November 4th – 9th 2010
**I stayed in Mumbai for a week, longer than I had intended, so I’m going to try to condense it all down. I would like to write so much more about what I did but it’s just too long.
I arrived from Nairobi around 4:30 am. The humidity kicked my ass the moment I stepped out of the airport. Took a pre-paid taxi to a particular hotel but spent some time looking for it in the dark with the taxi driver and then found out they were out of rooms. Luckily, a late-night tout saw me looking around and recommended I stay at a nearby place called ‘Delight Guesthouse’. I was too tired to go looking elsewhere at this hour so I decided to stay there in one of their super-tiny jail-cell rooms. The rooms were very hot and stuffy at night but I survived. Claustrophobes won’t. But at the end of my stay, the place and staff there grew on me.
(Taj Mahal Hotel.)
I found out the next day that President Obama was scheduled to visit Mumbai that weekend. There was a lot of police around and plenty of barriers being set up. The first day I was there, I walked past the Taj Mahal Hotel and failed to realize it was the site of the November 26th 2008 (the Indians refer to it as ‘26/11’) terrorist attacks. It was also where the President was scheduled to stay at. It was booked out for him. I think American citizens in the area should’ve been given a room there for the night.
(Haji Ali Mosque.)
(The line to Haji Ali Mosque.)
(Muslims taking a dip behind the mosque.)
(Scene outside the mosque. People swarming each bus that arrived.)
(The line to Mahalaxmi Temple. Pictures inside are banned so none.)
(Dhobi Ghats: Where the dirty laundry in Mumbai gather.)
I avoided all the museums and art galleries but had a good time checking out the Haji Ali Mosque, which was located on an ‘island’; whether you get there depends on the tide. The weekend had coincided with the Diwali celebration and holiday crowd so it was jam-packed with Muslims and beggars. The nearby Mahalaxmi Temple was also an interesting place (and also jam-packed). I lined up with the rest of the Hindu population going to pray to the goddess Lakshmi (goddess of beauty and prosperity). Just to be inside a Hindu temple, to be in line barefoot with everyone holding plates of gifts, and to watch them leave their gifts and request blessings from the goddess, was quite an eye-opening experience. Right after that, I went to see the ‘dhobi ghats’, the place where all the dirty laundry in Mumbai go to be washed and beaten by sticks.
The Victoria Terminus train station has a very nice exterior but inside, it was dirty and chaotic, just what one would expect from one of the busiest train stations in all of India. I had spent some time trying to look out for the famous ‘dabbahwallahs’ (tiffin lunch delivery-guys, supposedly only having a 1-in-6,000,000 failure rate, earning a Forbes Six-Sigma rating) but didn’t see any. I had wanted to sign up to follow one around for a day but kept forgetting. It would’ve been interesting to know how these guys pick up and deliver hundreds (or maybe thousands?) of lunches to the proper people each day, without getting them mixed up.
(That’s a monkey with a juice box.)
(Diwali preparations by sweets shopkeeper.)
Some additional notes: I saw several guys holding hands, a few palm in palm with interlocking fingers sort of way but mostly by finger-holding. Nothing gay — I read it had something to do with being close friends. (It’s acceptable for men to hold hands but PDA between a man and woman is frowned upon. Go figure.) I also had an interesting episode where I was negotiating to buy a roll of toilet paper (!).