Monday, January 28, 2013

Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

CST or  Victoria Terminus train station in Mumbai, a world heritage site.
Our train to Mumbai (Bombay) left Aurangabad only a few minutes late, but by the time we arrived at the outskirts of the city we were too late to use the tracks. There are so many people commuting into Mumbai, and not enough tracks, that in the morning the commuter trains get priority and  the long distance trains just have to wait. Our 7am arrival became noon, which we were happy with: we got a little more sleep and knew our hotel would actually let us check in. 

We we got to the hotel that we had booked online, they wouldn't make eye contact, wouldn't tell us where our room was, were just shuffling papers and making phone calls. Finally, they called Matt over and handed him the phone. The agent explained the hotel was full (we had figured that out by now). They said they had re-booked us into another hotel "nearby". We got into another cab, which  took half an hour. We assume it was geographically close to our first hotel, but it was not the same neighborhood. The first hotel was across from a park, near the train station, the new hotel was surrounded by automotive shops (It does seem that 50% of all shops in India are car or motorcycle repair and parts shops, or we are just wandering the wrong parts of town). As we climbed the 5 stories to the new hotel each floor had a gaggle of young men milling in the hallways. We finally see the room, and it's not the worst we have or will sleep in, but there's mold on the walls and stains on the sheets and no internet and I'm tired and smelly and grouchy so we decide we're not staying there. Maybe it was more out of irritation at Cleartrip for picking a new hotel for us (I guess it was nice of them to try to correct their mistake). 

So we walk out onto the street and find a for-pay phone in a street stall and call every number in the guide book but every hotel is booked up (because they're in the guidebook). We search for a while for internet, following helpful people's directions (again, in the interest of not saying no, I think many people seem to just point vaguely and hope you'll find something).  I was about to insist on booking a room at the super expensive Intercontinental, when we saw an empty cab. The driver says "To colaba, yes?" and we say yes. After spending too long in the "tourist haven" of Thamel, Kathmandu, we were trying to avoid Colaba, where all the tourists stay in Mumbai. As it turns out, sometimes the tourist are there for a reason. Colaba is on a narrow part of the peninsula, so you can walk from the arabian sea side to the bay side comfortably. The driver pulled up at the Hotel Gulf (so named for the Persian Gulf) and we found a room right away. 

After a rocky start in Mumbai we enjoyed wandering the wide streets with full sidewalks, admiring the crumbling Georgian architecture being reclaimed by trees and tropical plants. We ate well, at cafes that would do well in New York, and we didn't struggle to find a drink at the end of the night. We peeked in at Leopold's, an iconic Mumbai institution, with it's wobbly fans and 3 foot tubes of beer, but left it to the other tourists. We also go to visit with Ashwini, a friend from last time I was here, her gracious and funny husband and two adorable, rambunctious boys. 

I will admit it was nice to sip a cocktail on a roof looking out at city lights and boats bobbing in the bay, maybe I am a bit of a city girl at heart. After 4 days though we were ready to continue on our way (hopefully to cheaper destinations). 

- Bree

It could be London only with palm trees.
The facade is all that remains of some older buildings.
We were in Mumbai during Republic Day. 
Even if the train car is empty, Indians like to hang out the doors. Matt just trying to fit in. 
A scrawny cat sleeps atop a motorcycle.
The sun setting over the Arabian Sea.
A news van just back from either Beirut or the post-apocalypse. 
Bree and Ashwini acting like children while Jiva and Shivba act like adults.
The train station lit up at night.
Sun sets over the Mumbai skyline.