International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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37th IVU World Vegetarian Congress
Goa, India, September 10-16, 2006
Healthy Lifestyle - Vegetarian Way!

A few days in Mumbai

The usual way for most westerners to get to Goa will be via Mumbai, and you might want to stop over on the way out or back. This is a record of a personal visit to Mumbai in February 2004 by John Davis, IVU webmaster, and his wife Hazel, which might provide a few ideas for anyone considering a few days in the city.

We flew from Birmingham, England, with Swiss Air, via Zurich, and were suitably impressed with the flight and the service. The Zurich-Mumbai flight offered choices of vegetarian/vegan food to everyone, regardless of pre-booking, presumably as it was a flight to India.

We were met at the airport by Hiren Kara, former IVU Secretary, who kindly drove us to our hotel very late in the evening, it was so nice to meet someone we knew after the long flight. The photo above is the front of the Holiday Inn, Juhu Beach, North Mumbai, where we stayed for about the same price as an ordinary B&B in the UK, thanks to their online pre-payment option (www.holiday-inn.com). There are plenty of very much cheaper places to stay in Mumbai but this was a special occasion for us and this hotel combined American style 5-star luxury with the sort of personal service that only Indians can provide. (click on the photos for bigger images)


Above is the view from our hotel window of the Arabian Sea, along Juhu beach (composite of two photos...),
it was fairly empty during the week but packed at weekends with lots of stalls and attractions.

 

The photo left is looking back at the hotel from the beach, our room was on the top floor. On the right are some cows ambling along the beach, as they do in India . . . Below right is the hotel pool, next to the beach, with the outdoor Indian restaurant at the top of the picture. The main menu was all vegetarian, with a separate, smaller, section for non-vegetarians, all very low prices compared with the UK, and we even got live classical Indian music with the food (below). The hotel also had an indoor Chinese restaurant and another 24 hour international-style restaurant for breakfast, snacks or main meals, all equally cheap with seemingly endless choices of vegetarian/vegan food.


Not far from the hotel is the Prithvi Theatre, which we had already found on the internet. We have some actors in the family so this was a must-visit. Their website showed that they had a variety of traditional and modern plays in a mixture of Hindi, Gujerati and occasionally English, but didn't give the program. We walked round for lunch in the courtyard cafe - and found that the performance that evening was one of the few in English, a satrical review, so we bought some tickets. The photos left are the theatre a nearby street scene. Right is the cafe, with the IVU webmaster in the centre of the top photo.


Our excuse for the trip to India was that it was our silver (25th) wedding anniversary and we thought we'd do something a little different. We hadn't expected that our good friend Jashu Shah, IVU Regional Co-ordinator for Asia and the organiser of the 2006 Congress, would make it very different indeed, and a night we would never forget.... By chance our anniversary was the same day as the monthly meeting of the Vegetarian Society (Reverence for Life) of which Jashu is the Secretary. They meet in a vegetarian restaurant in downtown South Mumbai. Your webmaster was invited to say a few words on behalf of IVU (above left) then, after the meeting, we moved to another room for a meal - which turned out to be a full ceremony celebrating our 25 years. Above right is Jashu with his wife, son and daughter-in-law, with John and Hazel and gifts from many of the 50 or so people attending.

On the left is the buffet provided for all the guests, and right Hiren and Bijal Kara, and another guest, with John and Hazel.

Back to our theatrical interests, we wanted to visit the film studios - Bollywood - also not far from our hotel in North Mumbai. They're not usually open to the public but it's easy enough to arrange a visit if you know someone, and naturally Jashu knew one of the producers . . . The set we visited was a full size pirate ship (left) with the action taking place on board. Right is Hazel in what turned out to be the director's chair, we didn't realise that at the time but no-one was bothered, it was all very laid back and friendly.

We were also fortunate to be able to visit the All-India Cricket Club in South Mumbai (right), thanks to Hiren who is a member. Followed by some sightseeing around the regular tourist attractions which are mostly in the south of the city, then a most enjoyable dinner back at the Cricket Club with Hiren and Bijal in the evening.

We were invited to spend a couple of days on Jashu's farm in Gujerat, about 3 hours drive north of Mumbai. The main farmhouse is on the left. He bought the land as waste a few years ago and has transformed it into a productive farm providing valuable employment, and some accommodation, for about 30 local people. Naturally it only produces plant food, but there are some rescued cows, seen right in the shade of the mango trees.

Rice is an important crop and is being planted in the paddy fields on the left. One evening we went to a nearby beach, a huge expanse completely deserted except for the usual passing herd of cows. It was west facing so we stayed to watch the sunset (right).

Some final thoughts . . . the places we visited were only made possible with the help of Jashu and Hiren, and we can't thank them enough for their kindness and hospitality. If you're thinking of spending a few days in Mumbai then it's well worth getting to know some local people beforehand. Join the ivu-india discussion group and you'll probably find local people who will be only too pleased to help you get the most from a visit to their wonderful city ( go to: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ivu-india ). This list is specifically for discussing the Congress and any pre-/post-congress travel. Or make some local friends during the Congress and arrange to meet them again afterwards.

- and there has to be some comment on the question of poverty and beggars. Some westerners, especially North Americans, have been heard to say that they don't want to visit India because of the poverty and the big gap between the rich and poor. But, of course, income from tourism is of major importance, so you are helping simply by spending your money there.

Yes there are many beggars in Mumbai, and many people sleeping on the streets, and it is distressing to see them. Many of the beggars are undoubtedly genuine, but there are plenty of organised gangs sending out professional beggars - actors - to get what they can from western visitors, so do be careful with your sympathies. On the whole there has been a lot of progress in improving living standards but there is, obviously, a long way to go.

For comparison the present writer spent three months in the USA many years ago, on a summer camp in upstate New York that was run by a charity catering for some of the poorest children from NYC. The degree of poverty, in the richest country on the planet, was truly shocking to European eyes, and recent reports suggest that not much has changed since then. The American government could easily eradicate poverty in their own country, but chooses not to do so. Indians have no choice but at least their goverment cannot hide the problem and just pretend it doesn't exist. They have done a great deal and foreign tourism is an excellent way to help.

The CIA factbook ( http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html ) states that 25% of the population of India live below the poverty line (in 2002), which sounds bad - but they also say that 12% (in 2003) of the USA population live below the poverty line (the CIA is a US goverment agency). Of course the population of India is four times that of the USA, so 25% of Indians below the poverty line is equivalent to the entire US population. It is difficult to hide that many poor people. But is there really any excuse for 1 in every 8 Americans living below the poverty line in the 21st century? And is India really so bad in comparison?

Everything is remarkably cheap by western standards, almost embarrassingly cheap. So do go there, enjoy yourself in this wonderful vegetarian-friendly country, and help the local economy at the same time.

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