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Exploring Mumbai

Started: 2016-01-26 13:56:28

Submitted: 2016-01-26 17:21:13

Visibility: World-readable

31 December 2015: In which the intrepid narrator finds a better hotel and visits Mumbai's iconic sites

I awoke in our budget hotel in Mumbai, and flipped on the hot water heater well enough in advance to get hot water for my shower, though I was not especially enthralled by the lack of a shower curtain, or the fact that the shower took over the small bathroom, giving me no space to store my clean dry clothes.

I repacked my bag, rendezvoused with the rest of my family, checked out of our hotel, and went down to the street to find a taxi to take us to the Taj President. We ended up in two taxis, with our luggage somewhat-precariously balanced in the roof-top luggage racks, for the short drive down the peninsula to our new hotel.

Taj President in Mumbai
Taj President in Mumbai

The Taj President was a world apart from the budget hotel we'd left a mile behind, starting with the perimeter vehicle security check at the gate followed by an x-ray check of our luggage on the front porch of the actual building, with a metal detector screening and quick pat-down. (We were, after all, in Mumbai, site of the 2008 terror attacks centered on the nearby Taj Palace Hotel -- and we drove past the site where the attackers landed their hijacked fishing trawler on Indian soil.) Inside, the lobby was exquisitely decorated, and the staff was attentive and courteous. They did not have our rooms ready to check in at 09:30 in the morning, but they took our bags for storage and let us buy breakfast in the restaurant in the lobby.

The breakfast was the best I'd had thus far in India, with a wide selection of Indian and western breakfast foods, and some East Asian foods. Calvin especially liked the made-to-order waffles, especially when one of the waiters recognized him on subsequent days and offered him waffles with chocolate syrup and ice cream.

Banyan trees above the sidewalk in Mumbai
Banyan trees above the sidewalk in Mumbai

We left our bags in the care of the hotel staff and headed off to explore the city on foot. The temperature was about perfect for walking -- warmer than Delhi or Jaipur, but cooler than Goa, and the tree-lined streets were pleasant and relatively quiet. We ended up on the waterfront on the bay, overlooking the Gateway of India and the Taj Palace Hotel, where seabirds begged for scraps near water taxis and a fleet of other small craft.

Bethany, Mom, Willy, and Calvin at the waterfront in Mumbai
Bethany, Mom, Willy, and Calvin at the waterfront in Mumbai

We dropped by the Taj Mahal Palace itself, passing a security check to be admitted to the lobby. In the back of the lobby, in a small courtyard, there was a small memorial to the 2008 terrorist attacks.

Memorial to the terrorist attacks at the Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai
Memorial to the terrorist attacks at the Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai

We wandered around the rest of the ground floor, past the pool and the expensive shops catering to the hotel's clients, and found ourselves in the atrium at the center of the original hotel building, under the dome.

Looking up through the front lobby of the Taj Mahal Palace
Looking up through the front lobby of the Taj Mahal Palace
Willy, Bethany, Mom, and Willy in the lobby at the Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai
Willy, Bethany, Mom, and Willy in the lobby at the Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai

I found a bust of Jamsetji Tata, the founder of the conglomerate Tata (which does everything in India from making cars and steel to running hotels and mobile phone carriers) and took a picture of Willy in front of it, since Tata was a major force in Indian industrialization in the time period Willy is studying.

Willy with a bust of Jamsetji Tata at the Taj Mahal Palace
Willy with a bust of Jamsetji Tata at the Taj Mahal Palace

We left the hotel and walked to the museum formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum, where we skipped the main body of the museum but grabbed a snack, watched the mildly-enlightening 20-minute history of Mumbai movie, then got stuck in the gift shop while Mom tried on sandals.

At length we emerged from the gift shop, without any new sandals (though I did buy a notebook with an attractive geometric pattern on its cover, even though I have several spare notebooks waiting to be used), grabbed lunch at a nearby restaurant, and stumbled upon the Brutalist office tower occupied by the Bombay Stock Exchange, though there was no good vantage point to photograph the tower, and the security staff waved Dad off when he tried to photograph the entry (which happened to include the security check).

Cell tower in Mumbai
Cell tower in Mumbai

Our next stop on our tourist agenda was Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, formerly known as Victoria Terminus, with its vast neo-Gothic building (occupied with offices of the railway itself), which also serves as one of the main inter-urban train stations in Mumbai and the terminus for one of the famous suburban train lines. It was about a kilometer away, so we thought we'd grab a taxi, but the taxi drivers milling about the street did not seem especially interested in taking us there for a reasonable price. Mom, Dad, and Willy jumped in one taxi, leaving Bethany, Calvin, and I to find another taxi -- but we couldn't find another taxi to take us. So we ended up walking down an interesting pedestrian market street, filled with stores and vendors hawking mostly everyday necessities for urban life. We'd see one vendor with his or her blanket set out on the street covered in an assortment of nail clippers, tweezers, and souvenir keychains, next to another vendor selling pretty much the same thing, next to a third vendor with a cart piled high with fruit.

We found Willy on the street in front of CST and went to the front to gawk at the neo-Gothic facade, then look inside at the train platforms themselves, including another memorial to the 2008 terrorist attacks at CST. Earlier I'd bribed Calvin with ice cream (again), so I found the corner of the terminal selling food and bought him (and me, while I was at it) ice cream.

Main building at CST
Main building at CST

We caught a taxi from CST to Marine Drive, just as the sun was about to set over the Arabian Sea, and joined the throngs of locals -- mostly young adults, it appeared -- sitting on the concrete wall above the tetrapods above the Back Bay. This was one of the places populated by locals that I've come to appreciate in my travels -- people just sitting about, enjoying each other's company and the scenery, without high-pressure hawkers or touts or even some scenic tourist site to enjoy.

Bethany, Mom, Willy, Calvin, and Dad at Marine Drive
Bethany, Mom, Willy, Calvin, and Dad at Marine Drive

From Marine Drive we caught a pair of taxis back to our hotel, and this time (having learned my lesson earlier in the day) I insisted that Calvin take the first taxi. We checked into our hotel, got our bags delivered to our rooms, and met back in the lobby to eat supper. The hotel lobby was surrounded by three restaurants, but our first choice, a Thai restaurant, was booked solid for the evening (though it was still fairly empty at 19:30). We did find a table at a restaurant themed on a particular South Indian cuisine, and had an enjoyable meal there before retiring to our rooms for the night.

Sun sets over the Back Bay from Marine Drive
Sun sets over the Back Bay from Marine Drive
For more photos from my first day in Mumbai, see Photos on 2015-12-31.
Revenge was a convenient byproduct.
- Commander Webster, "The Maiden Voyager", _The Voyages of the Galactic_