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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 – http://www.flickr.com/photos/26536211@N08/sets/72157627552223943/

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.

          

In a world away

There are many differences that I have discovered that have struck me.  Many of them are because it is India.  Some of them are because it is such a huge city.  Below is the beginning of the list (in no particular order).  Most of them don’t bother me, I just find it fascinating.  I’m sure that many more things will get added to it as time goes on and I discover more of the city and country.

Toilet Paper:  I had heard the whole “don’t eat with your left hand because it is unclean” thing, but it had never made much sense to me.  I didn’t understand why either hand should have an issue with toilet paper.  But here, many people are horrified by the concept of toilet paper.  What this means is that when I go to places who don’t expect as many foreign travelers, there is sometimes not toilet paper – or even somewhere to hang it.  Instead, there is a sprayer (I have been told that sometimes you only have a bucket of water, but have been lucky enough not to experience that yet).  When you are done, you just spray yourself off with water.  Sadly, this does nothing about the fact that you are still dripping.

Also, many places just have pit toilets.  At the airport, we suddenly realized that the line was because people didn’t want to use the pit toilets.  After so many years in the woods I was perfectly happy squatting to jump the line.

Pigeons:  I don’t think I’ve ever lived somewhere with so many pigeons.  I notice them mostly when I’m at home.  They like to hang out in the weird not quite outside places like overhangs – and the piping for the bathrooms.  The first morning I turned off the AC when I got up and had a moment of thinking that it sounded funny as it shut off until I realized that no, it just had pigeons sitting on top.

Service:  Labor here is amazingly inexpensive because there are so many people.  Because of this, the service industry is huge.  What this actually means is that there are a bazillion people working everywhere you go.  When you got to a restaurant, there are a ton of waiters hovering for any possible need you have.  When your food comes, they serve it onto your plates and as soon as you finish anything, they are ready to put more on your plate is there is more left.  We even had one experience where Betsy put her hand over her plate to signify she didn’t want rice (while also saying so) and the waiter just wove his hand around hers to dump it on the plate anyway.  This happens in stores too.  It makes me almost feel like I can’t just look at things – I have to have a plan.  And we get in trouble for saying thank you.  All three of us who just arrived are saying thank you constantly – people are serving us and opening doors etc. – the Indian staff members tell us we aren’t supposed to.

We also have a driver which is a bit surreal.  Anytime we need to go anywhere we just call Manoj (he works 12 hrs/day, 6 days a week).  He brings the car up to the front of our building, drives us to where we want to go, drops us off, and disappears until we call him again and he wisks us away from curb onto our next adventures.  It sometimes makes it feel like we are seeing the city from a fishbowl – it all happens outside the glass.

Another form of service is our house cleaners.  A cleaning service is part of the flats that they rented for us.  So I leave for the day and when I come back my apartment has been cleaned.  Different things get done different days – everyday my bed gets made (whether I do it or not) but somedays my sheets and towels get changed.  I can’t always figure out the rhyme or reason.  One day the magic toilet paper fairy put more toilet paper but another day it was out and they didn’t.  I am really hoping that they bring me more water today. We all have little water cooler type things in our kitchen with drinking water, but the jug on mine is empty and I don’t have the foggiest idea how to get more.  Overall, I don’t think I like having it.  They change things – most of  which aren’t a big deal, but it just feels strange to come home and they have closed all my blinds and changed the settings on my fans and turned them off.  I am very western in that I would rather make my own bed (or not) and sweep my own floors but have my space be mine.

Traffic:  I knew that roads and traffic was going to be crazy, but it adds another level to see it.  I have decided that the only real rule of driving here is – put your vehicle where you want it to go and don’t hit anyone.  Most of the big roads are split with dividers (or medians) which I think is mostly so that cars stay on the correct sides of the roads.  They sometimes put lines on the roads but noone pays attention to them – if you can put part of your vehicle in that space and it will get you closer to where you need to go, do it  There are stop lights, but the stopping group definitely is well into the intersection, and if noone is coming right t that second then they go anyway.  And last night on our way home, there wasn’t even stopping – and barely slowing- for the red lights.  Basically you have to push your vehicle enough in the way where others are forced to stop so that you can make the turn (or u-turn) you need to make.  Cars often turn from not outside lanes and overall it just feels like chaos.  Accidents are not uncommon (we have already been in our first), but mostly both drivers get out and yell at each other and then get back into the cars and go their separate ways.  Even when the police see, they mostly tell the drivers to get back in their cars and keep going.  I get laughed at for wearing my seatbelt.  It is probably not necessary at all since it is very rare to get up to speeds that would cause anything beyond a dented fender. Even on toll roads – which are much less crowded – the speed limit is 50km/h (35ish mph) though everyone goes faster. Overall, I definitely do a lot of backseat driving.  I seem to be far more concerned than the others in the car about the fact that it often feels like we are about to crash.

To go along with traffic is honking.  Honking is the white noise of the city because it is constant in a variety of different tones, from the high pitched rickshaws to the duck sounding busses.  But honking isn’t an aggression thing – it is just part of driving.  It is the constant way of saying I’m here, or move over, or coming through, or can we please be moving.  In heavy traffic it seems almost like something to do while you are stuck.  Most of the big trucks and things even say Horn Ok Please on the back.

Stone Floors:  All the flats and museums and malls and places that I have been have stone floors.  A lot of it is marble – in big flat slabs.  It has taken me a while to get used to – I don’t associate it with comfortable rooms.  When I think of stone floors, I think of grand entryways or museums – not my living room.  I can think of 2 reasons why it is so common.  First would be temperature.  Stone is generally nice and cool and in a place that is 70-90 degrees all year, that is a good thing.  The main reason I think is mold.  Stone would be far less likely to mold.  I am hoping that it is just monsoon season, but mold seems to be a huge issue here.  Most of the cupboards smell of it and I even had to wash it off of some of the dishes.

Tourist Attraction:  I am a tourist attraction.  It seems like being white (and female?) seems to make me a tourist attraction.  We went on a sight seeing day and went to many of the big attractions in the city and twice did Ellie and I have strangers want to have their pictures taken with us.  I even had a small child thrust into my arms for a photo – even though it made him scream.

I’m sure I have forgotten some, but that is a list to begin with.  Overall, it isn’t as different as I expected – though I think a lot of that is the fact the that it is a pretty international city.  It it is sometimes hard for it to feel different when I can go next door to the mall and buy a snickers bar or the american bestseller.

Rain!

It has been raining!

I knew that I was showing up during the tail end of monsoons, but I also knew that most of the rain happens in July – not August. The first couple of days was really mellow. It would drizzle a lot, and have points of no rain and points of downpour throughout the day. But moving from Seattle, it just seemed like rain – with being in the car so much, I wasn’t even putting on my rain coat.

And then Saturday happened. The rains started Friday afternoon, and it downpoured until Monday. It rained hard and constantly for days. I would have thought that since it happens for months out of every year, that things would be built to deal with it, but they really aren’t. Pretty quickly roads started flooding. What amazed me, is that until the flooding really became bad, it didn’t stop the crazy traffic. It just made everything take twice as long (which is saying something when it normally takes almost an hour and a half to get to the south end of the city) The road would be at least ankle deep in water – it would be spilling onto the sidewalks from the road, but the cars are still driving through it. It wasn’t until it got worse than that, that cars started to just have to stop in the water. I guess it got bad enough in parts of the city to completely stop both buses and the trains.

The other slightly weird thing has to do with food and monsoon. Overall, they are very protective of what we eat. Most of the places we have been eating aren’t really much less expensive than most of the eating out I do in the states – though often they are slightly nicer places. They want us to introduce our stomachs to more of the lower end food and bacteria slowly. But one of the main contingencies they make is that we really shouldn’t eat street food or anything of the sort until after the monsoon is over. I am fascinated that monsoon has so much affect on the food.

Yesterday and today have been back to normal – a range from not raining to downpour, but completely dealwithable. It should be interesting to see how the rest of monsoon season plays out.

Contact Info

Just in case anyone feels an overwhelming urge to contact me:

email: cerafaery@gmail.com

skype: cerafaery

phone: +91 961 962 1538  (for those who want a ridiculous phone bill)

address:

‘5’ F Block, Opp. Govt. Colony
Bandra Kurla Complex
Mumbai- 400051, India

Here!

I have arrived.

I had a long, but uneventful day of travel.  I slept to Newark – got to enjoy the Newark airport for 5 hours, and then spent 15 hrs on a plane.  I watched at least 7 movies and knit a 1/3 of a pair of socks.

Getting through immigration and customs was ridiculously simple.  They mostly looked at our paperwork and let us move on.  Customs we just got waved through and didn’t need to stop at all.

When we finally made it out , we walked out into this large square that has hip level barracades all around it.  Before Ellie (another teacher) and I even made it all the way out, we saw Betsy waving excitedly.  She (the principal) and Aditya (the CFO) were there with our driver – Monoj –  to pick us up.  The presented us with beautiful flower garlands that hung almost to our knees.  It was so nice to have a familiar face and a warm greeting.  It made the whole process so much easier.

We got back to our new apartments and got a chance to dump our stuff, hook up the internet (with as much regularity as it gets) and crash for the evening.  It is fun because all three teachers who are here so far are in the same complex – though Ellie is a couple of buildings away.  Even Aditya and is family live in the complex.