for all bovine diseases. He returned a few minutes later with half a tree in his hand, Madhavbaug Jain templewhich we then used to feed about twenty cows who were all contentedly awaiting a repast in their compound. It was a little like playing at a Children’s Zoo, but with added religious significance. You could almost hear the cows muttering, “that’s good grass, man”.

From there it was but a short walk to another Jain temple, the Madhavbaug temple, with its lucky decorative swastikas and its delicate marble carvings Icchapurti Ganesha templethat looked like intricate icing on a cake, which were being renovated by a team of skilled craftsmen. Nearby was the Icchapurti Ganesha temple, where there were a number of men sat around to make sure that a holy fire remained burning constantly; another interesting feature there was a large bell to the side of the fire which you happily ding to let the gods know you’re ready to worship. Madhavbaug Shiva templeAt yet another temple, the Madhavbaug Shiva temple, Amish encouraged us to approach a young priest sitting cross-legged on the floor, who said a little prayer for us and daubed a red mark on our foreheads. For a few minutes I felt Officially Indian.

calligraphyOne last charge back into the shops and markets area, as we now found ourselves in the stationery sector. Loads of shops whose sole purpose is to create the most beautiful and elaborate wedding invitations you could imagine. The shop windows are crammed with stunning calligraphy and superb decoratively carved cards that are works of art in themselves. A decent set of invitations is obviously de rigueur at a proper Indian wedding.

Status Restaurant - outsideAfter all that exposure to art, temples, markets and more, it was definitely time for a late lunch. In an uninspiring looking building, we climbed up some stairs to a restaurant called the Bhagat Tarachand and the food was absolutely excellent. We returned, shattered, to the Oberoi for a much needed late afternoon nap, and then headed out again later to meet Amish for dinner. We went to the Status restaurant, very close to the Oberoi, that has a relaxed outside eating area and a slightly more formal inside area. We sat outside and consumed Marsala Dosas and lots of other yummy goodies. It was a fantastic place to while away a tasty hour or so in great company. Tomorrow was to be our last full day in Mumbai, and very exciting it was to be too. So we needed our beauty sleep, but not until we’d drifted back to the Eau Bar for one last nightcap.

If you would like Amish to help you discover Mumbai visit mumbaimoments.com

India – Mumbai – Flower, Vegetable and Spice Markets, and the Chor Bazaar

Red pianoAnother beautiful sunny day, and, despite our protestations, Amish wanted an early start as we were going to explore the markets. “But we’re on holiday”, Mrs Chrisparkle whimpered, “I’d love a lie-in”. “If you get up late, then there’ll be nothing to see at the markets”, he insisted. Sigh. So we were all breakfasted and bathed by 9am and waiting by the red piano. Yes there really is one, right in the centre of the Oberoi lobby.

Crawford MarketInto the car we got and headed straight off for Crawford Market. This massive structure is named after Bombay’s first Municipal Commissioner, Arthur Crawford, and the central fountain and other decorative sculptures were carved by Lockwood Kipling, father of Rudyard. It was built in 1869 and it houses hundreds and hundreds of stalls selling everything you could possibly imagine.

DeliveriesThey say to understand a place you don’t go to the museums, you just experience life on the street. Well, I say that, even if no one else does. The teeming life that takes place inside Crawford Market begins on the streets outside. Smaller stalls that can’t get a look-in inside pitch up on the pavement; delivery vehicles park up anywhere and everywhere, with guys loading up little trolleys with lolloping uneven wheels Colourful flowersto bring new goods to the waiting thousands inside. There’s clearly an order of seniority in the market, which you can tell from how the men are dressed – I say men, because there are hardly any women working there. There are smart men – normally looking like they’re very well fed – in business shirts and trousers, who are obviously the movers and shakers, dealmakers and traders, employers and owners. Then you have another status of guys Stallholders– the majority – who work on the stalls and wear scruffier work clothes, maybe colourful short sleeved shirts and sports shirts, and well-worn trousers. You also have all those who are doing all the cleaning up and dealing with the rubbish, but everyone has their part to play – and those doing the menial work show equal pride in doing a good job as any of the wealthier businessmen. Any women there are rather no-nonsense older ladies in elegant saris whose expressions show they have spent a lifetime identifying the best quality produce and buying it at the best price.

More flowersIt’s a monument to hard work and long hours, but it’s also an incredibly cheery place. Everyone is delighted if you take their photo – they like to check it afterwards for approval, and inevitably it results in a satisfied head-wobble. Some people smile for the camera, others – they tend to be older, more senior types – like to look Victorian grandees, all respectable and serious. You wonder briefly if they are not so happy having their picture taken – but the satisfied head-wobble afterwards reassures you they are. The variety of colours Patience and skillassaulting your senses, particularly in the flower market area, is overwhelming. Huge bowls of colour co-ordinated flower heads, yellows, pinks, oranges, whites, are everywhere; all primarily for sale to make temple offerings. You can observe the skill of the guys painstakingly assembling garlands from the raw materials – serious, diligent workers kneeling together in a mini-production line producing creations of exquisite beauty. After an hour or so wandering round here, we got a feeling of incredible privilege to be able to share in this extraordinary community.

Well fed cowsA pause to refresh ourselves with a drink at a local restaurant, and to reflect on the extraordinary sights we’d just seen, then it was off to look at the cows in the middle of the street. These weren’t the ordinary kind of “stray” cows that wander all over India, getting in the way of cars and joining shopping queues, but an actual compound in what is basically a traffic island in the middle of the road. It’s like a farm the size of a living-room, with just two or three very healthy animals that you can feed with lush grasses supplied by some very elegant ladies who look far too well dressed to be farm girls. When we got there, however, all we could do was pat the cows as they had already had more than enough to eat. Mrs C breathed a sigh of relief as she’s a serious bovinophobe.

More clocks than ColdplayAcross the road is where the Chor Bazaar starts. Literally the “thieves’ market”, this is an area of antique and bric-a-brac shops, great for very individualistic collectors and hoarders. Amish took us round three or four specialist shops. The first was full of clocks and watches, all mounted on display so you could barely see the wall behind; mainly grandmother clocks and pocket watches, and it’s a Chor Bazaargenuinely beautiful sight. We went into a very expensive looking antiques shop, which had some rather large works of art – huge Buddhas and great big ornamental lions – apparently a number of the TV and film companies hire them from this shop to appear in their productions. Talking of films, there was also a Bollywood Poster shop, featuring all things collectable from the world of Mumbai movies.

Dead carsThe area is a hive of industry in other ways too. Walk on, and the collectable shops thin out and you come across a few roads where all you see is wrecked cars. This is where Mumbai cars go to die; but fortunately they all have donor cards. Here hard working teams assault a car and break it down into tiny individual pieces. No part is wasted – tyres, mirrors, windscreen wipers, radios, seats, Hot bakerypanels are all cut out of the old car and stacked up in the hope of being resold and reused. Men perch on plastic crates surrounded by auto wreckage; reflector lights dangle from the tops of awnings; dogs sleep under mounds of tailgates. Other businesses whose proprietors kindly allowed us to wander round and photograph included a busy working bakery, where sheets of dough were laid out on sacks over a stone slab floor before being fired up inside a fiercelyFabric workshop hot oven; and a fabric repair workshop where second hand clothes were re-stitched and revived with care and made to look new. The men working at this mini-factory were curious to know why two middle-aged holidaymakers from England would be remotely interested in their way of life. We said that we were humbled by their endlessly positive and generous nature, that everyone makes us welcome all the time, that their country is beautiful, and also that we’re not quite middle-aged yet, thank you very much.

Vegetable marketWe could have stopped for lunch – but some days are just too exciting and engrossing to waste time with food. The sights, sounds, and smells of downtown Bombay were nourishment enough. So we crossed back to Crawford Market, this time to check out the vegetable market area. Whether it was because it was later in the day or because it was a different part of the market, I don’t know, but this area seemed a little more relaxed and laid back. It’s less colourful than the Not too much garlic pleaseflower market – obviously – but the work that goes into the presentation of the produce is no less diligent or skilful. Each vegetable or piece of fruit is inspected, graded and arranged in patterns to make it look as visually appealing as possible. Leaves are washed and delicately displayed; garlic bulbs are pared down so that the shavings create a garlicky carpet on the floor; stallholders sit with huge old-fashioned scales surrounded by wide round wicker baskets containing Spicebeans, chillis, potatoes, herbs, and tomatoes, and the smells are sensational. There’s a great sense of community here – yes, to some extent the traders are in competition with each other to sell their wares but also they spend loads of time just chatting to each other, helping each other, sharing food and tea. On the way out of Crawford Market we passed by the spices section – a few shops and stalls crammed with jars and jars of dried spices and mixed herbs. But there are loads of other parts of the market that we would return to later in the week.

Happy Crawford Market manSo it was rather tired but really exhilarated that we returned to the Oberoi for a much needed rest. The previous evening we had tried to go to their Ziya Indian restaurant but it was fully booked, so we had reserved a table for the following evening. It was the same kitchen that prepared our gorgeous Vegetarian Thali for Valentine’s night, but this time we were in the comfort of the restaurant itself.Mumbai evening The food and drink manager introduced us to the chef, Mr Prashant Penkar, who personally assured us that providing Mrs C’s tasty and gluten-free dinner would be his main task, nay pleasure, of the evening. The food was a complete delight – spicy but subtle, superbly presented, a fabulous wine, and a memorable occasion in very attractive surroundings. I can’t recommend it too highly! And of course, an evening in the Oberoi isn’t complete without a glass or two in the Eau Bar to relax even more before bed.

If you would like Amish to help you discover Mumbai visit mumbaimoments.com