Even before our foray into the Rajasthani desert and subsequent travel debacle, we were looking forward to Mumbai. Everyone says Mumbai is different than Delhi, that it was more urbane, metropolitan, and interesting. All of said things are of course measured by the fact that you can walk into a restaurant and order beef off the menu.
We were also looking forward to it because we were given a few night’s stay at a fancy hotel/resort, thanks to a very generous hotelier friend. After sleeping on cheap, uncomfortable beds and even more uncomfortable buses, a roomy hotel room with clean sheets and a powerful shower felt like a revelation. In fact, we liked the resort and enjoyed being there so much that we didn’t see as much of the city as we probably should have. We loved sleeping in, eating a sumptuous breakfast, playing some morning tennis, showering, playing some billiards and table tennis, drinking a lassi, watching a movie, eating another delicious meal, etc. (For the record, Bethany still is a couple sets better than me, despite my vigorous training regimen of one match per year. I compensated on the pong table.)
But we did get out and find that Mumbai was all the things described, and it definitely provided a city experience unlike the disordered sprawl of Delhi. The city itself felt very European. You could see it in the architecture, the doubledecker buses, and even the way the streets themselves were constructed. Most of this is from the British, of course, as Mumbai seems to have been an important port for them. Today it’s busy but mostly clean, orderly, stylish, and nicely landscaped. Traffic even stayed in lanes (mostly) and waited turns at intersections and hardly anyone urinated in public. Readers from the US can’t appreciate how un-Indian this felt. Bethany remarked that due to similar geographical limitations, Mumbai felt most like Manhattan, and I agreed.
On new year’s eve we enjoyed a delicious meal at Pizza by the Bay before moving next door for an exclusive party at Jazz by the Bay. It was fun enough to mingle with Mumbai’s yuppie scene but then the DJ started playing dance music. Either Bethany and I are getting to old for that kind of dancing or I’m just terrible at it, but we only lasted for about 30 minutes of mild, Caucasian bobbing and swaying before I somehow bobbed when I should have swayed and planted my nose firmly into her head, drawing blood and ensuring such dangerous moves would not be attempted again. We were back at the hotel by 11:15pm and barely made it to midnight before succumbing to travel fatigue and very soft bedding.
On the first day, the hotel arranged a car tour for us of major sites in Mumbai. We visited the house where Mahatma Gandhi stayed in Mumbai for several years which has now been turned into a small museum. We were mostly ignorant as to who he was and what he did, so the exhibits were fascinating. It’s safe to say no hero has ever been as un-heroic looking. What great things came from such a small, withered man.
We met up with Bethany’s student Nyomi, who was the assistant director for Brigadoon and is basically the most helpful, responsible high school student in all of south Asia. She took us to Leopold’s restaurant and the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel (not to be confused with the more famous landmark in Agra), both tourist hotspots which were sites of bloodshed in the 2008 terror attacks (in addition to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus):
In recent years, the government has been symbolically reclaiming the city for India by returning to some Hindized name from the more commonly used Britishized version. This is why Bombay is now called Mumbai (though Indians still seem to prefer the former). Victoria Terminus, the busiest train station in south India—and probably the most ornate—is now called Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. You may recognize it from Slumdog Millionaire, much of which was filmed in and around Mumbai:
All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Mumbai. It’s very tourist-friendly and is was one of the few places we’ve visited in India where we weren’t ogled or targeted as foreigners. There was so much to see that we could have spent easily two weeks visiting historical sites, art museums, and eating food.