Birthday in Mumbai

Trip Start Aug 03, 2008
Trip End Aug 18, 2009

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Some of you may already know my feelings about my birthday, they're just simply curse. My quickest example is my birthday last year was during the orange county fires that had us evacuate from our house while Bill was out of town. Now he did make it back the night before my birthday, and Bill's dad (Jim) did cook a great dinner for us and had a cake, but nevertheless, I looked on the negative side and see my birthday as happening during the fires.

This year my birthday started with a simply train ride from Pune to Mumbai. The only problem being my stomach didn't want to cooperate with being on a train, and I don't know if you've even been in a bathroom on a train in India, but let's just say I don't recommend it and I don't recommend spending your birthday morning there like I did. But luckily for me this year, that was the only downside to my birthday. So maybe the slippery slope is actually heading upwards and my 30th will be a blast rather than scary...

Once we arrived to Mumbai, we quickly (well, relatively quick as Bill still had to negotiate) made our way to the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. This hotel use to be a palace and was impressive looking compared to all the other hotels we've seen; we even had to go through security checks to get in and out of the hotel. Though walking through a metal detector and hearing it go off, and the guard waving you through, not sure how tight the security was?

Nevertheless, we made it to our room and the first words out of Bill's mouth were, you're not allowed to sit on the bed. Only because his fear was, I'd never get up since it was the softest bed we've had in over a month, and he stomach was telling him it was time to eat. We had intended to try to make it to TGI Fridays only because it was the first meal in Japan after my stomach became upset by all the strange foods that I was able to devour. The only problem was it was on the other side of Mumbai by the airport, so it wasn't worth the trip. We found an restaurant, Indigo delicatessen, with American food and I had too many choices, did I get breakfast or lunch. I settled on lunch, and two days later we returned to have breakfast. Then we spent the rest of the day laying on the comfy chairs in front of the pool and having a swim.

Being in a fancy hotel makes dinner reservations a snap as Bill got them to make one at Indigo which is the dinner side of the restaurant we went to early but it was the one the hotel and Lonely Planet recommended. The only thing I was disappointed about was the dish I ordered, I thought had duck in it but it was fish instead. The receipt Bill got had said duck as well, but oh well, I still had a comfy bed to sleep in. The trip has really made me cherish American beds and my in particular.

This was a relaxing and peaceful day, but what transpired the next day for my b-day is what really took me by surprise. Bill's friend's Abe's wife, Annie, has a brother who lives in Mumbai. We had been emailing with him and planning on staying with him for a few days. That didn't work out only because he is in the Indian Navy and living in their housing, and the Navy didn't think being a friend of his sisters was a strong enough reason to stay with them. But he was granted permission to entertain us in his house which was almost just as good because we were able to relax in a home setting and have delicious home cooked meals which it's been three months since we've had one.

The surprise came when they presented me with a cake and sang me happy birthday. I had no idea they were going to do this and especially for almost a complete stranger. I felt so welcomed instantly. So I still got to make my birthday wish and enjoy a party at home all the way in India! And so maybe my birthday curse it over!

And so we spent most of our time in Mumbia getting to know our new friends and their two playful children. Ammu who is only four and knows her alphabet, numbers, read sentences and has translated for Bill between him and one of the neighbors. What a bright girl. Appu is a year younger and a bit shyer, but in time, he opened up and had Bill chasing him around the apartment until Bill made him cry multiple times but he always came back smiling after mom or dad made him feel better.

We spent one day in between our visits with our new friends walking around the city. We walked through the Colba area, around the Old Fort Area, which is the southern part of Mumbai (Bombay) was were the British built there city and it is decorated with some great buildings.  The Prince of Whales museum is an interesting blend of East and West.  It has the domes associated with the Moghals who invaded India centuries before the British, but has the classic perportions and styling of and Eglish palace.  The university and high court are built in a neo gothic style.  The pointed arches blending in perfectly with the traditional Indian styling.

After walking around for most the day we ended up going to Marine Drive to get some Pizzia while we watched the sunset over the sea.  We tried to keep the pizza simple by ordering pepperoni and cheese but added two toppings. The only problem was the cook added two whole onions as well, and most of you know, that both Bill and I hate onions. Our waiter's response when he found out is, "We won't charge you for them." Why he would charge us for something we didn't order is beyond me, but also we thought if this happened in the States, there would be some way they'd try to fix it but not simply tell us they wouldn't charge us for it...only in India.

And so after great home cooked meals, Anup and Sunitha tried to take us out for Southern Indian food which is the type of food they grew up with. Though Bill wasn't going to let them pay and so he said towards the beginning of the night, "I'm going to go wash my hands," making sure everyone had heard him. This was code with I'm going to talk to the waiter making sure there is no way Anup could get the bill. Anup later after dinner tried to use Appa need to walk around as an excuse to get the bill, but Bill had already got to the waiter and the check was settled.

Now our last day in India was a very special day for the people called Diwali. This celebration could be compared to Christmas for us with a twist of 4th of July. It's the festival of lights that celebrates the return of a king Rama who was exiled out of his land for 14 years before he could return. And so this is the celebration of his return, and the people lighting up the city in joy of the return.

But now a days, it's a time to let the fireworks go. Now it's nothing like our controlled 4th of July celebrations, but it's a free for all where everyone lights their own fireworks. We went to Marine Drive and all along the beach sidewalk people where setting the fireworks off. At first we were just driving by, and the kids were so excited to see all the lights. All of Marine Drive 5 miles of it had the sidewalk packed with people.  Throughout this crowd about every 10 feet there was someone lighting off fireworks.  And we are not talking about whimpy little stuff some of them look like the missles, but they were not all bottle rockets, they had Roman Candles, Laddy Fingers, Sparklers, Spinners, everything you can imagine, plus about ten.  There was not the variety of colors in the sky or the coordination that you see on the 4th of July, but there was a tremedous volume and considering the fact that there was 2 to 3 going off every second from 8 until 1 in the morning.  You can imagine the sight.  There was a thick cloud of smoke covering everything from the ones that had been shot off already.  When we found a parking space and as soon as we got out of the car, BOOM, about 3 ft away and our ears were ringing. Fireworks were everywhere and it seemed like they might land on you. After about 10 mins, we were all ready to get back into the car as we were in light and sound overload. The fireworks could be heard throughout the city and probably most of India throughout the night.

We left before the news papers were released, but I will be amazed if no one died during the celebration.  I can say with certainity that more than 1 person removed a couple of extra fingers.  But it really suprises me that the city did not burn.  Because the fireworks were shot into buildings, street signs, over gas stations, or anywhere else someone had a match.  It was something that worth seeing, but I would witness it from the safety of an indoor resturant next time.

Another sign of decoration in front of the houses decorated with a candle to help light the way home for Rama. This was the decoration that Bill set his backpack in Pune and lead to the argument with the hotel.  These are called Rangoli, a type of powder is used that when mixed with water seems like paint. And so we were lucky to be able to witness this great festival of India.

Michelle (Bill's busy figuring out what we're going to do in China)
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