We awake early on the first day of our India travels and take a stroll out to the Gateway of India. Being early we awaken some of the locals who approach us with offers of floral wreaths, string bracelets and some religious looking men handing out some sacred rocks. We welcome the attention but realise there will soon be a catch.
After getting a dob of paint on the forehead we were really getting our India on! As setup and cheesy as it was, the inevitable ask for a ‘donation’ worked out to be little more than $2. I was happy to shell out the rupiah if only 1% of what they were saying was true and would keep us out of trouble for the next 3 weeks. Surprisingly, the string bracelet given to me was a page marker in the notebook used to take these exact notes, so the $2 went a long way!
That said, I did shun the persistent flower lady who seemed to think the $2 was a down payment on her entire stock of flowers and she was determined to get the balance from me. Being the only tourists in the square we decided to head back to the hotel and grab breakfast with Dave and Lesley.
We get a taxi to Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai’s biggest laundromat. It is linen as far as the eye can see and at various stages of the wash cycle. Off then to the main Mumbai train station which is an impressive building, for a train station. Our taxi driver taking lead and suggesting a few more sights leading us inevitably to an ‘Emporium’. Nice try.
We get the feeling things are building up for a bit of a party in town and our driver explains that tonight is the climax of the Ganesh festival. Ganesh being the slightly elephant looking god, one of many Hindu Gods. The celebrations involve a procession of Ganesh statues of all sizes from wherever they were constructed down to the water. They are then sent out to sea. Not just sent on their way but actually dragged out to sea until they sink. The smallest of these could fit on a dinner plate, carried by a family and the largest being 4 or 5 storeys high being wheeled by hundreds of men women and children who are singing and dancing around it covering their bodies in pink dye.
We were advised to be aware of the crowds as sometimes they can become overwhelming and people can be crushed in the throng of people. We walked up to Chowpatty Bay where there was a long beach serving as a popular entry point of Ganeshes to the ocean. Allison and Lesley went up a small overpass to get a better view with camera in hand. They soon became the centre of attention of the men on the Ganesh floats getting loads of waves and cheers. Dave and I looking on decided to join the pulsing crowds of mostly men passing under the overpass. We too waved for Allison and Lesley’s attention which wasn’t too hard to spot amongst the dark skinned moustached, pink dyed locals!
We left Chowpatty bay and headed north to Johnu beach passing Ganeshes all along the way. Looking for a relaxing seaside bar for a drink was difficult for two reasons. One, every possible seaside location was overun with crowds and Ganeshi. Two, today being a holy festival meant today alcohol was not able to be served. The energy and revelry without a drop of alcohol was to be admired.
Now dark it was a challenge to battle the advancing crowds who were ever determined to drown every last Ganesh in town. Harder still to find a taxi. Once secured we were at a standstill as the human traffic took over the road in sheer numbers, leaving us with a 3 hour journey back to the hotel in mostly standstill traffic.
We partook in a risky street meat vendor recommended by one of the guide books called Bade Maya. The kebabs were delicious and really hit the spot. It was midnight but the party had only just got started as plenty more fresh Ganesh floats were making their way past our hotel doors.
We went to sleep with the chanting, dancing and the quintessential sea of humanity passing under our window. Now this is India. Where just about anything can and will happen.