Tuesday 8th December
Jaipur to Mumbai
Today we were awake before the Imams started their calling from the mosques.
I slid gently from sleep to awake, and joyously watched the fingers of yellow dawn light creeping around the edge of the window blind. I climbed out of bed to photograph the spectacle before realising that it was actually still dark outside and we had accidentally left the courtyard light on!
The restaurant opened early so that we could have breakfast at 6 before our 6.30 check out and airport transfer.
We said goodbye to our lovely driver - always happy, focussed on his driving, but chuckling at the odd things the guides said and glowing whenever we made any positive comment about his driving.
At the airport there was the expected chaos of queues and shouting, elbows and luggage trolleys, passports and tickets. We made it into the terminal building in one piece and looked around us. Our hold bags were most definitely heavier than the required 15kg each. Our hand luggage was at least twice the limit of 7kg. Lucky for us, the first helpful Indian airport worker to pounce on us Britishers, was actually a very helpful man from the luggage handling area. He pushed to the front of the bag screening queue, tossing our bags onto the conveyor belt like cushions onto a sofa. When it came to weighing at the check in desk, he casually jammed our bags on the scales at the same time so that they were partially wedged against the side walls and gave an optimistic total weight of 35kg. Only 5kg excess charge to pay... and his tip of course. No-one mentioned the hand luggage.
The flight was cramped but allowed Bill to finish reading his book and me to write up the blog.
When we landed there was a dramatic change in climate, the cool dry weather in Jaipur was replaced with hot and humid coastal air at 35 degrees.
The transfer to the centre of Mumbai went smoothly enough and we drove the 45 minutes South through the suburbs and city, over the Sea Link bridge and along Marine Parade to our very different, enormous modern tower block hotel - The Trident at Nariman Point.
Despite its modern/urban style the hotel was cool, beautiful and gracious. Our room looked out over the sea and along the so called 'Queens necklace' where the city lights illuminate the water at night.
At midday the view was of pale blue sea merging with pale blue sky, the interface being blurred by smog.
It was a spectacular panorama nonetheless. We paused to draw breath, and read our guide book and relaxed for a while, before enjoying high tea with spiced Masala Chai at 'The Verandah'.
After a careful study of the Lonely Planet guide to Mumbai, we decided to venture outdoors to follow their recommended walking tour to enjoy 'The distinctive mix of colonial era and Art Deco architecture', in a city of 'Lilting cadences and harmonies of excess and restraint'. Hmmm... We tried very hard to like it. Fine buildings indeed - the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, the Gateway of India, overlooking the harbour, the Rajavai clock tower, the University, the Sassoon Library, the Oval Maidan full of local men and boys playing cricket in the afternoon sun.... All quite lovely, but the streets were dirty and smelly, there were stray dogs and beggars and people asleep on the pavement covered with flies. The traffic streamed past with no regard for traffic signals, so that crossing the road when the green man said 'walk' felt like playing Russian roulette - you never knew when a battered old Hillman Imp taxi or three wheeled tuk-tuk would come rattling round the corner, blaring its horn. The pavements, kerbs and gutters were broken and difficult to negotiate, and sticky with unidentified materials. At every shop doorway, we were invited to pay a 'very good price' for something or other. There were crowds of people everywhere and street hawkers selling balloons and bangles. We saw just four other tourists.
After an hour and a half we felt that we had done our bit for experiencing 'genuine Mumbai' and retreated to Marine Parade.
This was simply THE place to be just before sunset. All along the two mile stretch of sea front, families promenaded, and couples sat gazing out to sea, whilst the Chai Wallah wandered past selling his garam chai. It was a lovely place to be, but by that time we felt hot and sweaty and grubby and so after strolling south along the sea wall for a while we retreated to the hotel roof garden to watch the sun set over the bay, enjoying the cool sea breeze and a couple of cold kingfisher beers!
As we watched, the sun set, the sky turned pink, and as darkness fell we watched the lights come on along the bay until it did indeed look like a necklace of glowing jewels with the ruby brake lights and emerald traffic lights mingling with the lights of the buildings and streets.
The pool was warm and the views got even better as it got darker. After swimming we went down to the huge and well equipped gym and spent a happy half hour there.
Back in our room the air conditioning suddenly started screeching like a strangled puppy. The manager sent an 'engineer' to fix it. We left to go to dinner, and he was sure it was all fixed. He would just turn it on to check... We just got as far as the lift when the screeching noise started up again!
For dinner we had a night off from curry and treated ourselves to chicken salad and rosti with mushrooms. We had decaf coffee to follow and as a consequence were falling asleep by the time we got back to the room! (Fortunately the air con appeared to have been fixed.)
Outside the window, local people were still wandering up and down the sea front outside and there were horses pulling silver coloured carriages be-decked with strings of neon coloured lights providing entertainment and rides for them and amusement for us. (They looked like cinderella's coach on LSD!)
We are touring Mumbai with a car and guide tomorrow - sounds infinitely better than walking!