Mumbai: Moisture, Malabar, Mangos and Mahatma

Trip Start Apr 23, 2011
Trip End May 14, 2011

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Flag of India  , Maharashtra,
Monday, May 9, 2011

It was hard to leave the beautiful city of Udaipur this morning, but for those going on  the Walking Adventures trip who don't plan on the optional extension to Mumbai, Udaipur is a great way to end a wonderful tour through Northwestern India.  However, we didn't leave without a bit of excitement! 

I was stopped in the airport by security for having a walkie talkie in my backpack.  That's right, a walkie talkie.  They tore up my boarding pass and told me I had to go back to the ticket counter and check it in with my baggage.  Huh?  Fortunately our drive to the airport had gotten us there early.  After waiting through the line at the ticket counter, I told the agent that I needed to check the walkie talkie in with my baggage.  She apologized and said that my baggage was already checked.  Well now what?  She wanted me to check in my backpack, but all of my critical gear was inside (including my flash drive with nearly 2000 photos on it!) so I was quite reluctant.  Thankfully, a man stepped up behind the agent and offered a small box to put it in.  After running it back through the security scanner, he wrapped up the box with what seemed to be 10' of tape!  But gets better!

Just as the agent reprinted my boarding pass and the man was about to put the box on the conveyor belt to check in the baggage, Dan walked up.  I thought he was checking on me to see what the delay was, but Security had found his walkie talkie too and was making him do the same!  Thankfully, the man with the box still had it in his hand and with a great deal of effort, he cut through all the tape he sealed the box with and put Dan's walkie talkie in too.  Then the box was re-run through security yet again, re-taped with another 10' of tape, and finally sent off to the checked baggage.  Whew!  Who knew walkie talkies would be such a problem?!

Well, a few short hours on the plane and we left the hot, arid, ruggedness of Rajasthan for the warm, moist, tropical air of Mumbai.

Formerly named Bombay by the Portuguese and changed to Mumbai in 1995, Mumbai is the most populous city in India and the 4th or 5th largest metropolitan area in the world (depending on list and geographic area).  There are roughly 21 million people tightly concentrated into a peninsula that was once seven separate islands jutting out into the Arabian Sea on India's Western Shores.

After unpacking in our beachfront hotel overlooking the Arabian Sea, we hit the ground running for a tour of the city.  Surprisingly, our first stop was...believe it or not...a laundromat.  Billed as the world's largest laundromat, Dhobi Ghat is home to millions of clothes that get washed here regularly by workers who slap the clothes on rocks (see video!) and plunge them into various vats of water.  Amazingly, the workers all remember whose clothes belong to whom and the clothes never get lost!  It wasn't on our scheduled lists of stops, but it was certainly quite interesting!

We went to a Jain Temple next and observed a portion of a live service where they worshiped some of their millions of idols.  Jainism, a sect of Hinduism, is known among other things for its followers being strictly vegetarian for not wanting to kill any living thing.  They frequently wear masks so as not to accidentally inhale insects and won't eat root vegetables (e.g. carrots, potatoes, etc.) for fear of killing bugs as the food is pulled from the ground.  They walk everywhere they go and to so barefoot and some even live in the buff.  Thankfully, all were clothed here, although we had to remove our shoes and make sure we weren't wearing anything with leather as we entered.

The Jain Temple was in the Malabar Hills area, one of the most exclusive residential areas in Mumbai with property values over $1,200/sq. ft.!  Malabar Hill is also home to Mumbai's Hanging Gardens, our next stop; unfortunately, they weren't quite the "hanging gardens" I had envisioned (ala Babylon's).  Mumbai's "hanging gardens" are so named because the Gardens sit (or "hang") overtop Mumbai's main reservoir - not because the vegetation hangs down from terraces above.  It was a pleasant stop, nonetheless, and several flowers were in bloom.  Also of note were the mango trees which were producing ripe mangoes when we were there.  Girish bought two dozen mangoes to take home to his family and Dan had some mango ice cream later that evening. 

Adjacent to the Gardens was a Parsis funeral pyre.  Parsis (pronounced 'PAR-sees') is a branch of Zoroastrianism that came to India in the 6th-7th Centuries when Muslims attacked Iran and the religious followers fled to India.  Our local tour guide for today and tomorrow is a Parsi and she noted the funeral pyre on the hillside where Parsis place the bodies of their dead for the vultures to come and eat them.  Parsis represent a very small percent of the Indian population (<1%), but they have played a significant role in its history.

Not far away was the "Gandhi House" named Mani Bhawan, a memorial to one of India's most historic men who stayed at the house periodically between 1917 and 1934.  The memorial - more like a museum - contained a room showing his living quarters and displays of some of his sparse belongings, along with a 20,000+ volume library, a very well done series of dioramas of his life, and a room of photos and letters commemorating him.  This stop was worthy of more time than we gave it, but on a scouting expedition, we were simply scouting it as a potential stop to add on the tour.  I think this one will be included.

All in all, a good day.
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