A few weekends ago, the CLO organized a bicycle tour with a tour company. Awesome, right? If you just thought that, you’re either just as much of an optimist as I am, or have no clue what Mumbai traffic is like. Not only am I an optimist, I also like organized chaos. In my opinion, that’s what makes the world interesting. I am alone in my family in that line of thinking.
In any event, not only did I manage to sign DB1 and I up, I actually got DiploDad to throw caution to the wind and sign up too. I consider this one of my great lifetime achievements. The other folks on the tour included another dad with his young teen daughter, several of the younger officers and a spouse or two, and someone’s mother-in-law. A motley, but relatively adventurous crew.
The morning of the tour, we all met down by Haji Ali Mosque to hook up with our tour operator.
We were ready to go, with sport bags, water, sunscreen, and sunglasses. After trying a couple of bikes out for size, we headed off down the road to our first destination, Dhobi Ghat, the open-air laundry.
I drive by it in my car at least every other day, but honestly? It never gets old. Never. It was pretty crowded on the sidewalks that morning, and the touts were out in full force. I don’t usually see them, but as it was a Saturday, I’m guessing they are normally there, lying in wait for unsuspecting tourists. Some of them are really, really cute though.
When we took off down the road, it was not yet 9 a.m., but Mumbai traffic was beginning to heat up. Still, it was manageable, and we all rode single file behind one of our guides, with the other guide bringing up the rear.
We headed past pigeons and prayer trees, down towards Khotachiwadi, and breakfast.
Breakfast in India is carb-city. Given that so many people are vegetarian, on the street there’s nary an egg in sight, but lots of fried and steamed food, plus numerous chutneys and sauces. DiploDad and DB1 opted for samosas and pakoras, I went for the idli. Idli are steamed puffy bread-like things, made from fermented lentils and rice. They are very mild, almost tasteless, but are the perfect vehicle for coconut chutney. Which is awesome. I just might try it on waffles sometime. Hey . . . .
After washing breakfast down with a few cups of chai and some water, we wandered back in the alleys of Khotachiwadi. While Bandra is the most well known Catholic enclave in Mumbai, a few others exist, and stand out for their architecture. Instead of the traditional chawls, Khotachiwadi boasts a number of bungalows and low-rise buildings, plus a couple of mosaics and crosses. It’s tucked back behind a busy street, and a quick walk through is a lovely diversion.
After that, we got back on our bikes and headed off to Chor Bazaar, otherwise known as the “Thieves’ Market”. By now, the traffic was bordering on overwhelming, and the closer we got to Chor Bazaar, the worse it got. DiploDad and I had DB1 sandwiched in between the two of us, but I was getting more and more nervous by the second. Our second guide had abandoned the back of the line and our first guide was stopping so often that it was becoming dangerous. The thing about Mumbai traffic is you just go. You will have taxis speed by and trucks and SUVs too, but you have to have a certain element of trust that everyone drives there all the time and they know what to do with you. I just employ “my bubble” at that point, and while I’m always paying attention, I can manage to shut out the extraneous crap. DB1, however, is still learning this skill, and I could tell he was a little freaked out. DiploDad was just pissed off.
When we arrived at Chor Bazaar, most of our group was frazzled, which is saying something. Still, I manage to find a little humor in any given situation. (Warning: DiploMom is about to go risque . . . .)
We walked through one of the lanes of the Chor Bazaar. The area there is largely Muslim, and there were lots of ladies in brightly colored Bora garb, and decorations.
We also met a few friends.
Chor Bazaar is crazy. Some areas are pretty run down, with copious amounts of standing garbage. It is also, however, an area where a couple of streets in the heart of it have some awesome antique shopping.
Our guides, for whatever reason, decided to skip that part and led us into one of the crappiest areas and down one of the roughest streets I’ve seen in country. Rough as in crowded, bumpy, and unpaved. We were walking our bikes, but it was still difficult to maneuver. At one point, I glanced up and saw the Promised Land a few lanes over down an alley. Sigh.
Our guide then led us into another knot of horrible traffic. We kept up though, and headed down the streets, did a U-turn under an overpass (something I don’t recommend) and finally found our way on Marine Drive.
Now THAT’S what I’m talking about!!!
Marine Drive was still filled with cars, but the road was paved, there was a side lane for buses, and we were able to keep together and even pick up some speed. DB1 shook off the last vestiges of fear and pedaled freely down the street.
I chanced a glance back and noticed a smile on DiploDad’s face for the first time in at least an hour. We finally caught up and gathered in a small group by the restaurant we were going to eat lunch at. While the guide said we had a bit further to go and would then ride seaside on the other side of the street, several of the folks had had enough for the day and chose to give their bikes up and wait at the restaurant.
We finished our ride down Marine Drive and then headed back up seaside.
I decided that I would ride on the sidewalk instead of in the street, and well – nobody stopped me, so if I get another chance to ride along Marine Drive that’ll be Plan A.
Finally, we reached Chowpatty Beach, ditched our bikes and went off to meet some friends for lunch.
Me: So, what’d you think?
DB1: I think I’m hungry.
DD: I think I am too.
Later on, after lunch, I brought up the topic again. While I wouldn’t necessarily go with this particular operator again (unless they revamped it and left out Chor Bazaar), I still know of some folks who have had really fun bike tours in Mumbai and I still wasn’t off the idea completely.
Me: So what do you think about maybe trying this again?
DD: We’ll see.
With that, I knew we’d be back on the road again someday. I’ll keep you posted. You see, after as many years of marriage as we’ve had, I can read DiploDad well enough to know that in DD Speak, “We’ll see” means, “yes”. It’s “maybe” that means “no”.
Look for me on the road with the black helmet and the pink princess backpack. Then, slowly move to the right and pass on the right.