Today’s our last full day in Bombay. We spent yesterday going to Haji Ali and Siddhivinayak Temple. I’d never been to Haji Ali, so it was interesting to see. Siddhivinayak was good as usual. The security there was the tightest we’ve seen so far. After visiting those two we went to my sister’s office and had a late lunch at Fragipanni at the Trident Hotel (where bullet holes can still be seen in some Oberoi tower windows). Afterward, my sister and I caught a local train at about 7pm up towards Santa Cruz from Churchgate to have dinner with my grandma and cousins.
The train wasn’t as bad as expected since we bought “first class” tickets (which isn’t saying much) for the ride up. People are insane at the train station. As the train starts to move or stop people just run everywhere, jumping on to the tracks to catch their trains. People are getting on to the trains before they come to a stop, and getting off as they’re rolling up. It’s madness. It’s no surprise that 4000 people die a year on the trains by getting hit.
In any case, we made it up fine and took a second class train back around 11 which was nearly empty and we were able to sit down. Today I’m spending the day with my other grandma and having dinner with the family. Then tomorrow we head out Delhi on a noon flight.
After 16 or so months, I’m back in Bombay and 20 hours in the air. It’s been a good first day and a half. We went to Vikram’s wedding which lasted all day on Saturday. It was a great time and the food was awesome as well. Today we had a late start (post jet lag and all), had lunch at Indigo Deli then went to Elephanta Island. Unfortunately, we were rushed in the process since we got there quite late, but we got to see everything on the island while avoiding being attacked by the monkeys that live there. For dinner we went for pow bajhi across the street from Chowpatty after which we walked from there all the way across Marine Drive to Nariman Point to work off the butter. I’m off to bed, going to probably go to Siddhi Vinayak and maybe Haj Ali (the latter of which I’ve never been to). I’m not writing much since the internet is painfully slow and I need to get to bed. I’m getting 9 kbps right out off the interface in total.
In this weekend’s New York Times, author Alex Kuczynski writes about his experience visting Mumbai, speaks a lot about the dichotomy of worlds between the new rich and the exceedingly poor. A couple of quotes jumped out at me:
Simply walking along a city street is an exercise in yogilike self-composition. If you walk, you must be comfortable with the press of warm bodies and the dense, meaty smell of skin and hair that has not been washed in weeks, perhaps months.
The ladies who lunch don’t speak of their philanthropic work to end the city’s abject poverty. “There are simply too many suffering,” one socialite explained. “So we focus on things we can actually have an impact on, like art and gardening.”
I wonder what happened to the girl [who was seen earlier playing in sewage]. Was her tarpaulin home washed away? As I imagined the all-night parties continuing at Privé, the Bordeaux flowing and the young investment bankers paying for bottles of Stolichnaya with black American Express cards, I wondered: was she able to even salvage a T-shirt, a pair of underwear, a favorite book of cartoons? I have no answer. The city of contradiction carries on, oblivious.
It’s been a few days since I’ve been able to blog, so I’ll try to bring this up to speed fairly quickly.
Sunday I spent most of the day at my grandma’s house in Mumbai and then went out in the afternoon and early evening with my cousin to see various things in Mumbai. We started with the ISKON (I think) Temple, which is a Hari Krishna temple. It’s very well kept and very clean, plus has lots of booths that show diorama style informational scenes from various parts of Hinduism. After that we went up to the top of this mountain-ish thing to Mount Mary’s Church, and I took a bunch of pictures from that side. When the sun started to set a bit, we went down the hill to the Bandstand area beach side where a bunch of film stars have homes and had some corn that was sold rode side and then had a coffee at the Barista that overlooks the water. From there it was back via Bandra where we stopped in some art galleries, did some sidewalk shopping and had (gasp) pani puri! There’s this resturant in Bandra called Only Paratas that sells pani puri made hygenically, so we had some there. I’m dying to have some more, they were so stuipd good. After that, we went back to my grandma’s house.
Monday I got up a bit early since I was going to be heading to my aunt’s in central Bombay, where my other grandma lives. I had breakfast and the like there and then took a taxi with my aunt over to this side (where I am now). While only some 10km or so, it took about an hour due to hideous traffic. Interestingly, once past Mahim on the way south towards more central Delhi, rickshas are now allowed so it makes the traffic a little more sane. In the afternoon in central Mumbai, I walked around the Fort and Kara Ghoda area nearby (which is an arts district) as well as a bunch of the little streets around here. In the evening, we went went on a walk on Nariman Drive during the sunset and then later on to the Taj Hotel for dinner at a Chinese place called Golden Dragon. Needless to say, it was far from authentic.
Today (Tuesday), I went to the Elephanta Caves, on an island an hour via ferry from the Gateway to India. They caves are in fact temples cut in to the mountain that form an entire Shiva temple within the mountain. They were quite a sight to see and impressive. I managed to get some really good pictures there (I think).
Either tomorrow or Thursday I’m going to head back to the suburbs to my other grandma’s house. Hopefully I’m going to try and take a train (the commuter rail system they say is “lifeblood of Mumbai”) since it’s probably fastest and it’s supposed to be a crazy experience. I’ve taken a local train a long long time ago, perhaps 10+ years but I don’t really recall. Then Friday, it’s off to London.
I arrived in Mumbai yesterday via a flight from New Delhi. I flew on Kingfisher Airlines, which is indeed owned by the beverage group. The plane was fantastic. Great food, good service, comfortable seats, friendly flight attendents. It was a very positive experience flying with them. The terminals on both ends left a lot to be desired but the in-flight experience was among the best I’ve had.
In Mumbai, my aunt picked me up from the airport and we went to my grandma’s house in a part of Mumbai called Santa Cruz. I’ve been coming to this house for pretty much my whole life whenever I’m in India and it really feels like home. My cousins were a bit busy with school during the day and so I hung out and had tea and the usual during the afternoon. Once in the evening and they were a bit more free I went to the bookstore (Crossword) and picked up a few books by Indian authors that looked pretty good and came with recomendations.
For dinner in the evening, we went out to a Goan resturant in some part of town I can’t remember (M-something). The food was totally totally different than anything I’d tried before and was awesome to boot. For those foodies out there, try to check it out. It’s unlike any Indian food you’ve had. The owner was really friendly and came by to chat at the table and told us of a new Maharastran resturant he’s opening up next door and we took back menus. The cuisine they were serving was full of things that I grew up eating and apparently it’s the first (?) Maharastran resturant that’s been opened, period. I’d like to check it out, but that’s seems a bit ridiclious given where I’m staying.
We got home a bit late, but it was a great day. In Mumbai, the city feels a life and full of energy yet more organized and logical (e.g. they follow traffic lights). While the streets and roads of Central Delhi might be better and perhaps cleaner, they feel too sterile while in Mumbai it feels like the city has its own heartbeat. The comparison of Beijing to Shanghai is fitting.
Today we’re probably going to go around a bit and see a few things, and then not sure what the evening will bring. Tomorrow I’ll likely relocate myself to more downtown Mumbai to where my aunt and grandma from the other side of my family are and stay there for a few days.