A VOYAGE from Mumbai to Kerala makes vivid the vision of a Scottish designer
I was mesmerised by India and charmed by the colour and energy of the romantic vision I had held since reading about Hinduism as a child. I don’t know why it took me so long to go, but I’m glad I waited. When I did get there, I fell in love with the country, and although it wasn’t exactly what I had expected, it pulled me in and I let it carry me away.
Arriving late at night, I will never forget those first few moments in the taxi, snaking through Mumbai, with streets so alive it could have been two o’clock in the afternoon. It was like a movie set and I was peering in – anxious to be amongst it all.
Venturing out on the first day, from Abode Bombay, Mumbai’s first boutique hotel in the heart of Colaba in the south of the city, was overwhelming. Mumbai is incredibly busy; a chaotic scene of cars, people, animals, noises and smells, so we took a deep breath and dived in to seek out what the city had to offer.
Our first destinations were Fab India, a chain store selling products handmade by craftspeople across rural India, and Bombay Electric, Mumbai’s coolest boutique by far, a distinctly Indian platform for fashion and a pulse point in India’s new and powerful design scene. As a jewellery designer, part of my quest was to seek out the best craftsmanship and gemstones available, so we headed to Zaveri Bazaar, the city’s jewellery hub. In a muddle of lanes hundreds of little shops sell an array of beautiful, intricate pieces, typically made of rich, yellow gold. If you want to buy here, go with someone in the know so you can negotiate a good price.
When we needed to rest and recharge we headed to Khala Goda Café for cake and really good coffee, then treated ourselves to dinner at Indigo, a restaurant that attracts Bollywood stars and the great and good of the city.
For a little slice of peace in an otherwise bonkers city, seek out The Yoga House, a combined yoga studio, shop and health food café in the northern suburb of Bandra West. Another amazing find was The Art Loft, an open gallery, workshop and eatery hidden off the main street in Bandra. And if you’re a fan of Glasgow’s Barras, you’ll be in heaven at Chor Bazaar, or “The Market of Thieves”, a mish-mash of stalls selling everything from colonial antiques to avant-garde treasures.
Mumbai can be a love-it-or-hate-it city, but if you’re laid back, accepting, outgoing, brave and bold, it can’t fail to win you over. After five days in this manic environment, we had barely scratched the surface, but it was time for us to fly to Goa and travel on to the ancient city of Hampi, a Unesco world heritage site about six hours’ drive east. There ancient ruins, the remnants of the Vijayanagara Empire, lie scattered over a fascinating landscape of crumbling mountains offset by an oasis of lush green palm trees and rice fields.
An extraordinary feeling of peace is pervasive, an eerie calm with whispers of an ancient empire in the wind. Split by the Tungabhadra river, on one side is Hampi Bazaar, jam-packed with little shops and restaurants surrounding the magnificent Virupaksha Temple, and on the other, Virupapur Gaddi with its smaller, quieter villages. We stayed in the Gowri Resort and enjoyed some of the best home-cooked Indian food I have ever tasted – wow, if you ever get the chance to eat idli dosas for breakfast, don’t miss out.
The best way to get around Hampi is to hire a moped or bicycle as the ancient ruins are scattered over 26 square kilometres. Crossing the river each day is a particular highlight. You catch the “Bike Boat”, which involves precarious navigation across a narrow plank of wood over water on to a vessel crammed with 10 other mopeds and riders. Although not always sure what we were looking at, we had a great time wandering around, climbing mountains, discovering hidden gems and scooting about. After four days chasing whispers, it was time to hit the road again for the final part of the trip, a mammoth 22-hour train journey: next stop, Kerala.
As dawn approached, after ten hours of travelling through the night, we awoke to discover the most wonderful thing about the trains in India – the doors between the carriages are often open and you can sit watching the world go by, with a cool breeze in your face. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life; watching India transform from dry desert mountain ranges into sweet-smelling, lush, green estuaries and tropical jungles.
After a whole day immersed in the organised chaos of Indian Rail, we arrived in Kerala to conclude our trip with a week of bliss at a place called Soul & Surf. Set upon a glorious cliff top in Varkala, overlooking the Arabian Sea, it is the only surf and yoga retreat in the state, with colonial-style accommodation and gardens decked out with cosy nooks and a small café. My partner surfed every morning with local guides and fellow guests, leaving with boards strapped on to tuk tuks; and the yoga was majestic, with rooftop classes at sunset to the sound of the ocean below and hawks flying silently overhead.
After three weeks traipsing around the unknown and assaulting our senses, this was the perfect place to relax and recharge before saying goodbye to this amazing, incomparable country and making our way back to Scotland with memories we will cherish for ever.