India 2001 Travel Diary, Part 3

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© 2001 Giles Orr

Monday 14 May 2001, 0800

The Sea Palace Hotel, Mumbai.

I'm weak and shaky from lack of sleep. But I shaved and I'm reasonably alert.

I think it was Marc Gilbert (one of our fearless leaders) who said that the ride from the airport to the hotel is often the most shocking part for many people. I suppose it was, although it wasn't as bad as I expected. But I'll back up some first.

The flight from Zurich to Mumbai was about eight hours. Everybody, but especially people my height, was happy to find we had several inches more leg room. They fed us once, and I got maybe another hour of sleep. Mostly I watched "What Women Want" and a Hindi movie after it (overblown, violent, musical numbers, everybody dies).

Me, on arrival at the Sea Palace Hotel. More pictures of our arrival are here.

In Mumbai, we stumbled through Immigration and Customs. When I asked Farley (our other leader) about taking pictures, he said they wouldn't like it "because of the Pakistani situation." After about an hour, we finally went outside and started to see what Mumbai is really like. I remember many many people, and many very old all identical tiny honking cabs. Some people from the university here greeted us and escorted us to a bus, where I got a real feel for "Indian time." On the bus (air conditioned!) each of us had to be greeted, have a red dot (smelled nice) put on our foreheads, and have a ... "lai" (for lack of a better term, they have no flowers, but a dry equivalent of a Hawaiian lai) put around our neck.

It was 0200 as we drove through the city. Not much traffic, but incredible squalor and many, many people sleeping on the sidewalk. I guess I was surprised by the numbers, but not once I realized I hadn't pictured the size of Mumbai.

They assigned us our rooms very slowly. Doug (my roommate) said the room was "better than I expected." It doesn't live up to the Super 8 in Milwaukee.

2200

The Sea Palace Hotel.

I should talk about the hotel some. But I should also go to bed soon. And there's so much to write.

Doug and I got up at 0630. Although we went to bed around 0300, I doubt I got more than two hours proper sleep. I thought I was relaxed, but I couldn't get to sleep despite already being sleep-deprived.

Breakfast was American style - toast with jam, fried eggs, cereal - but the milk was hot in a glass for your cereal, a safety precaution left over (and appreciated) from Colonial times. The mini-banana (green) was interesting too.

The morning class, the first one, was mostly speeches and verbal back-patting. Not unjustified! This is a big event. Although it was long, I was wide awake through it - probably because of the large quantity of chai I drank at the pre-speeches reception. After speeches, another reception with even more food. Jai Hind College, which is mostly managing this enterprise is mostly on break - but there were a good number of faculty, mostly women, there.

Then we had our first real class. "Mumbai: A Cosmopolitan City." Mostly history, fairly interesting (although the chai was wearing off).

We had a wonderful catered lunch, most of which was Sindhi food. The Tandoori chicken was superb, and visibly undercooked.

The Silver House.

After lunch, I got an hour and a half nap, before an optional walk. Our two destinations were "Silver House (Shop No. 3)" (I have their card) and "Cottage Industries." At the silver shop, I fell in love with a 6" tall beautifully carved Ganesh statue. I incorrectly converted the price to $45, and Marc and Catherine applied peer pressure to make me buy it - "You'll never see another like it!" "You'll regret it forever!" I realized they were right, and would have bought it but the correct conversion was $180. Marc and Catherine immediately backed off. I'm still thinking about it. <sigh>

Cottage Industries is government run. It's more or less a tourist place, but "tourist crap" in India is a totally different ballgame than in Canada or the U.S. Most is wood or metal, and most is handmade. Some of the wood carving is fantastic. I found some thin metal stampings, all around Rs 20-30, ideal to take home to people because (I think, anyway) they're quite pretty and obviously very cheap. I'm planning to go back there.

The Gateway to India. More pictures of it here.

On the way back to the hotel, we were taken by the Gateway to India, a big archway by the sea. Beggars, very small children, pulling at your pants, very persistent, speaking (some) English.

I've shot two and a half rolls of film already (rolls of 24).

I should talk about precautions sometime. Bug repellant, what not to eat and anti-malarial pills.

I was very tense and, well, almost afraid when I arrived. The poverty is amazing and disconcerting and the humidity is quite sticky, but for the most part I really enjoyed my day, and I think I'll sleep better tonight (although perhaps not perfectly).

Dinner was at a local vegetarian restaurant (they had a red Ganesh over the door). Excellent, most excellent food all day.

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