Reality India is a tour group that is beyond any tours I have ever imagined. They are fabulous. Only three in our group each time and 80 percent of the money goes to the place you are visiting and Dharavi. My amazing sister with her extensive research found them, they came highly recommended and I certainly know why. Yesterday I attended the Village Tour. The translated name of the village is Tamarind Jungle. I left the apartment at 6:30am and returned after 9pm speechless with the whole spectacular adventure. We all met up at the Gateway of India in South Mumbai. I hadn't been there yet and at 7:30am, it was just starting to take a morning stretch. Marine Drive was full of people taking walks, stretching, doing yoga, some in what we see as workout clothes but most in traditional clothing of India, women walking in sari with sneakers.
On this tour were two other women, Rosemary and her daughter, Sonja, both from Germany. Rosemary has been living in Mumbai for three years. We were instructed to board the ferry and our guide (one of the founders of Reality India) would meet us on the other side.
We met up with Krishna and hopped on the bus. I had the adventure of hopping on as it was traveling down the road, determined NOT to be separated from the rest of the group. Before catching the rickshaw, we stepped into a cafe for some late breakfast, tea and discuss what we would be doing for the day. The food here was amazing. Everything I have had out has been made from rice, even the unleavened breads. Then I discovered what an Indian toilet is like. Here, there are no seats. You squat over a hole. Some places have a spigot and pail to fill and "flush" or rinse the hole. It smelled as if I was the only one who did the rinsing step. We then clammered into a rickshaw for a long dusty trip. We stopped to pick up as many school kids as we could fit on our way to the school. The school had a handful of small classrooms that had to hold 60 students, many sitting on the floor since there were not enough seats and desks. It was an exam day so after much commotion of us being there and them wanting us to take their photos (Krishna downloaded our pictures so he could make copies for everyone) they settled in. With much giggling, the girls shared with me that my name in Hindi means cat. The feathers in my hair has been drawing much attention everywhere I have been going. I pulled some out and pinned them in their hair. Much excitement.
Then off to the village. About 200 villagers had left that morning on a pilgrimage to a holy place three day's trek away, so it was very quiet. It was peaceful anyway, no automobiles just bull driven carts. It was like being on another planet after Mumbai. I loved it here. The land was covered with rice fields, some trees and a small cluster of brightly painted homes. Each home had an elaborate alter to the Basil Tree with a Basil tree growing on top. Everyone came out to great us, we were invited to lunch with many homes. We did have an arrangement to have lunch with one family. The two young girls of this family joined us for the whole walk, gathering tamarind, fruit and berries for us to try along the way. The village had one shop that was half of the shop owner's home. The owner was also a musician so with his wife's prompting, he pulled out chairs and his piano accordion to play and sing for us. Most of the remaining village gathered as well. It was fantastic.
We walked to the rice fields to see families threshing the rice. It is the time of the winds so men were sifting rice as the wind blew to remove the chaff. We were invited to join them for lunch also.
There is a tribal village above this one. The tribal residents make temporary dwellings of straw here in this village and are the brick makers. Bricks are all made by hand, sun dried and then kiln dried. We visited the tribal village briefly before heading back.
Lunch was incredible and served in traditional style. We sat on a mat on the floor and ate together without silverware. This is what I had been preparing for back in Maine. I had given up using silverware and switched from coffee to tea a week before the start of my trip.
The ferry ride back to Mumbai was festive and lively. Not just us but everyone on the boat was rejuvenated. We were on the roof of the ferry, the boat was packed due to the next one being canceled. Music was playing, people were dancing and laughing. A man was selling potato chips he was kettle frying up fresh before boarding the boat. One of the young men bought a huge bag and the whole ride the young men were feeding the seagulls from their hands. The seagulls wildly followed the ferry all the way on our one and a half hour journey to Mumbai.
Mumbai is breathtaking at night. The lit up skyline is magnificent and from this view coming in from the harbor, it did not seem chaotic at all. Even after getting off the ferry and walking thru the throngs of people selling balloons, cotton candy, bubbles, tea, trying to take my picture and hail me a cab.... as I stood on the street deafened by the horns, cracking up over the gawdily flower decorated and neon lit horse drawn silver carriages, I found all the craziness of Mumbai somehow alluring after dark. Mumbai is growing on me.....