This was my year to surprise Jason for wedding anniversary trip number 6.
It took over 3 months of planning to research the ideal places to go. I had given myself a difficult task; organize a trip to one of the largest, most complicated, diverse and complex countries and keep it all a secret. India is huge and just like China has extreme regional differences. Where could we go to maximize the minimal 8 days we had?
I decided on the province of Maharashtra in central western India. I chose it for the ease of traveling in and out of the metropolis, Mumbai, for the easy to reach beaches, and the hill stations close by. I had the longest list I’ve ever procured on possible destinations from Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay. Including sneaking Visa paperwork processing, asking friends for travel advice and avowing them to keep my plans a secret, and all the while trying to throw Jason off my trail, it all worked out!
Jason was convinced we were going to Vietnam and my Mom was convinced we were going to Singapore and Malaysia. It wasn’t until the Bangkok international airport, three ours before our plane took off that Jason new it was India!
Now, I’m sitting in our luxurious Vivanta by Taj President deluxe hotel room overlooking Cuffe Parade, Colaba, and the Arabian Sea. Our breakfast room service is about to arrive and I need to give my MIIS alumni local friend, Shekaar, a call to meet up for dinner. Life is gorgeous!
After a brunch of camembert and spinach quiches, fruit, corn fritters, and coffee milkshakes, yum, we set off to explore the neighborhood! Due to Skype with my Mom and Dad and lounging the morning away, we didn’t set off until 12:00pm, but we did travel for almost 24 hours so of course, was a well deserved rest!
We started walking east towards the boat docks. The first greetings we had were from the local school children leaving school for lunch. They gave us adorable smiles and bold hellos!
Wandering through the ship yard and fish market we quickly noticed we were a sight to behold ourselves as foreigners don’t usually travel around their market, our trademark! We were enamored by the gorgeous outfits of the women and the giant baskets of ice being carried, a lot on the head!
The men and the women don’t congregate in the same circles here and I found it difficult at times to be heard as a woman. I realized I would need to be very patient, respectful, so as not to offend the social balance of inequality I’m not used to being exposed too. Upon finding ourselves in the old University and museum district there were more women in western dress and some groups of boys and girls walking together.
From the docks north to the financial district around the Flora Fountain and the Bombay Stock Exchange, we rode in a traditional Mumbai taxi. This kind of taxi is a British relic and had the feeling of driving around in my grandfathers English racing car, the Triumph. The fare meter is an old box outside the passenger side window. The final rate you pay has to be calculated using a rate card and you have to ask every time to see the card so has not to get blindly ripped off. It’s a hot ride with no AC but convenient as there are a plethora of taxis.
For lunch, we joined a group of men all dining at a street side shack full of bubbling pots and a giant wok of deep friend samosas. We ordered a plate of what everyone else was having and two samosas. It was a great mix of spicy sauces and favors of cumin, turmeric, and curry; all eaten with your hand using the pita bread, or ‘roti.’ Delicious!
After wandering around the historic downtown including the “Horniman” circle, he, he. We returned to our five star oasis to relax, utilize wi-fi, and get ready for dinner. Drinks and dinner was meeting up with an old MIIS friend, Shaaker. He took us to a famous street food area behind the infamous, Taj Hotel. A back alley full of fabulous smells. There are seating and waiters across the street from the cooks who grill up super tasty kebab rolls and veggie sauce dishes I couldn’t tell you what’s in them, but they are so yummy! Thank you Shekaar for the advice and the company, cheers!
Our evening concluded with a romantic night cap in the hotel bar, Wink, watching old Anthony Bourdain travel eating clips in Mumbai, and sleeping soundly. Next on our list before departing Mumbai was checking out the Muslim quarter and the Chor Bazaar.
The Chor Bazaar, Chor meaning ‘theif or robber’ is the best place to go digging for treasures or if you are robbed, the best place to look for your goods before they are sold. As our time was limited, we didn’t spend hours perusing the over stocked stalls. We were on a culinary mission after watching a clip from Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations trip to this area of Mumbai. Jason was on a mission to find brains and I wanted a special rose syrup, fruit, and ice cream drink. We found all of this and more at the Shalimar restaurant. We arrived at 12:30 to find it not packed yet, surprised to find Indians actually eat late. It was packed at 1:30 for lunch. Check it out, mmmm….!
Another hot, sweaty, and exciting taxi ride lent itself to more photo ops of local life and architecture. We left the heavy feeling Muslim quarter for the Gateway Of India.
This is best related to the Piazza San Marco of Venice. The area is the central boat transportation hub and tourist area. We were looking for a boat to take us to the Alibaug – Mandwa Jetty. Luckily we arrived just in time to get the last boat leaving Mumbai that day as some weather was apparently moving in, though the skies were clear that afternoon.
The catamaran ferry boat reminded me of the San Francisco ferry boat in lay out. The main difference is on the upper deck you choose your own plastic lawn chair for seating. Our fellow passengers consisted of a group of about 30 older high school boys who found our presence and that of a lovely female very exciting. The excitement for us felt more like intimidation as they enjoyed jeering slyly at us.
We ended up making friends with our admirers and of course were ready to pose!