We arrived in Mumbai on a hot and sticky afternoon. A driver was waiting at the airport and ready to take us to our hotel.
We didn’t know much about the city but as we drove through it we were surprised to see how modern and hip it was. We got excited – yet again, this was another side of India we were yet to experience. We also learned pretty quickly that locals still call it Bombay (the name was changed in 1995), so I’m going to call it Bombay too.
It’s a cosmopolitan destination. There are big corporate buildings, charming historic neighborhoods, trendy restaurants owned by renowned international chefs and more. It has everything other global cities (that I’ve seen) can offer: theaters, museums, galleries – you name it.
The streets were cleaner than other places we’ve seen and people more or less obeyed traffic laws. There was a sense of order (not like we are used to in the United States, but it was still organized).
Now! Bombay is big, so I need to put a disclaimer in this post that we only experienced South Bombay. If the rest of the city is different and falls into another reality, that’s NOT what I’m referring to. That being said, let’s continue…
Once we got to the Traveller’s Hotel, checked in and freshened up, it was time for dinner.
Matt was still feeling weak so we needed to find a restaurant that was close and that had healthy food. Abbas (our travel agent) being himself from the city, recommended Kala Ghoda Cafe.
After a 15-minute walk, we were there. The place was clean, packed with locals and everything the waiters were carrying on their trays looked delicious. Not only that, the menu assured everything was sourced from organic farms straight to their kitchen and – once there – washed with filtered water. Jackpot!
We ordered a “chef’s salad” and a couple of pressed sandwiches. It was healthy eating paradise.
The next day, it was time to put our tourist hats on and explore.
We had breakfast at another healthy place called The Pantry. This one can easily be one of those bakeries you find in Brooklyn that are always packed with people on their laptops or reading their books, sipping soy lattes and eating scones.
After that, we spotted a building that looked old and interesting called The David Sassoon Library. Access was restricted to non-members but because they saw the excitement on Matt’s face, they let us in. There was an area where noise was prohibited. Yes! We actually found a silent room in the middle of an Indian city. As we walked around there were people studying, reading or taking a break on their phones. Next to the exit there was a mountain of old newspapers, classified by year. We would’ve loved to have taken a peek to see what Indian journalists were writing about a few decades ago, but there was a sign that read “No Touching!,” so we didn’t.
Across from the library was Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrehalaya (phew … best known as the Prince of Wales Museum).
The collection included – among other things – painting, porcelain and sculpture. I really enjoyed learning about various artistic techniques and Indian tradition at the same time. I even got the audio guide.
On the ground floor there was a room dedicated to sculpture. I saw multiple interpretations of Vishnu, Shiva and other gods, skillfully sculpted primarily on rock. But the one that caught my attention the most was one about Ganesha – the elephant god present in the front doors of all Hindu families (this is because it’s the god in charge of making sure all obstacles are removed). When pressing the number of this specific sculpture on the audio guide, the voiceover shared the story of why Ganesha has an elephant head.
Long story short: Parvati (Shiva’s wife) wanted to take a bath, so she created a human child to protect the door. When Shiva arrived to the house, Ganesha blocked him at the entrance. Angered, Shiva cut off Ganesha’s head. After realizing he decapitated his own son, he replaced the head with an elephant head, giving life back and infinite wisdom to Ganesha.
I was standing there, looking at the sculpture while listening to the story. Fascinating.
After spending quite some time at the museum, Matt and I walked over to Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue. We were excited to see the interior and even more excited to potentially connect with some members of our community. Inside, the only two people that were there were a Jewish flight attendant from Holland that was in Bombay for a couple of days (so he was curious like us) and the man in charge of showing people around. It was Friday and we learned quickly that that night the synagogue would have Shabbat services. We were invited and promised to come back a few hours later.
Next we went to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (previously known as Victoria Terminus), the most extravagant gothic building in the city. Seeing it transported me to a scene from Paddington – the movie about the cute bear with the red hat. One cannot deny that the British were here. Not only because of the train stration, but the whole perimeter looked as if India and England had a baby.
It was 4:00pm so we jumped in a taxi to go to the India Someday office. This is the travel agency that helped us plan and book our India adventure. After months of communication via email and text message, it was only appropriate to meet in person and thank everyone for being our guardian angels through this experience. Abbas (the owner) greeted us and introduced us to the rest of the team. The office seemed like a Google-type-space – all young hip people in one room with a bunch of computers. It’s where the magic happens and where they help people like us come to this country with a little more confidence.
Abbas invited us to go out for some chai and to catch up. After that, it was time to run again because we needed to get ready for Shabbat!
It was 6:30pm on the dot when we entered Keneseth Eliyahoo after the intensive questionnaire at the entrance, making sure we were there for the right reasons.
The service had already started. Matt and I split (as it was women on the left, and men on the right). Two ladies probably in their late 50’s saw me from the distance and figured I was there by myself. They waved their arms inviting me to sit with them. Later I learned that they were on a tour from Toronto, but being Jewish, they wanted to go to services. Then, when they heard that Matt and I were traveling for a while, they were fascinated and not at all shy to ask about every detail.
“You are traveling together for 5 months?! AND you still like each other??” One of the women said.
“Yes, we are more or less managing to stay sane” we laughed.
“I could never do that with my husband.”
The service finished and we all went downstairs for kiddush. There were tables set up and the kitchen staff was ready to serve the meal. Though we were invited to dinner, Matt and I were very excited to try a Burmese restaurant near the synagogue, so we joined the prayers, some of the singing and headed out.
Now, let me tell you about Burma Burma – the Burmese restaurant. Matt claims it is the best place he’s eaten in his entire life and it is surely in my Top Ten (I’ve always been the foodie in the relationship). The place was great in every way: food, decor, service, even the noise level. It was as if we were taking part in celebrating the diverse and exquisite culinary world of Burma. Everything we ordered was delicious: fried tofu buns, noodles with lemony curry and ginger salad. It was my first experience eating Burmese food and now I’m counting the days until December 25th, when we arrive in Yangon (*for those who will worry after reading this and learning that we will be in Myanmar: no – we aren’t going were the conflict is happening, so relax).
The next day was another big push to see more of Bombay. There was so much to do and see! We needed to prioritize and not waste time.
First we went to the Gateway of India, a famous monument built in the 1920s. One of the facts that makes it famous is that the British left India from there, after Independence.
Right next to it, is Bombay’s most famous landmark – the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. This luxurious place has given accommodation to politicians, celebrities and other important people throughout history. It is also famous for the 2008 terrorist attack.
I was very interested to check out the hotel from the inside. In 2014, I had the opportunity to produce the visual effects for an American television show called “Intelligence.” The pilot’s opening sequence was about the terrorist attack at this very hotel. We created some of the areas in CG (Computer Generated) and reconstructed a scene from the events (with some fictional license as it was an action show). I knew some of the hotel areas by memory, after looking at historic photos and working on the effects for months. It was a little disappointing. The areas open to the public didn’t look like the portion we worked on. I was excited to see the exact space we reconstructed years back. In any case, it brought a smile to my face and I remembered some good times working on TV shows when I was in L.A.
The day continued with some walking around the famous Colaba Street and then Marine Drive. It was a lovely walk along the water with the Bombay skyline in the background.
Matt and I remembered that Ashley and Alan were supposed to arrive in Bombay during our time there. We reached out and they were actually in town that night. We all agreed to meet at NCPA (National Center for the Performing Arts) to see a show about one English and two Indian comedians making jokes about the British Empire that ruled in India for 200 years.
The show was very funny and it was good to do something like this for a change.
After NCPA, we all went to a restaurant called Samrat. Abbas said the thalis were awesome, so we wanted to verify that this was true. And it was! Not only was the food good, but different from other restaurants where they just bring you the thali already served. At Samrat, you start with empty bowls that are suddenly filled with a variety of preparations by an army of waiters. They refill it non-stop until you say something.
The next day was our last in Bombay, so we decided to take it easy before our overnight bus. We went to Kala Ghoda Cafe one more time, to refill our bodies with vegetables and fruits.
We checked out of the hotel and caught the bus that would take us to Hampi.