Monday, 29 July 2013

The Mumbai Expat : Being A Better Half

WARNING: Long Blog Alert!

I mentioned in my last blog introducing you to my upcoming Mumbai Expat Series that I would write a post entitled 'Coping as a Trailing Spouse'.  I don't know what I was thinking really because I despise that term - a term for someone who joins their partner in another city where they have a work assignment.  It is so derogatory and implies that the other person has nothing to offer or nothing better to do with their time than merely 'trail' a snail.

When we came to Mumbai last year, Mr Jules was concerned that I would soon become bored. No doubt, you will have the same concerns if you are reading this. And it is true to say that without a work visa, your options can be very limited in this city.  Especially if, like me, you have given up a full time job and salary in making the transition - or you are a mum whose kids will soon spend the better parts of their day at school.

Mumbai, from what I can gather (having never been an expat before), is one of the most challenging cities in the world in which an expat can reside.  From the climate, to hygiene worries, to the general ugliness of the city (sorry Mumbaikars!) to the roadside beggars; to the bad traffic and poor infrastructure; having to haggle for fair prices and battling with Hinglish miscommunication. As a Westerner - every conceivable difficulty is thrown your way and a lot of people can become isolated and find it very hard to settle.

That is when you have to dig a little deeper and think laterally about how you can pass your time in a meaningful, enjoyable and satisfying way.  I honestly believe that coming to India is a wonderful opportunity for anyone - even the most unadventurous, nervous or jobless of us.  I am also of the view that time waits for no-(wo)man and I do not personally want to exist in someone else's wake.  There are opportunities to be had, sights to be seen, experiences to be....experienced. So here I list below ways in which we can become 'Better Halves' and make new alliances (women and men - as it is not uncommon for the role to be reversed).

Wondering what to do with your time?  Then read on!

Join an Expat Group

There is a good support network for expatriates in Mumbai, and the quickest and easiest way to make new friends is to join Mumbai Connexions or the American Women's Club.  You don't have to be American to join the latter - both groups welcome every nationality - using English as the common language.  The majority of members are women and most of the activities are aimed at women.  The weekly meeting platform is the good old coffee morning where you will be able to chat to like-minded people, share experiences, get advice and generally have a very sociable time.  Once you join, you will have access to further weekly groups such as Mahjong, bridge, crafting, book clubs, golfing etc.  If you don't find something to interest you there, you are encouraged to set up groups that may be of interest to others. There are also monthly and annual events to enjoy where you can bring your partner - such as dinner clubs, Christmas parties or fundraising events.

Both groups do an enormous amount of work for their chosen charities and it is possible to get involved with volunteering for those as well.  In addition to that, if you have a particular skill set (perhaps you are a good organiser, have IT or administration skills) there is usually an opening for members to volunteer in various positions.  Positions such as 'Coffee Morning Co-ordinator' or 'Website Administrator'. These roles will bring focus and routine to your month and I recommend getting involved if you can.

Annual membership fees range between 800-1,000 Rs and you are usually expected to make a 100 Rs donation at each coffee morning - which goes to charity.  With Mumbai Connexions, you also get a monthly newsletter - written by members for members - detailing all upcoming events, as well as interesting information and articles. Again, you are invited to write for the magazine if you have a talent in that area.

If you are looking for a younger and more eclectic vibe, then you should look into joining Internations, Bombay Expats Club or The Cigar Club.  These groups regularly organise events (mostly drinking events!) but you need to either join a mailing list/Facebook Page/website in order to get invites.  I know lots of people who have made lasting friendships through such groups.

Get Acquainted with Mumbai

Before I even moved out to Mumbai, I was researching everything - from restaurants to shops to tourist sites. I read Mumbai Boss avidly everyday and was soon advising Mr Jules where to go to eat and shop (he came to Mumbai four months before me).  Every restaurant and shop opening, cultural happening and sale is mentioned on this site.  You will find very useful reviews and also guides - such as this one for Chor Bazaar where we love to buy antiques. The site Brown Paper Bag is in the same vein (but not as good in my opinion) and you can also find the out what the latest goings-ons will be by checking out Time Out Mumbai.

Get Cultured

Mumbai is a very cultured city and you will surely find something to fulfil your more inquisitive side.  There's the Asiatic Society, The Bombay Natural History Society, the Art Society of India and many more.  There are museums and art galleries to visit and Bollywood movies to be discovered and enjoyed. Google is your oyster!

Learn Something New

When was the last time you had some time on your hands?  Even if you have children, you've probably got a maid and driver to help out, leaving you free part of the day.  So now's your chance to take up that cookery course, dance class or learn how to use that camera. I learnt how to cook Mughlai curries at Foodwhizz Cookery School and I found out how to use my new Nikon on a Toehold weekend course. Perhaps I will experiment with Indian embroidery next....

If I was good at languages (and I am ashamed to say that I am not), I would be learning Hindi.  Having a basic knowledge of India's 'official' language will empower you - with rickshaw drivers, market vendors and locals in general.  Indian people are always delighted when you can speak a few words of the lingo.  If you can learn Marathi too (the state language), you will be all powerful.....

A recommended Hindi teacher is Pallavi Singh - find her here.

Start a Group

If you have a musical or artistic specialism or you are interested in something and can't find a group to join then start one yourself!  Once you start posting on noticeboards and Facebook pages, you will soon find that there are other like minded people out there (whether other expats or Indians).  For example, I started a 'PhotoLunch' group that takes a bunch of us out once a month to a place of interest.  We take snaps, have lunch then go home and upload our efforts to a closed facebook page for critique.  We are all amateurs but it doesn't matter - it gets us out, it makes us learn about our city and it helps us to improve what skills we have.  And of course, it helps us to make new friends.   The website 'Meetup' is also a good place to start a group in Mumbai.

Buy a Camera & Write a Blog!

If I can do it - anyone can do it.  My background is in accountancy and I've never written anything creative in my life (except for badly composed essays at school and business reports).  I'm never going to be JK Rowling or Annie Liebovitz, but writing a blog is a time-consuming pastime that forces you out to do research and take photographs.  You can start by just using your blog to communicate with loved ones and then see where it takes you.  The Blogger platform - which I use - is very simple and is free.  You can also use Wordpress (which is also free) if you are a bit more tech-savvy - which I am not!

You will be amazed by how many friends and contacts you can make in India through blogging.  And don't worry if you're no good with a camera - your friends and family just want a snapshot of your life - not an award winning photo-documentary.  I can honestly say that blogging has opened up a whole new world to me - and really connected me to the locals of Mumbai.

Get Socially Networked

It is easy to assume that everyone has a Facebook page or Twitter or Skype account these days.  But it's not always so.  Keeping in touch with friends and family back home helps you to stay sane. Sign up today - it will also help you keep abreast of expat groups in Mumbai.

Do a Slum Tour

OK - this is slightly controversial. I am not promoting 'poverty porn' or anything - but once you've been to Dharavi, it all becomes very clear.

To a lot of outsiders, Mumbai can be defined by Dharavi - everyone has seen the film Slumdog Millionaire (a film hated by the majority of Mumbaikars co-incidentally). Foreigners therefore have their preconceptions about the city.  But once you trail through the narrow (and admittedly sometimes smelly) industrial and residential lanes of Dharavi, you will see that people are working hard, making money, organising their homes, cooking their food and generally being content with life. Getting on with it - like you should. Get over your squeamishness (after all, I have done the tour on several occasions - and there was a time I wouldn't even walk in a country lane for fear of getting cow-dung on my stiletto heels!) and make a visit.

I recommend going through Reality Tours & Travel.  Here is my blog about it too.  I have since taken my husband, my best friend from the UK and my husband's boss from the UK on the tour.  They were all enlightened by the experience - Mr Jules's boss so much so that he wants to come back later in the year to give a class on Life Skills to the slum kids.

Stay Fit...or Get Fit

And this is where I fall down.  If you are like me, you will have access to your husband's car and driver during the day when he isn't using it.  You may even have your own allocated driver.  Therefore, it is very easy to drive everywhere without hardly putting a foot on Mumbai's badly maintained pavements.  Coupled with nice greasy curries, copious amounts of Sula wine or Kingfisher beer you will soon start to see the pounds pile on. And taking a nice country walk or jog around Mumbai is not really an option.  Unless you live near Aarey Milk Colony where it is possible to stroll, it takes a couple of hours (minimum) to get out of the city.  Not only that, but open spaces are few in this city and even if you find somewhere to walk, it's usually too hot or humid to bother.

So I recommend that you either utilise the gym in your apartment building if you are lucky enough to have one (we are but I've only ever shown guests in there!) or join a gym or club. Examples of gyms are Gold's Gym (where you can do some Bollywood celeb spotting!) or C'est La Vie with its nice big pool. Clubs favoured by expats are Waterstones in Andheri or the Breach Candy Club.  Both have giant swimming pools, fitness facilities, restaurants and bars. These clubs are what you call pretty 'exclusive' with exorbitant joining and annual fees.  Some expats are lucky enough to have their companies pay these fees.  Needless to say - I am not a member! Again, such clubs are good places to hook up with new friends, have lunch and relax by the pool (but I like to save that for my holidays).

Of course, as this is India, everyone should be doing Yoga and getting all Zen-like. Here, learning yoga is such good value that it is possible to get private tuition in the privacy of your own home or you can practice it at places such as the Yoga House (where you can also get delicious salads) or Temperanceboth of which are in Bandra - or at the above mentioned clubs and gyms.

Be a Volunteer

I have already mentioned above that you can volunteer indirectly for charity through women's expat groups. But if you want a more meaningful experience, where you can utilise your by-now-almost-forgotten skills then it is possible to really get stuck in by directly helping one of countless, needy NGOs that exist in Mumbai.  I did this full time for three months when I first arrived - and it is one of the best things I've ever done.  I now sit on the Executive Council of that NGO and contribute knowledge from my past career to help develop the organisation - two to three days a week.  These activities help to take me away from what can be an inward looking expat world - where I can meet ordinary cityfolk with their own, interesting stories to tell.

What many NGOs need in this city, is help with their organisational structure, HR, accounts, fundraising, marketing and social networking.  These are areas where women who have just left their jobs can easily assist with.  And stay-at-home-mums can also find ways of making a contribution - perhaps by teaching English or helping with art lessons once a week.

I am going to write a lengthier post on how to do this at a later date so please come back again.

Organise Travel

You are in one of the most beautiful and culturally diverse countries in the world.  But you may need to get out of Mumbai to find that out. I have honestly met some women through expat groups who have lived here for some time and have not been outside the city (sometimes, the confines of their own apartment!).  There is no excuse for this!  Travel and accommodation is cheap in India and each and every state has its own personality, its own cuisine and its own people.  From the backwaters of Kerala to the royal palaces of Rajasthan to the mountainous regions of the Himalayas; animal safaris, frenetic cities and peaceful, rural India. There is a reason it's called 'Incredible India'!

Most internal flights - on Jet, SpiceJet or Indigo - cost an average of £70/$100 and if you are really brave, you can try the train which is a real adventure.   Closer to Mumbai, you've got hill stations and coastal resorts including Matheran, Alibaug, Lonavala and more.  You don't have to take a flight to get away.

Please read my travel posts for ideas on where to go and what to see. Your other half will be delighted that you've organised something for them after a stressful week at work.

Invite Guests

Admittedly, I've only had two visitors come to stay in the last year - but it is a long way to come from the UK (even longer from the US!).  People generally want to stay for at least two to three weeks to make the journey worthwhile - so it can be quite a commitment for both sides.

Nevertheless, I took the opportunity to show them my new city in detail and arrange onward travel to other parts of India.  I hope for them, that a lasting and unforgettable impression was made. It's good for people to put you in your new context and report to the rest of your friends and family that you really are doing OK!

So I think that's enough to be getting on with for now. I am not going to state the obvious things such as 'doing' lunch, having your nails done or going shopping - there is already enough material on my blog about that!

I will be back soon with some more advice for Mumbai Expats.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Coming up: The Mumbai Expat Series

Well I have just returned from a trip to London to an inbox full of emails asking me for info about expat life in Mumbai (for which I thank you!)  This has got me thinking that I should write some specific posts giving general advice to others thinking of (or being forced into) making the move to Maximum City. 

It's always lovely to hear from readers and although I have only been in Mumbai for just over a year - I still try to impart as much knowledge as I can. Sometimes I am contacted by women who are following their partners out here as a 'trailing spouse' (a term I despise!) but I also hear from women who are coming here to work, volunteer or travel. They ask my advice on how to cope with the transition, how to find new friends, how to get volunteer work or they may ask me more specific advice about expat life in Mumbai.  Perhaps about drinking-water, medicines and monsoon clothing.  

A lot of potential expats do worry about coming to India - after all, we all have preconceptions about the country - concerning the pollution, the poverty and the food.  We all worry about how to make friends or how to spend our time in the absence of a work visa. This is very understandable and hopefully I can help to allay some of those fears.

So now that I have some solid experience of living in this country - I will, over several posts, jot down a bit of advice for anyone who is about to make the transition.  Such subject matter will include 'Coping as a Trailing Spouse'; to 'Having a Baby in Mumbai' (which will refer to my fellow blogger 'Mumbai Mum' - a great resource for mums and mums to be); and 'How to be a Volunteer'. I will also be writing a guide to Bandra where I reside and which is a favourite expat hotspot.  Hopefully, anyone who is a regular reader of this blog will already have a good idea of places to shop - but I am sure I will cover that topic more as well!  

There are some things I have little knowledge about - such as where to school a child or which hospital to go to in the event of a medical emergency - which I will not be covering.  For this information, please refer to your relocation agent!  My advice will be more about how to have a fulfilling and interesting experience during your time in India.  And of course it will be from my point of view!

So please stay tuned over the next few weeks for posts in The Mumbai Expat Series.

Thanks for stopping by!

Are you going from this ......

To this?.....
Then keep reading over the next few weeks for tips on how to cope!

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Shiro - Japanese Food in Mumbai

Mr Jules and I recently stumbled into Shiro after a few drunken cocktails at the Hard Rock Cafe next door. Shiro is a 'pan-Asian' restaurant in Worli, and had been recommended to us by 'those in the know' as a good place to sample Japanese food - Mumbai style.

I have always loved Japanese food - ever since Yo Sushi! was thrust upon London in the late 90s - bringing us our first experience of raw fish using colour-coded plates travelling around a novel conveyor belt concept. Following that, Mr Jules and I were lucky enough to sample the 'real thing' on our amazing honeymoon tour of Japan. 

The statue that greets you when you enter Shiro
There are only a few places that serve authentic Japanese fare in Mumbai - of which Shiro is one.  Sushi is still not really a 'thing' here in Mumbai, the most cosmopolitan of Indian cities. The choice is either the phenomenally expensive Wasabi at the Taj Mahal Palace (voted one of Asia's 50 best restaurants 2013) or the other couple of places that offer watered down versions of Japanese cuisine (which I will not even bother to mention by name).  And when I say watered down, I mean that raw salmon is replaced with either cucumber or deep-fried/teriyaki chicken, and that raw fish is completely missed off the menu altogether.

But I guess you have to understand that not only are the ingredients required for Japanese cooking probably very hard to come by in India (for example - salmon does not exist in the waters around India), but I am sure that it must be nigh on impossible to prepare such food in the hot and humid climes of Mumbai. And of course, it doesn't help that raw or delicately seared fish is probably a huge turn off for the majority of vegetarian Indians.

Sesame crusted tuna sashimi with a wasabi mayo.  Ten out of ten.
The Shiro establishment itself is very impressive - as you walk through the door you are greeted by a colossal Zen like stone statue with its head almost in the clouds.  The restaurant part is upstairs on the mezzanine level - and you have to pass another equally impressive statue on the way up the stairs to get there.  The place almost reminds me of the pan-Asian restaurant Ruby Foo's on Broadway in New York - with its similarly giant Buddhas and over-sized oriental lampshades.  

Downstairs is a seating area and bar pumping out upbeat music, filled with suited office workers from nearby office buildings, soaking up the Friday night atmosphere. Upstairs we were seated by a 'pondish' water feature adorned with floating waterlilies and a dripping pipe. The furnishings are lavish - silky upholstered chairs and massive purple lampshades. The staff are professional and accomplished.

Having been deprived of Japanese food ever since my arrival in India (a year ago), I immediately zoomed in on the Japanese section of the menu - which also includes Vietnamese, Thai and Korean influences. I ordered the Norwegian salmon sushi nigiri and sesame crusted tuna sashimi whilst Mr Jules went for tempura prawns and 'Dyna' makimono - consisting of rolls of rice and nori filled with (more) tempura prawns.  Mr Jules - not overly keen on raw fish himself has a firm belief that anything in batter tastes good.  Then we shared a bowl of beef tenderloin donburi (udon noodles). The whole Shiro experience was such a treat, I can tell you.

I really can't take photos in low lighting conditions!
This is the Norwegian salmon nigiri.  Could have been a bit neater in presentation but it tasted good.
To be honest, the food is not completely up to the standard of places where the ingredients are immediately available in a fresh state.  But Shiro definitely gives Japanese cooking techniques a really good go - and I certainly had nothing to complain about.  I was more than satisfied with my raw salmon and tuna dishes (I may even have mentioned the word 'bliss' at the time) and Mr Jules was pretty impressed by the almost perfect tempura batter on his prawns.  And I loved the ambience of the place - chic, cool and trendy (those words aren't cool and trendy  - I know!) with a beat of dance music in the background and the subtle lighting (perhaps helped by the massive lampshades?).  I did notice that most of the other clientele that night were expats - probably the people that most crave sushi in this city.  Raw fish aside, I suspect that Japanese cuisine is also far too bland for the Indian palate. However, there are still plenty of other oriental dishes to be sampled on Shiro's extensive menu.

Mr Jules and I will certainly be going back when we get our next Sushi/Tempura Prawn craving!

More bad photos:

Prawn 'Dyna' Makimono

(Real) waterlilies

Did I mention the giant lampshades?

Fabulous prawn tempura

Tenderloin Donburi

Zen like creature
Lovely silky upholstery (bad photo taken on my Blackberry)

That giant statue again.

Dynamic bar crowd in the background
Bombay Dyeing Mills Compound
Pandurang Budhkar Marg
Worli, Mumbai
Tel: 02266511207 or 02266511208

Price: Pretty expensive but a lovely treat and great for parties (and apparently... star-spotting)

Monday, 15 July 2013

Photoessay : Groups No. 5


I am in the UK for a very short spell, but in the meantime I thought I'd post my latest collection of group shots from the last few months.

Thanks for visiting!

(PS I'm missing Bombay, but at least the weather is very fine in the UK for once!)

Museum attendants - Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum

Bar staff and waiters at the Hard Rock Cafe, Mumbai

Gypsy children near the railway track, Chembur

Gypsy firewood sellers - under a railway bridge in Chembur

Construction workers

More (terribly serious!)  construction workers

TV repair men - Matheran High Street

Women working on path repairs in Matheran - in their best monsoon garb

Men and women workers seem to be segregated - here are the men working on the same path but a bit lower down. Note the gentleman on the left who is balancing a bottle of water on his head!

The 'front line' at my favourite butchers Joseph's in Bandra

Recent graduates of the Community Support Volunteer Scheme at the NGO where I work - proudly holding their certificates. Love the third lady from the left at the back!

A group of Muslim ladies on a day out - taking photos of their hubbies

See also:

Groups No.1
Groups No.2
Groups No.3
Groups No.4

Friday, 5 July 2013

The Indian Balancing Act

It doesn't matter where you are in India, you will notice various common themes; ones that are usually amusing, awe-inspiring or downright insane.  For example, the men who sleep anywhere, anytime at the drop of a hat.  Or the people hanging off the roofs of buses, out of the sides of trains and rickshaws.  Or the handcart men, pulling enormous loads through the manic traffic of India's big cities.  It doesn't take long to realise that such common themes emanate from the everyday hardship and difficulties that so many endure.

Another quirk that is hard to miss - is the balancing of heavy, sometimes awkward objects on the head whilst walking along in a nonchalant fashion.  I am always impressed by this method of goods transportation and have realised - by going through my photo archive - that I am also slightly obsessed by it.

A selection of examples from my travels - you expect to see head-carrying in such rural areas as these.
The ancient art of carrying-on-the-head is common practice anywhere in the developing world - so much so, that it has its own entry in Wikipedia.  It is after all, a free-of-charge and usually more efficient way of transporting smaller (or ridiculously large) loads.  

I have noticed that it is quite often the woman who will use this method to carry things; men do too - but the women are so much better at it (ie they don't need to use their hands to steady the load).  According to the Wikipedia entry, there is nothing harmful about carrying vast loads on your head - up to 20% of one's bodyweight can be carried without additional energy or exertion being required.  I am sure the same can not be applied to anyone who is obese - but then again, you never see obese people walking around with baskets on their heads.  In fact, I am sure we could all lose weight if we started balancing our groceries and books on our heads whilst taking a morning stroll.

Bad photo but fine example of a balancing act!

Actually, balancing books on my head was something I actually had to do at school in order to improve my posture (or deportment as we called it). Every young lady at my school was taught the importance of carrying oneself properly and sitting with a rigid back - and balancing books on your head without letting them fall was a good way to practice.  Of course, it all went to pot later in life after hunching at a computer all day long - but never mind!

A lady walking the streets in Bandra with a bag of rubbish on her head.
Perhaps I could turn this into latest fashion next time I go to Ascot?

Seeing women in colourful saris carrying objects on their head in Mumbai seems incongruous against the city backdrop - sometimes they weave in and out of the traffic or walk in a remarkably straight line upon appalling pavements.  But of course this is borne out of the itinerant nature of the city - poor folk arrive from rural areas every day looking for work in the City - folk who are used to walking from village to village, carrying their wares on their head.

Actually, it was something that I experienced recently that got me writing about head-carrying in the first place. When Mr Jules and I were about to leave Matheran a couple of weekends ago - we decided to walk from our hotel - the Verandah in the Forest - back to the car park (instead of riding back on horseback). Because it was rather too long a walk to carry our own luggage, we took up the offer of having someone carry it for us (this is India after all!) 

We were expecting a strapping young lad to turn up to collect our bags - we would have been happy with that.  But instead, an ancient and extremely spindly woman pitched up, wearing nothing on her feet.  She must have been at least 70 years old.  Without a word or a glance, she strapped our two bags together with some waterproof material, then hitched them up on to her head and strode off.  I can tell you that Mr Jules and I were mortified! I looked at one of the hotel staff and was about to complain when he cut in and said "it's OK, it's her job, she's OK" ( - in fact, we couldn't believe that he also called her a 'Coolie'!!) I wanted to argue with him but grandma was already in the distance, picking her way barefoot up the stony incline, with a perfectly straight back and without looking back to see where we were.

Grandma-Coolie balancing our bags on her head  - wearing only a clear plastic bag to keep her dry and no shoes to protect her feet from those sharp stones.  Aaaagh!

We had to accept that this was her job. her way of life and her way of earning for her family. The old lady certainly was not complaining - so neither should we.  We followed on behind rather meekly and ashamedly for the duration. Subconsciously, I think we were even trying to remain a good distance behind so that we would not be associated with allowing such an old person to do our dirty work.

Off she strides through Matheran high street - a younger more strapping version coming the other way.
Thankfully she has now put her flip-flops on. She was so skinny!
When we stopped off on the high street to buy some of Matheran's famous chikki (sweets), I couldn't tell if she was grateful for the rest or not.  I think we probably broke her rhythm.  And despite the fact that we both wore sturdy boots and it was drizzling - the old woman kept speedily ahead of us and did not falter once with our baggage. She even managed to balance the bags on her head whilst a) eventually deciding to slip on her flip-flops and b) carrying a plastic bag containing an umbrella - in case WE should need it!  Wow! (Don't worry...we tipped her handsomely).

More crazy head-carrying pictures:

A Muslim gentleman carrying a chair we bought in Chor Bazaar...and happy to pose for this photo!

No clue what they are carrying here...

Look - no hands! This woman in her beautiful red sari walks along nonchalantly with a bag of rice on her head.

At a hotel in Jaipur we saw the extraordinary dance which involved piling an ever increasing tower of bowls on to her head - sitting, standing up and dancing around without letting them fall.  Highly entertaining.

A tea picker in Kerala waits to cross the road - her head laden with a big bag of tea leaves.

A builder tries to balance cement  (that is not a tiger in the foreground by the way - just a chair cover!)

How these dabbawalas balance such massive, awkward loads without dropping anything, I do not know!

A basket case

A worker at Aarey Milk Colony - who could barely see through his fringe of hay.
Bending down...without dropping a thing

...then off to sell her wares

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The Fascinating Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum

Yesterday I took myself off for a bit of culture by visiting the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum (previously the Victoria & Albert Museum) which was recommended to me by MaximumCityMadam.  

I have been a bit disheartened by the museums I had already visited in India - the uninteresting, dirty displays, the lack of information, the farce of trying to get in (not to mention the 10-20 times price differential on entry fees for foreign persons).  But I was very pleasantly surprised by the BDL Museum - which is set in a fabulously maintained Victorian building, is very nicely laid out and is spotlessly clean.  And besides being a thoroughly fascinating place to visit, it only cost 100 Rs to get in (with no entry farce) and there was no extra photography charge! Unheard of! (You usually either have to put your camera in a locker or pay an additional fee to use your camera in Indian 'places of interest'.)

Beautiful Victorian Edifice

The BDL website tells me that the Victoria & Albert Museum was set up in 1872 and is the oldest museum in the city (and third oldest in the whole of India).  It became Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum (not a name that is easy to remember!) in 1975 to honour the man whose vision it was to establish it. Incidentally, there is a formal partnership between BDL and our Victoria & Albert Museum back home in London - and they sometimes share exhibitions and expertise. 

Check out that painted ceiling and tiled floor

I was very impressed by the quality of the displays. On the ground floor you will find examples of Indian handicrafts (silverware, pottery, laquerware, paintings, carvings in ivory).  Upstairs on the first floor there are historic maps, model ships, dioramas and clay models of Bombay life during the 19th and 20th centuries. Such models as 'The Ideal Rural Village' - a bucolic vision with neatly laid out, well built homes and lush green farming land. Bombay didn't really turn out that way - but it was a nice thought anyway.

The place isn't enormous - you can get round in an hour or so (even if you read everything on display) and the shop and cafe behind the main building are tiny.  But the BDL Museum has the most beautiful of interiors that I have seen in a colonial building - so it is well worth a visit just for that.

Some more pics:

Of course frowned at these days - but you can't deny the amazing workmanship of this ivory Shiva carving

Nice examples of colourful pottery

Beautiful workmanship on this silver teapot

Plenty of small paintings showcasing Indian art to be found

Dr Bhau Daji Lad himself

A glimpse into the Conservation Lab - this is a 'proper' museum!

Beautiful Lacquerware

More of that stunning interior

The view down from the first floor

Enjoy reading about the fascinating peoples that make up Bombay - from Parsis, to Bohras to Sikhs and Sindhs.
A complete education!

Dozens of glass cases housing clay models depicted life through the ages - here, Sikh soldiers on horseback

I've always been fascinated by the Towers of Silence in Malabar Hill - which you can't actually see unless you are a Parsi.  This is the place where the Parsis deal with their dead and the above is a model of it...a detailed explanation below.

Towers of Silence diorama from above.

OK...don't freak out!

Stupendous Chandelier

A reminder of past times...

91 A, Rani Baug, 
Veer Mata Jijbai Bhonsle Udyan,
Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Marg, 
Byculla East, 
Mumbai, Maharashtra 400027.


10.00 am to 6.00 pm (Tickets sold upto 5:30 pm)
Closed on Wednesdays and certain public holidays

Rs. 10
Children (5 to 15 years)
Rs. 5
Rs. 2
Children (Under 5years & accompanied by parents)

Foreign Citizens
Rs. 100
Children (5 to 15 years)
Rs. 50
Children (Under 5years)

If you're interested in other Mumbai museums, please visit my post about The Prince of Wales Museum