Thursday 28 June 2012

Shop : Chor Bazaar (Sofa So Good!)

Combining my passion for shopping and interiors, Chor Bazaar is a place where I like to spend hours hunting for knick-knacks and bits of furniture.  Even Mr Jules quite enjoys it there (although of course he won't admit it).

Chor Bazaar is sometimes described as a flea market (and apparently translates as 'Thieves Market' as stolen goods used to wind up there) but I think it's much better than that. To me, it is a paradise for vintage, antique and old colonial furniture (some of it reproduction), Bollywood posters, sculptures, old record players, Art Deco light fittings etc etc etc.  The thing is, the 'locals' don't, as a rule, like to buy anything old.  Most of them want the glitzy, gold-plated, faux leather look.  So lots of the Old Colonial furniture from the big old houses and plantations winds up at Chor Bazaar.  There are some good antique shops in town like Phillips Antiques and the Raj Company but in my view, they are very over-priced and do not present such a good opportunity for bargain hunting (as they are mostly fixed priced).

Anyone for a giant brass elephant?  You can buy all sorts in Chor Bazaar!

As mentioned, a lot of the furniture is reproduction, so you have to look really carefully if you really want the genuine article. If you ask the shop-owners they are usually honest about what is genuine antique and what is not. However, even the repro stuff is well made and usually in good quality woods like teak and rosewood, so there is no point being sniffy. There is definitely a bargain to be had if you barter hard enough and I have bashed down a wooden Art Deco armchair to about 3500 rupees (£40/$65).  And that is with my western face, I bet the locals could bash it down even further!

So now I can show you our prized purchase from the Bazaar.  Mr Jules and I were browsing one of the many furniture shops and after getting into a conversation about sourcing an Art Deco sofa suite with the owner, I asked to look upstairs.  And what did I find! It was quite hard to spot, being a bashed up old wreck of a wooden frame, but the Art Deco features were unmistakeable. Dusty, filthy, and a complete disaster:

After agreeing a price for an upholstered and polished 'three piece suite' consisting of a two seater sofa and two chairs, I then had to track down some upholstery fabric elsewhere. (Oh, let me explain - the antique dealers rarely have items that are already perfected and ready to sell - rather they hope that someone with a lot of imagination will happen to come along who will offer a fantastic price whilst also coming up with design and fabric solutions - ie ME!) 

After sifting through hundreds of samples of gold flecked polyester material in several shops, we eventually found some plain cream linen.  After bringing back the fabric to the furniture dealer, and after his umpa lumpas had worked on the re-upholstery - one week later, see what we ended up with...I think quite fantastic for a week's work!!

Good quality teak wood frame in tact
Fab Art Deco detailing

Tarted up with Indian stylee cushions from Good Earth

I mostly stick to Mutton Street where the best of around 150 shops are.  I also found this excellent printable PDF guide from Mumbai Boss to be extremely useful in tracking down the best quality traders:

Please keep tabs on my blog for further interior updates. We are working hard to make our apartment a home.

Find Chor Bazaar here:,Chor+Bazaar,+Kamathipura,+Mumbai,+Maharashtra,+India&gl=uk&ei=QUvsT-SbH47prQfm_4nEBQ&sqi=2&ved=0CAUQ8gEwAA

Happy shopping!

I returned to Chor Bazaar on 14th March 2013 - please see my other post here!

Sunday 24 June 2012

Eat : Sancho's (Bandra West)

Mr Jules and I had a great mid-week meal out at this Mexican establishment located in Bandra West.

We turned up quite early - around 7.30 so the place was pretty empty but the ambience was still nice with low lighting and its authentically styled (but not gawdy) interior.

Mr Jules had the Habanero Prawns to start - delectable juicy large prawns in a spicy sauce (with bizarrely a side of fries).  I believe this is one of their signature dishes which had already come highly recommended by a friend.  I had the potato skins - four large and generously filled skins with cheese and sour cream.  Very nice but too much for one.  Need to remember that most portions in this city feed double!

Habanero Prawn Starter...with fries!

For mains, I had a pork burrito.  It was large and satisfying and my only criticism is that perhaps it could have done with a bit more cheese or sour cream but certainly the pork itself was good quality, well cooked and better than I was expecting.  Mr Jules had an enchilada stuffed with chilli con carne that came baked in a dish smothered with cheese.  The verdict was that it was very tasty. 

Chilli Enchilada (above).  Pork Burrito (below)
Drinks-wise, many of items on the drinks menu were not available when we requested them, like Hoegarden and Stella and the particular brand of French wine they were advertising.  From memory, I am not sure that Kingfisher or Sula (Indian wine) was even offered on the menu.  Anyway, whatever drinks we ended up with were perfectly satisfactory even if the measly measure of white wine was expensive at 480 rupees.

We were too stuffed to have dessert but amongst others, they offer churros and 'three milk cake' which is probably like crema catalana.

Generally, we found the service to be much better than most other western style restaurants we have been to and the cooking pretty much came up to London standards (a very high standard to reach!). All in all, Sancho's comes highly recommmended and I can imagine it would be great fun for a large office or family gathering.  I must try the cocktails next time!

Our two course meal for two with wine, beer, water and service came to about 3,400 rupees(£40/$65) but that's because the alcohol makes it more expensive.  Main courses average at around 395 rupees (£4.50/$7.50)

Sancho's Restaurant
Tel: 022 67094455                                                   
Address: Pinnacle House, Junction of PD Hinduja and 15th Road, Bandra West


Saturday 23 June 2012

See : Today I Slummed It

I did it.  I did a tour of the biggest slum in Asia, Dharavi.

Mahim station in the heart of Mumbai is where I met the rest of the tour group and the tour guide from marvellous Reality Tours & Travel. Prior to my arrival I made sure I was well prepared for a very long walk (being the start of the monsoon season), with covered waterproof shoes - (I knew I would freak out if I got 'ick' on my feet), a long anorak and a big bottle of water. It was going to be a long one.

Reality Tours and Travel, provides educational and fun tours in and around Mumbai and 80% of the profits after taxes from these tours go towards funding the work of Reality Gives(sister NGO).  You may think that it is voyeuristic to do a tour of a slum but by doing it this way, you get to see what really goes on in an organised and safe way whilst financially contributing to the community.  We were not allowed to take pictures once inside the slum in order to preserve the dignity of the inhabitants but I did take the two below just before we went in.  The first is of Ganesh, our enthusiastic and interesting guide and the second is a view of the entrance to the slum from the footbridge just down from Mahim station.

Ganesh, our Guide from Reality Tours & Travel

View of one of the entrances into Dharavi.
Dharavi of course was made famous by the film Slumdog Millionaire but what a lot of people do not know is that it generates $665 million turnover every year, mostly created by huge recycling activities, leather making and food production.  Over a million people are packed into 1.75 square kilometers of land and many of its inhabitants are educated enough to work for multi-nationals companies.  In fact I was surprised to learn that many of the original slum-dwellers actually rent out rooms in the slums once they are able to get out!! In a city where rent is sky high, some of the dwellings can achieve 1,500-2,000 rupees a month (£20-30).

The main emphasis of the tour was to show us how self supporting the slum is and that everybody is working hard to better their lives and the lives of their children.

We wound through tiny alleyways, up ladders and through rubbish dumps to see daily life.  From a roof top we could see the amount of recycling materials that are brought from all over Mumbai, as well as other parts of the world such as the USA and China.  Items such as fridge interiors, plugs & sockets, old phone handsets, plastic toys, paint tins and oil cans wind up here. The plastic items are all processed in machinery mostly made in the slum itself and comes out as tiny pellets that can be later melted and moulded into any plastic object you want.  We saw a massive warehouse full of huge vegetable oil tins that would be cleaned in boiling vats of water for reuse later and aluminium items that are re-processed in large grossly hot furnaces with deadly aluminium dust flying around and no type of breathing protection for the men tending them. The health and safety aspect of this tour will leave you speechless when you see what kind of conditions these people have to work in when it is already so hot and humid outside to begin with.  There are no gloves, no eye protection, no overalls, no NOTHING!

We also saw ladies making poppadoms (papads). Ganesh explained to us that someone came up with this idea to empower women in the community and give them a way of generating income for themselves.  They are given large bags of special dough and they spend the day rolling it out into thin discs and them drying them on huge upturned baskets in the baking sun.  These are then collected up by the 'poppadom dealer' who in turn sells them to large national and international companies.  Next time you eat a poppadom, perhaps you can think of where it may have come from!!  No comment on Food Hygiene either....

Nearly the most exciting moment of the tour came for me when we arrived at the leather processing area where I was told they made leather handbags....not just any old handbags but handbags for Gucci and Dior and a host of other designers.  I was nearly apoplectic with excitement with visions of being able to buy heavily discounted leather items and that my money would go to directly help this poor community!!!  Alas, we were not shown any 'samples' or anything remotely like a designer handbag. I am sure if it is true that such luxury goods are made in a vicinity that the 'Designer Police' would want to keep it well under wraps. Sigh...

Wondering through the residential areas, we got to see the tiny cubes that families of up to nine or ten sleep in.  They contain a small tub in one corner for the ladies to wash themselves (the men and children have to clean themselves outside in the alley) and nothing else.  There are no cupboards or anything that could take unnecessary space and everyone sleeps on the floor.  Most have electricity and access to water but most people have to use the government supplied latrines to go to the toilet. In India it is a well known fact that only about 30% of people have access to a toilet but yet most people (at least 60%!) have a mobile phone. It amazed me to see so many people in the slum, sitting around chatting on their cellphones, when they otherwise have next to nothing.    

Some of the units were fully equipped with televisions and satellite TV (a bit like your English Council house then) and refridgerators. The communities have access to schools, English lessons and womens' groups.  There is even a women's football team which is very popular with young students.

The children that we came across in the alleys, up ladders and in the rubbish dumps were extremely delightful. They all want to say hello and cling on to your hand.  I never once saw a child crying or without a smile on its face (except when I tried to play ball with a little toddler boy and ended up throwing it at his head by accident!).

Apart from being utterly exhausted by the Mumbai heat, I did come away from the tour with my preconceptions of what a slum should be blown out of the water (although we are told Dharavi is unique in maintaining its own economy). I would highly recommend that anyone visiting the city gives it a go. And I would also highly recommend that you use Reality Tours & Travels (Reality Gives) as the tour fees will be reinvested into the Dharavi community. 

See the link here: 

Never missing an opportunity to buy a new bag.....

We paid 500 rupees for the 2.5 hour tour (about £6/$9.50) and there is also an opportunity to buy picture postcards, T-shirts and canvas bags at the Reality Tours office at the end of the gig. (I of course never miss an opportunity to buy a bag - which I did for 500 rupees).

Tuesday 19 June 2012

See : Gateway of India

So here's for my first 'touristy' bit. Actually, can I say that I wouldn't describe Mumbai as a tourist destination in itself, but more as a good starting point for travelling to other parts of India.  Perhaps then the 'Gateway to India' is an appropriate place to start my bloggy tour of Mumbai and India.

Having been to Mumbai twice already, this was my first visit to this outstanding monument (too busy shopping before, you know me!).  But it is very near Le Pain Quotidien were I had a solitary lunch, so there was no excuse really. The Gateway is a great Archway overlooking the Arabian Sea with halls either side capable of seating 600 at important receptions (and probably the odd Hindu wedding).

From what I could see today, the Gateway attracts mostly Indian families, couples and youngsters on day visits, I saw only a smattering of Western faces. There were also lots of urchins, offering to take your photo in front of the monument in exchange for a few rupees (you've seen that bit in 'Slumdog Millionaire'?), although a trio of schoolgirls came up to me and asked me to take their picture - as they knew this way, their cameraphone wouldn't get nicked!

The Gateway to India is also in front of the other great Bombay attraction, the Taj Mahal Hotel(so horribly damaged by the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks where several guests and staff were taken hostage and killed). As you can see from the pictures of the Mumbai Police cordens and signs, security is very tight and the terrorist threat still seems to be fresh in peoples' minds. 

I have yet to go inside this most famous of hotels but apparently it is great for a (posh) bite to eat or drink, and is very popular with the young rich of Mumbai - of which there are plenty.

Just what you need on a hot day...a balloon
Mumbai Police...Sponsored by Famous Travel Operator!
A reminder of the threat of terrorism (aimed at English Speaking people only)
Random tree providing welcome shade

Find an abridged history of the Gateway of India on Wikipedia here:

Postscript dated 5th January 2013.
Please see my blog on Elephanta Island - catch a boat there from behind the Gateway of India!

Postscript dated 31st January 2013.
Please see my blog on Spending 48 Hours in Mumbai - what to see, where to go and what to eat.

Monday 18 June 2012

A Sign of New Times

I wanted to post this picture of our medicine cabinet in Mumbai because really, it says it all! We've got more diarrhea control medication, malaria prevention tablets, mosquito sprays and insect bite cures than you can shake a stick at. More cheering is the picture below with some supplies brought from Blighty. Phew!

Saturday 16 June 2012

Arriving with a Bang!!

Having landed safely at Mumbai airport after a reasonable 9 hour flight and with our numerous luggage in tact, we exited the airport doors to be faced with a wall of damp heat.  Euh. 

Within minutes we were picked up by our trusty driver Kartik and after tussling our six large bags into every nook and cranny of the car, set off 'home' in air conditioned bliss.

I was somewhat dazed and lethargic having not slept a wink on the plane but that soon changed when I was bumped into life....and then again with a loud bang. Only about 20 minutes out of the airport and we'd had a car crash!  We were waiting in a line of traffic when the car in front had started and then stopped suddenly.  Our driver slammed on his brakes to avoid bumping into them but unfortunately the guy behind us did not have such quick reactions.  Even more unfortunately, a large armoured truck behind then bumped into him which caused him to crash into our car, removing the bumper.  There was a chain reaction behind the truck when at least 5 more cars and a small truck bumped into the back of each other. Bang, bang, ...bang.......bang.

This guy definitely got off worse than us...

The rest of the pile up behind us (ha just noticed the advertising hoarding
how appropriate!)

Remarkably a police man turned up within a second and ushered us and the car behind (a rather small tin can Suzuki) onto the other side of the road.  By this point we had only served to worsen the tailback.  The guy behind then got out of this car in order to have an altercation with our driver, trying to blame him for the crash. Noticing our imported car its British expat inhabitants, he no doubt thought he was onto a winner.  Thankfully he soon backed off once Mr Jules (my husband) got out of the car and when I started taking photos of the damage (he even stopped to smooth back his hair!)  Needless to say the police guy did not come back to assist, two or three cars drove off with dents but without insurance details (wonder why!) and then we eventually drove off leaving a few cars on the other side of road with their drivers scratching their heads.


Goodbye Blighty, Hello Maximum City!

Well this is it. I've finished my accounting job and waved adieu to my (ex) colleagues, the boxes have been packed and put in storage and our lovely house-sitters have moved in.  I've said goodbye to the cats (many tears) and I've put the key in the lock of our little London house for the last time. I can't say when we will be back for sure.

I've spent the last two weeks frantically trying to get the house ready for handover as well as trying to pack in as many 'goodbye' visits to friends and family as possible.  It's been quite a roller coaster. 

And all of a sudden, I have had the realisation that this is not just going to be a fleeting visit or a holiday.  This is IT, I am moving to Mumbai!!

Before signing off I would like to introduce Bobby the Jubilee Bear.  I was given him recently and promised that I would take him everywhere on my new adventures.  Expect to see him around quite a lot.  The first pictures are of him are just before we left the house and at the BA lounge at Heathrow Terminal 5.  This guy is going to be a well travelled buddy!

Packing Box Hell
Bobby sits on the stairs for one last time
Bobby relaxes in the BA Lounge at Heathrow