I was roused from my deep OTC drug induced slumber by the rather ample and elderly Indian woman sitting next to me. To be fair, my assumption regarding her size was exactly that, an assumption. In truth, it was hard to distinguish exactly where the masses of sari stopped and the actual person began. The less questionable fact was that she was once again rummaging through her equally ample hand luggage. It consisted of a big bag, which she kept within an even bigger bag. Neither bag would fit beneath the seat in front, nor in the overhead locker, which was already completely filled by her wheelie hand luggage complete with “handle kaput”. I can only assume that she had spent the past 8 hours with the whole lot on her lap, much to the trolley dolly’s chagrin I am sure.
I wiped the dried spittle from my cheek, blinked my dehydrated contact lenses back into focus and realised that I’d slept through breakfast! I gesticulated towards the trolley dolly with my best “could I get the check please” look. Making little attempt to mask the “tut”, she ambled off to fetch my gruel and a small beaker of lukewarm coffee which was definitely not fit for purpose. I concluded that BA had sadly gone much the same way as the rest of the empire.
I had barely began the obligatory struggle to open the over-pressurised yogurt pot without spraying it all over myself, when it was time for seats in the upright position, tray tables folded away and window blinds open. I squinted out into the dazzling equatorial sunlight. Above, the sky was a beautiful deep azure blue. Below, there was nothing apart from a shitty brown murk through which I would occasionally glimpse the silhouette of something high rise. The disembodied voice of the First Officer filled the cabin and made reference to the hazy condition over Mumbai. I snorted at his apparent naivety, surely only a real rookie could mistake the thick layer of dirt that covers absolutely everything in India for a meteorological phenomena.
Mumbai is India’s largest city with a metropolitan population of around 21 million. It is the country’s commercial hub, famed for its Bollywood movie scene and boasts some of the most expensive real estate in the world. Yet it is also home to Dharavi, the third largest slum on earth, where an estimated 1 million Indians live in an area roughly the same size as your average Tesco Extra car park. Peering through the grime beneath me, the juxtaposition was clear to see. Shimmering glass office blocks give way to dense layers of shanty shacks and dwellings. It looked like a season of Amazing Spaces: Shed of the Year on a really bad acid trip! With the landing gear of the Boeing 777 practically skimming the tarp rooftops of the slums below, we touch down in India!
With the entry formalities completed, I then had to make my way to the domestic terminal, not too much of a chore you would think. Somewhat bizarrely Mumbai’s domestic and international airports share the same runway, the same air traffic control and the same airspace. However, some bright spark in town planning decided to put the terminal buildings 5kms apart. India has a canny knack of raising my level of distrust to DEFCON 2 and so, when I was informed with an animated wobble of the head that it would cost me Rp500 to get from one to the other, I struck out in search of a second opinion. I’d played this Indian game before!
The heat and humidity quickly sapped my resolve and soon enough I capitulated and took a taxi. The domestic terminal was an altogether more Indian experience than the international one. I picked my way though the obligatory one legged beggars, people randomly sleeping on bits of cupboard and several fortifications of rice bags full of who knows what to reach the check-in. Window seat secured, I breezed through security and quickly found my gate. In fact everything went surprisingly smoothly and before I knew it the roar of the A320s Rolls-Royce engines woke me just in time to wave goodbye to slums of Mumbai. Next stop, the coconut capital … Trivandrum!