Gaze out the plane window upon Mumbai and your eyes are drawn to the endless patches of blue…not the typical swimming pool blue of other locations, but tarp coverings guarding roofs as far as the eye can see. I am not sure if these are monsoon season precautions or fixtures in Mumbai, but in some cases they cover grand estates and in others serve as the only shelter from the rain while making for a interesting view upon descent.
When I stopped in Mumbai for twelve hours after my missed connection to Sri Lanka, my first impression was of a busy and chaotic city. As I return with four weeks of India under my belt, I am struck by my changed impressions of a city that now appears calm, cultured, and I would even say cosmopolitan.
India can be challenging to navigate by day, and I found it easy to find a nice hotel far from the bustling city center where I could enjoy my last Indian destination with a sense of luxurious peace. I’m not sure if the inexpensive hotel prices are a result of monsoon season or the recent terrorist activity, but the Imperial Palace was a sight to see…covered in golden-framed paintings, large murals, crystal chandeliers, and royal seating everywhere. On my first night in Mumbai, I had big dreams of exploring the city, but three seconds after opening my hotel door, I had settled in for an evening of tv, my good book, and a (sort of) hot bath.
Although I cannot carry another thing at this point, I spent my second day exploring local shopping and a beach area. Bandra bandstand is not a typical swimming beach, but a waterfront coast made of a slippery combination of rock, water, algae, and tar. As I confidently headed out for a shoreline walk between the small pockets of couples, I tried not to interrupt their loving exchanges. I did a fine job for about a minute until my flip-flops hit a pocket of tar and I took a less than gracious tumble. As I sit, still feeling the effects from the large bruise on my thigh, I can recall the startled faces of the beachcombers as I made what appeared to be a slow motion swan dive to the ground. Two young men came to help and escort me along the remaining steps. At this moment, I made a difficult observation…one that I am guessing all women of my certain age must face. These boys were less about charming me than they were about caring for the aged foreigner. They held my arm and gently ensured that I wouldn’t fall again – in the same way I held my Gram for over 10 years when she arrived at my home. As we walked, I learned about their school careers, future aspirations, love for their country, posed for pictures, exchanged Facebook information, and proceeded to slip and slide back to the car.
My trip to India would end with a final day in Mumbai. It was difficult to decide how to spend the day because, as I mentioned, my hotel is a distance from the city center. I was due to checkout at noon and would have to wait for my flight to Newark at 11:10 pm. Taking public transportation or a taxi wasn’t an option because of my luggage. For $40, I opted to hire a driver for the day. Lal Sab showed up with his air conditioned car (an add-on feature in most taxis) and we began a day of sightseeing in Mumbai. Lal Sab wasn’t just a driver, he was my own secret service agent. His attention to my safety…walking two feet ahead of me removing all possible irritants from my way…cars, people, and trash didn’t have a chance of coming in contact with me. After we stopped at a shop, he took the important role of a traveling companion by asking to review my purchases. While his desire to keep me safe interfered with the authenticity of my Mumbai experience, I didn’t initially have the heart to ask him if I could independently tackle the sights. We spent the morning in this fashion until I convinced him to give me a few hours on my own.
There are sights to see in Mumbai and I enjoyed visiting them…the Hajj Ali, Taj Hotel, Indian Gate…all interesting and worth a stop. After recent terrorist bombings, security was especially visible with police barricades and security checks. My favorite parts of my last day were the “ordinary” moments spent crossing through the jumbled traffic, wandering around the fruit, spice, and animal market stalls with an old man who called himself a market ambassador and requested no money for his hosting skills, perusing through boxes of ornately-designed stationery supplies, catching the final “hellos” from local children and stares from adults, munching on my last masala dosa, and sipping a final cup of tea.