All of us were happy when our little plane took off from Delhi. It took a while for the aircraft to break through the fog and into the blue sky. We were only in the air for two and a half hours before we landed in Mumbai.
The first thing I noticed when we got off the plane was how hot it was compared to the northern cities. I had gotten used to temperatures around 10 degrees, but it was almost 30 in Mumbai and it was humid. We found a taxi booth and prepaid for two taxis to take us to our hotel. When the two drivers showed up, we were very skeptical as to how they were going to fit our luggage into their small cars. There were 7 of us, and we each had one large suitcase plus a carry on. Our driver filled the trunk with as many bags as possible, which wasn’t many since there was a large gas tank in the trunk. After he tied the trunk down, he proceeded to stack the rest of our bags on top of the car. They tied the bags down with some string. The other cab had a very shallow, metal basket on top. Their driver placed two or three suitcases inside the basket, unsecured.
Once the drivers seemed content that we weren’t going to lose any bags, they asked where our hotel was. We told them we were staying in the Grand Hayatt, near the international airport. Tarak, Sneha and I got into one cab and followed the behind the others. The old yellow taxi we were driving in was the sketchiest vehicle I’ve ever been a passenger in: there were no side view mirrors, I don’t think any of the dials on the dashboard worked, and the horn was just a couple of frayed wires coming out of the steering wheel that the driver would touch together to complete the circuit. Our driver was very haggard as well. He was a skinny older man with thin grey hair. I think he had a bad chewing habit because any teeth he had left were brown and looked as if they would fall out at any moment.
After a 20-minute drive we reached a hotel (though it wasn’t our hotel). The drivers took us to the Hyatt Regency instead of the Grand Hyatt. We explained to them that this wasn’t our hotel. They told us that there are two Hyatt hotels and the other one is right beside the domestic airport, where we just came from! It was clearly a trick they play on tourists often. Play dumb and get the tourists to pay more in order to get to the hotel. We gave them another 200 rupees to get to the Grand Hyatt.
After a 20-minute drive in the opposite direction, we arrived at the right hotel. It was much bigger and better looking than the Hyatt Regency. Security was very tight. There was one checkpoint outside the gate where men with mirrors check underneath the car for suspicious looking devices. They also check the trunk and sometime inside the dashboard. After passing through the gate we unloaded our luggage. To get inside the hotel we had to put our bags through an x-ray machine and walk through a metal scanner. We didn’t have any problems and were checked into our rooms very quickly.
The Hyatt was easily the nicest hotel I have ever stayed in. Amish, Ron and I were staying in a room together. It was small, but very comfortable. We had two double beds, an additional fold out bed, and a really nice washroom. The prices for service reflected the appearance of the hotel. 1oz bottles of liquor from the mini fridge cost $7 minimum. This may not sound absurd when you think about drink prices in Vancouver, but you can buy three or four meals in India for that price. That night was new years and most of our nice clothes were wrinkled. We checked the cost to get them dry-cleaned and ironed. It was going to be cheaper to buy new clothes than it was to get them washed at the hotel.
We unpacked quickly and met up with the others in the lobby to coordinate our new years plans. The Hyatt was throwing a new years party that included a buffet dinner, dancing, and unlimited drinks for $100. I had never paid that much for a party before and was not too excited about the idea at first. I asked the hotel concierge if there was any good clubbing areas in Mumbai. He only recommended another hotel party, saying that the clubs were not going to be as fun as the hotel party. I called the hotel and their party turned out to cost $50 and was a 30 minutes cab ride away. In the end the others convinced me that the Hyatt party would be the best option and we bought our tickets.
By this time it was almost 4:00pm and the dinner was starting around 7:30. We took a quick nap because we were tired from the flight. Once rested, we started putting together our outfits. Luckily we found an iron in our room. My shirt still smelled like smoke from the village in Shiker, so I ended up borrowing one of Amish’s shirts. The three of us cleaned up just in time for dinner.
Our dinner was in one of the four restaurants the hotel had. I was initially skeptical about paying $100 for a new years party ticket, but in hindsight, the dinner was probably worth the money alone. They had laid out a huge appetizer spread. There must have been about 30 different dishes, none of which I can remember the names. It was very hard not to stuff myself with starters, or drinks for that matter. We were sucking back wine and drinks very quickly. The kitchen manager even came around to our table to see how we were doing and suggested tequila shots. Oh how I hate tequila. The menu had ten or so main dishes to choose from. I elected to try the fillet mignon. It was all right, though it was a bit overcooked for my liking. Ron ordered the lamb, which was wrapped in ham and then braised. I was lucky enough to try a bite of it. It was the best lamb I have ever eaten, and maybe the best dish I have tried period. A few of the others ordered a delicious gnocchi pasta, which I also sampled. After eating our mains, we attacked the desserts. As with the appetizers, the dessert table had roughly 30 options to choose from, most of which were very small. I sampled as many as I could. The best were these shot glasses layered with different flavours of mousse. My favorite was green tea mousse layered in between chocolate.
Once we had stuffed ourselves, we went to our room to digest the food before hitting the dance floor. We recovered quickly and returned downstairs where we got our money’s worth in drinks and danced with everyone we could find. We even got some of the kitchen crew to join us. The security guards were not amused. We danced until the music stopped around 1:30 or 2:00 am.
Everyone else went to bed, but Amish and I were pretty bummed that the party stopped so early. We decided to wander around the hotel and see whom we could meet. We wandered around aimlessly for a while and eventually met these two girls who were both from Mumbai. One had lived in Scotland for most of her life and had a very thick accent. They had come because they thought the party was going to last much later than it did. The four of us sat at the hotel lounge that was still open and serving drinks. The girls gave us some suggestions on areas of Mumbai that were worth visiting. When we finally went to sleep it was 4:30am.
I woke up the next day around noon. I wasn’t feeling too bad considering how much I drank the night before. Ron was already awake and Amish got up shortly afater. The others had gone to a mall to get food and do some shopping. We were getting fairly hungry and decided to get a cab and meet them there. The mall was just like any North American mall. Four floors of stores like Nike, Addidas, Levis and a food court.
The food court was the only thing that was different from North American malls. There were many Indian food places and most of the food was vegetarian. Places like McDonalds and KFC also had many vegetarian options. I settled on getting a McSpicey paneer burger from McDonalds. For some reason everyone working at the McDonalds would start cheering and whistling every few minutes. We couldn’t figure out why, but it was the happiest group of fast food employees I’ve ever seen.
After eating we found Tarak, Sneha, Tarung and Roshni. There was a theatre in the mall, so we all decided to watch a movie. Tarak, Amish, Ron and I went to see Sherlock Holmes 2 while the rest of our group chose to see a Hindi movie called “Dirty Movie”. This movie theatre turned out to be way nicer than the one in Jaipur. All of the seats in the screening rooms reclined and were almost as comfortable as lazy boys. The seats are on a fairly steep slope, so no matter how tall the person in front of you is, you will still be able to see the screen. My favorite feature was that everyone gets his or her own set of armrests. Why haven’t we done this? The movie was very well done, as was the first Sherlock Holmes. Both are a must see. When the movie ended we went back to the hotel and I passed out almost immediately.
The following day we headed to a street market to do some shopping. Once we got to the street with all the markets, we saw a shady looking mall, which we opted to look in first. There were tons of stores with cheap shirts and knock-off watches. We spend an hour or so looking through all the shops. I went through every fake watch shop looking for a decent knock off. The nice ones turned out to be somewhat expensive. The asking price for a good-looking fake Omega Seamaster was around $100. All the shops in the mall seemed to be run by the same people, and none of them would do any haggling. I wasn’t about to buy a fake watch for $100 so I eventually gave up. Amish was the only one who got something from the mall. He ended up getting a haircut for $2.00! and it didn’t look half bad.
All that browsing made us hungry, so we stopped into KFC and got some food. Turns out they serve corn on the cob, and it was very tasty. Ron and I decided to get some food from a store we saw across the street that served sandwiches made in big hot dog buns. Once we fuelled up we hit the street shops. The shops reminded me of one’s I’ve seen in Puerto Vallarta Mexico. They sell lots of crafts and clothing. Sneha found a guy selling scarves. We ended up buying 12 off of him for a pretty good price and continued to walk down the street. Along the way, many guys had tarps laid out on the ground with various goods on top of them. At one point all of them suddenly grabbed all 4 corners of their tarp, bundled up all their stuff, and ran across the street. It turned out there was a police car coming, and they aren’t allowed to sell things on the ground in front of the shops because they cause traffic jams.
Once we were satisfied with our day of shopping, we caught a taxi to Jugo Beach. The beach is a popular place to visit in the evening because there are lots of food stands, shops, and rides. We arrived around 4:30 and the place was packed. I was pleasantly surprised at how clean the place was. I got used to seeing lots of litter in India and thought a beach full of people would be filthy, but in actually it was very well kept. Swimming in the ocean didn’t seem like a popular activity. It may be because there is so much else happening on the beach itself. There are tables set up with fresh fruit, snacks, jewelry, men selling kites, and even a guy who writes peoples names on grains of rice and makes necklaces or key chains out of them.
There was some pretty sketchy stuff at the beach as well. While walking down the beach we saw a miniature Ferris wheel spinning around. Upon closer inspection, we saw that the Ferris wheel was powered by men who would jump up and grab onto parts of the wheel, using their body weight to spin it. To stop the wheel, they would grab onto the opposite side and get pulled up off the ground. It looked really dangerous, so naturally I had to try it. I convinced Ron to ride it with me. There was a tiny little safety bar, and nothing to prevent the seat from spinning completely upside down. Once the Ferris wheel got up to speed, our seats were rotating us almost to a lying down position when coming over the top of the rotation. It actually turned out to be really fun, and nobody got killed. After the Ferris wheel ride we saw a tattoo artist who had set up a towel on the beach with her scrapbook of tattoo designs. She was currently working on a customer who was getting two pairs of initials inside a heart, carved into his bicep. There didn’t seem to be any spare needles, or any way of sterilizing the equipment. I asked how much it would cost to get a basic tattoo covering most of my shoulder. The going rate was about $10, which would leave you plenty of money to fund your medical bill to treat all the diseases you’d get from that needle.
The best part of Jugo Beach was the food stands. Once it got dark out, a number of stands opened to serve various traditional Indian dishes for super cheap (around $1 per plate). It was just like the Richmond night market in Vancouver. Amish, Ron and I went around the whole place buying plate after plate of different foods and sharing them. One of the best things we tried was a paneer butter malsala dosa. Dosa is kind of like a large thin pancake, only a little bit crispier. We watched the guy make it in front of us. He had a large cooking surface where he spread out the dosa batter. While the batter was cooking he started putting all of the ingredients for the filling directly onto the dosa. After every few ingredients the chef would take a bucket of melted butter and slop it on. He added one last giant knob of butter at the end before mashing all the ingredients together. Once everything was mixed properly, it was folded up and cut. It was delicious, but I couldn’t imagine eating a whole one myself since it’s so rich. We went back to our hotel, likely a few pounds heavier than when we left.
The next day was our last full day in Mumbai. Amish wanted to visit the Elephant caves (a set of man made caverns carved out of rock on a small island). A couple of us didn’t feel like going at first, but we couldn’t think up any alternatives so we reluctantly tagged along. We hired two cabs to take us to the Gateway of India, a 40-minute drive from our hotel. The cab drivers made a deal with us. If we paid them 4000 rupees, they would wait for us while we went to the elephant caves and drive us anywhere we wanted for the rest of the day. We decided it was a good deal and took them up on it. After stopping in for lunch at a popular cafe, we headed to the gateway to purchase our ferry tickets.
The Gateway of India is located right on the sea, across from the Taj hotel (one hotel bombed in the 2008 attacks). We bought our tickets and found the dock where our boat was. There were tons of boats in the water, most looked like our ferry. Our boat had two levels, the upper deck not having any cover. I was glad to be on the lower level in the shade since it was almost 30 degrees out. The ferry ride to the Elephant Islands took 40 minutes. During the journey we passed a navy battle ship and many industrial ships with numerous cranes aboard. One thing that surprised me was that people throw their garbage into the ocean even though there are garbage cans on the boat. I don’t mind people littering on land, since you know it’s not going anywhere, but when garbage gets thrown into the ocean, you don’t know where it ends up.
Once on the island we walked a long way to get to the ticket booth. There was a long path up a hill with tables set up on either side selling touristy nick-knacks. While walking up the path we started seeing more and more monkeys towards the top. Lots of people think wild monkeys are cute and funny. They’re not. Monkeys are scary. There was one sitting on a ledge beside us as we walked up and it hissed at Amish and bared it sharp pointy teeth. At the top of the hill, monkeys were everywhere. A couple of tourists were sitting on a ledge feeding something to a monkey. Once the monkeys found out the people had food, they wouldn’t leave the people alone. The monkeys started grabbing the people’s bags and hissing at them. One monkey grabbed a water bottle right out of the guys’ hand and ran away with it. The couple got up and walked away, but the monkeys kept on following them.
I wasn’t too impressed by the caves themselves. I think it was because I had already seen some amazing sites on our trip. There was one main cave with 15-foot high ceilings, which had a few large carvings of people in the back wall. The impressive bit is that the makers of the cave were able to carve them out of the rock so long ago using primitive tools. We briefly explored the caves, then returned back to the ferry.
We met our drivers back at the gateway and got them to drive us to a mall with a Mexican Indian restaurant that Amish and Tarak had eaten at 10 years ago. The food was somewhat expensive compared to most meals we had paid for in India. We started off ordering two plates of nachos. They were the most disappointing nachos I’ve ever had. The chips resembled Doritos and they were covered in runny cheese that tasted like cheese wiz. After this we contemplated leaving and finding somewhere else to eat. We asked for our bill and I went outside to look at our other options. There was a pasta place, but the menu didn’t look too great. The other options were McDonalds and Pizza hut. We decided to stay at the restaurant and try out the mains. I ordered the chicken tortillas, which turned out to be the same chips the nachos were made of with a little bit of chicken on them covered in nacho cheese. The other dishes people ordered looked a lot better than mine.
The next day we met Sneha and Tarung’s parents at our hotel. We went to lunch with them at a really fancy Indian restaurant before heading to the airport in the evening. Sneha and Tarak’s flight was at 11:00 pm. Amish, Ron and I were flying at 2:00 am but we headed to the airport at the same time. We killed the time by playing cards.
Our flight was connecting trough Heathrow in London England. We had an 8-hour stop over, just like our flight to India. This time we decided to go through customs and catch the underground into down town London to explore for a few hours. It took an hour to get from Heathrow to the heart of London.
I couldn’t believe how much of London we got to see in the 3 hours we were down town. The stop we got off of took us right to the London eye. Right across the river from the London eye is Big Ben. The view was spectacular. We crossed the bridge to the foot of Big Ben and caught a double decker bus to Trafalgar Square. There we saw the Olympic countdown clock and went into the national gallery. The last supper was being showcased while we were there, but we didn’t feel like paying 15 Pounds to go see it. Instead we blitzed through some of the free exhibits.
By the time we left the gallery it was 11:00 am and we were getting hungry. I suggested we find a traditional English pub to have lunch at. We wandered through the streets looking for the most stereotypical looking pub we could find. We saw one we liked and headed in. The bartender told us they didn’t start serving lunch until 12. Amish wanted to eat breakfast, but Ron and I wanted to order from the lunch menu. We decided to return at 11:45 so Amish could order his breakfast, then Ron and I could order lunch 15 minutes later. To kill time we found a local mini-mart and bought a whole bunch of chocolate bars. If you’ve never had chocolate from England, you’re missing out. I’m not sure what they do to it, but it’s better than the stuff we have here.
We returned to the pub at quarter to twelve to order the most English meal we could. Amish got veggie bangers and eggs. We then sampled the beers on tap until noon when Ron and I could order our lunch. I got fish and chips with peas while Ron ordered a beef pie. The food and beer were everything I hoped they’d be. Once finished our meal we caught the underground back to the airport and flew home. I never had the urge to visit England before, but I had a great time while I was there. I would love to go back someday and spend more time.
That concludes my stories from India. I wish I had written these posts sooner. I’m sure I missed a few anecdotes along the way. If you’d like to see any photos I have an album on my flicker account.