Another thing that Maren and I did in Mumbai was visit the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya Museum (formerly, and more easily, known as the Prince of Wales Museum). The museum is beautiful and massive, and you could easily spend a few days roaming its halls. We, however, limited ourselves to a few hours and only two exhibits: the famous miniature paintings exhibit, and a new exhibit about ancient and modern medicine in India. Both were really superb.
Originally, these paintings were painted onto palm leaves in the 10th century, and later onto paper or cloth in the 14th century. The paintings often depicted illustrations from religious texts, mythologies, portraits, poetry, and legends. They are unique in their size and detail, each one with teeny tiny brush stokes using handmade paints. Some tell elaborate stories on pieces of parchment that are only about 8 inches wide and 13 inches tall. The museum had a collection of 200 of these paintings. Here are a few examples (we were allowed to take pictures because we paid for it… everything has a price in India):
For the past two days, Maren and I have been on our own, as our hosts have been at work. Here is what we’ve been up to:
Yesterday morning we went to the horse race track with Sushim. He goes there to run and he’s currently preparing for the Mumbai half marathon next weekend. The horse race track doubles as a park & running track where tons of locals come to exercise early in the morning. We watched the sun rise there.
This is a pre-dawn photo, followed by the sunrise.
This is horse racing season in India, so these jockeys were exercising their horses around the track.
Fortunately, we didn’t see any horses get taken away in this horse ambulance.
These are the famous Dhobi ghats, the world’s largest open air laundry mat. The washers are called Dhobis and they wash the laundry from Mumbai’s hospitals and hotels, as well as private homes. Clothes are beaten clean, hung to dry, and pressed. They say about half a million items are sent here each day. The Dhobis and their families live at the ghats.
Since Mumbai is such a booming megalopolis, you don’t see too many street cows. This was the first one we saw so I thought it was photo worthy.
These are Mumbai’s famous dabbawallas sorting meals for delivery. The dabbawallas are a group of men (there are about 5,000 of them) who pick up and deliver home-cooked meals to more than 350,000 office workers every work day. They actually go to the workers house, pick up the meal in a tiffin (a tiered metal container) inside a reusable bag, and use an elaborate zoning system to make sure that every meal is delivered right on time to every employee that utilizes their services. The meals are handed off to at least a dozen different dabbawallas before reaching their destination. The dabbawallas use bicycles to deliver the meals. We were lucky to catch them sorting the lunch bags completely by chance.
Our first train ride. It was easy and in the middle of the day, so not crowded.
Western Railway main office.
Indian’s version of the food truck: a food bus where you eat inside at tables.
The High Court building.
We ate lunch at Leopold Cafe, which is famous because it was one of the target’s of the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai. It is also frequently mentioned in the book Shantaram. The food was DELISH.
Had to get some kind of image to signal that Mumbai is the center of Bollywood.
These chilis and lime are often seen dangling from car grills. It is said that they ward off evil and bad juju.
The Gateway to India
We took a ferry out to Elephanta Island.
Elephanta Island is home to many animals, like monkeys…
dogs… (I just LOVED this little guy!)
and PUPPIES!!!!!!!!!! (I gave this one and his friends some water and he started suckling my finger. Now we’re bonded for life.)
A home on Elephanta Island
So, Elephanta Island is about an hour-long ferry ride off the coast of Mumbai. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for it’s cave temples that have been carved into rock. The temples are thought to have been carved between AD 450 and 750. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva and has many carvings of him.
My first time using a squatty potty. Is was a piece of cake, but am I doing it right? I have no idea.
View of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and the Gateway of India from the ferry.
The Gateway of India: Mumbai’s #1 tourist attraction (sometimes referred to as Mumbai’s Taj Mahal); a monument built by the British to commemorate the arrival of King George V and Queen Mary when they visited India in 1911.
The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST; formerly the Victoria Terminus) railway station. This incredible building was built in 1887 and is one of India’s busiest train stations. We were there at peak rush-hour and there were rivers of people pouring into this place. It was beautiful chaos.
I have no idea what this building is, but I thought it was beautiful. It’s across from the CST.
Another pretty building.
A beautiful mosque. About 20% of Mumbaikars are Muslim. Mumbai has incredible buildings like this around every corner. Just walk the city and you will find them.
Our return train ride in the women’s only compartment.
Oops! This one is out of order. It’s a super posh mall called the Phoenix/Paladium.
The women-only train car… so lovely!
The Phoenix: A HUGE and upscale mall. We ate dinner in a restaurant here and dropped over $100! Not everything in India is cheap! #worthit
Okay, so it wasn’t exactly a “beach”… it was more like a shore, but “pigs on the shore” just didn’t sound as fun.
Today we went to Bandra, a suburb of Mumbai that is about 10 km away, but takes about 45 min to 1 hour to get to because of all the traffic. We went there to meet up with the brother of a friend of my dad, Jeff. Jeff is an American professor and counselor who used to live in Bombay from 2009-2012 and returns every year for a month because he loves it.
This is what we did today in Bandra with Jeff…
This morning around 8:00am, the doorbell rang at Sushim and Nupur’s apartment. Maren and I were the only ones home, as our hosts had gone for a run. We looked at each other and asked, “Should we get it? Is that weird? Is it safe?” But I went ahead and opened the door to a small, Indian man holding a plastic bag. He immediately sat on the ground, pulled out two coconuts, and starting shaving the tops off. I tried to communicate with him, but with no luck. After a couple of minutes, he handed me the coconuts and went on his way.
A few minutes later, Sushim and Nupur got home and explained that they have a coconut guy who comes every morning with fresh coconuts! How cool is that?! How did we miss this guy on Saturday and Sunday???
Our hosts also happen to have a maid, a personal chef, and weekly grocery delivery service. Just like the coconut guy, the maid and chef come every day. In India, these are the perks of cheap labor. Even middle class families can afford these types of services, which would be a luxury in the States. Pretty neat!
After 15 hours and 10.5 time zones, Maren and I finally touched down in Mumbai at about 10:00pm local time, collected our backpacks, and took a prepaid taxi to the apartment of our couchsurfing host. Getting through customs, immigration, baggage claim, exchanging money, and locating our taxi all took about 2 hours, but was fairly straightforward and easy.
We got to Sushim and Nupur’s apartment by 12:30am. Sushim was waiting downstairs to greet us and led the way to our new “home” for the next 5 days. Their apartment is small, but very clean and comfortable with valuable amenities like ceiling fans, a water filter, hot water in the shower, and a western toilet. Our “bedroom” is the living room and our “beds” are foldable pads on the floor, but it’s quite comfortable actually. After more than 24 hours of travel, we were both pretty beat we so called it a night soon after arriving.
Yesterday was our first day in the city and instead of playing “tourist” for the day (walking around with our guidebooks, maps, and cameras), we were fortunate enough to spend it with our amazing hosts and have more of a “day in the life of a local” experience.
First, Sushim and Nupur drove us to a local restaurant where we all ordered thali, which is like a 1-plate meal of the day, offered during the lunch hour, and comes with 2 hot vegetable dishes, chapati or puri (a flat bread, thinner than naan), 2 lentil dishes, 2 scoops of rice, some sauces, and chutney… and it’s always all-you-can-eat (THAT’S my kind of eatin’)! Being a small local restaurant, there was no silverware so we ate with our hands like the locals do, using only the right hand, as the left is your potty hand. The food was delicious and it was a cool experience. Although, I did find it odd that the restaurant did not have a bathroom. They did, however, have a sink and soap for washing your hands before and after you eat.
After lunch, we walked around downtown a bit, bought local SIM cards, and went shopping for local clothes at FabIndia. FabIndia is like a Gap or Urban Outfitters, but with Indian styles and everything is made in India. It’s extremely popular and was quite crowded with locals and foreigners alike. I bought one kurti (like a long blouse that falls below the waist or below the knees), Maren bought two, and our host Nupur bought 3 kurtis and a tunic. Poor Sushim just stood around and waited on us for about an hour… I’d say it was a successful shopping trip, though!
After getting our new threads, we walked to Colaba, which is Mumbai’s downtown and touristic center. Along the way, we stopped at a street vender for some freshly made chai (our first Indian chai!). I’d like to say it was great, but I thought it a bit too sweet and I’m never a big fan of hot milk, which made up at least half the drink.
From there, we walked down to the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Do not confuse this with the Taj Mahal, which is nowhere near Mumbai. It IS, however, the most famous and iconic hotel in India which:
- was built in 1903
- was converted into a hospital during World War I
- was the target of a 3-day terrorist attack in 2008 that killed 167 people
- is where President Obama and Hillary Clinton have stayed during trips to India
- is one of Mumbai’s top luxury hotels
These photos don’t do it justice. It’s a really beautiful building, inside and out.
After roaming the hotel, we went for a rooftop drink at a bar close along the coastline. Mumbai is basically surrounded by water, and has one sand “beach”, but you cannot go in the water because it is toxic. It’s a shame. At the bar, we had a great conversation with Sushim and Nupur, drank Kingfisher (an Indian beer that you can typically find in the US, especially at Indian restaurants) and ate potato chips and chicken tandoor (I skipped out on the meat, but Maren said it was super good).
Finally, we headed home to get ready to go out with some of Nupur and Sushim’s friends. We took a cab and met the friends at a bar called Social and then went to a club called Hoppipola. Both places were super fun, with very modern and trendy decor, top 40 music hits being spun by DJs, and lots of young Indian friends dancing and hanging out. All of our hosts’ friends were very kind and friendly, drinks were flowing, and watching Bollywood dance moves live and in person really made my night.
I really wish I had taken video. This photo is the worst. Sorry.
The club shut down around 1:30am, at which point it was time for some post-party street food. We took a taxi to the only place open at that hour and ate the BEST Indian dish I’ve ever had: pav bhaji. Pav bhaji is a dish that originated here in the state of Maharashtra, and I believe right here in Mumbai. It is considered “fast food” and is basically a red vegetable curry served with soft, buttery bread rolls. I seriously hope I can find it outside of Mumbai because I’d be so sad if I never get to taste it again. The friend crew we were with also ordered vegetable fried rice, chicken fried rice, and and egg bhurji, which was basically scrambled eggs cooked with veggies and magic. Everything was so good and everyone shared everything, passing around plates and indulging on the sidewalk. I don’t know the name of the place we went, but it had a street front window where your ordered and then you could choose to sit at one of the few tables inside (which was totally full) or outside on the sidewalk.
At about 3am, we taxied home. I stayed up chatting with Nupur and Sushim about a trip they took to Ladakh (one of the northern most states with breathtaking landscapes) until about 4:00am, then finally called it a night.
While we didn’t see many of the sights in Mumbai, or go into any museums, temples, or mosques, we had the BEST first day in India that anyone could ever wish for. We learned so much and experienced so much local culture and flavor (literally!). Sushim and Nupur are not just incredible hosts, but really wonderful people. We are lucky to have found them on couchsurfing. It is only because of them that we were able to spend a day in the life of a Mumbaikar (a person from Mumbai), and what a day it was.
I’ll wrap this up with a few more random pics of our day.