Monday, February 23, 2015

India Travel Journal Part 1: Mumbai

I'm in India for work and arrived a few days early to get acclimated and absorb my surroundings a bit before I start a week of speaking engagements at universities here. I'll be conducting author workshops to help Indian researchers navigate scholarly publishing. Should be interesting! 

Mumbai. 2/22/15

They call this city the New York City of India. That seems like an understatement to me. 20 million people. 7 million ride the subway here every day and of those, roughly 10 die trying. Everyone warned me that it would be loud. I expected it to bother me, but I’m one with the din. Everyone said it would smell. Parts do. The fish market stunk so bad and I felt awful as I sat down for a cup of tea at the Taj later wearing the same shoes I had worn on the docks because every once in a while, a waft of dead fish assaulted my nose. People warned of the water and the food and so far, the bottled water’s been plentiful and the food has been filling, delicious, and my stomach’s been fine. Maybe it’s too early to judge. I’ve been here less than 48 hours, but it’s been a splendid 2 days so far. Did I mention I scored an exit row aisle seat with an empty seat next to me for the long flight to Dubai?!

I landed in Mumbai (AKA Bombay BTW) around 1:00 am. There were multiple check points to get out of the airport that were a little disorganized, but otherwise, the Mumbai airport was impressive. I walked out to a sea of drivers holding placards and couldn’t find mine. I walked down the line several times before spotting the “Courtyard Marriott” folio. He said he’d been waiting a while. I’m grateful he didn’t give up on me! That set the tone and everything’s worked out fine since. I passed out after my 16-hour (I think) journey from Boston through Dubai and didn’t wake up until mid-afternoon Saturday.

My first meal in India was AMAZING!

I didn't understand much of the menu.
Famished, I had a hotel car take me to get something to eat and to see some sights while there was still some daylight. He brought me to a Chinese restaurant. I tried to go with the flow, but the place was dead and the menu was duplicative of every other Chinese food menu I’d ever seen, so I went back to the car, searched Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor, pulled Google maps up, and directed him to a Punjabi restaurant in Bandra that had solid reviews. I devoured the Chicken Dhaba, dal, and rice and or 260 rupee, I got an amazing meal for less than $5 USD. 

This was my view of a relatively quiet side street during lunch. 
From there, I headed to a church on a hill. I’m not big on churches, but the spirituality of this place had me curious to go inside. Nearly everyone identifies as a believer in something and there’s an unusual respect for the beliefs of others that is palpable. There were worshipers filling almost every pew and the faces that depicted the station of the cross looked markedly different from those back home or throughout Europe. 

Down the hill, I found the sun just as it was about to set in the Arabian sea. I headed down some stairs through a slum to rocks that jutted out into the ocean. There were others there to watch the sun set. Couples. Families. Children playing. I shot a time lapse video and hoped to capture the giant sun disappear under the horizon of the water, but instead it sank heavily behind the haze. 

Before it got too dark, I worked my way toward Band Stand and walked around there for a bit. This was probably the first time I got a feel for the size of Mumbai because I could see so much of the sprawling city from this lookout point. I could have kept going, but needed to work on my presentation some more, so I returned to the hotel for a deliciously filling buffet dinner and some PowerPoint fun.

Today, I woke at 5 am to take an early morning bike tour of the city with Reality Tours and Travel. We rode past the beautiful High Court and University of Mumbai. We visited CST Station, the gorgeous train station made famous in the film Slumdog Millionaire.

From there, we checked out one of the largest produce markets in Mumbai, though it wasn’t very busy since it was early on a Sunday morning. I also walked around the meat market, which was pretty gross. I’m all for getting in touch with your meat and am OK watching an animal be butchered, but the heat, visibly decaying flesh, and the piles of guts… well it wasn't a pleasant combination.

I fed some holy cows at what can only be described as part petting zoo + part place of worship and from there, we went to Sassoon Dock, Mumbai’s largest fishing pier. It was pretty foul. We walked past Mumbadevi Temple, which was very busy since most Indian’s are off on Sundays. While they don’t have a dedicated day of worship like many other faiths, they bring offerings to their gods often, so the line was too long for us to wait in. We ended the tour with a ride down Marine Drive and ate a delicious breakfast together following our tour.

Sasson Dock (Fishing Pier)
From there, I wasn’t sure what to do. I’m staying in the north part of the city near the airport and it can be a nearly hour long drive to the south of Mumbai where most of the landmarks are. I was planning on doing a street food tour in the evening but never made reservations, so I decided to check out The Gateway of India and take the ferry over to Elephanta Island to see the ancient carvings of Shiva.

It was hot, so being on a ferry moving through the water sounded more appealing than walking the city, especially given the post-op condition of my foot. The carvings were amazing and when we got to the top of our trek, I bought a snack. A few minutes later, I was being chased by a monkey for said snack. Down went the bag of whatever they were (I wouldn't know since the package was nondescript and I never even opened them). The monkey enjoyed them and I enjoyed reminiscing about the time a raccoon chased me down for my ice cream cone in Vancouver.

Side note: I’m not sure what you’re idea of tourists in India may or may not be, but I can tell you that I only saw a handful of white people all day. I learned that this would be the case a few days before departure, but it seemed shocking to some of the other tour-goers in the morning. Also, India reminds me a LOT of Brazil. Except Brazil was cleaner and less noisy and I could easily be mistaken for someone from Brazil… not so in India!

I went to the meeting point for the street food tour and called when 5:30 came and went and nobody showed for the tour. They told me they weren’t running the tour tonight. I doubt I’ll be able to attend Wednesday after my talk at Mumbai University, but you never know!

I retired back to the hotel where I bee-lined it for the shower. I even hand-washed most of my clothes because I was worried about the fish smell lingering and potentially rubbing off on the rest of the clothes in my luggage. I ate a delicious buffet dinner at the Courtyard Marriott before bed. Fingers crossed my clothes dry by 8 am, when I leave for Pune. My first talk is Tuesday. I should really be prepping for that now instead of writing this…