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Downtime

Started: 2016-01-26 18:17:27

Submitted: 2016-01-26 21:47:55

Visibility: World-readable

1 January 2016: In which the intrepid narrator celebrates New Year's Day in Mumbai by staying in his hotel room

I observed the moment that the new year of 2016 fell upon my local timezone in India by sleeping. By the time we woke up and made it down to breakfast, Bethany had already departed for the airport to fly home -- she wanted to spend the weekend at home recovering from her vacation, which sounded reasonable to me, albeit not the same decision that I made.

After breakfast, the members of my family who remained in India -- my parents, Willy, Calvin, and me -- headed up to look at the pool, because it seemed like the thing to do in India on New Year's Day. The water, according to the posted sign, was a bracing 22°C, and the pool had a constant depth of four feet -- above Calvin's head -- but Calvin seemed to enjoy the water once he found the various flotation toys provided by the pool. I brought my laptop down, sat on a pool-side chair in the sun, and enjoyed the Internet access. I did, at one point, try out the water -- but I barely made it across the short axis of the pool before bailing out and going back to my warm pool chair.

Sometime around noon I wanted to go out and do something interesting -- you know, actually see the city on the other side of the planet that we'd come to visit. Calvin, however, was not in favor of the idea of leaving the hotel at all. He refused to leave the pool, and eventually I had to physically carry him out of the pool and into the elevator. Once I got him back into our hotel room he locked himself in the bathroom -- with the iPad -- and refused to come out.

I didn't want to give into the tantrums of a six-year-old, but neither did I want to spend all day fighting with him to do something he clearly didn't want to do. I could see his point: he wanted to be able to spend some down-time rather than walk long distances to see boring things and eat weird food. So I let him stay in the room, and I ran down to the lobby to tell the rest of my family that they had better go without us.

Mumbai from the Taj President
Mumbai from the Taj President

I headed back to the room and used the downtime for my own advantage, working on the incredible backlog of photos I was collecting, starting with the very beginning of the trip almost two weeks ago. In the middle of the afternoon I ordered room service: pasta for Calvin, chilli paneer for me, and ate with a commanding view of the southern tip of Mumbai from our eleventh-floor hotel room. We both enjoyed our respective meals.

Calvin looks out the window of the Taj President in Mumbai
Calvin looks out the window of the Taj President in Mumbai

As the afternoon wore on, I got a text from Willy saying that he and our parents were heading in the direction of Chowpatty Beach and expected to be there in about an hour. This was the one thing on their schedule that I really wanted to see, so I decided we'd had enough down time and I could legitimately drag Calvin out of the room. He came, reluctantly, and we caught a taxi in front of the hotel to take us to the beach (though we had a minor miscommunication when the taxi driver apparently thought I was talking about some other Chowpatty further away).

Chowpatty Beach, Mumbai
Chowpatty Beach, Mumbai

We arrived at the beach late in the afternoon, as the sun was dipping low on the horizon over the Arabian Sea. The beach was at the northern end of Marine Drive, and appeared to be populated entirely with local families who brought picnics to enjoy on the sandy beach. There were some low-key vendors hawking children's toys, including a bubble-blowing apparatus that also included a plastic propeller in the lid for no obvious reason -- except that when I bought it for Calvin and put it in my pack to carry it the sea breeze would spin the propeller.

Calvin blows bubbles at Chowpatty Beach
Calvin blows bubbles at Chowpatty Beach

We met up with Mom, Dad, and Willy, while Calvin dug in the sand and got his picture taken by various young Indian men, and wandered back down the beach in search of supper. I'd eaten a good-sized lunch in the middle of the afternoon, so I wasn't especially hungry, but I did want to try the Indian street fusion food Willy recommended. We found the food vendors set up on one corner of the beach, selling various freshly-cooked street foods, including making dosas on a giant griddle. Willy ordered this food (whose name escapes me, but I've asked Willy and he will tell me), which was basically a spicy potato curry served with a fiercely-buttered bread roll rather than rice or an Indian flatbread. Apparently this dish came from the textile mills in Mumbai in the nth century where workers needed a lunch they could eat quickly and get back to work. Calvin was thrilled to eat a cheese dosa -- I was amused to see that the menu did in fact have one column for cheese added to any dosa, and one column for paneer added to any dosa.

Jaeger on Chowpatty Beach
Jaeger on Chowpatty Beach

We walked from the beach to the nearest suburban train station, where we caught the train two stations south to the terminus at Churchgate. Here the suburban train operates with metro-style, turn-up-and-go frequencies -- I saw several trains go past while we were waiting to buy our tickets. These are the famous crowded doorless trains that one sees in pictures and videos of Mumbai: with Indian men in short-sleeved shirts hanging out of the doors and windows as the train leaves the station. Our train was not crowded, and we did not hang out of the doors just to get an authentic experience.

Jaeger and Calvin on Chowpatty Beach
Jaeger and Calvin on Chowpatty Beach

From Churchgate Station, after examining the buffers at the end of the bay platforms designed to absorb the impact of a train, we took a taxi the rest of the way back to the hotel, after a truncated -- but relaxing -- day of sight-seeing in India.

For more photos from Mumbai, see Photos on 2016-01-01.
Modern mobile phones make my head hurt, and I speak as the owner of a
sheepskin that proclaims me to hold a degree in computer science.
- Charles Stross, What I want for Christmas