Archive for September, 2011

Tourist Day

The administration at the school have done an amazing job at making this one of the smoothest moving transitions I have ever had. The first couple of days were days devoted to sightseeing and getting familiar with the city. Now that I’m a bit more settled and have a bit of free time, I am trying to write up some of the first day’s adventures.


Mumbai is a series of islands (built up by the British) Most of the original down town is in South Bombay. It has most of the beautiful old buildings and sightseeing locations. From there, the city has spread in the only direction left – North.


The first day, we started with a bit of history and culture by visiting the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, formerly and better known as the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India. It was named after the Prince of Wales (George V) because he laid the foundation in 1905. The building itself was exquisite with grandiose domes and arches and stone work. Inside there were collections of art and history ranging from archeology studies on pre-historic cultures to beautiful stone god and goddess sculptures to miniature paintings.


After the museum we went to a lovely pizza place overlooking the water. All pizza here is thin crust – but if you ask for thick crust it will be as thick as our thin crust, otherwise it is even thinner. Not only do they have fairly “normal” pizza types, they also have very Indian pizza with masala and other Indian spices on them. I am intrigued at the amount of times we have gone out for very western food. I think they are partly concerned about us adjusting to the food, but also haven’t realized that we haven’t been here long enough to miss food from home – we are still excited to eat all the amazing Indian food. After lunch, we went down the road to this unmarked shop that sold ice cream sandwiches. They had some amazing flavors – like lechi, and guava. They took out the ice cream patty and placed it between 2 wafers. It was very tasty. Overall, the day took much longer than intended due to rain. It was raining decently and the traffic reflected it. A drive that is about 30 km (20mi) ended up taking us about 2 ½ hours. We were all ok with this though because it gave us ample time to look around.


The next day was our big day of sightseeing. On our way, we we took drove down part of the western coast – including going over the sea link – which is a lovely bridge that lets you avoid parts of the city. We also drove past Haji Ali which is a beautiful mosque built on top of a dargah (tomb) from the 15th century. There is a causeway you walk at low tide to get out to the mosque. It looks so peaceful sitting out off the coast. As we drove along, ‘A’ gave us information about the different things we were passing.


Our first stop was the hanging gardens. It is a beautiful park and gardens in a section of town called Malabar Hill. It is one of the older and more expensive neighborhoods to live in – especially since it tends to have some lovely views. On one side of the road, the Kamala Nehru Park over looked a section of town called the Queen’s necklace. It is a circular area called Back Bay with Marine Drive that runs around the edge of the beach. At night when the lights are all lit up, it makes it look like pearls in a necklace – thus the name. This part of the park is designed for kids and one of the highlights is the Old Woman’s Shoe ( she had so many children she didn’t know what to do). We decided that we were just big kids and so climbed around inside even though it said it was only for kids.


On the other side of the street was the hanging gardens (Pherozeshah Mehta Gardens). There are beautiful manicured gardens with nice walkways and benches – and shrubbery in the shape of animals and gods. We walked around and enjoyed the flowers, butterflies, and views.


From the hanging gardens we headed further downtown. Our next stop was the Taj Mahal Hotel. The story of the Taj, as I was told – though I have heard contradictions – is: The Taj Hotel was created because a wealthy Parsi business man,Tata, was frustrated by the number of hotels that were white only – in particular the Watson’s hotel. He decided that he wanted to create a high end hotel where you could stay regardless of your nationality. He had a British engineer design the grandiose building. It was built in 1903, but the architect never came to see the construction until it was finished at which point it was discovered to have been built backwards. (Some accounts I have read say that it was the way it was supposed to be since it would be easier for carriages to approach from the city.) No matter the true story, it is an exquisite building and I hope to treat myself to a night there at some point while I live here. (Though rooms rates seem to range from about $180/night to $3,800/night depending on the room). The entire lobby area of the hotel is open to the public and we wandered around and took pictures of the fountains and staircases and other beautiful things.


From the Taj, we went just down the road a bit to the Gateway to India. It was designed by a Scottish architect, George Willet, to commemorate the visit of king George V and Queen Mary in 1911 but wasn’t actually finished until 1924. The entire area was bustling with people – tourists and people wanting to sell things. I am amazed at the things people were selling – random plastic stuff and the one that got me was giant balloons. Also by the gateway was the statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji. Chhatrapati Shivaji was a soldier who at 14 (or 16) lead an army against the mughals and created a unified Maratha area as a Hindu state.


After a wonderful buffet lunch, we kept exploring the downtown tourist district. We went into Jehangir Art Gallery which displays current art exhibits of local artists. We also went to FabIndia which sells traditional Indian garments and I bought my first salwar (pants) and kurta (top). We also happened upon the David Sasson Library because it was pretty and had bathrooms. Not only was the building pretty, but it had a nice semi-secluded area in the back with trees and benches. Then we wandered around the outside of the university buildings. It was a day full of beautiful architecture – though I got in trouble for taking photos there because of worry of bombings.


We finished our day with a trip to Victoria Terminus (which has been renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) which is the large train station downtown. After looking through car windows and rain we decided to brave a look at the inside. The inside was huge and bustling. Picture the busiest rail station you can imagine and then realize that it wasn’t rush hour yet. Our lovely Indian teachers J and N taught us how to punch the tickets so that you could prove you paid (you tend to buy tickets in books and that is how you “use” the ones for the trip) and then we sent them home via the train.


On our way through the under road tunnel, we saw a rally for Anna Hazare. Anna Hazare was a man who was trying to get an anti corruption bill passed by the government and ended up getting huge amounts of public support (rallys and marches) and went on a hunger strike until the government ended up passing the bill.

I have plenty more photos – but didn’t want to overload this blog.  If you want to see the other photos from the day, you can check them out on my flickr –


A Lovely Day of Juxtaposition

Today turned out to be full of adventures. E,Z, B, and I had arranged to go have fancy brunch, and discuss some of the different volunteer, workshop opportunities and plans that people have. It was also to experience the amazingness of brunch at the Marriott


Just getting there was an adventure, and continues to remind me why I want to learn Hindi. E, and Z got in one rickshaw and got there with no problems. B and I had more adventures. I’m not sure where our rickshaw driver though he was taking us, but it wasn’t the Marriott We eventually had to call one of the Indian teachers so that she could talk to the rickshaw driver over the phone to get him to take us to the right place – definitely an adventure.


The hotel itself is opulent. The outside is big stone steps and water features and statues. On the inside, we had brunch in their main restaurant which is overlooking the back section of the hotel. The wall of windows looks out onto a manicured land of paradise. The upper area was the swimming pool that looked out to the beach and ocean. The water from the pool fell into water features and a little stream that meandered through the area of green grass and sculptures and coconut trees.


Brunch itself was slightly overwhelming. There was a salad bar – with a wide variety of salads as well as snacky type foods like cheese and crackers, pate, smoked salmon and other delectables. In the back there was an entire buffet of Indian dishes. There was a pasta bar where you picked your pasta, sauce, and veggies and it was made right there for you. There was a prawn station where you could have giant prawns cooked up in different sauces. I know that there were other stations too – but there was so much I don’t even remember what it all was. And there was the dessert bar. They had an entire table of fancy cakes and tarts as well as the cooking station where you could get everything from ice cream to baked Alaska to crepes. And of course fruit. We decided to go fancy and ordered the champagne brunch, so our glasses of champagne just kept getting filled. I had at least 3 plates of food as well as an entire plate of dessert. It was all amazing. It was silly expensive, but less so than the experience would have been in the states.


By the time we left, it had begun to rain – mostly just a sprinkle. Being from Seattle, it didn’t really phase us, mostly it kinda felt like home, but warm and raining. As we saw the huge number of people in the street, we realized that hundreds of people would be at Juhu beach just down the street to immerse their Ganesh idols (today is the last day). We decided that since we were that close, we really needed to take advantage and go see. We walked down the road to the beach. The beach was covered with hundreds of people. There were giant trucks lined up that had carried the idols to the beach and entire groups would help carry the statue into the water as far as they could. You could see the remnants of previous idols – from earlier days or years I don’t know – littering the beach uncovered by the tide. Even once an idol was immersed, tons of people were just hanging out in the water celebrating. By this time it was raining pretty significantly and we were all soaked.


We were also a a big draw in and of ourselves. We started to realize that people were taking our photos. Once we realized, we started to notice it everywhere and it just became kind of funny. It was the subtlety that I found most amusing. People rarely came up and asked to take a photo with us (though it happened some), mostly they would position someone a couple of feet in front of us so that it would look like they were standing with us in the photo or they would slyly be taking them off to the side of us, but immediately put away their phone as soon as one of us looked in their direction. We decided it is our moment to be famous. It was just so amazing to experience this aspect of the celebration – rain and all.


I am now warm and dry – though my feet are dyed brown from my 200 rupee (5 dollarish) leather sandals that may not have survived the adventure in the rain. As I sit here and type this, I can hear the drums and watch the fireworks from all around the neighborhood (setting them off in the street happens everywhere – who cares about water for them to land in).

Swimming in the rain

Tonight E, Z, and I had the most wonderful time swimming in the rain. There is a fancy club that is quasi connected to the housing complex we live in. Although living here doesn’t make us members, the CFO is a member and we can go as his guests for a nominal fee. The main thing we have been wanting to do is swim in the pool. From our apartments we can see the beautiful lap pool with the smaller sitting pool to one corner. It is designed so that the water overflows the edges before falling into the filters.


When we got down there it felt so good to slip out of the hot muggy air into the cool water. We were the only ones out there and it as amazingly peaceful. There were fireworks for the festival going off in the distance so we could hear them and occasionally see the glow through the trees. The man working came and turned on the waterfall so you could get a water massage from the water falling off of a rock structure – or hide underneath the rock in the peace.


As we were swimming laps it started to pour. It was so beautiful to be swimming the the cool water in the pounding rain on the pool. It was the perfect way to wind down the day.

Ganpati Bappa Morya!

 Today is the beginning of the festival celebrating Ganesh’s birthday.

Ganesh, the elephant headed god, is the remover of obstacles. He is the gaurdian of entries and doorways, destroyer of vanity and pride, and a symbol of abundance.

The story of Ganesh:

The god Shiva was away. His wife, the Goddess Pavarti, wanted to bathe, but there was no one to guard the door. She created a son out of the dirt of her body to guard the door. She told him that we was to allow no one to enter until she said so. While Pavarti was bathing, Shiva returned. He was outraged that this stranger he had never met was denying him entry to his wife’s chambers. In his rage, Shiva drew his sword and sliced off Ganesh’s head. When Pavarti saw what had happened, she was devastated to loose the son she had just gained. Shiva did not have the power to bring Ganesh back to life, but he did have the power to replace the head. He sent men into the woods with the order to bring back the head of the first animal they found. His men returned with the head of an elephant which Shiva used to replace Ganesh’s head – creating the elephant headed god.

The Ganesh festivities last for 10 days. They start with bringing home a statue of Ganesh – ranging from relatively small to many meters tall. Often larger statues are bought by a neighborhood or community (our apartment complex errected a whole little pavilion with carved pillars and all to house the large Ganesh and associated activities.) Generally this involves a parade of people with drums walking down the street. The Ganesh’s head is covered. There is an elaborate ceremony during which Ganesh is uncovered and bedecked in flowers (which are decorating the whole area) and I’m not sure what all. There tends to be dancing and singing and all sorts of festivities. It is also a holiday that is about visiting with families. Often this happens on a smaller scale in people’s houses. This continues to some extent (though I think today is the only day people get off from work ) for 10 days. At the end of 10 days, the statues are again parades with drums through the streets to a body of water (river, ocean, etc) where they are immersed.


Last night we started to see processions of Ganesh as we went out in the city. This morning, the drums called people down to the celebrations at our complex. I have no idea what was being said (it being in Hindi and all), but it was still fascinating to watch. We got to see the unveiling and the bedecking and even got given a tikka (the red dot with rice). We left before the singing, but I’m sure I will continue to see festivities throughout the week.