Four Days of Art, Architecture and Food In Mumbai
Day One, Saturday
From Goa, we flew to Mumbai.
At the Mumbai airport, we hired a prepaid “cool taxi” to take us to the Oberoi hotel, in south Mumbai.
After you pay the taxi fare at the “cool taxi” counter, you take a copy of the receipt out to where the not so cool and pretty banged-up taxis are waiting.
A bit of a frenzy occurs as the drivers argue over who gets to drive the clients, and pocket a share of the paid fare.
Learning from the last time we did this, I ignored the pleas of a young woman who was attempting to grab my paid receipt, and went over to where the taxis were waiting.
She pleaded with me, saying that she actually was a taxi driver, and that her taxi was waiting in at a nearby parking area.
She said that she was part of a new women’s initiative to bring more women into the taxi business in Mumbai.
This intrigued me, and knowing the terrible plight of women in India, I decided to trust her.
I told her that she should go and get her taxi and I PROMISED her that we would not get into any other taxi cab as long as she comes up driving a cab.
We had waited only a few minutes when Geta came over with her cab.
She was truly part of an initiative to promote women as taxi drivers in an extremely chauvinistic culture.
When Geta pulled over to put diesel in her car, we saw another woman taxi driver wearing a traditional Sari, and with a large sticker on her rear window, advertising this new women’s initiative.
Geta was a small and feisty woman.
When other taxi drivers looked at her as if she were an oddity from outer space, she returned those male drivers’ looks with a daring and fearless nastiness.
She even yelled at those who tried to cut her off, screaming out the widow that they should learn how to drive and not zigzag all over the “Sea Link,” the new toll bridge into south Mumbai.
While Geta was waiting in traffic, she sang old Hindi songs along with her radio.
The Oberoi Hotel is located in south Mumbai, on Marine Drive.
We had dinner at “India Jones,” located inside the Trident Hotel next door, part of the Oberoi group.
We ate a fresh Pomelo salad with white and pink Pomelo and a zesty, tangy sauce,
a selection of steamed dim sums and Singapore noodles with prawns.
After dinner, we walked along the Marine Drive boardwalk, observing the many locals who came in the evening to take a similar long walk.
There were colorful horse carriages, families with kids, couples and friends strolling or sitting along the wide boardwalk.
The trees were full of large beautiful flowers, Blooming Barringtonia Asiatica.
We had seasonal ice cream at “Natural Ice Cream,” where we sampled flavors like fresh custard apple, coffee and walnut, Persian delight with fruit and nuts, and chocolate.
Day 2, Sunday
Breakfast at the Oberoi Hotel:
Fresh fruit, fresh juices, fluffy omelets, wholegrain breads, melon, chia seeds and Soya milk cappuccino.
Walking the old streets of south Mumbai on Sunday was a pleasure.
Many places were closed, so the streets were quiet, without much traffic, and shaded by some very old trees.
We were looking for art, architecture and nice places to stop and refresh ourselves.
At the National Gallery Of Modern Art, we stopped to see an exhibit of contemporary art, sculptures and installations, as well as videos, all by young German artists.
At the entrance, two uniformed guards asked me to deposit our money and backpacks in a rickety outdoor locker.
We deposited our backpacks and hats, but I took a small bag with our money, passports, phone and iPads with me.
The guard insisted that I cannot bring those into the museum.
By now, after two months of traveling around India, I knew better than to just obey the rules.
“Ain’t gonna happen, buddy!,” I said to the guard.
“These things are not staying in outdoor lockers that have multiple keys,” I thought to myself.
The guards were not happy, and went inside to ask the manager, who of course allowed me to take our valuables inside.
The gallery is built as a circular cylinder, like a smaller version of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, and we climbed up and up the circular staircase, with part of the very enjoyable exhibition on each floor.
From there, we continued on to Jehangir Art Gallery, a very large building divided into several galleries, each with an exhibition by an emerging artist, who seemed to be renting a gallery for his show.
On the rooftop was a nice photography exhibition, the culmination of an artist’s fifty years of travels and photography.
From there, we walked along the streets of the emerging Kala Ghoda neighborhood.
Some of the old and beautiful buildings were renovated and made into art galleries, cafes, boutiques and eateries.
The architecture in and around the area is breathtaking.
We visited two cathedrals, and admired quite a few beautiful old stone buildings, as we walked down beautiful streets lined with trees shading old residences.
We had a loose leaf tea and coffee break in a lovely little place called, “The Pantry.”
We also tried their “Flower Power Pizza,” a cauliflower crust mini-pizza, and a gluten- free fettuccini with figs.
At the “Strand Book Stall,” we browsed and wound up buying some books from their great selection of old books.
Many of the books cost as little as 50 or 100 rupees each, and are in excellent condition.
On Sundays, the usually busy streets become playgrounds.
Guys play improvised cricket matches with old milk crates.
We stopped at a Starbucks located inside a very beautiful old building.
They did an amazing job decorating that Starbucks, to match the glory of the building.
A Muslim man with four of his kids, who were sitting next to us in the Starbucks, told me about the rare and expensive Ambergris that he imports from New Zealand.
Ambergris is undigested food that calcifies in the digestive system of sperm whales.
The man recommended that I read a book called, “The Floating Gold,” about this substance.
Later, I saw the same man as we turned a corner and reached the local mosque.
He had pulled over his large and shiny black BMW and run inside the mosque, leaving his wife and kids outside in the car.
He took off his shoes at the door, returned my greeting and ran inside to pray.
At “Burma Burma” restaurant, we had a salad sampler plate, which included generous portions of three Burmese salads, the famous Burmese fermented tea leaf salad, a raw mango salad and a pink grapefruit salad, all decorated with edible flowers and roasted nuts with crispy fava beans.
We also had sticky rice filled with spinach and tofu, which was first steamed, then wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled. It was very tasty, and gentle on the stomach!
The next day, we checked out of the Oberoi and moved a short distance away, to the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
We wanted to see and stay in both of the city’s best hotels, and even though it felt like it might be too much hassle to pack and move ten minutes down the road, we were actually glad that we did it.
The Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai is a fabulous hotel in a stunning architectural building.
We were upgraded to a club room, located in the heritage wing of the hotel.
For two hours after we checked in, we simply toured and admired the beautiful collection of about 4,500 pieces of original art, craft, sculptures and furniture, spread throughout the hotel’s six floors.
Later in the day, we walked over to see some galleries in another transitional neighborhood, called Colaba.
We saw a nice photography exhibition, and enjoyed walking around the many Arab stores that sold traditional oils, perfumes, fabrics and spices. In the front of each store was the perfume and spice section. In the back half of the store was the fabric section, packed to the rafters with unique and interesting pieces of material.
I even bought a piece of fabric in one of the Arab stores, shopping among some Arab ladies who sat on cushions and drank tea while shopping for fabric to make dresses for their kids.
They carefully brought their tea cups inside the veils or burkas that they wore, and took small sips.
After we made an unsuccessful attempt to hire a taxi to take us on a tour of the Dhobi Ghat in mid-Mumbai, where the city’s laundry has been hand-washed for hundreds of years, we decided that perhaps it was best to take the city in small doses, and so we returned to the luxury of the hotel to have high tea.
High tea in the Taj Mahal Palace hotel’s club lounge was a luxurious affair, with
finger sandwiches, mini scones and miniature delicious bites and sweets, loose tea and soy cappuccinos.
We had a delicious dinner at the “Souk,” an Arab and Middle Eastern restaurant on the rooftop of the Taj.
We ate Beirut Hummus, Mutabal eggplant spread, and a Moroccan tajine with black prunes.
Later that night we stopped at the club lounge, to enjoy handmade chocolates and tiny sips of Brandy, as well as a loose leaf bedtime tea.
The next day, we simply lounged around the beautiful gardens and pool, among other tourists who also wanted to keep the busy city at bay.
We read all day, had lunch at the pool and high tea at the club.
We talked about some of what we’ve experienced in the past year.
I asked Jules to contemplate two of the experiences we’ve had recently….
Our two month foot pilgrimage around Shikoku Island to 88 Buddhist temples, and this two month trip throughout India.
Why is it that when we’d finished the pilgrimage in Japan, with sore legs, tired and exhausted, we already started to plan our next pilgrimage around Japan, maybe even as early as next year….
It was such a rough and tough journey…..
We slept in mediocre guesthouses and very simple, small hotels.
We slept on the floor, and often the food was not very tasty., while on this trip in India, we mostly stayed in five star luxury resorts that were beautiful.
We ate fabulous international food, slept in luxury beds that were often MORE comfortable than the beds we have at home, and yet we are leaving with the feeling that it will be great to be working hard and sweating in our garden in NZ….
We have had enough of luxury, and enough of laying around….
Why is it?….
We normally love luxury, so why has it left us wanting, while the challenging pilgrimage left us fulfilled and eager for more…..
Jules said that this trip to India included too much sitting on our butts, which we do not really enjoy.
Often the places we visited were not conducive to walking, and we resorted to the comfort of the luxury hotels, as a buffer from the harsh and broken streets, packed with cars, trucks and motorcycles.
I can admit that as a woman, traveling in India has been a bit of a defensive act for me.
I have had to be so much more aware of what I wear and where I walk, making sure not to walk too close to groups of guys who often stuck out their elbows so they can “accidentally” brush against my breast or butt.
Even with Jules always by my side, it happened too often and it felt absolutely humiliating.
I have faith in progress and I am writing this on the eve of the USA electing its first female president…
One day the older generations of people in India will be completely recycled.
New minds and more loving hearts will reincarnate on the Indian continent.
The old chauvinist mode that has operated here for so long will change, and instead of searching for success, the young people will one day learn that what they truly need is to learn gentleness, kindness, politeness towards all, and love and respect for women and for all others, not just toward their families and close friends.
We shall wait and see….