In India: Mumbai, Thursday 2012 February 2

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February 2nd 2012
Published: January 30th 2013EDIT THIS ENTRY

Elephanta IslandElephanta IslandElephanta Island

From a distance, with a bit of squinting, it could look like an elephant.
Our last day started with my last dosa (thin, crepe-like) with curried potatoes, which I only just learned is called masala potatoes. It also came with a vegetable gravy. I will miss this breakfast. Plus I had smoked salmon and half a bagel – can’t pass that up.

We walked across the street to the Gateway of India. L__ wanted us to hustle but even she couldn’t resist another picture. I got some good ones of the gate and the Taj, both Palace and Tower.

Past the Gateway was the jetty for tour boats. L__ rented one boat for our group alone, to be able to control the timing of our leaving (before too many other tourists arrived) and returning (in time for our lunch reservation). Our destination was Elephanta Island and the temple caves.

The way out there was disgracefully smoggy – even with handkerchief over my nose and mouth I could smell and taste the burnt petroleum (and probably cow dung if I knew what that tasted like!). On the way were the navel base and the petroleum docks and pipeline to the mainland. Everything shrouded in smog.

The cave we visited (main and most carved
Elephanta CavesElephanta CavesElephanta Caves

Incredibly these caves were expanded and carved from rock.
one) was not entirely a natural one but a sort-of building carved and hollowed out from the stone of the large hill that forms the island. Giant pillars front the cave. Our guide took us into the pillared cave space and showed us each of the story panels involving Shiva. The carvings are in bad shape because first the Portuguese and then the British shot at them for amusement. All the original coating of “plaster” and paint is gone, except for a tiny amount in the corner of one ceiling – which I couldn’t really see. The lighting is all natural from the opening of the cave – often too dark for my camera to register a focus.

The way up and down from the caves was on a stone-built walkway with 120 steps. All along, on both sides, were vendors of souvenirs, trinkets, fake jewelry, etc. They begged us to buy but none of it inspired me.

Returning to Mumbai, we walked a few blocks to a “stir-fry restaurant”, similar to the Mongolian Grill in Calgary: the customer puts an assortment of vegetables and meats in a bowl; the cooks stir fry it in the flavourings of
Marriage of Shiva & ParvatiMarriage of Shiva & ParvatiMarriage of Shiva & Parvati

Several of the carved scenes were of the marriage of these two favourite gods.
one’s choice. Usually I don’t select well but the combination of cooked lamb and quite a few vegetables with sweet chili sauce was good – and hot!

Some opted to go look at Leopold’s, a café bombed in 2004, but I was tired and returned to the Taj for a rest. Shortly after 3:00 I went to check out the shops and rapidly fell into temptation, buying two silk scarves that added up to more than my remaining rupees - but that’s what credit cards are for. I also bought three little cookbooks, anticipating this year’s Christmas gifts.

Then time for a swim and lounging. A murder of crows lives on the window ledges of the hotel, and in the late afternoon (maybe other times also) kites circle high above the pool, sending the crows into a wheeling flock seeking a resting place. The U-shaped building, with the pool in the centre, makes all this a unique environment for the birds.

After a delicious Middle Eastern dinner in a restaurant at the top of the Taj Tower, we had a brief rest and checked out at 11:00 pm. The return trip to the airport, this time in the dark,
Taj Mahal PalaceTaj Mahal PalaceTaj Mahal Palace

A delightful way of spending an hour in the afternoon.
was instructive. Surprisingly, the daytime dark corridors of the slums were well lit by electricity now. Small groups of people or individuals and a few families were sleeping on the street. The street-side slum dwellings are tarpaulin-based tents. (Where do they get them from – most of them are the same colour?) And along Marine Drive walk, almost as many people were relaxing and strolling as during the day. 24-hour Mumbai.

Our entry into the airport building was insane. Many flights leave in the very early morning, presumably to arrive at European destinations at the beginning of the workday there or to connect to more reasonably scheduled European flights, as we were doing. A huge crowd hovered outside the single doorway open into the building, because of security checks for every person. The human process was push or be stranded, all with trolleys laden with bags, of course.

Once in, the way to the check-in gate was ordinary enough. However, L__ was very annoyed that all our seat reservations (aisle and window with no one in the middle) had been cancelled. She had quite a ferocious argument with the check-in staff member until we were all accommodated somehow.

In the vast hotel lobby were strange and beautiful artworks.
Then, the staff member weighed both her checked bag and her hand luggage, and declared the latter very overweight (perhaps because she had a big binder of papers regarding our trip). L__ started frantically passing all kinds of items to M__ who held them in her arms looking a bit stunned. I immediately opened my relatively light carry-on for the items. Shaken but upright, the staff member weighed my checked bag (right on the allowed 50 pounds, as weighed in my hotel room with my new scale), but not my carry-on. Either she saw it was fairly empty or she decided on discretion. We all knew everything would go back into L__’s bag soon.

Now there were a couple of hours waiting near the gate, with a bit of wandering around. I couldn’t quite spend all my rupees, although I did enjoy an orange soft drink. Of course, they called the flight before I finished it, but there was plenty of time waiting in the line for the plane. Other people kept walking past us as if they were first class, although the first class seats could not have been plentiful enough for them. The plane was absolutely full,
Memorial Memorial Memorial

A peaceful memorial honoured the staff and guests who died in the attacks in 2008.
and I think what happened was the flight was almost commandeered by the international banking delegates returning home. My indifference was complete because my seat happened to be in an odd spot, not quite in the back, where the plane’s shape gave me extra room on one side.


13th May 2015

Good memories
Judith, I love India and reading this and watching your videos brought back some great memories. Thank you.

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