All posts by djcheung@gmail.com

Glimpse of Mumbai Night Life

It was a Saturday and we decided to take it easy during the day so that we could be well rested to head out and see some of the Mumbai night life. After doing some research online, I came up with a few bars that seemed very hip: Trilogy, Aer, China House Lounge, Canvas and Austrus. Aer and Austrus boasted about their amazing roof top patio views of the Mumbai coast. Some of these clubs were fairly pricey, cover charge at Aer was about 3000 rupees or about 50 CAD. A majority of them were hosted in upscale hotels so that they could presumably keep open later in the morning hours.

Our original plan was to head out with some of Kiran’s friends for dinner before checking these bars out but unfortunately things came up and they had to cancel. The temperamental thing about night life is that it’s a very fast changing scene and without local help you’re night could go very sour and be great depending on if you’re lucky. It looked like it would be just Kiran and I heading out without knowing what to expect in this wild city.

We then luckily got an invitation from a contact, Mayuri, we had made in Mumbai to come out with some of her friends to a couple of clubs, the Owl and Tilt. Apparently there was an amazing gig going on at Tilt that we had to check out.

With that in mind, we still wanted to check out some of the bars we researched to get the night started. So our plan was to head to China House Lounge, Aurus for the rooftop patio and then maybe meet up with our friend, Mayuri and her friends.

Kiran and I hopped on the local train to get to the bar and off began our night. The train journey took us about 40 mins and we ended up walking for a bit looking for the Grand Hyatt Hotel where China House Lounge was housed. The streets were busy and dark with no indication of any sort of hotels, let alone something with the grandeur of a Grand Hyatt. But we turned a dark alley and around another corner and there it was sitting in an area we never thought to find a hotel like this.

Gated and patrolled by guards we walked through the gates. It became apparent nobody WALKED through the gates, people DROVE through. Ritzy cars and people dressed very well being dropped off neatly at the front.

We headed straight for the lounge but found out it didn’t open 10pm. Bummer.. But since we had came all this way we decided to have dinner here and have a drink in the lounge before heading to Aurus.

Dinner was fairly fancy and we found it interesting how different the vibe was in this place. It was definitely catered towards tourists with no Indian dishes available and the waitress even reverted back to English whenever Kiran tried speaking Hindi with her.

After finishing dinner we headed to the lounge and we realized we had mistakenly ate at a different restaurant and the China House was actually next door! The place we ate at was an Italian place which explained the menu items.

The decor of China House was very beautiful and we scuffed, thinking we had wasted a good opportunity to eat here. No matter, straight to the lounge… but the lounge was actually downstairs through a stair case and then outside around a corner.

We had finally got there and eagerly waiting to get in the bouncer at the front told us they only allowed couple entry into the club. Which meant we needed to have 2 girls accompany us.. Ahhh brutal! I guess this is how they kept the ratios good inside.

With a rough start to the night we decided to skip Aurus and head straight to meet up with Mayuri and her friends at Tilt. At least we might have a chance to get into the club.

On to the train we go and another 30-40 mins later we had arrived at the station. We get off and started walking and realize quickly that this area is much quieter and seemingly residential. This kind of scared us a bit but we forged on to find this place. Again we walked for about 15 mins and having difficultly finding the place were about to give up on the entire night. The venues here looked terrible and almost make shift. No way a nice club could be tucked away.

And then it was there.. Tilt. An older brick building with a busy entrance. Youthful attractive Indians dressed better than anybody we’d see since our trip started, making their way inside.

Great, now we just needed to get in! It was about 11:45 pm at this point. We meander inside, half expecting more trouble to get in as we make our way to the front of the line. This time however, the doorman looked at us and just said “1000 rupees each.” We breathed a sigh of relief, gladly forked over the money and quickly made entry into the club.

Surprisingly the venue was quite nice. The decor was very trendy with funky chandeliers and arrays of lights that would change colours.

The people though were even more interesting. Mostly packed with locals, these kids were easily upper middle class if not upper class in Mumbai. Sharply dressed it was quite the contrast to the traditional Indian attire we had become accustomed to on the streets. It reminded me of Calgary. Their were some visible expats but mostly the club was dominated with locals. The women by the way were also stunning.

Mayuri was running late and came to the bar alone just to meet us since her friends were still staying at the other place. We hit it off quickly and made fast friends. She had lived aboard and we chatted about the differences of the nightlife compared to here. She had told me the club was more of an underground local scene and to avoid the normal tourist bars. Basically you gotta know what’s happening to know where to go. Wow I thought, we were really lucky to even really be here and this was really an authentic look at Mumbai night life.

The band was the cherry on the top, an electronic duo from Germany, called Tube and Berger. They mixed electronic violin into their music and made for very rhythmic melodies.

With all the key ingredients, we partied and danced the night away. As we closed the bar down Mayuri’s friends joined us and we all got along quite well. It was around 3am and we stumbled out of the club. The other clubbers were also leaving and piling into their BMW’s and fancy cars. Clearly they had a lot of money.

Still buzzing from the great show our night was not finished yet as we all decided to head to Mayuri’s for an after party. We hopped in a taxi and they took us to West Bandra.

We needed drinks though, but surely nothing was open at 3 am!? I was wrong and as we entered the community the cab stopped by a road side corridor with a young Indian standing outside. We rolled down our window and gave him our order. Half a bottle of old monk rum and a coke. He scurried off to make our order as we waited in the cab. Coming back he gave us a bag with everything and old us it was 300 rupees or about 5 CAD. Amazing.. We need this back home.

We arrived at Mayuri’s and quickly made ourselves comfortable. She lives in a beautiful one bedroom decorated with a mix of Japanese and Indian trinkets. She told me she pays about 30,000 rupees a month which is about 500 CAD. Something still cheaper but comparable to the prices we have in Canada.

With a more intimate setting we crack our drinks and start chatting with everyone while we listened to some music in the background. It was about 5 am before we were all fairly exhausted and decided to call it a night. We thanked Mayuri for the hospitality and we were on our way.

We were about 30-40 km away from home still when we managed to flag a rickshaw of all things and began the long journey back. It winded up and down the empty streets and about 40 mins later we were home. The ride costing about 230 rupees or 4 CAD.

We stumbled inside and as I crashed in my bed I was still digesting the night. Man what a fun night..still in a little bit of disbelief that we had a rare glimpse into the sheek young cosmopolitan life of the wealthier Mumbai locals.

Dharavi Slums – A Day of Sightseeing

After getting settled it was time for our first real day of sightseeing in Mumbai. We arrived at CST station after our first adventurous ride on the local train and headed towards the Gateway of India. It was erected in 1911 to welcome King George V and Queen Mary and was built in the Mumbai harbour. It was an impressive sight.

With our luck we happened to arrive on Army Day 2014. With that that brought a myriad of tourists, military displays and blocked off sections of the harbour. The most memorable being a group of young cadets marching around a pole and then performing acrobatics around/on it while beating drums went off in the background.

We had a quick glimpse of the Taj Hotel which was made somewhat famous after the terrorist attacks of 2008.

We grabbed lunch quickly at a nearby Cafè Mondegar where I had my first taste of an Indian restaurant style butter chicken. It was good but much different than the butter chicken you find in Calgary.

Me standing by the Gateway

Our main purpose of the day was to check out the Dharavi Slums which were iconified with the making of the movie Slum Dog Millionaire. We booked a walking tour through a company called Reality Tours which costed us about 750 rupees or about 13.40 CAD which I highly recommend.  Photos were not allowed on the tour but we were able to take a couple of shots at the entryway.

Edge of Dharavi

The tour was quite informative and the guides provided a ton of information. The most surprising was that the slum was not that “slummy” and the community was quite well organized. Some of the main points I remember were:

  • There about about 1 million people living here or about 2000 per acre.
  • Dharavi has both a commercial and residential side.
  • It has a gross economy of about USD$650 million mainly exporting goods such as leather, pottery, baked goods and recycled plastics. The leather produced here is sold to big companies like Armani and Gucci.
  • Residents only make about USD$2000 annually.
  • The slum is now semi-legalized and residents must be paid out if forced out and water and electricity are now in it’s infrastructure.

As bustling and lively the community was, the working conditions here were quite poor. Workers were exposed to toxic fumes from plastics, metal and other chemicals. Often these worker have no other choice but to work. They are given medication but no subsidies for their injuries.

Perhaps the most interactive part of the tour was when they guided you through the residential section of the slums. Narrow corridors, uneven pathways and the only light coming from the cracks between the buildings made everyone a little somber. Children in a field were playing openly with garbage. It was a little hard to digest.

They took us through one of the modest homes costing about 2000-3000 rupees a month to rent. 35-53 CAD a month.

Finally they showed us what Reality Tours was doing to give back to the community. They had setup a school funded by the proceeds of the tour company to help educate the youth here.

Entry into Dharavi

On our tour was a Swiss radio journalist on vacation. He had brought a microphone and was interview people on our tour about what they thought and why they decided to come. He’d energetically hop between buildings asking local questions and taking secret photos. I thought his antics were quite amusing.

Kiran with his Hindi, was able to make fast friends with our tour guide Denish. After the tour we crammed 5 of us into a cab and headed to the station in probably he scariest car ride I’ve ever gone on. The driver would speed away, narrowly missing hitting a truck speeding the opposite way.

We sat on the train and chatted with Denish and another guide as they explained why they were jokingly making fun of another passenger.

The other tour guide was going to Marine Drive and accompanied us. As we walked he told us he was going to the beach to meet up with his wife for a few hours. He had a secret love marriage and was only able to sneak away and see her from time to time, both their fathers were even kind of enemies. WHAT?! That is something straight out of a Bollywood movie!

We parted ways and arrived at Marine Drive. It’s a long stretch of coast way that runs along the bay and affords some descent views. It was littered with young couples sitting side by side affectionately, we even caught a few couples stealing kisses. PDA is not looked upon well here. I guess with the population of Mumbai young couples have a hard time finding privacy. Something you rarely see in North America.

At the end Marine Drive you will find Chowpatty Beach. Here foreigners and locals commonly congregate and enjoy the evening. Many kite flyers can be seen as well. There is also a large number of street cart food vendors here. Kiran and I decided to grab some grub.

Common sitting areas similar to the carts in SE Asia.

Kiran about to chow down

Here is a Mumbai speciality called Pav Bhija. It’s a spicy mash of potatoes, tomatoes, peas, onions served with buttered pav (bread). It tasted like a spicy spaghetti sauce and perfect after a long day.

Doesn’t the bread look tantalizing :p

This dish I don’t remember and I’ll have to ask Kiran about again but it was a chickpea dish cooked in a thick sauce, served with chutney. Also very good.

The whole meal cost about 260 rupees or 4.60 CAD for both of us.

We headed for the beach after and took in the view.

Chowpatty by night.

Kiran had a chai tea served by a vendor and we chatted a bit before hopping on a train and heading back home after a long day of sightseeing.

Mumbai local trains

Through my travels to different countries I’ve found that riding local transportation brings the most interesting experiences and a great way to absorb the culture. However, the local trains in Mumbai are definitely in a league of it’s own.

We started our day in Nahur station. Here there is only two automated ticketing machines which were virtually abandoned as most locals resorted to using the traditional ticket queues to purchase tickets. A smart card for the automated machines only costed 100 rupees yet the locals didn’t seem to be bothered.

Waiting for tickets was my first indication of the mass volume of people using this system. Tickets were cheap, a ticket to the furthest destination only costing about 20 rupees (about $0.36 CAD). Talk about a bargain!

The platforms seemed fairly normal as people quietly waited for the next train. As other trains passed by you could see people hanging outside of the car doors, seemingly riding proudly on the outside… Interesting… So how do we board?

All the train car doors are left open with no automated sliding doors. The trains stop for about 15 seconds and in that time the mass exodus and entry of people work in an chaotic but elegant dance.

Our first train approached and Kiran and I quickly ran to the closest cart. The entry to the door was immediately hoarded with 20-30 people and without trying to risk our lives we decided to wait for the next train.

I thought to myself.. Wow I’m going to have to actually jump and fight to get on this semi moving train..

Next train..The next train pulls in and our hearts elevated and we quickly run to the next open cart. Luckily for us this time the cart isn’t as packed and we get on.

The cart is small, all metal with a few fans at top to make the trip more pleasant. At first I think this isn’t so bad.. Then as each station pulls up hoards of people cram into the cart. Some literally pulling and lunging themselves onto the metallic beasts. The novelty wears off quite quick.

Here is a shot of the handle bars just covered with hands.

What amazed me was the politeness of everyone aboard. It’s easy to forget that millions of people ride this on a daily basis. People would pull large bags of material and even I saw one man with a metal cart! Everyone would move aside slowly and the shimmy would happen so everyone got to where they needed. How people got off the train at the right stop baffled me as well. Almost instinctively they knew which station and whether or not the 30 people in front of the door was also exiting.

Kiran inside the mix.

Grasping for support.

A station before ours everyone got off and it was like seeing cattle pushed out of the gates. An impressive site, 100 people dismounting in a matter of 15 seconds.

Kiran relaxing after the masses left a station before CST.

With a station to go we enjoyed the empty cart and managed to take some shots.

Kiran dare devilling it on the outside of the cart.

If you haven’t Youtubed it already I suggest you do. Mumbai local trains. I’ll amend some crazy videos I’ve seen. Riding the train has never been so exhilarating.

Click here to read Kiran’s take on the Mumbai Trains

Chindian Tech Support

After our last long haul flight to Mumbai we had finally arrived! After what seemed like an eternity waiting for our bags we got a prepaid taxi to ship us safely to the flat. We purposely took the 10 hour layover to arrive during the daytime to avoid being frazzled by a late night rip off. My first impressions of India reminded me of South East Asia. The bustling traffic, horns, smells of exhaust and the pure rawness of the city.

Quickly you can see the disparity between rich and poor. A make shift favela could be seen right across the street from a residential building.

Without incident we arrived at our humble abode. Our home and base for the next few months. Although it doesn’t look like it has everything we need and man I’m actually pretty excited for the authentic Indian experience.

Although severely jet lagged we dropped our bags and headed for the street to take in the surroundings. We wanted to exchange some money quickly and get some food and beer to celebrate.

Kiran quickly took us to one of his childhood favourite corner vendors to eat this delicious – Vadapau (12 rupees) it was a fried potatoe ball squished between bread smeared with tamarind and spices. The flavour this simple treat packed was amazing.

To exchange money we walked to a local jewellery store of a place Kiran’s mom usually went. The guys behind the counter gave us an exchange rate I couldn’t believe. 1 USD to 62.4 Indian rupees. A better than market rate! They seemed very interested in only 100 dollar notes. I couldn’t believe the interaction as the guys nonchalantly gave me bricks of bills and we were on our way.

We picked up some beer and more Vadapau and headed home. Beer was about 135 rupees for a 650ml bottle.

Next was getting internet our badly needed Internet connection. Kiran called the company and the guy came within the hour to install our Internet. All they had was one CAT5 uncapped cable in the apartment. He put a male end on the wire as we chatted about the infrastructure. Most apartment buildings have one modem that share a connection, unlike in North America were each house seems to have at least one dedicated modem line.

The two gentlemen were impressed with the amount of technology we brought and the routers we travelled with. Kiran and I brought an ASUS WL-330N/NUL routers. The Internet company used PPPoe to connect their wan which gave us some trouble with our devices. They called a third engineer to help us set it up on our routers but Kiran and I managed to get everything working just before their guy showed up. Just needed to spoof the MAC address of Kiran’s network card onto the router 😉

We decided to get the 10mb connection with a cap of 20gb for 725 rupees for 30 days. Which is about $12.75 CAD. Not too shabby at all.

At last we had setup our chindian tech support center :)

Completely beat and tired we called it a day and headed to bed. What a long first day.

Breakfast in London

Our long journey to India and my extended trip to Taiwan began the other day at the airport. For those of you who don’t know my friend Kiran and I are both travelling to India together and staying in his parents empty flat in Mumbai where our plan is to travel and work remotely while away.

We started the trip like any other true Canadian and had our last Tim Hortons at the airport. My two sisters dropped off and Kiran’s mom accompanied us as well.

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We arrived in London on our way to Mumbai and quickly checked our bags into an Excess Baggage kiosk and got our day passes for the tube to take advantage of our 10 hour layover. The passes were about 9 pounds. We headed straight for some of the common touristy sites and to get some badly needed breakfast.

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Our “English” breakfast was had at a French cafe and bakery near the river called Le Pain Quotidien.

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We walked towards the London Eye which was unfortunately closed and then continued to walk over to see Big Ben and West Minister Abby.

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What surprised me were how common telephone booths were in the area. Maybe left for fashion or aesthetics.

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We also quickly walked by Downing Street to see where the prime minister lived and then headed to the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.

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Since we’d both been the London before the day was more set out to kill some time before our next long haul flight to Mumbai.