June 21-25: Mumbai, India
Despite many warnings from friends and family, we arrived to Mumbai in step with the monsoon. But by some glorious streak of luck — which promptly ended the moment we boarded a train out of Mumbai (foreshadowing!) — we were never caught in the rain for the four days we were there.
Even though we knew Mumbai would be hectic, we couldn’t prepare for the simple chaos of crossing the street, the mega slums, and driving. A small initiation: the drive in from the airport, when our elderly taxi driver demonstrated to us his proficiency in driving with one hand and manually wiping the window with his other during a torrential downpour. (If you’re having issues visualizing this, it’s as you first thought: he leaned out the window while driving and continuously wiped the window with a squeegee every minute or so, clearing a small, very temporary spot for seeing through.)
Over the next four days, morning til night, we simply walked through Mumbai’s teeming sea of humanity. Someone giving us tourism advice once said to us, “there’s not much to see in Mumbai,” but it seemed to us that there was something to see everywhere. Nowhere in the world could have been more different than the barren superhighways of Dubai. Every square inch of the outdoors — sidewalk, center divide, rooftop and alleyway — was shoulder-to-shoulder with people eating, sleeping, shopping, standing, staring…
Our greatest adventure was a day spent with Mahindra, a potbellied, foul-mouthed but gentle-hearted taxi driver, who obliged all our crazy requests, for example, insisting on sampling pani puri at a strip mall in the far western suburbs. We narrowly darted between teetering buses and fellow miniature cabs that looked straight out of the 1940s, cramming in every landmark that Mahindra deemed worthy. The steamy breeze was frequently punctuated by his battlecry, “crazy bastards!”, as we clenched the brown flowered velveteen seats, fearing for our lives. Between our walking wanderings and taxi terror, we left Mumbai feeling thrilled and exhausted. As Mahindra chuckled to us at some point in the day, “Mumbai is Mumbai.”
[On July 13, Mumbai was the victim of another terrorist attack.]
Spying from Moshe's Cafe on what appeared to be a street food staging area
Paper paradise at Chimanlals stationery store
We pretty much bought everything in sight
The beginning of a wild ride with Mahindra, our cab driver for the day. One of many meetups, where we would come back to the cab and after 10 or so minutes, he would meander back with a new snack or single cigarette he'd just purchased, in hand.
A series of shots as we sped by the streets
Business time and babies
PricewaterhouseCoopers in the background
Ro was trying to take a picture of the bus and an unexpected hand appeared
Focus your eyes to the middle and notice a man sneaking a ride on the back of a rickshaw, driver completely unaware
Flooded with fliers
A very bizarre experience -- before getting on the ultra-modern Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link bridge (which connects the western suburb of Bandra to central Mumbai, cutting travel time from an hour to seven minutes -- fully opened just over a year ago), we were selected for a security scan. Along with our driver, Mahindra, we exited the vehicle and walked back a hundred yards or so to watch this giant xray machine, attached to the truck, scan our vehicle (presumably for explosives?). We had no idea what was happening, nor did it seem Mahindra did, and to make it weirder, there were three guys with video cameras filming it all. They gave us water bottles as we stood silently and watched in total confusion. Of course, the security was not in vain, as another terrorist attack would hit Mumbai on July 13, 2011.
Dhobi Ghat, the outdoor expanse of concrete laundry stations -- the world's largest open-air laundromat! We got there late. not many dhobis to see.
Under the bridge chai
Three cups of tea. A tasty break, enjoyed in the cool air beneath the Dhobi Ghat bridge.
Fluttering flaps of drying laundry
Everywhere is a sidewalk
Horn please OK!
Rich red trails through the hanging gardens of Malabar Hill. A giant workout party for walkers
Mercilessly muggy at Chowpatty Beach
Colorful contrast against monsoon skies
Vultures in formation above the Parsi Towers of Silence, where sky burials (birds of prey eat the exposed corpse) take place nearby the hanging gardens.
Doggie at the Taj
The prelude to an enjoyably long art-buying session. One painting we bought was described as "a fish wedding. Look at the middle, the fishes are eating the lunch, and at the bottom the big fish is eating them all!"
We would have bought a lot more if we could carry it all
Good times at our (surprisingly luxurious) hotel, the ole YWCA!
Marigolds draped around every corner
Worst internet cafe ever. No page ever loaded. We had to wait our 30 minute minimum before leaving. Sadly, this was highly representative of all internet cafes in India, based on our experience. Very bad for our blogging!
Bus stop chillin'