Not-So-Lazy Sunday in the City

3 Jan

I played tourist yesterday.  I’ve been in Mumbai almost three months and still hadn’t taken my picture at the Gateway of India.  It’s just one of those things.  I lived in D.C. for five years and never walked around the monuments at night.

After seeing my friends for New Year’s then spending Saturday together shopping and going to a Bollywood film, we decided not to let Sunday go to waste.  I wanted to go to India Gate for the photo op and to check out the ferry schedule for next weekend’s trip to Murud.  My friend Andrea wanted to scratch a trip to Chor Bazaar (a.k.a. Thieves’ Market, known for its antique shops) off her must-do list.  And, we all wanted to go to Zaffran, a restaurant near Crawford Market that I’ve been talking up since going there my first week in Mumbai.

In the morning, we text each other and agree to meet at Track 1 in Victoria Terminus.  That should have been simple enough for me.  I hop on the train at the station near my apartment and take the train all the way to VT.  So, at 11:45, I hail a rickshaw to take me to the train station.  I am shocked and pleasantly surprised to see almost no one in line at the ticket counters.  I get closer and realize the windows are boarded up.  The ticket counters are closed.  I walk over to the screen in the waiting area to check the train times.  The board is empty.  I look at the platform.  It’s busy.  People are walking and standing on the platform, socializing, eating.  I’m confused.

“Closed today,” an old man says at me as I wander aimlessly around the ticketing area.
“Closed?”  I ask, frustrated.  “Why?”
I need to stop asking why.  It doesn’t matter why.  Rarely do two or more people give me the same answer to that question anyway.  Don’t ask why.  Just have a plan B.
He wobbles his head.  “Closed.”
“So, no train today?”
“No train,” he says as he sits on a concrete block at the station.

I call Shama, my landlord’s wife.  “Shama, the station is closed today.  Is this because it’s Sunday, or does that just happen?  I am supposed to meet my friends at Victoria Terminus, but a man just told me there’s no train today.”

“Maybe they’re doing repairs,” she says and suggests and alternative route.

Maybe there should be signs at the ticket counter, or on the platform, or at the entry gates to the station.

I call my friends, hoping they have not left Bandra and I can take the train with them from there.  I am in luck.  They are on their way to the station.  “Stay there.  I’m getting in a rickshaw now.”

I ask the dozen-or-so rickshaw drivers gathered around the train station to take me to Bandra.  None of them will go there.  One takes me back to my apartment.  I hop out and immediately hail another one.  The driver takes me to Bandra.

Street bazaar near Crawford Market

Forty-five minutes later, I meet my friends at the station.  They have already bought my ticket.  A train to Churchgate is pulling into the station.  We push our way on the women’s car.  We get off at Marine Lines and walk toward Crawford Market.  Every few blocks, we ask someone to point us in the right direction, since we are winging it.  A quarter mile or so from the market, we don’t even have to ask.  A man comes up to us; he wants to take us to his stall in the market.  We have no intention of going, but we follow him, since we need directions.  We leave him behind at the market and walk up the street to Zaffran.

We order four vegetarian dishes, vowing to save room for dessert–the lava cake there rivals the one at Little Italy in Nasik (for more on that experience, see “Lots of Wining“).  The food arrives.  The portions of bhindi (okra), dal makhani, tofu masala, and peas with cashew gravy are beyond generous.  Full, but not stuffed, we have the servers pack up the leftovers and put in our order for the lava cake, since it takes 20 minutes to bake it.  In the meantime, we order a piece of “Sinful Chocolate Cake” a la mode.  We finish it off just before the lava cake arrives.  It is hot, melting the scoop of ice cream next to it, and when we break into it, the rich, liquid chocolate center oozes on the plate.  I still don’t know how Sarah, Andrea’s roommate, mustered the self-control to resist both desserts.

We pay the bill, take advantage of the clean restroom, and head out.  According to Lonely Planet, Chor Bazaar is part of Crawford Market.  We walk into the covered market, thinking sooner or later we’ll stumble upon Chor Bazaar.  The market is practically empty.  No sign of antiques.  Just fruit vendors.  We walk to the other side and outside.  More fruit vendors.  We keep walking.  Cages.  Cages of birds–pigeons, doves, parakeets–and puppies.  Cute, cuddly, sleeping puppies piled into cages in the market.  I can’t look at dogs in cages.  It makes me sad.  I cry every time I see that Purina commercial advocating pet adoption, in which some Sarah McLaughlin song plays as they zoom in on sad-looking unadopted puppies in cages in a shelter.   Thankfully, my friend Kat feels the same way and gets creeped out by birds, so we make out way out of the market area.  An impromptu cricket game is taking place in the street.  We walk until we get to a main road that we recognize.

“Chor Bazaar,” we ask a cab driver as we snap pictures of the cows in the middle of the road.  “Straight, then two signals, then left.”

Goat in Chor Bazaar

We walk until turning left is an option.  We ask someone else on the street.  “Chor Bazaar.  Straight.”  We keep walking straight.  We continue to ask strangers for directions until we finally arrive at a market, half an hour later.  We see bangles, pots and cooking utensils, more fruit and veggie vendors.  No antiques.  Goats are wandering around the market.  A group of six kids almost knock me over; they are running and staring at the sky.  I look up, wondering what the madness is about.  I feel something on my leg.  I am tangled in clear string.  At the other end is the wayward kite the kids were running after.

“Chor Bazaar?”  we ask two women shopping in the market.  “Straight.”  After walking straight, then taking a couple of turns, we arrive on Mutton Street.  We see gramophones sitting on a table outside of a shop.  Finally!  I make a mental note to write into Lonely Planet:  Chor Bazaar is NOT part of, or even near, Crawford Market.

I am a sucker for antique shopping.  I buy a necklace, a bowl, and a vase.  Andrea gets her Mother India movie poster.  Another thing to check off her list.

We decide to take a cab to the Gateway of India.  It’s 5 p.m. and the sun will set by 6.  “Let’s find a main road,” Kat suggests.  Luckily, with just a short walk and one turn, we make or way out of the maze that is Chor Bazaar and get a cab.  We arrive at the Gateway of India, check on the ferry schedule for next weekend, then proceed through the metal detector to the monument for pictures.  Sarah stands in front of an Indian guy to block his attempt at taking my picture with his cell phone, while Kat snaps the picture with my camera.  “Very rude,” Sarah tells the stranger after we’re done.

We take a couple more photos, then head out.  An Indian woman with young children approaches us and asks if we will take a picture with (not of) them.  I agree, because she has little kids, and the other girls follow suit.  They thank us and we begin to leave.  A group of men ask if they can have a picture of us.  No. Two young women ask us.  “Sorry, no,” I say.  “Just one,” they plead.  “No, because all these men will keep asking us for pictures,” I explain.  We apologize and leave.

We walk back to the Churchgate station through Colaba and Fort.  Sarah tells me how to get to Leopold’s Cafe, a popular expat hangout and one of the sites of the 2008 terror attacks.  Having a drink there is next on my must-do-in-Mumbai list.

On the way to Chor Bazaar

Chor Bazaar

Chor Bazaar

Vintage Bollywood movie posters at Chor Bazaar

Chor Bazaar

Bangles at the market near Chor Bazaar

Cricket at Mumbai's Maidan


2 Responses to “Not-So-Lazy Sunday in the City”

  1. Mary Jo January 5, 2011 at 8:08 pm #

    Great post Steph! Happy New Year!

    • Steph January 17, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

      Thanks, Mary Jo!

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