It’s very late now. Getting to Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay (and still full of attractions and one of the great places to visit) was easier than I thought — just 5-1/2 hours from Istanbul. Thanks to Donna (business class) and Lisa (meditation), I’ve discovered that flying doesn’t have to be terrible. Before taking this trip, I was always a little (actually very) nervous whenever I flew, but now I do a quick meditation before the plane takes off and I feel better (the free wine also helps). I was surprised how quickly the others fell asleep. I’ll know I’m totally over my fear of flying when I can actually sleep on an airplane.

This time Donna and I are sharing a room (we switch in every city) and she is lightly snoring, but I still can’t sleep. We are in the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, which is historic and elegant, right across from the Gateway of India. What I still can’t get over is being in this beautiful place so near to the most enormous slum I have ever seen! I am still shell-shocked and I bet the others are too. As we drove from the airport, it was hard to comprehend what we were looking at.

Modern Mumbai

When you travel in Mumbai, you see people lining the streets, selling and buying everything from food to purses. Little motor scooters buzzed and wove in and out of the traffic like bees with young men in jeans and women in elegant saris and western skirts. I even saw one of those old red double decker buses from London packed with people!  This was modern Mumbai. On the other hand, I have never seen such poverty. There were rows and rows of shanty huts right across from all the gleaming skyscrapers. And everywhere you look there are so many beggars, men, women and children, who are so obviously impoverished. It makes my head spin.

I was tired when we met for breakfast, but three cups of strong coffee with gutli pao,  a local bread, with lots of butter and sugar perked me up considerably.  It was obvious that everyone had thought about and tried to process what we’d seen the night before. I wondered if it was safe to go out although I felt too ashamed to say it out loud. We were in the middle of a conversation when the waiter, Dhruv, gently interrupted and told us that we would be safe but not to give any money to the beggars, especially the children who are often part of a gang.  Kelly asked him how he felt about all the beggars and the slums and he shrugged. “I am used to it. It is sad, but this is the way it is.” He added that if we really wanted to help the poor, we could donate money to one of the NGOs before we left. We’re all going to do that.

Attractions

The first thing we did was walk right out the door of the hotel to the Gateway of India, a massive structure, built by the British in honor of one of the kings. When they then exited from it on their way out of India, I bet the crowds cheered.

From there we took a ferry to The Elephanta caves. It was the first time I had seen free, live monkeys. And they were muy audaz y molesto – very bold and annoying! One came down and took Lisa’s water bottle right out of the pocket on her pack! We couldn’t believe it! She was so mad she yelled and tried to catch him but he just leaped up a tree and vanished.  It was warm and humid but we all decided to walk instead of take the little train due to our expanding waistlines! We had to climb a thousand stairs and I was sweating so much and wasn’t sure the trip was going to be worth it until we finally got to the first cave and saw the carvings. Then I really enjoyed seeing the massive stone sculptures and pillars and learning about the Indian god Shiva. The other caves were boring and none of us wanted to see the cannons so we decided to take the ferry back and eat lunch..

More Ice Cream

Following our noses to the curry, we ended up in a small, crowded place near our hotel. Lisa was so excited—there are way more vegetarian options than meat here, so now we will be eating her way. Donna and Kelly asked for everything very mild, but Lisa and I tried the medium, which gave me a pleasantly warm tingle in my mouth. The best part of the meal was the dessert, kulfi, a kind of ice cream. After Istanbul I didn’t think I would ever find an ice cream I liked as much, but kulfi is just as good if not better. We got four, cardamom, saffron, raspberry, and mango. I guess they don’t come in chocolate, but it didn’t matter because they were all so delicious. In fact, I was so happy I ordered another cardamom.

Next: Mahalakshmi Temple and a Bollywood Movie

 


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