Slideshow

Mumbai-Bye

January 1, 2011
Namaste,
As we write this final chapter of our journey, we are sitting in an airport hotel in Delhi whiling away the hours as our original flight out last night was cancelled (nothing like spending New year's Day in an airport hotel waiting for 12:40 a.m. when we'll try again). We look at it as yet another experience in our journey--and a wild one it has been. So here is what has happened since we last posted.  (Please note:  because we have so much time to kill, we've provided lots of details... we hope you'll bear with us!)


We flew from Udaipur to Mumbai. We were very lucky as our flight was only slightly delayed; the northern part of the country, including Delhi was covered with fog. And since Delhi (like O'Hare) is THE major air hub of the country, the whole system was bollixed up. Over 70 flights had been cancelled; some international flights had been rerouted to Mumbai (can you imagine!?). Even some trains were cancelled (because they don't work in the fog?????).

So we arrived in Mumbai (Bombay now) in the late afternoon. Mumbai, which has a population of 18 million, was originally  made up of 7 islands. But over the centuries, the sea was reclaimed and it is now one contiguous area. As we drove in, our initial images were of much construction, but, as in other cities, many half-finished (and abandoned) buildings, highway overpasses to nowhere, high-rises on one side and hovels and decay on the other. It reminded us at various points of Bangkok (tropical, tons of cars), Rio, Rome, Miami Beach, and even
Lake Shore Drive
(sans palm trees).  At one point we crossed over a very modern new bridge. The sign at the entrance summed up the city (and perhaps all of India): "No 2 wheel or 3 wheel vehicles or bullock carts allowed"!!!!  As in most of the other cities there were many statues of Gandhi.

We had arranged several day tours and were fortunate to get an excellent guide (who informed us she had also toured with Kevin Costner and Barack Obama--not too shabby).  We started early (!) on Wednesday and took a walking tour of the wholesale flower market. As you might imagine, the market was teeming with people--squirming, pushing, barreling into us--we felt perfectly safe so long as we ducked to steer clear of people's heavy loads. Once again, we were in the throes of it--fantastic. Back to the hotel for a quick breakfast and then out again for a guided city tour, including the open air laundry (Dhobi Ghat--movie coming out in January), Jain temple, Farsi Cone of Silence for burial rites), British monuments, the impressive Gateway to India, and so forth.

But the highlight of any Mumbai tour is Elephanta island--an hour ferry ride away to an island, originally guarded by elephant sculptures--with natural caves adorned with fascinating (amazingly well preserved) Hindu sculptures. However, the real highlight of our Mumbai tour was unplanned.  We had paid for a market tour but, acknowledging that we'd bought just about every scarf and shawl available, we asked our guide if it would be possible to see a movie instead because we wanted to experience Bollywood firsthand. She was game and led us to the Regal Theatre, built in 1931 and a landmark structure - you know, those big old movie houses with the balconies (it seated about 800 people). The cost was $2 a ticket!

It was a showing, so most of the audience was women. First there was a PSA for mosquito and malaria control. Then they showed the flag of India and everyone stood for the playing of the National Anthem (but no one sang and no "Play Ball" at the end). Then the movie began! We saw "Band Baaja Baaraat"  (http://www.bandbaajabaaraat.com/) which was basically a boy-meets-girl, boy and girl become partners as wedding planners (a hot industry in India), boy and girl are successful and fall in love, girl gets angry and breaks partnership, boy and girl get back together and...... A wild movie! Full of lots of dancing and colorful wedding parties.. It was hard to keep Wendy in her seat as she was dancing throughout.

Our guide whispered translations from time to time (as there were no subtitles) but really, we could pretty much figure out what was happening without even understanding the dialogue. There weren't many complexities to the plot or theme. Loved this!!!

Friday we had a guided tour of five synagogues--ranging in age from 80 to 250 years.  While there isn't a significant Jewish population in Mumbai (about 4,000 now)--the population was significant at one time--and was comprised of both Bene Israelis and the Bagdadi Jews. The synagogues were impressive--particularly the arks and Torah covers and Wendy was thrilled that she was actually able to hold the Torah in the first synagogue, Magen David Synagogue.  A slightly different experience from Highland Park.

Can't finish our Mumbai report without a food report.  Incredible. We have been eating naan-stop (nyuk, nyuk!).  First dinner was at Trishna, which happens to have been written up in the NY Times last weekend.  Famous for seafood and king crabs freshly caught from Arabian Sea.  If you have eaten shellfish or roast chicken with Wendy (and you know who you are), just visualize the scene.  We had a huge vegetarian lunch (skipped dinner!) and another lunch in a restaurant (Khyber) decorated in Muslim style--chicken in an almond cream sauce with lassies to drink.  Memorable.  Perhaps the most beautiful restaurant of the trip was in the Oberoi hotel--their new Indian restaurant Ziya.  The room reminded us of Spiaggia overlooking the water.  The food was high gourmet Indian, each plate was a work of art prepared by a Michelin chef.  We started with amuse-bouches of one rice coated cherry tomato with mango chaser.  Then, with wild mushroom naan, Wayne enjoyed a trilogy of chicken (malai chicken; red pepper & chili chicken, mustard chicken, and pineapple Jhenga).  Wendy had the vegetarian subz platter (tandoori cauliflower, hariyli seekh kebab, and pomegranate raita. For mains, Wendy had the grilled ginger chilli lobster with broccoli khicdi and lovingly garnished with spiced cocoa powder (ok, decadent but we thought it was our last night in India!).  Wayne had prawns cooked coastal style, infused with Kaiffir lime leaves and lemon grass and served with steamed basmati.  Of course, both of our mains were served with dal and I wouldn't want to forget mentioning that we ordered saffron sesame naan and roti.  Again, no meal in any country is complete for us without dessert and as long as the elastic pants are ready and waiting back home we ordered two things.  The waiter told us we really didn't need two (shucks, the grilled saffron pineapple with kheer ice cream and warm coconut basundi which Wayne wanted sounded so good...but we stuck with the choco-palette).  On an actual palette we were served:  warm marbled chocolate samosa, silky chocolate delice with carmelised nuts, cumin-hazelnut warm chcolate brownie, rose petal kheer-white chocolate kulfi--paan chutney--chocolate pana cotta.  Need we say more except that I have now discovered another Indian scarf treatment--drape around your ever-increasing stomach.  Now, I fully understand why saris have caught on!

So....to sum up this trip:
We have seen roaming freely in the streets: cows, pigs, goats, dogs, cats. monkeys, and donkeys. We have also seen horses, rats, elephants, camels, parrots, vultures, owls, Indian-versions of squirrels and chipmunks, hawks, and pigeons (in Mumbai they actually have special areas set aside where they put out birdseed for them!). Alas, no tigers or cobras.We have had close encounters with a baboon, camels, and elephants. 

We have been on planes (jet and prop), busses, cars, taxis, auto-rickshaws (tuk-tuks), boats (ferry and rowed), trains, elephants, and camels.

We have seen or visited houses of worship for Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

We have seen many types of architecture spanning thousands of years and representing numerous cultures and religions. And these were constructed of everything from marble, to sandstone, and many great Victorian-era English built stone buildings.

We have tasted the huge variety of foods of those cultures.

We have seen excessive wealth (the world's most expensive "house" at $2 billion!) and poverty beyond imagination.

We have heard the different languages and seen the variety of lifestyles (some unchanged for centuries, others very 21st century) of this melange of peoples who, for the most part, live together in harmony. All this and we feel we've only scratched the surface.

Some visitors, upon returning home have said "'India' stands for 'I'll never do it again'". We'd say it means "India never dies, it's alive!". And we are currently in negotiation as to when we will return... there are sections of the country (Himalayas and the South) yet to see. 

Thank you for being with us on this amazing journey; we look forward to seeing many of you soon.

Namaste and Happy, Healthy New Year to all.

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