Thursday, June 16, 2016

From New Delhi to Mumbai

I felt like in India there was always a big BUT in every situation. Like the Taj Mahal is magical but there are swarms of guys bugging you wanting you to pay them to take your picture. Or yes India has Uber but traffic is so bad that it's hard for them to pick you up. Well Lydia made the mistake of liking our apartment just a little too much and India had to remind us there's always a downside. We noticed this faint paint thinner sort of smell in the apartment. It got worse and worse to the point that we didn't want to go into the bedroom. We called the owner and he gave a strange explanation about them doing something in the basement. He fiddled with a fan and said it would probably clear out soon. It did not. Luckily he had another room a few floors higher that we were able to move to. By the next morning there was a familiar faint smell of paint thinner. Luckily it was time to pull up stakes and go to Mumbai. We got out of there just in time!

A pretty sweet perk of the Airbnb was that we got free breakfast at the little cafe on the ground floor.

Air conditioners often had these giant surge protector things up next to them.

It was a nice little neighborhood really.

Unfortunately India is one of those countries that sucks at boarding airplanes. Quick, everyone smash into a long nasty line despite the fact we have assigned seats!

We did our best to entertain ourselves.

Our plane's sun visor was some newspaper taped to the window.

Welcome to Mumbai. No spitting!

Let's see, Mumbai. Was known as Bombay under the British and was changed to Mumbai in 1995. Its metro area had 20.7 million inhabitants as of 2011. It's a pretty big deal to India's economy with institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India and the national stock exchange, and is home to Bollywood.

We had a really nasty time getting out of the airport. We ordered a couple of Ubers but we waited and waited but could never find them. It was a real bummer.

We picked a hotel by the airport because they were cheaper there, plus rides to the city, while long and laborious, were also pretty cheap. I think it worked out well. We got this enchanting view of some slums from our window. We were completely warn out by our trials and had no motivation to accomplish anything other than rest. We ordered a pizza and spent the rest of the day in the hotel room.

 The next day we ventured to the city in search of lunch. I liked this Uber guy's elephant dashboard thing. The cars on the roads are honking so constantly it surely can't have an effect. The constant chatter of horns reminds me of birds chirping at each other.

We decided to have a buffet lunch at the ritzy Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. It sounded like a good opportunity to try a lot of different Indian foods plus it was very close to our first site to see: the Gateway of India.

Lots of different kinds of crackers.

The staff was on point. This is definitely the first time I've had buffet staff offer to go get me their favorites. Lamb meat keema is the brown mush and the orange mush is vegetables. I liked this a lot. It tasted like a spiced sloppy joe sort of thing. The waiter said that this is a popular Mumbai street food.

They had a ton of these tiny little reduced salads. My favorite was a little spoon full of pomegranate and celery salad.

I must admit I've broke my "avoid caffeine no matter how socially awkward it makes me seem" rule here multiple times. I just like masala chai a lot. It's sort of like drinking a spiced hot chocolate. I like it when there's this black spice sugar sludge at the bottom when I'm finished. Look at me, I just drank Christmas.

I believe this trip was Lydia's introduction to the brightly colored but lightly flavored dragon fruit.

Our hotel's pool was covered with a dark netting to keep birds away. It worked but it felt like hanging out in a batting cage. This place had a much more elegant solution with tons of white strings hanging overhead like a giant carpet loom.

After lunch we did a little exploring in this fancy place.

There was a little area with pictures of all of the famous people who've stayed at the hotel. John Lennon and Yoko stayed apparently. Unfortunately this hotel was a target of Mumbai's 2008 terrorist attack. President Obama was the first head of state to stay here after the incident. "Mumbai is a symbol of the incredible energy and optimism that defines India in the 21st century," Obama said. "And ever since those horrific days two years ago, the Taj has been the symbol of the strength and the resilience of the Indian people."

Slum tour anyone? I figure I'm having enough trouble getting around in the nice part of town.

We popped over to the Gateway of India. The Gateway of India was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Mumbai 1911.

The inscription on the top of the monument reads "Erected to commemorate the landing in India of their Imperial Majesties King George V and Queen Mary on the Second of December MCMXI". There was a modern plaque out in front that added:

"The last British troops to leave India following the country's independence, the First Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry, passed through the gateway on their way out in a ceremony on February 1948, signalling the end of British rule."

We headed over to a museum that we'd read good reviews on. Our Asian tour has been quite light on museums. As the sign says this is the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, formerly Prince of Wales Museum of Western India. I'll let you guess which one of these names we used to refer to the place.

The building itself was very ornate in addition to the neat things on display. We sprung for the audio guides so we actually knew what the heck was happening around us for once. The lady at the ticket counter told us we had beautiful eyes. Not. A big. Deal.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, namesake of the museum.

We started with some fun and unfamiliar religious statues.

Mahadeva, Ashtamurti form of Shiva. Honestly even after checking out this museum and then reading about it afterwards, I don't really get the Hindu gods. They all seem to have so many different forms and names that I get hopelessly confused.

Wikipedia has a picture of this same statue on this goddess' page. How cool am I? Saraswati (Sanskrit: सरस्वती, Sarasvatī) is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and learning.

Ganesha is easily identifiable due to his awesome elephant head. The version of his origin story that our audio guide told us was that one of the other gods thought he was an intruder and cut off his head. "Oopsies" were exchanged, then the head chopper god was instructed to bring a replacement head from the first animal he encountered. Why this was easier than just putting his original head back on was not explained. Luckily it was an elephant and not like a grasshopper or something.

This museum was not air conditioned, and it was blazing hot. We hopped from fan to fan to keep from passing out.

The huqqa was called hubble bubble by the British.

One random fun fact that we learned was that the American Civil War made Mumbai rich because the US was not producing cotton at that time and so Europe turned to India.

Buddha and Goddess Marichi. Folios from manuscript of Prajnaparmita. Palm leaf. Pala Style, Eastern India. 12th Century C.E.

This is one of my favs. "The devotee offering his daughter to the clouds in marriage". Must have been one ugly chick. "No my daughter isn't hideous and unwanted. No... she's um... married to the sky?" "An illustrated folio of Anwar-i-Suhayli Chapter IV, Story 12. Mughal, c. 1575 CE"

I assume this is how Lydia feels when I take her to all of these fancy buffets around the world.

There was a "so you want to be a maharajah?" photo opportunity available. Some locals walking by thought this was hilarious. In addition to the ticket counter lady falling for our charms, Lydia and I both had people ask to take their picture with us. 

A lot of gods were rocking to ol' "necklace of skulls" and "standing on piles of my enemies' corpses" situation.

These two are depicted "in physical union with their consorts" while also stomping on demons. Multitasking.

We popped into another cab and drove past some pretty real neighborhoods.

I thought a mall would be a nice comfortable change of pace after a long day. Plus I figured we were pretty much assured of having network access in order to call another cab in order to get home.

We have sort of a tradition going where we like to see a movie in foreign countries. This time we picked Finding Dory. We saw it in 3D IMAX and it still didn't cost as much as seeing the normal version in St. Louis. Cannot complain about the prices around here, I'll tell you that much.

There were a couple of fun cultural differences in the Indian movie-going experience. For one they started off with the whole theater rising for a video of the national anthem. There was also an intermission half way through. I am kind of surprised that US theaters don't do this, as it is a definite opportunity to sell more crap. It seems like a nice opportunity to go to the bathroom or make a call without missing any of the movie.

I tracked down the national anthem video that played.

This was one of the pre-film commercials that I liked.

A nice air-conditioned movie was a great way to end a long day.

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