India – Mumbai – Dharavi

DharaviYou can be forgiven, gentle reader, for having forgotten that I hadn’t finished telling you about our most recent trip to India, as it was four months ago that I left the story dangling with just one more day to recall with you – which was our trip to Dharavi. Now, you might think, what on earth would possess anyone specifically to visit Mumbai’s hugest slum area, with an estimated population of anything up to a million people. It’s hardly nice for wealthy westerners to go and gawp at their poverty, is it?Charni Road Station And that’s a very hard question to answer, because yes, on the face of it, I would agree; but actually to visit the place, meet the people, observe their endeavours, and marvel at their ability to overcome what fate has chucked at them, is a really humbling experience.

We met our guide Amish and he took us to Charni Road Station, from where we would get the train to Dharavi, getting off at a stop called Mahim Junction. Although we’d played about on the trains before, this was our first experience of actually travelling on one. And it’s a real eye-opener. Nothing seems particularly unusual at first – you get on, find a seat and wait for the train to depart. What’s fascinating is when you approach the first station. All aboardThe train slows down but barely stops, maybe for five to ten seconds at the most. This is why everyone hurls themselves on and off the train whilst it’s still moving. Now, I have great respect for the Indian people; they are charming, caring, polite and obliging; until it comes to trains. Getting on a train and nabbing a place to sit down is an act of war. There’s only room for the quick and the dead, as the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle used to say. If you’re young and strong you elbow weaker mortals out of the way as you dash for a vacant seat. The older and slower try to slither to the sidelines lest they be trampled underfoot. That famous Indian respect for the elderly evaporates before your eyes. You have never seen such unapologetic aggression displayed en masse. We were gobsmacked. No wonder they have to have women-only carriages.

Mahim JunctionAlthough Mahim Junction isn’t in Dharavi itself – it’s a short walk away – your route takes you past some families whose only place to live is on the street. It’s quite a wide pavement, and they’ve allocated themselves areas that equate to their own living space. You might see such people anywhere in India, but it made us think that if you have this level of large-scale homelessness outside Dharavi,Trains frozen in time what on earth would it look like when you got there? But we realised that these people are the really unlucky ones, for the slum dwellers of Dharavi do actually have rooms, roofs and shelter.

A pathway takes you over a very wide footbridge where the trains pass beneath on their way from the city centre to all points due north. As we crossed over, we saw that the trains were just stopped there, for no apparent reason, and their passengers were just hanging out of the doorways, as they do, looking for a sign that their journey would continue.Welcome to Dharavi It was like an image of them all frozen in time; packed like sardines, going nowhere, powerless against the state machine that would decide when and how they would make progress. Crossing further over the bridge you come to a spot that, in a grander location might be described as a balcony with a commanding view over all Dharavi; and your attention is primarily drawn to a gaudily painted corrugated iron shack with “WELCOME” boldly written on its front wall. Visually, it looks like an ironic statement; but actually, I think it’s genuine. This is their home and you are welcome to visit.

Dharavi Fresh BakeryYou walk down the stairs, and there you are, instantly in the heart of Dharavi; a wide, commercial High Street full of all kinds of people, many dressed extremely respectfully, involved in some form of trade. This is not a lazy place. To survive here, you have to be hard working and industrious, doing maybe heavy or physically demanding work in a cramped, probably ill-equipped environment. Bakery delivery vehicleThe first business we visited was a small bakery where a dozen or more young guys were baking biscuits and rolls, laying them out to cool, packaging them up and sending them off with a chap on a bicycle to their various customers. I don’t know about you, but that’s not what would have come to my mind if I’d thought about an “Indian slum”.

Material for fillerThere are so many different businesses there, many of them based on recycling bits of rubbish that have been specifically imported from the west for the purpose. Some of them are things you would simply never imagine. There were the guys who snipped down multi-coloured bits of material intoComputer reclamation tiny shreds that would be used as packing or cushion filler. There was the man who salvaged and renewed tiny pieces of computer hardware and parts of white goods, seated on a filthy floor trying to make some sense out of the wreckage of old bits of plastic and metal scattered Can restorerall around him. Another man was painstakingly bashing out and making good old paint cans so that they could be reused. There was a workshop where a team of guys were creating new-ish jeans out of cut-up pieces of old jeans,A pressing instrument and a man spent his day ironing garments with the oldest, heaviest iron you have ever seen.

Very alarming to see were the two guys who spent the day dyeing material in two old vats, trudging around their tiny workshop barefoot, whilst the floor was swimming in chemicals. What it must do to their skin isn’t worth imagining; no health and safety regulations here. Still, when the choice is to work in a hostile environment and have an income to support your family, or no work and noChemical dye workers income, there isn’t much of a choice for them. OK, maybe your life expectancy might not be more than 50; but without it, it might not be more than 30, so it’s a no-brainer. They seemed resigned to their plight, but we felt absolutely no sense of them resenting our presence or criticising us for being there. As always in India, we felt completely welcome.

Knitting machine manThere were three other sets of people whom we met in Dharavi who made a particular, lasting impression. There was one garment workshop where the owner had saved his profits so successfully that he had been able to invest in a huge modern knitting machine. A big computerised console, it covered a large worktop space and he was immensely proud of it. I hope it brings him much success. We were also privileged to be invited to take tea with two elders of the community from the Dharavi trading association; the man who intervened in business disputes between the traders, and his assistant; and it was fascinating to observe how much respect they had in their environment. There was a constant flow past of people who would stand before them, whilst they were seated, simply to say good morning and be noticed. Trading Association eldersThe only person for whom they deferred extra respect to, by standing up, was the oldest gentleman inhabitant of Dharavi who came to call as well. Their welcome to us, their fascination in the fact that we had chosen to visit them, and the symbolic significance that they invited us to take tea with them, was the icing on the cake of a very memorable experience. The final person who made an impact was a cheeky boy on his bike who seemed to like us, and started following us about and chatting to us at odd moments.Cheeky lad I would stop to take a photo, and he would suddenly emerge from nowhere to pull a funny face right in the middle of the shot. Remember “Slumdog Millionaire”, and how it featured street urchins from the slums? Many of the slum scenes were filmed in Dharavi and you could easily imagine how this kid could have featured in it. He had a very winning way about him; I hope he gets to lead a fantastic life, and carves a great future for himself despite his humble origins.

Housing areaTurning into a darker area, where hardly any sunshine reached, we walked through narrow alleyways which hid the entrances to people’s homes; there’s no denying the meagre arrangements for the residents, but at least they’re not on the street. Ramshackle plumbing abounds everywhere; Amish showed us a junction of pipes where the fresh water and the foul water merged into one, at which point we felt a little queasy about having drunk tea with Dharavi Trade Association people. Young cricketersWe emerged into an open courtyard which was 70% rubbish tip and 30% recreation area. The local boys were having a cricket match, as they do everywhere at all times of day and night in India. On one hand, it was pitiful to see them sharing one broken cricket bat and having to field the ball out of the rubbish mire; but it also embodied their incredible spirit to get on with life and make the most of what they had. We found our way back out of the dark alleyways into the sunlight, just a little further along the main street where we had first arrived, but it felt like we had visited Open air barbers shopanother world in the meantime. Bizarrely, it was school going-home time, and past these slum workshops walked rows of spotlessly clean, smartly uniformed, private-school children, forming such a stark contrast with their environment. I had no idea where they had come from or where they were going (from college to home presumably) but it was quite the most unexpected sight.

Jevon Terrace HallSigns suggesting faded glory abound in Dharavi – my favourite was this decrepit board outside a run-down building boasting its availability to hold marriages and social functions. It really did look out of place. But not everything is a total mess. The temple of Srisiddhi Vinavakar, dedicated to Ganesh, located near the entrance/exit to Dharavi, is immaculate. Its intricacy of carving and spellbinding colours are an unexpected splash of magnificence in this decaying district. No matter how little money you have, in India religion and spirituality always seem to come first. We paused and sat for Srisiddhi Vinavakar templea short while before making our way back out of Dharavi and towards the centre of Mumbai. In this area of acute shortage and driving poverty, coupled with the most extraordinary spirit of ambition, hard work and decency, there’s just so much to take in.

Shiv SagarReturning to Mumbai we had lunch at a Shiv Sagar restaurant, one of a chain of vegetarian fast food restaurants that do good food and is quite tourist friendly. Amish wanted to take us to the Leopold Café too, established in 1871 and a place where all and sundry meet to discuss the issues of the day over a tea or a sweetmeat. Not on the day we were there, though as it was closed and partly boarded up. There was also a sense of tension surrounding the place; people were milling around the stalls outside but not really doing anything; something felt wrong. We realised that an argument was starting up between one of the outside stallholders and a couple of men who were lingering outside. A fracas outside the Leopold CaféThen – a flurry of activity, the sound of shutters suddenly falling down, Leopold Café T-shirts were flung against the windows from inside to obstruct your view inwards, and all these guys hanging around suddenly got their hidden cameras out and started clicking their lenses at anything that moved. Apparently the café was the subject of an Income Tax Inspection raid, and everyone outside turned out to be an amateur (or otherwise) paparazzi photographer, trying to get the best shot of the proprietor and the inspectors. I guess it might have been a photograph worth taking if you needed some dosh. So we never got to go inside Leopold Café, but we did witness a proper Indian fracas.

BangangraAfter a rest, and before dinner, we had one last tourist site to visit – the sacred water tank of Banganga. It’s rather well tucked away in the Malabar Hill district, and is the place where Lord Rama shot an arrow into the ground from which emerged a spring of water. It’s quite an expanse of water for one little arrow, so it was obviously a good shot on Rama’s part. As we sat on the steps and dusk turned into night-time, we observed a few people taking a dip into the holy water – whereas we just tippy-toed around some of the shallower edges. It was a very peaceful, relaxing and reflective place, and with a charming small temple adjacent; although little did I know that I would get bitten by a mosquito there that would erupt into a very big bump on my leg over the next few weeks; alas I am the kind of person that mosquitos find totally irresistible.

Status Restaurant menuFrom there we had just one more thing to do – our final dinner out with Amish, back to the Status Restaurant where we had eaten the previous night. However, whereas the night before we sat outside under the stars and treated ourselves to Marsala in Dosa from the canteen, on this last night we dined inside – and it was quite some feat to acquire a table too, fortunately Amish knows the right people! We made it as memorable and slap-up an event as we could, including Paneer Tikka Masala, vegetables and mushrooms cooked in fenugreek, aromatic chana and dal, and all washed down with top quality celebratory Coca-Cola. It’s a lovely restaurant and the meal was superb. Take a look at the menu, and see what you fancy. We felt very privileged to be there, and it made a fitting last night in Mumbai.

Goodbye to DharaviSo that was the end of our Indian Odyssey – or rather, a week simply spent in and around Mumbai. There were still plenty of places we didn’t visit, but the secret of good travelling is always to leave somewhere to return to. And that’s precisely what we’re going to do next year – watch this space!

If you would like Amish to help you discover Mumbai visit mumbaimoments.com

India – Mumbai – More markets, temples and cows

Crawford MarketAll week so far we had been transported around the city in style. From the elaborate limousine provided by the Oberoi to transfer us from the airport, to the luxury cars provided by our guide Amish for our general sightseeing, we had travelled in air-conditioned comfort. But for today he thought we ought to try an alternative, so we went back to Crawford Market by taxi. A Mumbai taxi isn’t quite like a British one. It was small, bumpy, had a lurid mock leopard-skin fabric tacked on to the roof, and a gaping hole just to the left side of the clutch pedal. It also had quite the friendliest taxi-driver you could ever hope to meet.

Fruit marketHe dropped us off outside Crawford Market, which we had visited two days earlier, but it has so many nooks and crannies that it was well worth a revisit. It was the first real opportunity we’d had to appreciate its structure from the outside. Its windows and archways are decorated with alternating red and white bricks in a very Moorish style – you could be in Cordoba. We went in, to discover we were in the fruits district. Rows and rows of highly polished colourful apples gleamed in their boxes, piles of grapes Under tarpaulinoverflowed their bowls, the pineapples, mangoes and oranges all looked highly delectable. Stacked above them, massive baskets lined with the brightest colour foil paper making outstanding diamond shaped designs – presumably to display future produce.

In the outside area too, the fruit market continues. Under tattered tarpaulins, traders spend the day stacking, chatting, displaying, and putting the world to rights while the good citizens of Mumbai carefully select the prize items. It’s fascinating to see all the different people here going about their business – an incredible hub of activity. The paths can be quite narrow, so the porters have perfected the ability of carrying a basket with one hand over their head,On me 'ead so as to squeeze through with a full load. Others simply stack baskets on their head. Alongside the fruit, the other popular items for sale in this area are caged birds. In some locations they are for sale so that you can release them for good karma. I’m not quite so sure here – some of them are rather exotic looking creatures, and they also sell birdcages too. Still, no doubt if you are wealthy, you can release an expensive bird for a much classier kind of karma.

A tough jobThe last time Mrs Chrisparkle and I went to India, in 2006, we visited a shop in Agra and bought a few reasonably priced, reasonably smart clothes that still survive in our wardrobes today. We had mentioned to Amish that we wanted to go to a decent shop for a little clothes-hunting, and he suggested Dia. Great choice! We spent the best part of an hour trying on shirts and trousers, checking out belts and bags, and looking at costume jewellery, all of it very good quality at sensible prices. Mrs C took to the process like a woman possessed. She was in and out of the changing room appearing in different colour trousers each time, asking our opinions of each colour and style. After a while something happened, and Amish and I just started to laugh. I can’t quite remember why, but we ended up giggling like schoolgirls. As Mrs C was failing to attract our attention for the next couture critique, the lady trying to assist simply said to her “let them play” and so she carried on the important task of fashion consultant. Well, there’s only so much clothes shopping a guy can take, after all. But we bought wisely in that shop – and we’re still very pleased with our purchases.

Street sellersBack out on to the streets, and they really were thronging. Pedestrians, taxis, motorbikes, cars, carts and buses all compete for enough space to carry out their business. You need to be aware of your surroundings at times to be safe, as any kind of vehicle can suddenly sneak up on you from any angle without your realising! Street sellers wander around offering you bags, sunglasses, watches; there was one very friendly lady from whom we had bought a couple of bags two days earlier, who we subsequently kept on bumping into. Every time we crossed a road in Mumbai, she seemed to be there! She was happy to pose for a photograph. There was another seller offering “Genuine Ray-Bans”; extraordinarily good value for Genuine Ray-Bans, I must say. I guess there’s no rent to pay when you’re just wandering around with the goods. We couldn’t resist the bargain; and for the rest of the day Amish and I roamed around looking like a transcontinental version of the Blues Brothers.

Clothes BazaarInto another market now, this time the Clothes Bazaar at Mangaldas Market. Not only clothes, but all fabrics – sheets, towels, tablecloths, and more. There’s a huge range of products and I’m sure you could spend hours delving through what’s on offer; but we sensed that it was the kind of place that if you stopped and looked interested you would be pounced upon. In comparison to the bright hustle and bustle of Crawford Market it felt quite dark and oppressive, and I think we preferred our clothes shopping experience that we enjoyed earlier.

Fruit stallOutside it was a good opportunity to observe two different forms of street refreshment. One was a fruit stall – where the brightest red watermelons were cut into triangles and stacked to form a little melon mountain on a plate, and it looked so refreshing in the Mumbai heat. The man running it also had golden pineapples and orange coloured mangoes – a really healthy snack option. Almost next door to him was one of these strange contraptions, the mobile sugar cane juice stall. Sugar Cane juiceOn demand the man feeds sugar canes into this thing that looks like a cross between a mangle and a shredder, and out pours this sweet drink to which everyone in Mumbai appears to be addicted.

We stumbled across yet another market – the Zaveri Bazaar, where you will find all the jewellery you could want, from the cheap and cheerful costume stuff to top of the range ultra-exclusive. Mrs C was looking dangerously interested in some of these shops – Zaveri BazaarI had to try diversionary tactics like “someone as beautiful as you doesn’t need such fripperies” and “oh look there’s a cow obstructing the entrance to that expensive jewellers.” It kind of worked. It was fascinating to see the contrast between scruffy hard-working street life and the high value glamour actually inside some of the shops. It was as though Cartier had just opened up in Skelmersdale.

Bombay PanjrapoleHeading under a sign that reads “Bombay Panjrapole, established 1834” you enter an area given over to the welfare of animals. Primarily, it’s a place you can go to feed the cows. We went to inspect the healthy-looking sacred beasties whilst Amish went off in search of leaves and grass (to feed the cows, I should add). The office marked Veterinary Dispensary was overflowing with the stuff – it’s obviously the cure for all bovine diseases. He returned a few minutes later with half a tree in his hand, Madhavbaug Jain templewhich we then used to feed about twenty cows who were all contentedly awaiting a repast in their compound. It was a little like playing at a Children’s Zoo, but with added religious significance. You could almost hear the cows muttering, “that’s good grass, man”.

From there it was but a short walk to another Jain temple, the Madhavbaug temple, with its lucky decorative swastikas and its delicate marble carvings Icchapurti Ganesha templethat looked like intricate icing on a cake, which were being renovated by a team of skilled craftsmen. Nearby was the Icchapurti Ganesha temple, where there were a number of men sat around to make sure that a holy fire remained burning constantly; another interesting feature there was a large bell to the side of the fire which you happily ding to let the gods know you’re ready to worship. Madhavbaug Shiva templeAt yet another temple, the Madhavbaug Shiva temple, Amish encouraged us to approach a young priest sitting cross-legged on the floor, who said a little prayer for us and daubed a red mark on our foreheads. For a few minutes I felt Officially Indian.

calligraphyOne last charge back into the shops and markets area, as we now found ourselves in the stationery sector. Loads of shops whose sole purpose is to create the most beautiful and elaborate wedding invitations you could imagine. The shop windows are crammed with stunning calligraphy and superb decoratively carved cards that are works of art in themselves. A decent set of invitations is obviously de rigueur at a proper Indian wedding.

Status Restaurant - outsideAfter all that exposure to art, temples, markets and more, it was definitely time for a late lunch. In an uninspiring looking building, we climbed up some stairs to a restaurant called the Bhagat Tarachand and the food was absolutely excellent. We returned, shattered, to the Oberoi for a much needed late afternoon nap, and then headed out again later to meet Amish for dinner. We went to the Status restaurant, very close to the Oberoi, that has a relaxed outside eating area and a slightly more formal inside area. We sat outside and consumed Marsala Dosas and lots of other yummy goodies. It was a fantastic place to while away a tasty hour or so in great company. Tomorrow was to be our last full day in Mumbai, and very exciting it was to be too. So we needed our beauty sleep, but not until we’d drifted back to the Eau Bar for one last nightcap.

If you would like Amish to help you discover Mumbai visit mumbaimoments.com

India – Mumbai – Gods and Temples

Early startAnother early start? I don’t believe it! So much for having a relaxing holiday. But we had so much to pack in to our next day, and we had arranged a lunch reservation for 2 pm, so 9 am was the latest we could get going. Anyway, who am I kidding? When did we last do a relaxing holiday?

Hari Krishna temple entranceReligion is everywhere in Mumbai. It seems to me in India there’s no such thing as a non-believer. Unlike in the UK, where we basically don’t particularly care much one way or the other, and if we do it tends to be a private and personal thing, in Mumbai you’re definitely classified as to your faith. You’re either a Hindu or a Muslim, a Jain or a Buddhist, a Jew or a Christian, a Sikh or a Parsi, maybe even a follower of Bahá’í. Not only are temples and mosques found everywhere, but each shop has its own shrine, and each street corner its own little religious refuge. Cows roam the streets; incense pervades the air; people wear clothes that make their faith instantly recognisable. Of course, different religions do things differently. So it was an excellent opportunity to visit a few temples with our guide Amish to get an insider’s view on the buildings, the services and the adherents, and to get a feel as to what it would be like to be a follower of any of these faiths.

Outside the templeOur first stop on this morning of hobnobbing with the Gods, was to visit a Hare Krishna temple. This was the Radha Gopinath temple in Chowpatty. As soon as you see the orange canopy stretched out over the open courtyard, you just know this has to be a monument to Hare Krishna. Around the courtyard are little shops and stalls, display cabinets, and slightly surprisingly, to get inside you have to get past the security staff. At the centre of the courtyard is a two storey building – it reminded me slightly of what an Indian Alpine chalet might look like. Downstairs there isn’t much – just some storage areas – but all the action takes place upstairs.

GIlded screen wallHaving made our way upstairs, a service was just about to start. I don’t know about you, but I always associate worshippers of Krishna to be dressed in orange gowns, banging drums, dinging cymbals, and chanting as they go. Just one look inside the temple shows this is not the case. At the front, an ornate gilded screen was attended by an orange clad man with what looked like a large furry lollipop. At the back, a very lifelike statue Congregation - maleof a priest sat on a golden throne. However, that ornate and colourful framework did not extend to the congregation. The room was packed out with men who looked like they had just come in from a business meeting, had removed their jackets, and were all seated on the floor to take part in a service that was being delivered by a visiting monk from Canada. So although the building and decoration felt very “Indian”, the service itself was extremely cosmopolitan.

Congregation - femaleIt all looks very sexist; the men are all seated, agog to hear the message of Krishna, whereas the women are all in a side room, chattering, creating garlands, preparing some food, looking after their kids. Like so many religious institutions it serves more than one purpose.You’re getting your spiritual nourishment yes, but at the same time family business gets sorted out, social events are arranged, and gossip gets done.

Off to BabulnathIt’s an evangelical place – we were welcomed, but as prospective new recruits of the future rather than simply as curious visitors. We were obliged to take away with us a list of all the places in the UK where we could worship at a Hare Krishna temple. The young chap who befriended us there seemed so hopeful of a conversion that it would have been like kicking a puppy not to have looked interested. It was a fascinating place to visit, but to me it didn’t feel remotely spiritual.

GaneshUnlike our next port of call, which was the Hindu temple at Babulnath, dedicated to Shiva. The approach to this temple is rather like going through a market, then into a quieter back street behind blocks of flats. Halfway up the hill (it is a bit steep) you are greeted by the reassuring sight of Ganesh, in quite a large street side shrine with its own electric power. At the top of the hill is the entrance to the temple, and to the side, another shrine, this time to Hanuman, the monkey god, which, on close inspection shows the god crushing his enemy beneath the weight and power of his foot. This is a god in destructive mode.

HanumanUnfortunately it is not permitted to take photographs inside this temple so I cannot show you what happened, but I can tell you it is an extraordinary little place. There is a small area, and in the centre is a lingam, about three feet high, that represents Shiva. Surrounding it is a small moat, and devotees quietly walk round the lingam in a circle, pouring water and milk over it. Amish asked us to sit on a nearby bench and observe whilst he went to prepare for the worship. It’s a strange, but mesmerising sight; and it was another welcoming temple – this time genuinely so, we felt. One man, having poured the milk and water over the lingam came back to where we were sitting to ask us where we were from; Babulnathhe told us he had relatives in Reading and hoped we would enjoy our visit. By now Amish had returned with two small pots of water, one for each of us, so we joined the circle of visitors, and when it came to our turn, gently poured the liquids out over the lingam. You have to pour it slowly, thoughtfully, kindly, reflectively, to get the benefit of the experience. And although it sounds like a very straightforward procedure, I found it extraordinarily spiritual. Whether it’s the symbolism, the simplicity, the sight of the flowing water, or the shared experience, I don’t know. But I felt really refreshed afterwards! And a bit wet. Fortunately in the Mumbai sunshine no moisture lasts long.

Jain elephantsOur third and final temple of the morning was the Chandanbala Jain Temple. It was very interesting to note the difference of decoration from the Hindu temples. Firstly, at the entrance, there is an abundance of swastika decorations; nothing sinister about this age-old pattern representing good fortune, which plays a significant part in Jain symbolism. Instead of the oranges and golds of the Hindus you have alabaster and cream colours, presenting a much calmer, more serene appearance. Carvings of elephants and stylised peacocks predominate. As at the Hare Krishna temple, the main emphasis is upstairs. The stairs themselves are lined with flower petals making a rich splash of natural colour. Chandanbala Jain TempleThey lead to an open air landing, where the men gather to talk about all those things that men do, whatever their religion. Then there is a door to an inner sanctuary.

And what did we find inside this sanctuary? Yes, there were religious icons and statues, shrines and altars. But chiefly we saw a family group of around 20 men, women and children, sitting on the floor in front of a vast vegetarian picnic laid out on bowls and patterned boards. The food had obviously been prepared by the women whilst the men sang and played their musical instruments. I don’t think the picnic had any greater significance than being just a simple family get-together (probably by relatively important people within that temple’s community), Jain musiciansusing the space communally to share and basically have fun together. They didn’t seem to mind at all that they had onlookers gatecrashing their party, and in fact the man playing the bongos was keen for us to appreciate their music. It was really fascinating to see the temple being used in this way, more people-oriented than god-oriented.

VT architectureBack on Day One – or rather Night One – we’d had a brief trip to see Victoria Terminus from the outside, all lit up and sparkly. Now was our opportunity to go back and see it by day. From the outside it looks big and grand, but you’re honestly not expecting it to keep on going back and back in the way it does, once you’re inside. It’s massive; no wonder it can accommodate all Mumbai’s millions of daily travellers. The elegant area at the front by the ticket offices and information desks would not look out of place in any Oxbridge college or South Kensington museum, with animal gargoyles nestling in the pseudo Greek carvings atop pseudo Doric columns. Not surprising that UNESCO wanted this place as a World Heritage Site. The immaculate gardens to the side of the station are a beautiful ornamentation for the railway company’s offices, but woe betide any stray tourist who wants to muscle in and walk around, security will be on to you like a shot.

Playing trainsWe also went further into the station and basically played at getting in and out of trains, posing as hangers-out-of-doors much to the amusement of local onlookers. They were empty trains, mind you, so we had no chance of the doors suddenly closing and whisking us away to Pune or somewhere. We would see the trains properly in action a couple of days later.

VT gardensWe returned to the Oberoi just in time to meet our friend the Food and Beverages manager who had booked us a table at the restaurant of the sister Trident hotel. The Oberoi and Trident are linked by a little shopping mall, and in fact the Trident used to be the Oberoi until the Oberoi was built – I hope that isn’t too complicated for you. As residents of either hotel you can use the facilities of the other one if you wish, and we were strongly recommended to visit the Frangipani restaurant. As we had become accustomed, the chef came out and gave his solemn oath not to let any gluten accidentally worm its way on to Mrs Chrisparkle’s plate. It was a delicious lunch, very relaxed; fractionally less formal and fractionally less classy than the Oberoi.

NarimanWe definitely needed a rest after all that, so took to our spacious suite for a well deserved kip. I think it lasted longer than we’d anticipated, so all we had time for later was a briefish walk along the water’s edge to Nariman Point and back, just to get some air and a little exercise. Dinner that night was to be in the Oberoi, at their Italian restaurant, the Vetro, which was very elegant and exclusive. The only thing that could finish off such a delightful evening was another session in the Eau Bar. I love sophisticated travel!

If you would like Amish to help you discover Mumbai visit mumbaimoments.com

India – Mumbai – Flower, Vegetable and Spice Markets, and the Chor Bazaar

Red pianoAnother beautiful sunny day, and, despite our protestations, Amish wanted an early start as we were going to explore the markets. “But we’re on holiday”, Mrs Chrisparkle whimpered, “I’d love a lie-in”. “If you get up late, then there’ll be nothing to see at the markets”, he insisted. Sigh. So we were all breakfasted and bathed by 9am and waiting by the red piano. Yes there really is one, right in the centre of the Oberoi lobby.

Crawford MarketInto the car we got and headed straight off for Crawford Market. This massive structure is named after Bombay’s first Municipal Commissioner, Arthur Crawford, and the central fountain and other decorative sculptures were carved by Lockwood Kipling, father of Rudyard. It was built in 1869 and it houses hundreds and hundreds of stalls selling everything you could possibly imagine.

DeliveriesThey say to understand a place you don’t go to the museums, you just experience life on the street. Well, I say that, even if no one else does. The teeming life that takes place inside Crawford Market begins on the streets outside. Smaller stalls that can’t get a look-in inside pitch up on the pavement; delivery vehicles park up anywhere and everywhere, with guys loading up little trolleys with lolloping uneven wheels Colourful flowersto bring new goods to the waiting thousands inside. There’s clearly an order of seniority in the market, which you can tell from how the men are dressed – I say men, because there are hardly any women working there. There are smart men – normally looking like they’re very well fed – in business shirts and trousers, who are obviously the movers and shakers, dealmakers and traders, employers and owners. Then you have another status of guys Stallholders– the majority – who work on the stalls and wear scruffier work clothes, maybe colourful short sleeved shirts and sports shirts, and well-worn trousers. You also have all those who are doing all the cleaning up and dealing with the rubbish, but everyone has their part to play – and those doing the menial work show equal pride in doing a good job as any of the wealthier businessmen. Any women there are rather no-nonsense older ladies in elegant saris whose expressions show they have spent a lifetime identifying the best quality produce and buying it at the best price.

More flowersIt’s a monument to hard work and long hours, but it’s also an incredibly cheery place. Everyone is delighted if you take their photo – they like to check it afterwards for approval, and inevitably it results in a satisfied head-wobble. Some people smile for the camera, others – they tend to be older, more senior types – like to look Victorian grandees, all respectable and serious. You wonder briefly if they are not so happy having their picture taken – but the satisfied head-wobble afterwards reassures you they are. The variety of colours Patience and skillassaulting your senses, particularly in the flower market area, is overwhelming. Huge bowls of colour co-ordinated flower heads, yellows, pinks, oranges, whites, are everywhere; all primarily for sale to make temple offerings. You can observe the skill of the guys painstakingly assembling garlands from the raw materials – serious, diligent workers kneeling together in a mini-production line producing creations of exquisite beauty. After an hour or so wandering round here, we got a feeling of incredible privilege to be able to share in this extraordinary community.

Well fed cowsA pause to refresh ourselves with a drink at a local restaurant, and to reflect on the extraordinary sights we’d just seen, then it was off to look at the cows in the middle of the street. These weren’t the ordinary kind of “stray” cows that wander all over India, getting in the way of cars and joining shopping queues, but an actual compound in what is basically a traffic island in the middle of the road. It’s like a farm the size of a living-room, with just two or three very healthy animals that you can feed with lush grasses supplied by some very elegant ladies who look far too well dressed to be farm girls. When we got there, however, all we could do was pat the cows as they had already had more than enough to eat. Mrs C breathed a sigh of relief as she’s a serious bovinophobe.

More clocks than ColdplayAcross the road is where the Chor Bazaar starts. Literally the “thieves’ market”, this is an area of antique and bric-a-brac shops, great for very individualistic collectors and hoarders. Amish took us round three or four specialist shops. The first was full of clocks and watches, all mounted on display so you could barely see the wall behind; mainly grandmother clocks and pocket watches, and it’s a Chor Bazaargenuinely beautiful sight. We went into a very expensive looking antiques shop, which had some rather large works of art – huge Buddhas and great big ornamental lions – apparently a number of the TV and film companies hire them from this shop to appear in their productions. Talking of films, there was also a Bollywood Poster shop, featuring all things collectable from the world of Mumbai movies.

Dead carsThe area is a hive of industry in other ways too. Walk on, and the collectable shops thin out and you come across a few roads where all you see is wrecked cars. This is where Mumbai cars go to die; but fortunately they all have donor cards. Here hard working teams assault a car and break it down into tiny individual pieces. No part is wasted – tyres, mirrors, windscreen wipers, radios, seats, Hot bakerypanels are all cut out of the old car and stacked up in the hope of being resold and reused. Men perch on plastic crates surrounded by auto wreckage; reflector lights dangle from the tops of awnings; dogs sleep under mounds of tailgates. Other businesses whose proprietors kindly allowed us to wander round and photograph included a busy working bakery, where sheets of dough were laid out on sacks over a stone slab floor before being fired up inside a fiercelyFabric workshop hot oven; and a fabric repair workshop where second hand clothes were re-stitched and revived with care and made to look new. The men working at this mini-factory were curious to know why two middle-aged holidaymakers from England would be remotely interested in their way of life. We said that we were humbled by their endlessly positive and generous nature, that everyone makes us welcome all the time, that their country is beautiful, and also that we’re not quite middle-aged yet, thank you very much.

Vegetable marketWe could have stopped for lunch – but some days are just too exciting and engrossing to waste time with food. The sights, sounds, and smells of downtown Bombay were nourishment enough. So we crossed back to Crawford Market, this time to check out the vegetable market area. Whether it was because it was later in the day or because it was a different part of the market, I don’t know, but this area seemed a little more relaxed and laid back. It’s less colourful than the Not too much garlic pleaseflower market – obviously – but the work that goes into the presentation of the produce is no less diligent or skilful. Each vegetable or piece of fruit is inspected, graded and arranged in patterns to make it look as visually appealing as possible. Leaves are washed and delicately displayed; garlic bulbs are pared down so that the shavings create a garlicky carpet on the floor; stallholders sit with huge old-fashioned scales surrounded by wide round wicker baskets containing Spicebeans, chillis, potatoes, herbs, and tomatoes, and the smells are sensational. There’s a great sense of community here – yes, to some extent the traders are in competition with each other to sell their wares but also they spend loads of time just chatting to each other, helping each other, sharing food and tea. On the way out of Crawford Market we passed by the spices section – a few shops and stalls crammed with jars and jars of dried spices and mixed herbs. But there are loads of other parts of the market that we would return to later in the week.

Happy Crawford Market manSo it was rather tired but really exhilarated that we returned to the Oberoi for a much needed rest. The previous evening we had tried to go to their Ziya Indian restaurant but it was fully booked, so we had reserved a table for the following evening. It was the same kitchen that prepared our gorgeous Vegetarian Thali for Valentine’s night, but this time we were in the comfort of the restaurant itself.Mumbai evening The food and drink manager introduced us to the chef, Mr Prashant Penkar, who personally assured us that providing Mrs C’s tasty and gluten-free dinner would be his main task, nay pleasure, of the evening. The food was a complete delight – spicy but subtle, superbly presented, a fabulous wine, and a memorable occasion in very attractive surroundings. I can’t recommend it too highly! And of course, an evening in the Oberoi isn’t complete without a glass or two in the Eau Bar to relax even more before bed.

If you would like Amish to help you discover Mumbai visit mumbaimoments.com

India – Mumbai – Morning trip to Elephanta Island, afternoon stroll downtown

Elephanta Island monkeysOne of the must-see sights near Mumbai is a half-day trip to Elephanta Island. Protected by UNESCO it is famous for its 6th century cave temples, and boats make regular round trips from the Gateway of India all throughout the day. Amish, our guide, had other commitments that day, so instead we were accompanied by Mobin, who ensured we got on the right boat and kept us company during the crossing.

leaving the Gateway of IndiaThus it was that for the third day in a row, we visited the Gateway of India! You really can’t see it too often, though, in all its sunshiny glory. The boats depart directly behind it, from an area that looks as though a mish-mash of boat-parking skills were employed to get the boats in that particular arrangement, all jostling for position in a higgledy-piggledy sort of way. Nevertheless, you trust in your guides and in your Captain, and slightly nervously get on board. The boats are all the same style and shape, with a covered downstairs and an open air upstairs. We plumped for upstairs, oil refineriesso you take some rather steep and narrow steps up through what appears to be a gap in the roof and emerge on top, and hope to find an unbroken plastic chair to sit on. The trip across to the island is a little over an hour, and two main sights can be enjoyed en route. The first is the majestic Gateway of India, seen as it was designed to be seen, from the sea, gently getting smaller against the horizon as your journey progresses. Also as you near the island, you get quite close to some oil refineries, and with a good lens you can get some interesting pictures; if oil refineries are your thing, of course.

Land train to the cavesYou know you’re arriving at the island when you see this massive long jetty spurring out into the sea. I’m not sure why the boats dock so far away from the island itself, other than to give passengers a long walk, or more likely to pay for a trip on the little land train that takes you to the “village”. The village is basically a row of stalls, selling the usual tourist stuff, no outstanding purchases to be made, but exotic nonetheless, and colourful canopies over the walkway produce atmospheric light effects as you walk through. By now Mobin had introduced us to our guide on the island, Avinash. He actually lives on the island and knows the caves like the back of his hand – and why wouldn’t he, he takes people round them every day of his life.

Ticket officeThe first thing they tell you when you start walking round the island is to beware of the monkeys. What, you mean those cute tiny little things who jump around in the trees and look so adorable? Yes them. They go for your food, they go for your water. If you’re not careful they will knock them out of your hands, scavenging little so and so’s. Whilst we watched some monkeys cavorting in the trees, Avinash got our tickets: 10 rupees for Indians, 250 rupees for foreigners. At least that was written on the board in numbers. When we went to Prague in 1997, the cost to get in to the Old Jewish cemetery was very expensive for tourists and ridiculously cheap for locals, but the actual amount payable was written out in words, in Czech, so 99% of the tourists couldn’t tell that they were being ripped off. We had a Czech friend though, who got us in as locals, and we had to spend the next half hour not making eye contact with anyone or speaking, or else we would have been chucked out as undesirable aliens.

ShivaMeanwhile back in Mumbai, there are three major temple complexes at the Elephanta site. The main, extensive, area has hundreds of extraordinary old carvings of Hindu gods, many of them still in superb condition. The star attraction is the three headed statue of Shiva, which is breathtaking in its grandeur. Avinash took us all round the complex and explained who each of the gods were, and in what guise they were appearing – as you may know, Hindu gods get up to all sorts of exciting and unexpected activities. Alas I can’t remember the intricate details today. The overwhelming feeling is that you’re in a place of great history, superb artistry Temple complexand creativity, and that man, 1500 years ago, chose this natural environment as a home for his devotion to his gods. It’s a great place for photo opportunities too; not only of the sculptures, and the light and shadow effects created by the sun beaming into the darkness (if you were a little kid it would be the most brilliant place to play hide and seek), but also outside in the sunshine with the banyan trees and the monkeys. Ah yes, the monkeys. Guess who forgot the warning about the little buggers and had his bottle of water grabbed right out of his hand? I guess I was lucky not to get scratched and then spend the rest of the week worrying about rabies.

Another cave viewpointAfter a detailed guided tour, and then a more relaxed, independent walk around the complex to discover little nooks and crannies you missed the first time round, and to try some more experimental camera shots, it’s time to head back to the land train and the boat back to BOM. On the way back we got chatting to a very nice Indian couple who recognised our accents, and they talked about their lives spending half the year in India and half in UK – seems like a pretty good lifestyle. Arriving back at the Gateway of India, Mobin was just taking us to our car when we bumped into Amish taking an American chap on a tour of the city. They were both obviously enjoying their day, and it was a cue for a lot of teasing conversations as to who was the best guide! Guys, you’ll just never know…

lunchBack at the Oberoi and time for a late lunch. We decided to hit the Eau Bar because we didn’t really want a huge meal, just some Indian snacks and a refreshing glass of white wine. I tell you, that is such a glorious experience. The snacks were like Indian tapas – utterly delicious, and surprisingly filling. With the view over the bay, the terrific service and contented tummies, we were in seventh heaven. There were only two other people in the bar – an English couple who, from the loud conversations they were having on their mobiles, we deduced were obviously going to attend a big Indian wedding later in the afternoon; and they were pre-loading for Dutch courage!

local walkWe could have just flumped down afterwards and rested – every day that week it was between 32 and 34 degrees so it was hot, but not so much that you couldn’t go out and do things – but instead we decided to go for a little wander around the district by ourselves. I had my Eyewitness Travel book of India, and a couple of relatively useless maps taken from the hotel room. We planned a very simple circuit around the hotel and thought we’d see what happened.

Nariman PointThere’s a path at the water’s edge that takes you to the farthest tip of Nariman Point. So we wandered down there, and discovered that it’s the place where everyone likes to be seen walking. Young families, groups of friends, students; they all clamber about on the concrete blocks that are scattered at random to the side of the footpath as an additional barrier between it and the sea. Lots of soft drinks and ice creams get consumed along that stretch. We doubled back up, walked further along the water’s edge until we turned right onto Madame Cama Road. This takes you past the back entrance to Churchgate cricket ground where we saw members of a ladies’ cricket team (either England or New Zealand we think) getting on board an official World Cup 2013 bus.

Oval MaidanFor the sight of more cricket, we walked on, until we got to the Oval Maidan. It’s a large expanse of park in the middle of the city – you couldn’t really call it green though, as the heat of the sun has made the grass brown. And on this empty patch of land, as far as your eyes can see in both directions, take place dozens of cricket matches. Some of the players were wearing traditional white, but the majority were just in shirts and jeans. It was great just to watch people enjoying themselves, and if you were ever in any doubt as to how much your average Indian loves cricket – this will make it abundantly clear.

Traffic!On the other side of the Maidan is the Rajabai Clock Tower – by day looking more like part of a Victorian railway station or church tower; it stands out as a very refined looking piece of architecture. We negotiated some busy roads – traffic not only nose to tail but nose to side as well, there’s not a lot of space on those roads for that many vehicles – until once again we made our way to the Gateway of India. Still busy with tourists, locals and tradespeople, we noticed a number of guys sitting by the side of the square with loads of containers – we never did find out what that was all about. Perhaps you know?

container guysWe spent a little while people watching and reflecting on the terrific day we’d had. From there it was just a simple wander back to the hotel for a rest, a shower and a quiet evening. We decided to return to the relative informality of the Oberoi’s Fenix restaurant, which was very relaxing, and later on we heard the call of the Eau Bar yet again, where we swapped Northamptonshire Cricket stories with our knowledgeable wine waiter. Tomorrow was to be another fun-packed day, going round markets and meeting the real Bombay people.

If you would like Amish to help you discover Mumbai visit mumbaimoments.com

India – Mumbai – City Tour

India is GiretWhen you’re in a foreign country – and I mean exotically foreign, rather than Magaluf or Ayia Napa – even the most mundane aspects of travel can be fascinating. Our first stop on our daylong city tour was to get the car filled up with fuel. In the UK this is hardly an eventful experience. You get out, unscrew the cap, stick in the nozzle and pull the trigger. You might have the excitement of pay at pump, or you may choose the more traditional pay in kiosk. That’s about it.

Petrol StationIn Mumbai, however, things are different. You all get out of the car. One man fills it with fuel, another cleans it, another ushers you into the kiosk to pay. When you come out, the car has been reparked by yet another, who will provide any other automobolistic services you require. They will check your tyre pressure, your screenwash, your oil – and it’s all free and done with a friendly, eager to please attitude. How very different from the UK Tesco experience. It seems like good value too – diesel was 53.69 rupees per litre – that’s about 64 pence. Of course, it’s relatively expensive in comparison to the average wage.

Reliance TowerWe were driving out of central Bombay towards the north. One of the first things you see is an extraordinarily shaped tower emerging out of nowhere. It looks like one half of a huge jigsaw puzzle that ought to slot into another jigsaw-tower to make one complete tower block. It’s 26 storeys, if I remember rightly, and it’s worth about $2 billion. Yes, billion. It belongs to the owner of the Reliance Company, and the most extraordinary thing is that only six people live there. So, no need to bump into each other if you don’t want to.

Dhobi GhatFrom perhaps Mumbai’s smartest location to one of its most hard-working. It’s a short distance to the Dhobi Ghat, which covers a vast area of the town, and from its best viewpoint you can actually only see a fraction of it. Rows and rows of gleaming washing extend almost to the horizon in this incredible laundry village. Colour-co-ordinated lines of clean clothes join corrugated iron shacks where a vast team of skilled laundrymen and women process tons and tons of washing. It comes from hotels, hospitals, private residences; and also from clothing companies as it gets washed here as part of the manufacturing process. People work hard here; but as a result they earn a good living, and to have your own laundry set-up in this complex is quite some achievement.

Dhobi Ghat detailIt’s an awe-inspiring sight. You could gaze at it for hours as there is always something new to see. Strong men beating wet fabric against the sides of stone walls to get the dirt out; whole families taking turns to wash themselves in large urns of soapy water; guys carrying large laundry bags up and down steps to and from the street as they deliver the goods through all stages of the process. And, amazingly, all those rows of washing lines, crammed full of clothes, and not one clothes peg in sight. The secret is they twist two ropes together to form one line so each item of clothing can be trapped in the grip of the ropes. So much industry and hard work going on all around you, it’s the most unlikely, but extremely popular, tourist sight in Mumbai. Completely mesmerising.

Hanging GardensFrom gritty reality to a haven of peace. Our next stop was the Sir Pherozeshah Mehta Garden, better known as the Hanging Gardens, originally opened in 1881. Its welcome sign on the way in prohibits “Playing outdoor games like cricket, football, kite flying, strenuous exercises, running, etc; sleeping, drinking liquor, smoking, misbehaviour etc; feeding to animals and birds; bringing pets; plucking of flowers and trees; bringing and eating outside eatables; and littering”. Apart from that, you can have a good time. It’s positioned close to the Zoroastrian Towers of Silence, which as non-Parsees you’re not allowed to see – and that was fine by me. Instead you have such delights Where's the Old Woman?as landscaped lawns, a bandstand, exotic flowers and a Pillar of Friendship. It makes for a good place to rest for a bit after some heavy duty sightseeing. There are also fabulous views over the bay, which our guide, Amish, had tried to show us the previous evening. Just alongside the park is a children’s play area with a rather superb enormous Doc Marten, where the Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe lives. OK, you have to suspend a bit of belief there, she’s not actually real. The place was thronging with groups of schoolchildren, all very neatly dressed in their blue uniforms; most of whom behaved extremely demurely; just a few came out with the usual “Hello! How are you! What’s your name!” to which you reply “Hello! I’m fine thank you! My name’s Chris! What’s yours?” to which they simply giggle hysterically. Must Not Frighten Schoolchildren.

Gandhi HouseThe next port of call on our day trip was the Gandhi House, or to give it its proper name Mani Bhavan. This was Gandhi’s headquarters from 1917 to 1934. It’s a very absorbing little museum, which includes his bedroom, dozens of display cabinets with models re-enacting significant moments of his life, and also a large library and study area containing thousands of documents pertaining to the great man. The terrace off his bedroom has a charming view over the street and is where he was arrested in 1932. It’s definitely worth half an hour or more of your time, and you do get a good sense of history and privilege to be in the place where he spent such a lot of time.

SamratThen it was definitely time for a long leisurely lunch. Amish took us to the Samrat restaurant, which was a busy and delicious place that did a good range of vegetarian food (always the best bet in India). We sat upstairs and ordered a selection of goodies and did our best to eat them the Indian way, with consequently very messy hands, which in itself was good fun. An excellent choice for locals and tourists alike.

Gateway of India by dayNot very far to retrace our steps from last night to visit the Gateway of India in the daylight. The square was still awash with people, and the Gateway itself looked very imposing and formal. We would return to the area the following day, as it’s the departure point for boats to Elephanta Island. It was nice just to wander around, and it’s a great place for people-watching.

Masala teaAmish wanted to take us to a little stall where he said you get the best masala tea in town. There you will find the most skilful tea maker in the world, and the queue can be worryingly long, so in order to be able to serve all his customers he has to work really hard and really fast. Masala tea ought, by my taste buds, to be the most disgusting thing in the world. I like my tea with very little or no milk, clean, plain and simple. This masala tea is milky, spiced, complex, and completely delicious. No wonder he has such queues. As befits distinguished overseas guests we were served our tea in posh cups. All tea’d up, we returned to the hotel for a much needed afternoon nap.

Valentine’s Day dinnerWhat I didn’t tell you, gentle reader, was that it was Valentine’s Day. Traditionally Mrs C and I like to do something to mark the occasion – go to a restaurant, or maybe take a day trip somewhere exotic. Well, there we were in Mumbai, you can’t get much more exotic than that. I had asked the hotel in advance if they were having any particular Valentine’s Day events – and they weren’t. I don’t think it’s very big in India. Nevertheless, they suggested that we have a private dining experience by the pool. Sounded like a good idea to me. Thus it was that later on we turned up at the poolside, all scrubbed up and looking lovely, to enjoy our second vegetarian thali of the day. We had a special menu printed up in our name, and rounded off a superb meal with a fab bottle of Crozes Hermitage. That’s the kind of thing the Oberoi really excels at. It was great!

If you would like Amish to help you discover Mumbai visit mumbaimoments.com

Northamptonshire Cricket Club v. India, County Ground Northampton, 6th August 2011

Northants v IndiaWhat do I know about the noble art of cricket? Which is the best guard? Seamers and spinners? Mid off or mid on? L B or W? Not much. But I thought it was high time I learned a bit, and it occurred to me that I had never been to a “proper” cricket match. And living a mere 30 minutes stroll from Northamptonshire’s Cricket Ground, where better to start than with their match against the touring India side, as yet not showing that much star form in their series against England.

Final scoreWell, they didn’t show much star form against Northants either. Their 1st innings total was 352 for 9. After contending with an unwelcome shower or two, Northants were left with 84 overs to beat that score. And they ended up at 355 for 7. That was with three balls to spare. Somehow, apparently, this score equates to a draw between the two sides because it was a two-innings match. Don’t quite get that, but it’s undeniably true that India didn’t win, as I had surely expected.

Happy crowdsSo what can I tell you of my day at the cricket? It was a sell-out, and the crowd were extremely friendly. As the day progressed, the Indian drums started, the flags started getting waved, and for the last two hours the cricket was almost secondary to the mini-parade of Indian fans dancing their way around the entire ground. Twice. A big local ginger lad, sporting a Northampton Saints Rugby shirt, seemed to take the Indians to heart and he headed the flag waving and dancing processions, much to the delight of the Indians in the crowd.

Will you marry my sister?We were seated in the midst of some Indian brothers, sisters and cousins, who were all very entertaining company and not afraid to make lively and frequently hilarious comments about the proceedings. I’m afraid I couldn’t identify any of the players, but when an Indian fielder came near the boundary where we were sitting (the County Stand as I now know) this guy behind us would shout out the cricketer’s name and things like “Hey! India’s Next Captain!” or “Hey! Will you marry my sister?” of “Hey! Give us a wave!” To a man the Indian cricketers in question ignored his calls, despite the fact that he had bigger lungs and better vocal projection than Pavarotti.

Andrew HallWhen Andrew Hall, the Northants Captain – not playing that day – was seen walking around the stands, this guy called out “Hey! Andrew Hall! Give us a wave!” To which Mr Hall duly gave a little wave, like the one Rowan Atkinson did on Not The Nine O’Clock News before he walked into a lamppost. Later on Andrew Hall, this time accompanied by an attractive young lady selling tickets, walked around again, now with the raffle prize, a framed bat signed by Sachin Tendulkar. It was drawing a lot of attention. The man on the tannoy called out: “People are asking what the raffle prize is and when it will be on sale. I’m not sure what the prize is but I can confirm tickets will be on sale after lunch.” Andrew Hall and his ticket lady looked at us in disbelief. “He’s making my job much harder” she complained. Mrs C and I went in for the raffle. I spent the entire afternoon fantasising about where we could put the bat if I won. Mrs C thought that Ebay would be the best location for it. In any case some other chap won it. Sigh.

Jilted fielderAs India performed worse and worse throughout the afternoon, the Indian supporters started to get a bit restless with their team. The fielder, who had earlier been considered marriage material for the girl next to me, returned to our section of the boundary. “The marriage is off – you’re useless!” she cried out.

Cricketers love giving autographs, notI hadn’t quite comprehended how the majority of youngsters attending the match spent the entire time running up and down the boundary trying to get the fielders to sign their mini-cricket bats. It’s a complete subculture. They must hardly get to see any of the real match, because they’re always leaning over the barrier waving their mini bats at these guys; who, let me tell you, look every inch as though they loathed every second of the attention. When they did sign the bats, they did it with the most scowly face imaginable.

Serious cricket fans, weI am pleased to tell you though that Mrs Chrisparkle and I had a splendid time. We sat down about 10.30am. At around 11, we had our first corned beef roll. Then at 12 we had a big bag of crisps. At 12.30 we had some stuffed vine leaves and a cheese roll. At 1.15 we broke open the Semillon Chardonnay. More rolls followed, and at about 3.30, in time for tea, we had some almond slices. Isn’t sport wonderful? It rained a little occasionally but for the most part the sun shone; being a woman, Mrs C was able to multitask watching the cricket and reading The Independent at the same time. It all finished at about 6.20pm. Incredibly good value we thought at £15 per person. We’re both keen to go again.