Arriving in Mumbai Airport is something special. It's a new terminal and filled with traditional and modern art work and evokes the feeling of an elegant museum. I found immigration a little confusing as it was my first visit but made it through fairly quickly. The usual pick up gate was closed for renovation so I walked to where the people with hotel placards were. Unfortunately due to a mix up my hotel had forgotten about me! Then, later they couldn't find me due to the renovation... Once you've left the airport you can't go back inside. Armed security is everywhere - they were keen to help me, but had real trouble understanding my accent. They then wouldn't let me leave the area right by the door, I think they were worried I would be carted off by some dodgy taxi dealer. After a few more phone calls my hotel car finally showed up. Having just come off a 13 hour overnight journey into the heat and humidity to wait around for another hour I was completely melted. The phone conversation was funny because they kept asking for my description and although Mumbai is a very cosmopolitan city at that particular gate I could not have stood out more - the only relatively tall vibrant ginger for about a mile.
Once we finally got there the hotel could not have been more apologetic and I was upgraded to a suite. I stayed at the Trident BKC (in the new business district) and they were absolutely superb. I don't usually stay in that level of hotel, Rockin' Roy and I are a bit (A LOT) more budget when we travel, but wow, it is incredible! I had acquired a certain level of notoriety due to the car mix up. My company uses the hotel regularly so they were very keen to make amends. The hotel is stunning. I loved the suite. The facilities are also excellent, in particular the 33 metre outdoor pool and the Maya restaurant was last meal worthy. The staff were brilliant, very much on their game. It's a weird thing, but I actually found it kind of exhausting to be so well looked after - I know that sounds insane, but I've worked as a waitress and in customer service so it's weird being on the other side sometimes. I kept wanting to tidy up. Also after work I wanted to come in and make my own dinner, but instead you are being completely waited on (exquisitely) and after a week I found it draining, because I felt like I should be helping. I'm not sure how much sense that makes, but its how I felt. The staff truly were tremendous though. If I ever win the lottery I'll be using their bathrooms as a design basis for my dream home.
It was nearing the big finale of the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi when I visited so we stopped by a small public pandal (temporary shrine) to pay tribute. You take your shoes off when you go in and make a tribute. The Ganesh shrine was a spectacular riot of colour and it was a very moving experience.
But when I came out and went to put my shoes back on I managed to find and sit on the only broken plastic chair which folded under and sent me sprawling A over T into a big puddle. A crowd of concerned faces gathered and I... burst out laughing. I just found it hilarious, sitting in this muddy puddle with one shoe on, half way around the world directly after a moment of tranquil reflection. My colleagues were less amused and more angry at the people who had left out the broken chair. I put my other shoe on and dusted myself off. I'm happy to say this was all outside of the shrine, not in the shrine. Not sure what it might prosper though...
The Gateway to India is impressive and busy. The inside is chained off now. My colleague told me as a girl she used to run around and play in it but people had damaged the walls with graffiti so they had to block entry. Just next to that is the famous Taj Hotel. That's president posh. We went in for a look at the reception and glamorous shopping lane, but the £6000 silver tea set wouldn't have fitted in my case anyway.
From here we headed to lunch at the Mahesh Lunch Home restaurant. Loved it. Fresh lemon and coriander soup, paneer curry, garlic naan with massive chunks of garlic, watermelon smoothies - divine! Colleagues were convinced it would all be too spicy so kept trying to order me things like plain white bread for lunch...luckily I managed to convince them against it. I had really hard time convincing people that I like spices - I believe other European colleagues were not so keen in the past so they kept trying to give me boring (and sometimes weird) non-Indian food, while I kept trying to get more of the local stuff! It was a 50-50 success rate on the part of my convincing, but all the Indian food I had was fantastic.
After lunch we hit up the Bombay Store for some gift buying. Good stuff, but not so cheap and the store clerk latched on to me at the door and wouldn't leave which was annoying. I'm a solitary shopper, I like to be left to mull things over.
We then went to the National Gallery of Modern Art where I actually met some of the artists who happened to be there, quite unusually. I think they took an interest in me purely because I was a foreigner and I guess looked a bit exotic (I got a lot of compliments and comments on my hair during this trip) and because the artists travel extensively themselves and wanted to know where I was from. I was pretty jet-lagged and steaming in the heat so wasn't great chat. I wish now I had taken more time to talk to them about their work.
From here we headed along to Colaba Causeway. If you want to go shopping in Mumbai you must go to Colaba Causeway. Its a long stretch of market stalls selling anything and everything, but a lot of the same things. If you love haggling - great! I played the quiet tourist and let my colleagues handle haggling. If I was staying there longer I would have gotten involved, but I didn't feel comfortable enough with the currency to go wild with it. Even if you don't buy anything it's still a marvel to walk along.
By the end of all this - and the oppressive heat it was time to go home to the hotel and sleep. I loved the colours, smells and sounds of it all though and would love to go back to explore more as I know I barely scratched the surface of the city.
After a lot more work in the office it was time to say good bye Mumbai, hello Manila!