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Published: October 4th 2011
Between fools and guidebooks a man could acquire ignorance enough in twenty-four hours in a country like this to last him a year. - Mark Twain
Ah, Mumbai. Our first view of India after wandering out into the steamy night was from the window of a fast-moving taxi, the air sweet with paan and the streets peopled with those out still celebrating Gandhi's birthday and a few cows being herded who knows where. Not so many cows in this city, or perhaps we're just in the wrong area. Plenty of stray dogs, though.
We stayed at the Residency Hotel in Fort, in the area known as 'Black Horse,' which contains most the Mumbai's main museums and some wonderful old colonial-era buildings. This was a lovely and modern hotel with most-attentive staff which I can highly recommend to anyone traveling to this city in the near future.
Our first full day was one of walking. The first stop was St. Thomas' Cathedral, the oldest English building standing in Mumbai, and currently undergoing renovations - a pleasant little church in need of fixing up. A little further on we walked past the ornate but dry Flora Fountain on our way
to the High Court - wonderfully castle-like on the outside, at least - and the illustrious University of Mumbai. We saw a bit of cricket being played in the Oval Maiden - not a game either of us understand - and walked past lots of stalls selling hot chai, fresh sugarcane juice and the like, deciding to pass for the moment. As the day was heating up we took a break from sightseeing at our first FabIndia store - really fabulous clothing from all around the country in bright colors, wonderful fabrics and not quite Western prices. Clement found some nice things right away and after a couple of hours of shopping, while he waited patiently with a book, so did I. A delicious lunch at North Indian Kyber and then a long, hot and crowded walk to the old and beautiful Victoria Terminus, aka Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, still the busiest railway station in Asia. We wandered through the bazaars without finding anything of note, and after a bit of rest made our way to Chowpatty Beach for the sunset and bhelpuri (crisp fried thin rounds of dough mixed with rice, lentils, lemon juice, onions, herbs and chutney), and later
delicious pistachio and almond kulfi ice cream. The social life at the beach was intriguing, the skyline impressive, but the blackish water and scattered trash were disheartening, even, I think, for the large crow-like birds making the best of it.
Our second day started much like our first, with sightseeing concentrated at the Prince of Wales Museum. Wonderful Indian sculptures and miniature paintings, all with minimal labeling. Still impressive. After a full morning here we had a flight to catch to Udaipur, a lovely city of lakes and palaces. But that's for a future post.
Such a big city is Mumbai - and with such a big-city feel. It's such an active place with an amazing mix of people from business-people to beggars, women in fabulous saris and black burquas - even fellows in button-down shirts and nice slacks but no shoes! Fancy cars and men pulling loads on carts in the street amidst heavy traffic. Stalls and stores for everything imaginable. The really old, the old, and the new. It seems too soon to make any definitive remarks after having been there for such a short time - I'll think I'll save my opinions until after I've
seen more of what the country has to offer. We'll be visiting again at the end of the trip, with a lot more to see and do.
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