08.03.2012 - 10.03.2012
We landed in Mumbai and it was an hour drive into Colaba, the main tourist part of the city. It was one in the morning so we couldn't judge what the city would be like but at this point, it looked like it was bordering on apocolyptic. There were so many run down buildings and it was eerily deserted. We were startinf to feel slightly dissappointed that Mumbai wouldn't be anything like we expected. The next morning we hesitantly set off to see the city and to our surprise, everything looked different. The sidewalks (yes, I said sidewalks!) were lined with market stalls and the streets with palm trees. There were high end shops mixed in with local shops and although there were still those decrepit buildings that would have been lovely if they were just restored, there were also some very beautiful ones mixed in there as well.
We walked around the city and ended up at the Gateway of India, an arch by the water, which was right accross from the Taj Hotel where we were planning on having their famous high tea that afternoon. This was perhaps what Janet was looking forward to most throughout the whole trip! And once George heard that it was a buffet, he was also quite excited. We waited inside the Taj Hotel to get away from the sweltering heat. George's signature "I'm too hot", "I need to cool down", "I can't stop sweating" comments came back in full force. Finally it was time for our high tea and boy did it live up to our expectations. The beautiful room was filled with the sound of the piano playing in the background and we got the best seats in the house overlooking the water and the gateway. This spot is notoriously known for the get-together spot of Indian families arranging their childrens' marriages but it didn't look like there was any arranging going on that day. We drank enough tea to last us a lifetime and ate more than enough to last a few days. It was fantastic and we had to pry ourselves away.
High Tea at the Taj Hotel - from backpacker to high society
We did a lot of our shopping in Mumbai since they had some good deals and a great store called FabIndia that we spent a lot of time in. George is insisting on diclosing the fact that I "destroyed" every store I went in because of trying everything on and not being able to make up my mind. Fine, but I just wanted to make the right decision! No wonder the shopkeepers have a special price for westerners that's twice as much. The next day we did our walking tour of the city following our guidebook's suggestions and walked down to the famous Marine Drive, the upscale waterfront section of the city. By the way, we were told that Mumbai is the most expensive city to live in in the world, more than London or Paris but we will have to double check that fact. Nonetheless, real estate along Marine Drive is crazy. On the other end of the spectrum, Mumbai is also known for the biggest slum in Asia, with over 1 million inhabitants. We read up on different slum tours that take you in on foot so you can see what it's like and talk to the people but as interesting as it sounded, it seemed too exploitive to us. Although we didn't necessarily see the slums, we were certainly aware of the many sides of Mumbai, from slums to Bollywood to everything in between.
Marine Drive on a hot day - Can I go for a swim?
Our flight home was scheduled for 3am, the most inconvenient time possible, so we had a late dinner to waste some time before heading to the airport. As usual, the directions given to us by our Indian hotel desk didn't work out ("go left, then another left, and it's right there"...but it never is). Luckily we stumbled upon a place that was packed with mostly locals and a few tourists and decided it must be good. We made the right decision because an hour later we were stuffed with enormous amounts of amazing food all for $6. We're going to miss that.
And so this journey is almost complete as we sit in the Paris airport waiting for our connection home. We had an unbelievable experience in India - it's a country that grows on you and we suspect that its total impact will not make itself fully present until many months, or even years from now when we look at each other and say, "wasn't that incredible?". Yes it was.