A Travellerspoint blog

mumbai

formerly known as Bombay

sunny 23 °C

Our flight to Mumbai didn’t leave until 1:40 so we got to sleep in late. What luxury!

On one hand I was looking forward to seeing Mumbai – it would be very different from anywhere else we’ve been because it really is a very cosmopolitan, sophisticated, worldly (expensive city – condos go for about 100,000 rupees a square foot).

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But on the other I sort of dreaded it because once we get to Mumbai our wonderful vacation is almost over.

Two nights in India’s answer to Chicago, LA or New York, and then off to the South (Kerala) for a week and then home. I can’t believe we’ve been gone for three weeks already. And, in fact, for Paul and Melanie Wray (from Australia), Mumbai signified the end of their vacation – that’s where they left us to go back home.

We landed around 3:40, 4 pm and I was immediately struck by the size of the airport – and also how modern it is (it was also noticeably warmer and more humid). We could have landed in any big city. Once out of the airport we also saw modern cars for the first time – Mercedes, Honda, Porche, Volkswagon – you name it, they drive it – no camels on the streets here.

The traffic was also horrendous – our hotel is really close to the airport (when Mumbai was attacked by terrorists we unfortunately had to cancel our reservations at the Taj and rebook at JW Marriott) – but it took well over an hour to get there – in bumper to bumper traffic all the way.

But along the way we saw interesting restaurants and shops carrying just about every international designer label you can think of – and also passed local boutiques who promote talented local designers and more traditional sari shops, as well.

I felt instantly at home – Mumbai (India’s seaside financial capital and every trend-spotting, trend-setting fashionista’s paradise) is a city I could live in easily – if I could afford it, of course.

At first we thought we’d go downtown but once we got to the hotel we decided to hang around there. It’s a HUGE hotel – a ‘business’ hotel – and they have a magnificent pool – an infinity pool that leads right into the Indian Ocean.

Haidee and Cynthia decided to go swimming. I went to my room to re-pack for the umpteenth time. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve packed and unpacked – living out of a suitcase is a pain in the …

Anyway we were all packing now for a week – Rashmi told us that there was no way we could take all our luggage on the houseboat and even some of the other places we’re going to in the South are difficult to get to – no way we could drag those bags. So the plan was to pack everything we need for a week in one bag and leave the rest of our luggage at our last stop in Cochin, the Taj Malabar Hotel.

It took me two hours – not because I started off with a lot of clothes – but because of all my shopping. India is a shopper’s paradise – gorgeous things, very inexpensive – at least at the markets we went to. Mumbai would be very different, obviously.

So we all did our own thing and then we met for dinner at the hotel.

In the meantime Rashmi found out that there was a Bollywood party in our hotel – it’s right in the heart of Bollywood and the celebs hang out at the hotel bar. It was an invitation only event but that didn’t stop Rashmi from trying to get us invited.

Her charm didn’t seem to be working so Cynthia and I decided to pack it in and go to bed – we have been constantly on the move for three weeks. So what happened?

Rashmi, Haidee and Marney not only got into the Bollywood party they ended up crashing a wedding – they got to meet the bride and groom, their parents and even had their pictures taken – years from now that couple will look at those wedding pictures and wonder who the heck the three women in jeans were!

The next day was action-packed! Lots and lots to see so we had to be downstairs, ready to go at 8 a.m.

We had a fabulous breakfast – you had to see that buffet to believe it:

Eggs cooked to order, every kind of fruit imaginable, five different flavours of yoghurt, bagels, Danish, four different kinds of bread to toast, croissants, coconut croissants, porridge, oatmeal, three or four different kinds of cold cereal, muesli, bacon, chicken sausages, fruit juices, compotes, crackers, cheeses, smoked salmon, capers, vegetables, cream cheese, and about ten or fifteen different Indian breakfast specialties.

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Then we met our guide – a woman, this time and we headed off to our first stop – an opportunity to take pictures at Dhobi Ghat, a spectacular outdoor laundry.

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Never have you seen anything like it!!

That done we went to use ‘the facilities’ at the Taj Hotel – it has re-opened – and I am so happy to say it was crowded and bustling – you would never have known there’d been any problems here just a few short weeks ago – except for the tight security at the gates and door – pretty consistent throughout India, by the way.

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I wish we’d changed our reservations back once it re-opened but it just means I will have to return to Mumbai. If the lobby is anything to go by, it is a truly majestic and magnificent hotel.

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We saw the Gateway to India (right across the street from the Taj) – which was built in 1911 to welcome King George V to India.

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Our next stop was Elephanta Caves – an hour’s ferry ride and a relatively short ‘train’ ride away – and well worth the trip. Dating back to the 7th Century these cave temples were fabulous – as was the chair ride I took up the more than 125 steps you need to climb to get there.

It was a little after 3 pm when we finally met up with Rashmi again at the Taj Hotel – and then we spent some time at one of the 8 synagogues in Bombay.

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I have to tell you, I really enjoy the visits to the synagogues (we have another one coming up in Kerala). It definitely gives you a ‘connection’ to the city. As part of this ‘sightseeing expedition’ we also saw the gorgeous Victoria Terminus – Mumbai’s main train station and the very house that Mahatma Ghandi lived in.

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A short shopping spree at a government price-controlled store followed and we then went to check out Crawford Market – a series of bazaars that sell everything from fabric to diamond jewelry.

Zonked by then we went for Chinese food (yes, in India) … and headed back to our hotel. We needed to get to bed because we had to meet in the lobby at 4:15 a.m. (no, it is not a typo – I meant 4:15 a.m.) to catch our very early flight to Cochin.

Posted by a_broad 01:58 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (3)

oops ...

more technical difficulties

sunny 23 °C

No, nothing has happened to us. We're all fine and having a grand time. It's just that in the South getting on the Internet is not easy. So I haven't been able to post a blog entry since we left Mumbai. They're all ready to go, but ...

Since you last heard from me we've had two great days in Mumbai ... a fabulous houseboat cruise of the backwaters in Kerala ... two days in Thekkady (spice plantations) ... and now we're in Munnar (a hill station that's about 7,000 feet above sea level).

There was no Internet capability on the houseboat ... it was down at the hotel in Thekkady and now I can't seem to get online with my computer -- and I can't access my photos with the hotel computer.

So ...

Maybe it will get fixed tomorrow and maybe not. If you don't hear from me for a few days you will now know it's a technical glitch -- not because I'm falling down on the job.

I will be back online as soon as I can -- which may be from Toronto -- who knows. Now that I've had a month here I'm so mellow I don't care. What will be will be.

Namaste ...

Posted by a_broad 08:56 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (3)

a special invitation

a concert arranged just for us

sunny 22 °C

This is truly unbelievable!!

There is a young man, Vishal Mishra, who sometimes plays the sitar at our hotel. Rashmi, who has obviously been coming here for years, knows him. When we arrived at the hotel (Taj Ganges), she asked if he was here. He wasn't, as it happens, but they called him and he came over -- he surprised her when we were having dinner.

His father, Kanta Prashad, is a world famous sitar player in -- in fact, he's just returned from Verona, Italy where he recently performed.

Well believe it or not we were invited to their family home -- for a private concert -- and also for dinner.

They have a Temple in their home, and we began the evening being led -- by Kanta Prashad himself -- in meditation. After a tour of their home, and huge rooftop terrace (the house is being renovated so it can become a concert venue and also a meditation centre) we were treated to almost two hours of glorious music and dance -- by both members of this incredibly talented extended family (the father, the sons, the brother, the nephews, the son-in-law) and some "masters" who were called in to join the party.

And as if this wasn't enough, the concert was followed up with a delicious, home-cooked, multi-course dinner.

These are the special moments that are never on the itinerary -- but are magical. And wonderful ...

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Posted by a_broad 18:58 Archived in India Tagged events Comments (7)

Varanasi

the oldest living city in the world

semi-overcast 21 °C

Some say that Varanasi is at least 5,000 years old, others more than 25,000 – but what is known (according to my guide book) is that when Siddhartha Gautama, the historic Buddha, arrived here in 550 BC he found a developed settlement.

Spread out along the Ganges (although the river’s true name is Ganga), Varanasi is everything you’ve ever imagined about India – wrapped up in one, distinct, unforgettable package:

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It is noisy, crowded, dirty, colourful, totally authentic and absolutely mind blowing. It is here where the streets are lined with beggars – a disturbing amount of whom have parts of their limbs missing because of leprosy … and it is here where hawkers selling everything from paint pigments to henna to postcards to flowers to candles to food and everything else you can think of surround you … harass you … cajole you … bargain with you … charm you and physically invade your space. You literally cannot walk … stop for even an instant … or ride in a rickshaw without being bombarded.

But at the same time, you feel its spirituality wash over you the minute you arrive.

Varanasi has also been the religious capital of Hinduism through all recorded time. Every devout Hindu wants to visit Varanasi at least once in their lifetime – to free themselves of their sins and, hopefully, to die here when they’re old and to be released from the cycle of rebirth (Hindus believe in reincarnation).

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In fact millions of pilgrims come here each year – from within India – and every corner of the earth to be cleansed themselves … to release the ashes of loved ones into the sacred Ganges … and to cremate the bodies of family members who have just died.

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Here, the crematoriums burn 24 hours a day – it is a constant procession of mourners carrying bodies – first to be dipped in the Ganges – then to be placed on the pyres until there’s nothing but ashes left.

But what is most astounding – at least to me – is the sheer number of the faithful who come to bathe and do their laundry in the Ganges, each and every day.

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Our first night here we went, at Sundown, on a boat cruise where we stopped at the important Ghats (steps leading to the river) … at one of the major cremation sites … made wishes on behalf of our friends and family (still living) while we placed candles surrounded by flowers into the Ganges on their behalf … and we attended the evening Aarti (prayer with lights) held on the bank of the river. You just can’t imagine what it was like.

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We then went back to the hotel for dinner and also to celebrate Rashmi’s birthday with champagne and birthday cake.

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We made arrangements for this little surprise with T.K. Joy, the restaurant manager who couldn't have been nicer -- he actually said there would be no charge for the cake -- it was from the hotel. You have never met more generous or hospitable people than here.

An early night was had by all because we had to meet at 6:15 in the morning to return to the river to pray for those loved ones we have lost.

To see the procession of boats and the bathers through the early morning mist is a sight I will remember forever. Rashmi also arranged for special prayers to be said for our friends and family who have passed away. It was incredibly moving and also spiritually uplifting at the same time.

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And then …

When we arrived at the hotel we saw a lot of Tibetan monks in the lobby and were curious. Rashmi, who is not shy by any means, went over to talk to them. Believe it or not the Dalai Lama is here – and was teaching the next day nearby. Rashmi immediately set out to try to get us an invitation.

Security would be extremely tight and we had to show them our passports and go have additional photos taken – which we did. There were no promises made but they would try.

In the end Rashmi couldn’t reach the monk she had spoken to but we went to where His Holiness was speaking anyway – and she managed to get us in. Unfortunately we couldn’t get close enough to “touch him” but we could listen. We were “in his presence” – with about 20,000 devotees.

We then continued on to Sarnath – where Buddhism found its roots and where we visited one of the world’s major Buddha Centres. What struck me was how simple this temple was in comparison to the temples we have seen throughout India – a very marked difference.

And then, for something completely different, we went to a silk (Varanasi is known for silk) factory/showroom. We watched as craftsmen who have learned from generations past, how they weave (both by hand and using ancient machines) silk for saris, bed coverings, pillows, scarves, shawls, handbags – you name it, they’ve got it. And then, of course, we shopped – what else is new?

For dinner Rashmi had a surprise planned. “Be in the lobby at 7 pm” – that’s all she’d tell us …

Posted by a_broad 18:51 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

The Gods of transportation really don't like us

more problems ...

overcast 20 °C

The Gods of Transportation really don’t like us
more problems …

It seems that getting from A to B without incident is just not in the cards for us. First it was the bus. We finally put all that nonsense behind us. You won’t believe this …

We get up at 4 a.m. The hotel opens the restaurant early for us. We’re to leave at 5:30 in the morning. The boat is ready. They take all our luggage and leave. We get into our boat and they are so sweet – they cover us with blankets because at that hour of the morning (in the pitch black, by the way) a boat trip – even just across the lake – will be really cold.

We are right on schedule.

We’re in the middle of the lake now, wistfully looking back at the hotel, wishing we were still there. Suddenly the boat stops dead. We groan. We worry we’ll miss our flight. We look around in the dark to see if there’s another boat in the vicinity. Suddenly we see a couple of fishermen.

What’s happened? A huge fishing net has gotten all tied up in our motor. The fishermen untangle it. Our “driver” starts the engine. We get virtually nowhere and it happens again. And again. A second boat from the hotel tries to come to our rescue. The net gets tangled in his motor.

The boat that took our luggage comes now comes to get us. In the pitch dark we gingerly step from one boat to the other. We make it in one piece. Nobody ends up in the drink. We quickly get into our bus and speed to the airport.

We get there in plenty of time. We make it through security. Our flight is delayed. And delayed. And delayed. And finally cancelled.

Fog.

It is now 11 am. Everything here is cancelled. What a mess! Rashmi has been sitting with the airline people for hours trying to figure out what we’ll do. We were on our way to Khajuraho – via Delhi.

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We will not be able to go to Khajuraho now at all – so if I really want to learn the Kamasutra I will have to get a private tutor. We will not be seeing the Kamasutra Temple – at least not on this trip.

We’ll be going to Delhi for the night – if the fog ever lifts here (finally took off at 4 pm – 10 hours in the airport). And then – with luck there won’t be fog in Delhi tomorrow – and we’ll make our flight to Varanasi.

What can you do??

You learn patience here …

Posted by a_broad 08:31 Archived in India Tagged air_travel Comments (2)

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