I've always looked at the horse carriages that clip through Colaba, so quaint and colourfully decorated, and wished I could jump into one. But never got around to doing it.
Then, bingo! My editor asked me to try one out for this column. But with one caveat: I was not allowed to spend a paisa more than Rs 100. (No, this is not part of any austerity drive at HT; just that this column is about the city's low-cost pleasures.)
So there I was, at 6 pm outside the Gateway of India, trying to decide which of the four horse carriages lined up there I was going to pick.
As it turned out, they sort of decided it for me. I put on my best tough bargainer face and asked the first: “Kitna? (How much?)”
Rs 500, he said. I had only Rs 100, I told him.
“For that I will take you up to where that taxi is and turn around,” he said, pointing at a taxi literally metres from where we are standing.
On to the next, then.
“For Rs 300 I can take you around Colaba, Colaba market, and the Parsi colony,” he offered. “For Rs 600 I'll add on Nariman Point and the Trident too.”
“But where can you take me for Rs 100?” I asked somewhat despondently. “Nowhere,” he said, dismissively. “I won't take you.”
On to the third carriage. “I'm Ashok,”he introduced himself.
“Where can you take me for Rs 100?”I responded.
“Up to the Radio Club.” That was just the end of the road, but by now I was determined to take that ride, and take it within my allotted budget.
“Okay,” I said, and prepared to clamber up.
Suddenly, the horse carriage driver behind us started waving his hands wildly at me — now he was offering me a better deal.
I was momentarily tempted but decided to stick with my man Ashok.
The steps to the carriage were rusty and bent and felt very shaky going up. But once up there, on the stuffed red seat it was quite delightful. Even the yellow and red fake flower posies on all four sides and the old, dusty pink umbrella perched above adding to the quirkiness of it all.
The blinkered horse set off and immediately Ashok took his eyes off the road and turned towards me to offer me better deals.
“For Rs 600 I could take you for half an hour and show you the Oberoi, the Nariman Point, the…”
“Please concentrate on the road,” I interrupted. I didn't want my short ride further shortened by an accident.
As I sat back, the journey was quite smooth and pleasant: the horse trotted along happily, the carriage didn't bump up and down like a camel or, for that matter, an autorickshaw. It was quite nice sitting so high up; a bit like taking a ride at a fair.
Outside, the sun was setting, there was a stunning view behind me of the Gateway of India and across the sea, dotted with boats, I could see the horizon stretch into the distance.
Suddenly I was enjoying myself.
I didn't feel claustrophobic as I normally do in Mumbai traffic. Plus there was fresh air (unlike in taxis). And were it not for Ashok's constant attempts to offer me different deals, I would have found it quite serene.
I noticed a huge Superman sticker stuck on one of the seats and asked, “What's that for?”
“It's showbiz,” Ashok replied with a grin.
“Right,” I said. “Did you say 'showpiece' or 'showbiz'?”
Ashok didn't reply, for we had by then reached the Radio Club. “Over,” he said tersely.
“You mean you're not taking me back to the Taj?”
“No. For that, you will have to pay Rs 200”
“But what are you going to do?”
“Find a customer here.”
So I stepped out and started to walk back to the Taj. One second later Ashok went sailing past with no customer and a huge grin on his face.
As I walked along, another horse carriage went bounding past, covered with balloons, and a whole family packed inside, having a blast. Had I brought along five friends, I thought, I would have been able to stick to the budget and got to see Fashion Street and Nariman Point.
Never mind, next time.
This weekly column explores the city’s low-cost pleasures