Maggie, Elizabeth, Emma and I travelled to Mumbai last weekend. Since Thursday was Vijaya Dashami, a Hindu festival, we didn’t have classes and were able to leave campus on Wednesday night. We took an overnight bus which wasn’t too bad, just a little bumpy. We arrived in Mumbai on Thursday morning ready for a good weekend. Luckily, we were able to check in to the Salvation Army early so we wouldn’t have to carry our bags around all day. So we headed out to the ElephantaCaves. The caves are on an island which is about an hour boat ride away from shore. The breeze coming off the water felt very refreshing since Mumbai was particularly hot. The caves are on a hill so we climbed up a lot of steps to get to the top. When we made it to the ticket counter, we ran into some trouble. Again with the damn foreigner price. Seriously c’mon. We tried to show the man our school ids which prove that we actually live here but he wasn’t having any of it. I understand that making foreigners pay a higher price than Indians is a great way to make a good profit but I’m getting sick of it. What I want to know is how can they tell who is Indian? Northeast Indians look more Asian, while Pakistanis look just the same as mainland Indians. I don’t see any of these people getting asked to present their passport. And if they were asked to, how pissed does that make them? You shouldn’t have to prove your nationality. So for me, it’s just frustrating that no one believes that I live here but for these people it must be downright unfair. How dare you question someone’s nationality like that?

Ok so other than that, the Elephanta Caves were pretty cool. There are five Hindu caves on one side and a smaller area of Buddhist caves on the other. The Hindu caves were dedicated to Shiva while the Buddhists ones were more for meditation. The most impressive part of the caves was the depiction of Trimurti, which is Shiva with three heads, representing creation, protection and destruction. After seeing the caves of Ajanta and Ellora, the Elephanta caves seemed to be a little dull. I am such a brat when it comes to seeing cool stuff.

After we got back from the island, we stopped at this cafe for some snacks. We had hummus for the first time in India. It was delicious. After refueling we headed across town to Chowpatty Beach for the festival activities. We were able to sneak in front of the fence and sit in the sand while we watched three people dressed as Hindu gods walk onto the stage. Everyone was singing along and giving them offerings. Then the fireworks started. Apparently India does not have very strict firework regulations (no surprise there) because they were going off about three yards away from us. Ambers were falling on me. That’s not an exaggeration. So the firework mishaps at my going-away party in NH done by Lisa and Maddy are no longer the most dangerous encounter I have had with explosives. We walked along the beach and admired the lights of Marine Drive or Queen’s Necklace as most people call it. The shore line creates a circular shape so when it all lights up, it makes this beautiful view of the Arabian Sea. We left the beach to get a pitcher of Kingfisher and some ice cream at Leopold’s Cafe. Not too much partying though because the Salvation Army has a curfew of 12:30. I felt like I was in high school again.

The next day we went to the Jehangir Modern Art Museum. It was nice to finally see some Indian art. Every time I look up museums, they are all impressionists but I can see that at home. So we admired the paintings and sculptures. Upstairs we met some Americans who were studying in Pune. We also got to talk to one of the artists. He explained his techniques and even gave us little scrap paintings that he had been working on. What a guy.

After the museum we walked around the city looking for a cathedral. Well we never actually found it but along the way we saw a good amount of Mumbai. We passed the Prince of Wales Museum and an outdoor art gallery. We walked through the Natural History Society and learned about the environment and current eco-friendly projects. By the shore was Mumbai University which was so gorgeous I couldn’t believe it was actually a school. It even put my beautiful St. Mike’s to shame. My favorite was the street book fair. Paradise. I ended up only buying one book. I am learning self restraint. We took a cab to Crawford Market. The great thing about Mumbai is that all the cabs and rickshaws have to use the meter so we didn’t have to haggle for a decent rate. Well this particular cab driver was quite the jerk. He tried to tell us that the fare was 280 rupees which is absurd. Emma wasn’t having any of that. She looked at him and shouted “I live in India, don’t try to [obscenity] with me.” This nice hawker saw that we were having trouble and kindly came over to intervene. Needless to say, we got the appropriate fare, 50 rupees. One point for the foreigners. We ran into some more interesting people inside the market. This man came up to us and was trying to give us a tour of the market. We very clearly declined his offer and went on our way. Apparently, “no” was not enough for this one-armed man. He followed us until finally we said “go find some other firangis to bother.” Firangi is the term for a white foreigner. If you use this word, it becomes clear that you know what’s up. He finally got the clue. We tried some chikki, Mumbai’s famous snack. It is almost like a peanut brittle made of cashews and jaggery.

We headed to Malabar Hill which is the wealthy area of Mumbai where most of the Bollywood stars live. We hung out in the Hanging Garden for awhile. Elizabeth was waiting for the rest of us to get out of the washroom when she started getting hawked. So she started to speak to this hawker in Spanish thinking he wouldn’t understand her and leave her alone. Well he was a smart one because he responded in Spanish. He knows English, Spanish, Hindi and Gujarati. It is incredible how he could just pick up these languages from listening to tourists. He explained that the garden is called the Hanging Garden because it is elevated over a system of water. This way the plants get water constantly. It was a beautiful garden. We were being followed by some lurker. Eventually some other man joined him and the two of them proceeded to stare at us as we sat on a bench. We asked them to stop multiple times but that never happened. Elizabeth, who is this very petite girl packed with lots of sass, jumps up and starts yelling at them in Hindi. They quickly scampered away. We went across the street to see this smaller garden, Kamala Nehru Park, which had a great view of all of Mumbai. There was a giant yellow shoe like the one at Story Land, I’m not exactly sure why. We walked further down the hill and came to the Parsi Towers of Silence. This is where the Parsi people leave their dead bodies. Parsis do not bury or cremate bodies so the corpse is just laid out here. We had read that you are not allowed inside the actual area, and understandably so. I wasn’t looking to see any dead bodies but I heard that you could at least see the tops of the towers and the garden in the front. Well the man at the front gate wouldn’t even let us into the front area. I guess this white face of mine is not permitted. You could see the large swarms of vultures hovering in the sky. That’s creepy.  We stopped at a temple on the way down Malabar Hill. It was gorgeous. The smell of incense and the sound of bells took over the air.

We ended up going to the Gateway of India to hang out before getting dinner. The Gateway of India was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. It looks like the Arc de Triomphe. We sat outside and walked through the large crowds of people. The hawkers around the Gateway were selling pretty weird items. These guys were selling these massive balloons. We saw them all over Mumbai. I was joking that I wanted to buy some because who doesn’t want giant balloons? So Elizabeth ended up buying a pack of them. We opened them up and they were tiny! That is what you call false advertisement. Another vendor came up to us and grabbed one of our balloons and started to blow it up. Thanks for ruining one of our balloons sir. We explained our situation to him and he just shouted “he’s a cheater man!” Yes sir, he is. And then there were the people with scales. Why do you think I want to pay you to see how much my fat ass weighs? We saw at least four different people with scales. That’s just beyond bizarre.

Across from the Gateway is the Taj Mahal Hotel. This is one of the most expensive hotels in the entire world. It costs around 30,000 rupees to stay there a night. I have never seen a nicer hotel. Unfortunately, the Taj was also the target of terrorist attacks on 26/11. We were told that if you went to the top you could still see the bullet shots but they wouldn’t let us. The hotel has six different restaurants inside of it. We checked out the menu. I could have bought a cup of chai. So we went back to Leopold’s Café for dinner. I ordered some pesto pasta and oh my God, I forgot how much I love pasta. Which is remarkable considering how much pasta I consume at home. We met these two guys who were visiting Mumbai on business. One was American and the other was from Jaipur, India. They ended up buying us a round of drinks. Lisa D’Angelo, it was real good whiskey. Ten High is not quite as good as this stuff. After a long day we couldn’t think about going to the clubs so we headed back to the Salvation Army to make our curfew. Well the man working the night shift was not as friendly as the man during the day because he told us to come back at 6am. Hell no sir. We showed him our receipts and forcefully let ourselves in.

The next day we went to three different places before heading to our bus stop. We went to the Mahalaxmi temple. It was much more crowded than the other one. There was a throng of worshippers shuffling their way to the altar. It was incredibly ornate but not as peaceful as the previous one. We didn’t get to spend much time inside but the alleyways of people selling offerings and bindi powder were fun. Next we went to the Dhobi Ghat. A lesson to everyone, never complain about doing laundry. This place is a network of basins and clothes lines for washer-men to do their work. Washing is considered hard labor and only men are allowed to do it. It was nuts seeing all that laundry being hung out to dry. One hawker came up to us to try to sell us some postcards. She spoke English very well. I was very impressed. She was such a sweetheart. I bought her postcards.

Our final stop in Mumbai was Dharavi. Most of you probably don’t know this but if you have seen Slumdog Millionaire, you have seen parts of Dharavi. Dharavi is the largest slum in India and quite possibly the world. We drove all around the neighborhood but our cab driver would not let us get out of the car. He said it was too dangerous for us to walk through the streets. I wish we had been able to but I trust his judgment. Being in India for three months, I have seen my fair share of poverty. I see shacks on the side of the road, starving children and physically disabled people on the streets almost everyday. But I have never seen anything like Dharavi. A little piece of my heart broke. Not many kids here will end up winning one million dollars. The unfortunate truth is that most of these people will never get out. I’m not a religious person but all I can do is pray.

After Dharavi we headed to the bus stop to get back to Hyderabad. Our ride was filled with creepers, fits of laughter, and quite possibly a drunken bus driver. But we made it back safely. I loved Mumbai and I know this won’t be the last time I will be there. Maybe Mumbai University has a good graduate program.

 

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