Friday, May 28, 2010

Eric in India

At last! An India recap!

Eric returned from his business trip to Mumbai (Bombay) with lots of great pictures and really interesting stories to tell, so I asked him if he wouldn't mind writing up a little recap for you. I figured that by having him do it, I wouldn't run the risk of leaving anything out or saying something incorrectly. Thanks for helping me with this one, Eric!

So, without further ado, I give you Eric's "My Life as a Lawyer's Wife" debut:

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Anyone who has ever traveled on business knows that it is usually more glamorous to tell people where you went than to actually go there yourself. Normally, an international business trip consists of a first class flight, a five star hotel and...a crowded conference room for 15 hours a day. However, I was very fortunate that our meetings wrapped up a day early, and I had some time to do some sightseeing.

The first thing I will say about nice hotels in India is that the level of service is outstanding. The staff at the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai had live music playing around the clock (harp during dinner, grand piano during the day and night), asked how I was doing (and seemed to really want to know), turned off the vacuum when I walked by, rode the elevator to my floor before heading to their final destination, carried my luggage whenever possible and really went out of their way to accommodate every request I made. This is actually how I came to take such a great tour of the city. Had they not come through, I would not have ventured very far on my own. For one thing, I am not sure it would have been the safest decision, and for another, it was literally 100 degrees.

Anyway, I called the concierge at 10 p.m. Thursday night to ask about setting up a tour for the following day, and was told they require at least 24 hours notice, but would see what they could do and call me in the morning. Needless to say, by the time I woke up on Friday morning they had arranged for a rental car (with chauffeur) and a travel guide from the Government's tourism department to ride along and talk about the people and places we would encounter around the city.

Before showing you some of the places my tour guide showed me, I should share that my hotel room looked out at the Arabian Sea and probably the most photographed spot in Mumbai: the Queen's Necklace. As you can see, this spot is appropriately named because of the way the street lamps light up the road along Marine Drive.
Marine Drive/the Queen's Necklace during the day

The Queen's Necklace at night
My tour guide also told me that Marine Drive was a great spot to watch the sun set. Fortunately, my day off also meant I was able to snap this picture from my room:
Sunset over the Arabian Sea (The Maharashtra Governor's mansion is on the end of the peninsula to the right of the sun)
Just for fun, here are some pictures of the hotel:
The Oberoi Hotel - it looks much fancier on the inside.

Inside the lobby - check out the red piano!

Looking up from the lobby of the hotel

VIDEO: Pianist in the hotel lobby (playing "Phantom of the Opera")

The pool area

One side of the room - bed, desk area

The bathroom and bedroom
So, back to (or, finally to) the tour recap. After a healthy chat about reclaimed land and the renovation of the hotel, we made our way to the Victoria Terminus, which is one of the busiest train stations in India. Apparently the Mumbai commuter trains handle 8 million passengers a day. Funny story - the majority of trains are not electric, which means they have no air conditioning and no doors, which the tour guide says is the cause of multiple deaths each week. Yes, multiple deaths.
One of the commuter trains - do you see the people hanging out of the doorways?
The Victoria Terminus is one of two World Heritage Sites in Mumbai. It was also featured prominently in the movie Slumdog Millionaire (it is the train station where Jamal and Latika meet on the platform).
Victoria Terminus, with a cab in the foreground. All the taxis are painted either black and yellow like that, or blue and white.
The blue and white ones are the ones with air conditioning and cost extra!

Closer view of the Victoria Terminus - a lion and lioness guard the entrance
After driving down Marine drive and past the Flora Fountain, the Taraporewala Aquarium and Chowpatty Beach (feel free to look them up on your own or check them out if you ever find yourself in Mumbai), we stopped and went in a Jain Temple. Jainism is one of the eight religions practiced in India. Apparently, 85% of Indians are Hindu, but my guide must have been Jain, so a Jain temple it was. After removing our shoes, in we went. I have to say that it was really fancy (for lack of a more formal term).
Rules for the Temple. In case you can't read it, they are:
1.) Please remove your footwear. 2.) Eating, chewing anything and smoking is prohibited.
3.) Ladies in monthly period are not allowed. (WHAT???) 4.) Please walk gently and carefully without
disturbing the devotees. 5.) While taking photographs do not turn your back to the idols.
6.) Visitors are restricted in last chambers.

Outside on the second floor of the Temple

Inside the Temple - the doors were made of real silver

This is a paper cut-out!

View of one of the idols through the closed gate (they close them off at 1 p.m.)

The figure here is not a saint herself, but she helped the 24 saints achieve Nirvana.
She is wearing a necklace of lotus flowers, the national flower of India.

Fancy peacock (national bird of India) on the stairwell

Ceiling of the Temple

VIDEO: Inside the Jain Temple
We then drove to the Pherozshah Mehta Gardens, also known as the Hanging Gardens. It is basically a park with topiary art. Legend has it that the garden was built on top of a reservoir by Pherozshah Mehta to protect the water supply from being contaminated. You see, the Parsi (another of the eight religions) Tower of Silence is located nearby. The Parsis worship the elements and believe that burying a dead body will contaminate the earth, while cremating it will contaminate fire. Thus, dead bodies are placed atop the Tower of Silence and left to the birds until all that is left are bones. However, the birds would then drop the remains into the reservoir as they flew overhead. According to the legend, the gardens were built on top of the reservoir to protect the water from contamination by the dropped remains. Whatever the reason for the gardens being built, they are very well manicured, with the most topiary art I have ever seen in one place.
The gardens. That penguin figure you see is actually a trash can!

VIDEO: A look around the gardens

Four symbols of Mumbai

Fancy topiary art

In the gardens
This last picture was the only picture I took of myself in Mumbai. However, it was far from the only picture taken of me. Apparently, in that part of the world, someone with my skin tone is a rare sight, one you might want to take a picture of. At least some people asked first.
Our next stop was one of the more interesting ones, an open air laundromat called Dhobi Ghat. My guide told me these places are very popular and locations like the one I saw employed thousands of people. People with hand carts go door-to-door and pick up the clothes and bring them to Dhobi Ghat, where they are washed by being banged against a stone. They are then strung up without clothespins and according to type and color. Once they are dried, they get ironed and delivered. (This may also be familiar to you if you saw Slumdog Millionaire - Jamal's mother was working in a laundry facility like this one when she was killed. However, my guide tells me that usually it is men who work in these facilities.)
Dhobi Ghat

Workers washing clothes
Our next stop was Mani Bhaven (translated: Bhaven Mansion). This was the home where Mohandas Ghandi stayed when we was in Mumbai between 1917 and 1934, and the spot where he began some of his political fasts. The home was later turned into a museum and the highlight was Ghandi's old room preserved as he kept it.
Mani Bhaven

Gandhi's room, preserved just as he had it in residence
On the way to our final sight, we stopped at a small fishing harbor, which happens to be the spot where the Mumbai terrorists landed. I liked some of these pictures because they really show the disparity between the rich and poor. I wasn't prepared or the amount of slum housing in Mumbai.
Very clear contrast - slums in the foreground and high rise hotels in the background

Slum housing

Kitten looking for scraps on the bones of "Bombay Duck," a very strong smelling fish that is served throughout Mumbai (except in the fancy hotels)

Kids playing cricket, which is a holdover from British rule and very popular in India.
Our final sight is probably the most well known - the Gateway of India. It is located across the street from the Royal Taj Mahal Hotel and on a large harbor, the kind where distinguished guests of honor would land in India. Modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, it was built in 1924 to commemorate the 1911 visit of King George V and Queen Mary.
Gateway of India

Taj Mahal Hotel
Before I go, I wanted to mention my two most lasting memories of Mumbai. First was the depressing poverty. Meghan and I have lived in big cities and have seen our share of homelessness, but I probably saw more people sleeping on the streets in five days in Mumbai than in five years living in Washington, DC and New York. And this does not even include the people living in slums that all over the city. On a less somber note, the second memorable image was livestock pulling carts in the street and hanging out on the sidewalks! Seriously, there were huge steer and cows just walking around downtown. I was only able to get a couple of pictures, but you get the idea.

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And that was Eric's trip! Can you believe he saw all that in just a half-day tour? If you haven't already looked at the full set of his India pictures on the photo share site, I highly recommend you do so. He got some great shots.

Another thing he didn't mention was his flight. He flew business class, which was super fancy. Neither of us has ever flown first class before, nor have we taken such a long flight. I'd say business class made the long flight as easy on him as possible, complete with five-course meals (accompanied by a pretty nice wine list) and a seat that reclined to completely horizontal, making it into a little private "bunk" for sleeping. They even provided him with a little toiletry kit to freshen up, socks, and offered him a "sleep suit" to change into. So fancy!

Fancy plane meal (lamb, rice, potatoes) complete with table cloth and personal salt and pepper shakers

The controls for Eric's fancy seat

Eric laying down in his private bunk

And that was Eric's first India experience. Such an interesting trip! Thanks again for helping me with the recap, Eric!

In other news, I hope you all enjoy your long weekend! Eric and I will have some company this weekend - my sister Heather, cousin Molly, and cousin-in-law Zita (is that what you call your cousin's wife?) are coming to visit. We have excessive amounts of fun things planned, so this promises to be a pretty great weekend. I hope you all enjoy yours, too!


Becky said...

Good job, Eric, on your blog debut! It looked like quite a trip, and seemed like you were treated well while there.

AD said...

Very interesting and informative, Eric. Thanks for sharing!

Molly said...

Wow, this is great! What an experience, I'm glad you had time to see and visit.