Thursday, January 29, 2009

Day 22-23, Mumbai

Day 22 - Jan 28, Cochin to Mumbai
- Miscellani
- Mumbai

The pics are from Cochin street scenes, there are few ways to accurately show what we are seeing without taking 100 of pics and streaming them really fast.

There are 14 official languages in India and they all appear on the currency! Three primary: Hindi, Tamil and English. I am still amazed at how many people appear to speak English and yet there is still a tremendous communication gap. Partly I think it is the idea of never wanting to say no, so I think they actually are saying yes, they understand, and only later find out that the real answer (because they did understand what I was asking) was no.

Up very early and off to the airport, multiple security checks, and a near 2 hr flight. The guy next to me wants a kindle explanation, and he’s never heard of Amazon. Looks like they have market penetration potential.

We arrive and transfer to a bus and then on to the heart of Mumbai, where the terrorists attacks occurred in November. We’re in a small beachfront hotel with views of the bay (we’re on a peninsula, and the other side is the Arabian Sea). Lots of talk on the way in by the local guide and Martin of the disparity of what is now an extremely wealthy few and a huge underclass. From the airplane we see one slum that rivals Slumdog vistas. Basically, there are around 21mil people living here and 5+ mil live in slums, and another 5mil commute daily from the suburbs. Our bus ride into town takes 1.5+ hrs, covers roughly 10 miles very very slowly.

Favorite sign: Anti-corruption Bureau Office to the right while we’re hearing that a local judge has ok’d payouts to the local mobs as legitimate tax deductions.

We check in to the hotel and find 14 moth balls scattered around the room, an lo, no moths. After lunch, we head to the art galleries around the corner from the hotel. Quite a thrill, we’re going all of 1.5 blocks and during the walk MHB asks 6 times about the location of the galleries (after having to get help from a nice old guy to get the front desk to write down the addresses of these same galleries). Basically, assume we’re looking for a Geary building with only two galleries and for some reason you have to know the name of the building to find the galleries, there are no street numbers, no street level signs, nada. The sidewalk is totally missing, the shopkeepers are sitting on small stools out front, and there appear to be 100+ people roaming one to two small blocks going somewhere or nowhere (K: slightly faster than Beijing!).

Galleries exhibits ok, nothing special. One, The Guild, has another local spot we should go see, and the gallery assistant (25-ish young woman dressed in jeans and a blouse, would be perfectly placed in any store or gallery in the US) draws us a map. The other gallery is on 4th Pasta Lane, first white building on the right. Ok…off we go, down the main street and now the street traffic is really picking up. We are reassured when we get to 1st Pasta Lane (I am not making this up, the real English name), on to 2nd, then 3rd and then we’re a bit confused because something smaller than a lane is the next street and unsigned. We keep trudging along and there it is: 4th Pasta Lane and now we’re experienced so we just start walking up the stairs of the first white building we see and there is the gallery! A-maze-ing, we can now navigate Mumbai.

It is so hard to describe the street scenes in India, a bit easier to describe the interactions with the people: invariably polite, cheerful, often confused, often you hear yes when it means no (or more likely, I don’t know), appreciative, usually hopeful you have a positive outcome, clueless. Fascinating if troubling for Westerners that appreciate a direct answer to a direct question.

We take a walking tour of downtown (mostly buildings built by Brits in 1800s) in the late afternoon with Martin as guide. Almost no beggars, plenty of street vendors, and few westerners (terrorism must have cut into tourism here).

One couple has taken the afternoon off to find the place where she stayed as a child in 1945 before taking a ship back to England with her mother and siblings. We bump into them on the way back and share beers on a nearby rooftop terrace overlooking the bay (we’re on the inland view of water side of town, a bit further west is the Arabian Sea). She of course did not find the exact spot (trees are 65 years older, let alone any changes in the neighborhood). She remembers waving goodbye to her father who was a staying behind (I think she didn’t see him for another 2 years) at a famous local landmark, the Gates of India, a structure built to honor the visit of George 5th (if I remember it right) in 1911 and then more famous now for the place in which the last British troops left India for good later in the century (before WWII I think).

Dinner on the front porch of the hotel, most of us are ordering more western dishes, a big mistake, but we are thinking, dreaming, drooling of food from home and it is too tempting. Some even order pizza. Not good…have to hold off one more day.

Day 23 - Jan 29, Mumbai
- Miscellani
- Elefanta Island
- Mumbai Mambo

  • Coracles (better spelling), the round boats, are also seen in England and Ruth Rendell novels
  • At the front desk this morning, I ask for a hair dryer. The guy behind the desk has to hear it twice and I use hand signals, though he speaks English. He then turns to the bellboy next to me and repeats it twice (in Hindi, I assume) and then some guy from the back, speaking English or Hindi, I can’t tell, says something to the guy at the front desk, who reaches his right hand down and pulls out the hair dryer, he didn’t move an inch during the entire exchange, it was as close to his fingertips as I am to the keyboard. Please take 5000 words and explain.
  • Sunset and Sunrise: one occurs an hour early, one an hour late as there is so much pollution in the air that the sun is not visible from quite a distance from the sun.
  • Meters on the cabs are outside the cab on the passenger side of the front hood. Today’s ride from about 2 miles from the hotel: 60 cents.
  • Breakfast was to start at 7:30, even this far into the tour I think they should tell the hotel 15 minutes earlier than needed (or tell us to come down 15 minutes later).
  • Outside the hotel on the waterfront, there were many terns dueling with crows for tidbits. I’m voting on the crows…
  • Mumbai contributes 38% of the country’s taxes
  • There is a generic dog here in Mumbai (and maybe all of India), mostly brown and white. Years of cross-breeding seems to have made them all pretty much look the same!

We head out to Elefanta Island early, before all the other tourists. We’re on a boat by ourselves…well, not exactly…the first of the hawkers selling terrific, really terrific precious stone necklaces. They warm up by trying to sell us such awesome bargains. The good news, one of the guys volunteers to take group pics using all our different cameras.

We take a short train (think Tilden Park steam train) and than walk up the hill to a tremendous Shiva temple, where by traveling clockwise we see all the phases of Shiva in spectacular stone carvings, from the 7th century. Great way to spend the last full morning, these are as good as any we’ve seen on the entire trip, plus a very accessible lingam altar that is still in use for blessing (we toss coins, there is no ash available for the forehead).

Boat back to Mumbai for a tremendous Chinese meal. We are across the street from the Taj and the Gateway to India, the place is quite posh. MHB has the fish special meal and I have the chicken. We start with terrific soups, the chicken is essence of chicken and the seafood is laden with scent of fish and ginger. Then we get various dim sum (all good, almost Beijing dumplings!), bow, I get duck in mu shu wrappers, lobster, prawns (even though I am on the chicken meal, I am getting everything), then another plate with chicken/mushrooms, noodles, bok choy, green beans. Finish up with vanilla ice cream topped with coconut/honey fried sticks.

This is maybe the best meal we’ve had on the entire trip. If you’re in Mumbai: Henry Tham. It appears we are the only eaters in the entire restaurant, which helps explain the great service, and how much food we get. I will check later with Carol as to cost.

We had been pre-ordering for an early dinner so that we can send off those leaving tonight with a meal. The longer lunch lasts, the more people are revising their orders for dinner downward.

Then MHB and I walk the city, do some shopping, visit another synagogue and various side streets. The walk is great, of course many people out, mostly men, and we stroll (hah!) through the streets of Mumbai. It also turns out to be a relatively cool day. We finally end up at the VT Railway terminal, where an immense number of people are shuttling to various platforms.

I’ll update the rest of the day if appropriate. In the meantime, we off tomorrow at 9:30am for the airport, 1:30pm flight to London.

Ralph and MHB


  1. jeri suggests the delay with guy at the front desk about the hair dryer request was probably hoping for some mordida. possible?

  2. It's possible, though I think unlikely...let us just say that exchanges in English apparently had nothing to do with what we thought the words meant!