Monday, April 8, 2013

Mumbai, India

The last time I was in India was 1999, and it was a trip that changed my attitude about travel. Prior to that trip, I enjoyed doing things the "hard way" when we traveled - taking public transportation, staying in local hotels, and trying all the foods I came across. In 1999, I learned that there are many places in the world where you just can't doing that without being prepared to experience some really bad things: food poisoning and robbery, among them. I have a photo of myself from that trip standing in front of the Taj Mahal, and right after that photo was taken, I threw up. In a trash can. And it only got worse from there. By the end of that trip, I'd learned that you just can't approach travel so naively.

So you can imagine that it was with a bit of trepidation that I headed into this part of the trip. Doug has spent quite a lot of time in India for business, and he's had much better luck than we had then -- but he's done it by staying in very nice hotels, arranging private transportation, and being extremely picky about what he eats. So obviously, this part of the trip would fall under the "spare no expense" category.

I'm happy to report that, almost two weeks in, we've mostly been fine. Doug and I have been mildly sick once each, and Carter has been fine. (Here is where a small child's pickiness about what he eats proves to be a very good evolutionary adaptation.) We began with a few days in Mumbai.

Most of our plane tickets were purchased using frequent flyer miles, and since we had a night flight from Hong Kong to Mumbai (that arrived at 3:00 am), Doug decided to splurge on this one and fly us first class. Carter had his own little cubicle - something we were a bit concerned about, since we wouldn't be able to see him for much of the flight, but he seemed to do just fine.

He didn't even wake up when I had to bring his seat back up for landing!

We spent the first day just hanging out in our hotel in Mumbai. We all felt a bit jet lagged from arriving in the middle of the night, and we really needed a day to recover. The next day we booked a tour of the city and had a chance to get out and see some things.

Mumbai is a beautiful city, with lots of fascinating colonial architecture and green tree-lined streets (in the old part of the city, at least). Skyscrapers and hotels line the bay and tourists and locals alike stroll along the waterfront.

One of the first stops we made on our tour was this gigantic laundry, apparently the largest open-air laundry in the world. It's been here for more than a century and has been in continuous operation. 

Another stop was to the Gandhi Museum, which is contained in the house he lived in. It was filled with photos and artifacts from his life. One entire floor was filled with dioramas that told his life story.

This was the room where he would spin and meditate.

Many of his letters and personal papers were on display as well. Here is a letter he wrote to Adolf Hitler, imploring him to reconsider his actions prior to the second World War.

Here is an example of the colonial architecture in the old part of the city.

We visited the famous Victoria train station (I believe it has a new official name, but our guide called it the Victoria train station), with its incredibly ornate architecture.

We also visited a market. There were fruits and vegetables, fish, household good, clothing, and everything in between there for sale. There was even a pet section, which Carter enjoyed. Look at the little bunnies!

It was a lovely day, hot but not insanely so, and clear. We saw a bit of the waterfront.

It was windy!

A landmark in Mumbai is the Gateway to India, which is a massive arch that was built for the visit of Queen Victoria, I believe. It was famously the gateway through which the last British soldiers left when India gained its independence. There is a huge plaza before it, and we had to walk through security to get inside. It was the Friday before Easter, which is a bank holiday in India, and so there were lots of tourists and people about.

While we were in this square I saw a couple of families standing together. There were two women who were leaning over their small children, and when we got closer I realized that the children were urinating on the ground - in the middle of a public square! Their mothers pulled their pants back up when they were done and the family continued taking their pictures. I have to admit, this shocked me. I've been a lot of places, and have seen a lot of things, including men in business suits pissing on the side of the road, their back to the traffic. But wow, kids peeing on the stone plaza not far from where other people were sitting on the ground and having picnics - that was definitely a new one!

Our next stop was the Hanging Gardens, but we first visited a park across the street which has this giant shoe that kids can climb up inside.

Carter enjoyed this.

There was a lovely view of the city and a public beach from that park.

Here I'm trying to get Carter to stand still for a picture.

From the Hanging Gardens you can see the world's most expensive house. It has 27 floors and is the residence of a single family!

We wandered around the gardens.

As usual, Carter was far more interested in digging in the dirt!

Back at the hotel, we went swimming in the lovely pool. Our hotel was near the airport and not in the lovely old part of the city, but we definitely enjoyed the pool!

Our next stop was Goa and the beach! More on that in the next post.

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