Early wake up in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) to clear immigration. The voice of our cruise director, Bruce, came into my cabin at 6:40 AM! We were warned yesterday but it is still not my favorite way to wake up and certainly not my favorite time!
Cleared immigration by 7:50 AM (it didn't take that long, just a few minutes but we had to go alphabetically and the people with early tours had priority). Met Sheila and Ron at breakfast and we decided to wander together in Mumbai. We had the usual mediocre maps and didn't take the most direct route but we had fun. The main problem was not knowing for sure where we were on the map to start. Silly us, we figured we could walk a bit until we found an intersection we could identify on the map but that took probably a mile or more. But what the heck, we were seeing Mumbai. We eventually found someone to help us with directions (We were heading the right way finally but figured asking directions would help. Of course, Sheila asked so we guys wouldn't have to violate the gender imperative against doing so.) We were standing on a street corner under some shade trees when I realized something just fell from above. There are a lot of birds in India. On the day I decide not to wear a hat the bird above me decided to "bless" me with a gift. Advice to travelers: wear a hat! Sheila offered a kleenex to help with the clean up and we pressed onward. I think I've been in India too long. A little bird dropping doesn't bother me like it used to. Travel is educational.
Onward we went to the Gateway to India. This is an Arch d'Triumphe like structure built at the edge of the harbor to commemorate the visit to India by King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. The structure was finished in 1927. Seems about right for Indian bureaucracy. In fact, no royalty ever actually used the "Gateway". It did see the last of the British troops to leave India depart.
From the Gateway it is a short walk to the Taj Mahal Hotel (not to be confused with the actual Taj Mahal which is almost 1000 miles to the north.
Oh, in my haste to mention the bird I forgot to say that the vendors and cab drivers were thick as usual when we left the ship but they seemed more polite than in Chennai and easier to brush off. It was early or perhaps they have been trained better to avoid offending. Mumbai has made substantial progress to be more user friendly in recent years according to old hand travelers.
We ran into some "shippies" in the hotel. This is what Ron has dubbed people from our ship who are on excursions. Those of us who go it on our own take some pride in knowing we see many of the same things for a lot less money. So far we had spent zero to see two of the half-dozen or so sights that we would have had to pay $40 or $50 if we took a half-day excursion. Of course, it is the feeling of independence and adventure of facing a new place without benefit of guide or tour bus which really makes going on your own more fun. (Unless things go badly of course...more on that later in the day.)
Once again having a gal in the group paid off. Sheila asked at the hotel desk and was given a list of sights to see and told to have the doorman arrange a cab for us. So we stopped walking and started riding. We discussed the price with the driver and made sure he spoke enough English to communicate. Off we went. $20 per hour for all of us (it is necessary to make very certain on these details ahead of time in many countries). For the next two hours we toured Mumbai and got to see Ghandi's house (1917-1934), Victoria Station (train station built between 1878 and 1888) now known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (don't even think about it spellchecker!), Marine Drive (a curved road and promenade along the water which is called the Queen's Necklace because of the way it looks at night with the lights reflecting on the water.), the Jain Temple (photo op only - no desire to go in by anyone in our group), the Hanging Gardens and adjacent Kamla Nehru Park, Dhoby Ghat (outdoor laundry where men - that's right ladies - do the laundry by beating the clothes on stones - tough on the buttons but effective in cleaning- pic hopefully attached), and the Crawford Market. Pheew!!! That was a lot of sightseeing in a couple of hours but we definitely got our money's worth. We were back to the ship by about 1 PM.
On the way into the terminal I saw Jane, one of my SCUBA buddies. I said hi and she was interested in an adventure in the afternoon. We had some lunch and off we went. This time we hired a cab at the entrance to the port. Jane asked what I wanted to do and I said I was open to suggestions because I had seen a lot in the morning but wouldn't mind repeating some. She thought about it and said she would like to go to a place she had read about in National Geographic Magazine within the last year. It was a place where they make pottery. (Jane is an artist.) She had a map with the area circled. We asked the driver and he knew the area (or so he said). We tried to explain that we wanted to see where the pottery was made and he didn't seem to understand completely but we figured when we got there we could ask for more complete directions. Advice to travelers: Don't do this! Make sure you and the driver understand where you are going. Read on to find out why. (Caution, a strong stomach is likely required for the following.)
So, after about an hour of driving, which by the way was quite interesting, we arrived at Dharavi. The driver didn't know where (or possibly even what) pottery was so we encouraged him to ask someone. He left us in the cab and a few minutes later he returned with a guy who he said spoke English better and was from the area. Well, he was no help with regard to pottery. We were out of options as far as I could tell. Jane agreed and we headed back toward the ship. While we were driving we were looking at the map and Jane saw a fort, Fort Mahim, on the coast near where we were. She asked if we could be driven there to look at what seemed to be a lovely setting and a possible tourist destination. (This is where the caution above comes in....)
The driver said yes but gave us a funny look as if to say, "why would you want to go there?" He parked near the location and pointed toward the water and said we could walk there. We started walking toward the fort. We had to cross several hundred yards of a sandy area where many young people were playing cricket (it was Sunday and apparently the British influence is strong with regard to sport). They gave us looks similar to the one the cab driver gave us but we pressed onward. As we approached the Fort and the shore I began to understand why the air was so foul smelling. There were many piles of human excrement along the water's edge. Apparently urination in public isn't the only concession to overcrowding and lack of public restrooms made here. It is common to see men peeing against a wall as you drive through the city but this was a little unexpected. I cautioned Jane to watch where she was stepping and she (apparently for the first time) noticed the beach droppings. Advice to travelers: Always look where you are walking when in unfamiliar territory! Jane and I were being "brave" about the unusual sites (and smells) we were experiencing so we walked closer to the fort. Close enough to realize it was not a tourist attraction. Rather, it was really more of a ruin but inhabited by people. No surprise in retrospect. 17 million people in this metroplex have to find shelter wherever they can. I even saw a satellite dish on top of part of the fort ruin. Well, just when I thought things had reached their most surprising (ok, gross too) Jane realized she was taking a picture of a guy adding to the beach droppings! Now that's funny. (Laugh or gag right?) She thought he was just squatting near the water but there was a reason he was squatting. Welcome to India.
I've tried to make this amusing and I don't want to give the wrong impression. What we found was a part of India that tourists seldom encounter but it is real. I have been a bit annoyed at other travelers on my ship who are appalled at what they see here in India (Chennai and Mumbai both). This is not our country and it is obvious that values here are different than most Americans'. There are many reasons for travel but if you just want to see the nice lovely things perhaps Disneyworld is a better choice. We forget how lucky we are to have been born in the good old U.S. of A. This experience should be a chance to reacquaint ourselves with that fact. In addition, I am pretty good at reading people and found even in Chennai that the people looked happy! They have obviously got far less than most of us think is necessary for a decent life and yet they seem to be thriving. It is clear that they are experiencing an improvement in the economy and hopefully the standard of living will rise for the entire population but clearly they are not an angry population ready to explode to force change. I don't fully understand why or how but I'm just here for a few days. If I want to understand it I'll have to do a lot of research or spend a lot more time here. Until then I refuse to judge the way they do things here. It is enough to know that they have their own ways. A lot of the fun of travel for me is to see the differences in the ways cultures solve problems. Usually that comes in the form of a different type of light switch or water faucet, etc. In India it is far more fundamental but the principal to me is the same. I am amazed by all that I see both the good and the "bad"!!! End of speech.
Oh, one more note on our day. I learned a bit about dealing with the vendors. They are as persistent as ever (we encountered them at all the tourist places) but after saying no a few times I would face them put my hands together in the traditional Hindu way and say, "Namaste". Yoga students say this and our Tai Chi instructor encouraged us to use it as a greeting. It actually means something like, "I recognize the divinity within you." The result is an immediate reply of the same gesture and word along with a smile. Not only that but in every case it ended the efforts to sell stuff. It probably was important that right after their acknowledgment of my greeting I turned my back and walked away. It even worked with the cab driver after our misadventure of the afternoon. The cab driver wanted more money. This is common and why agreement to fees should be made before departure but we had changed the route and this guy wanted more money (or so he said). We had originally settled on three hours for $40 thinking about an hour each way and an hour at Dhavari. Since we didn't spend any real time in Dhavari we actually got back about 2 hours and 15 minutes after leaving. But we had gone somewhere we hadn't originally planned. Our guy said we should pay him $50 instead of $40. To this we said no. He was not convinced. Finally I said to Jane loudly, "we only used him for a little over 2 hours instead of 3. We should pay him less than $40. Perhaps $30." Of course, Jane had already paid him $40 so there was no real chance of getting money back but he dropped his request to $45. Jane and I got out of the cab and I walked forward to him as he was still appealing and did the Namaste thing (smiling of course). He smiled and I could almost read his mind. He had to try for more money right? It must be a rule or something. But after the Namaste he stopped and smiled broadly and we both understood our business was completed.