Saturday, April 26, 2008

An Evening in Mumbai (Bombay)

Yes, Bombay's name has been changed to Mumbai, more traditional and therefore politically correct — except all the Indians still called it Bombay. Hmm...

I had to be at the airport by 11 p.m. for my flight to NYC by way of Brussels, but luckily got a tour of the town courtesy of Rashmi and a driver provided by Sumeru. Very warm thanks to all!

Mumbai is, at least by some counts, the most populated city in the world. Driving into town from the east takes you through a swath of makeshift shacks set up on sidewalk after sidewalk, each one a dwelling place for someone, perhaps a whole family. Here's a blurry (car window) shot of one sidewalk; imagine nothing but this for a mile or two.

As you get closer to the water, you enter colonial Bombay, where the British lived very well, thank you very much. While there wasn't such a clear distinction between rich and poor areas in Pune, in Bombay there are definitely two or more sides to the track. The harbor is dominated by the Taj Hotel (1903), the city's first luxury hotel and first building to have electricity. Although one might assume that the hotel was built by the Brits, it was actually the work of the Indian industrialist Jamsetji Tata. In fact, legend has it that he set his mind on building it after being denied entry into one of the city's hotels for being an Indian.

Oh, no, another blurry picture, and no car window as an excuse! This is Rashmi and me having tea in the Taj, and the next shot is the view of the harbor from our window.

After this we got to take a boat ride out on the harbor, very refreshing, and it gives you a real sense of the city. The last big site, located a block from the Taj, is the famed Gateway to India, built to commemorate the arrival of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. They made their grand entrance right through its arch. Must have made them feel kinda special.

The final Mumbai/Bombay treat, and in many ways the best, was a lively (and delicious) dinner with Ashok Kaul, India's pioneering animator and filmmaker., a gracious gentleman with tons of tales about Bollywood and the growth of animation in India. Somehow Rashmi knew someone who knew someone who knew him, and he was very kind to invite us to his favorite local restaurant where the food was oh so good, and a great send off to the less exciting world of the Mumbai airport. I hope you will forgive me one last low-rez photo; by this time the flash had stopped working.

No comments: