Arriving in Mumbai around midnight treats any traveler to a whirlwind of thoughts, feelings, and emotions. You can't help but feel a bit like a four-year-old child lost in a shopping mall.
We quickly made our way through immigration finding out by a kind immigration official that it was 'International Women's Day'. Happy IWD Everyone! We found our way to the baggage claim, where Kyle and Becky quickly picked up their bags but I stood for another 20 minutes waiting with baited breath praying to Ganesh, Vishnu and whoever else would listen that my bag pop around the corner. 10 minutes later, finally convinced that my travel karma had ran out, low and behold, out comes the black, beat up bag that has treated me so well for the past 22 months. With all our possessions in tow we made our way through the last security check point and out the doors.
Our first stop was a trip to the ATM to take out some Indian Rupees for our prepaid cab ride to our hotel in Colaba. I proceeded to take out just enough to get us to the hotel, roughly $20 USD, however, confusion with conversion tends to happen on these types of trips, and Mama Warbucks Reining accidentally took out the equivalent of $600 USD from the ATM. Bombay Ballin!!
We walked out to the cab, clutching our bags close while being shepherded to a waiting air conditioned cab. Our bags were pried from our grasp and hastily plopped on the roof of the small 1970's back and yellow cab. For the 'laborious' duty of securing our bags up top a tip was demanded and subsequently scoffed at, as we closed the doors and took a giant communal sigh of relief. We were finally safely in the cab and on our way to the comfort of our hotel in the tourist haven of Colaba.
India really takes hold of you the moment you see life whizzing by. From the guilty comfort of our air conditioned cab we looked on in wonderment as tens of thousands of people lined the streets. Rows of sleeping bodies: men, women, and children on the sidewalks, in the streets, in just about any available plot of street space. It instantly took me, and I understood the importance of this trip: to once again expose myself to new and different ways of life that would otherwise be unknown to me, if for nothing more than to gain a bit more perspective on what is really important in life.
It wasn't until well after midnight that we arrived at our accommodation for the next few nights: The Sea Palace Hotel in Colaba. We checked in, packed four of us (including the bellhop) with our overstuffed backpacks into the tiny, old elevator and headed up to the 4th floor, room 409 for a much needed slumber.
In the morning, we woke early, had a bit of a hostel room work out, showered, and made our way down to the complimentary breakfast. It included a fair mix of indian and western selections. Indian for breakfast isn't necessarily my go-to, so I stuck to cornflakes, fruit, and coffee, but Kyle and Becky really went for it - when in India...
After we had our fill, we decided on a lonely planet recommended walking tour of Colaba and surrounds. We started out by walking down the promenade toward the goliath that is the Gate of India. Built in the 1920's for the arrival of King George V of Wales, and ironically as ground zero for the uprising against the British Royal Rule. The gate, though beautiful, certainly attracts all types. The vendors outside were selling anything from cucumber and lemon juice, to oversized balloons, and tiny trinkets. Everyone wants to take your picture, bless you, or take you on a trip to Elephanta Island. It's all a bit overwhelming in your very first experience in India.
After getting several obligatory photos, paying off beggars and street hustlers, we were already ready for a bit of a reprieve from the heat and chaos. Directly across the street from the gate is the famous Taj Palace Hotel, one of the most luxurious hotels on the planet, and also the scene of the notorious terrorist attack several years back. We wondered the lavish, sweet smelling lobby, and through the labyrinth of marbled hallways to a store selling all types of jewels. We stared as the blinding sparkles of the rainbow colored jewels made us green with envy. At one point, we had the store manager place a tiny, understated (hope you're picking up on the sarcasm) $75,000 necklace around my neck. The weight of it was incredible, pure 22k gold with every size of ruby, emerald, amethyst, and pretty much all other precious stone imaginable. Completely out of control!
We were making our way out towards the exit, when we innocently got sidetracked at the sight of the hotel bar. We figured, it's hot out there and we need a good India kick off. We order three different, overpriced, indian spice-infused cocktails. They were created by world renowned, award-winning mixologist and we appreciated every last sip.
Keen to see more of this walking tour we set out down the street. We passed beautiful and ornate, but eerily decrepit buildings that hinted at the former glory of this former Raj capital. We stopped into an old library, cruised the museum of contemporary art, passed the University of Mumbai, viewed a local cricket match, and took in some good ole street food. It was a great introduction to a very intriguing city.
After a stop at a well-known coffee shop (that will remain nameless) for an afternoon pick-me-up, we headed back to our hotel to watch the day melt into the evening on from the perch of our hotel rooftop. We enjoyed one of Becky's final bottles of red wine from her many trips to wine regions all over the world, and proceeded to do what we do best... play Sequence, of course.
The evening was spent ingesting copious amount of out-of-this-world massalas, aloos, naan, and rice. Our after dinner digestion included a walk down the street vendor markets, haggling over 50 rupees here and there over stuff we really don't need anyway. We retired back to our room to let the first full day of India sink in as we drifted off to a restful sleep.
In the morning, after breakfast, we hired a car through our hotel and set out to see more of Mumbai than our feet would allow us. We took in the Ghandi Museum where we literally ran into the one and only Billy Becket, our good mate from Australia- there has got to be some hidden meaning there... it's just too perfect! It turned out Billy was in Mumbai for a week the exact time we were there and well, we were definitely making plans to hang out in a major way. We continued on our tour through Temples, Chowpatty Beach (Beach Beach), hanging gardens, fantastic indian lunch spot, a slum tour, and finally our driver left us in Bandra, where we walked along the water and up towards the fort at the top of the hill. Behind us, stood the Taj Lands End, another of the illustrious Taj family of hotels. This particular Taj was housing one, William Becket, and would be hosting us for a free happy hour.
We met up with Billy and took in some incredible views from his room and the happy hour reception of a huge fire-red sun setting over the Arabian sea. Check that one off the list!
We chatted for hours; caught up about everything happening in Sydney and what our travels had been like. We enjoyed the bottomless wine and champagne until it was time for dinner. We had a dinner of salads and Kingfisher Beers (we had our fill from our massive Indian feed earlier in the day). We grabbed a cab and settled in for the 40 minute journey across town to our hotel and crashed for the night.
The next morning Kyle and I were more in the mood to relax. She had been battling her first of hopefully few stomach bugs, and I was looking more to ease into this Indian experience. Becky decided she would hire a driver and check out a waterside mosque and laundry washing area by herself, while we spent some time on the internet planning more of our trip, getting coffee, lunch, and finally shopping. At 4:30 pm, we all met back up and headed to our rooftop for another sunset happy hour, this time with an old family friend of Kyle's; Frances and Chris.
After a couple brews it became time to depart our separate ways for dinner. We bid our new friends adieu and cleaned up for our own venture out for dinner. We settled on a lovely deli called Indigo where we had more salads, soups, and western dishes. We were all feeling one full day on non gut-bomb meals. After dinner we were all a bit fatigued, but we took another stroll through the streets of Mumbai. Before too late, we headed back to our hotel and began packing up our backpacks. In the morning it would be off to the airport for our flight to the beautiful beaches of Goa. I am beside myself with excitement. Maybe it's the 2 months spent in Wisconsin winter, or maybe I'm just a spoiled brat, but I am dying for some good ole beach lounging!!