India had always been a dream destination for me since I was a little kid. I always felt a strong attraction to her, as if I may have lived there in a previous life.
When I decided to make my dreams come true, to visit India, as a gift to myself for my 40th I had to decide where in this absolutely gigantic country to visit. I came up with the mains of course, and Mumbai was top on my list.
Why Mumbai? Because there has always been this mysterious allure to the former Bombay. I always thought of Brittish businessmen, James Bond, exotic markets and something out of an Agatha Christie novel. Ok that’s not fair, but honestly that was kind of my impressions of Bombay as a kid. Now I know that there is so much more.
Prior to me leaving to India, I was wrapping up our show for the season, and got to work with the lovely Bollywood Actress Malika Sherawat, who gave me some great advice about how to eat in India, but more so the allure of Bollywood. Hey I work for Hollywood ( via Hawaii of course ) and why not visit Bollywood ? Oh well I’m getting a bit a head of myself.
Let’s start in the beginning… Well actually , let’s start with a few facts from my dear friends at WikiPedia:
“Bombay: Mumbai (/mʊmˈbaɪ/; also known as Bombay, the official name until 1995) is the capital city of the Indian state of Maharashtra. It is the most populous city in India and the ninth most populous agglomeration in the world, with an estimated city population of 18.4 million” Mumbai lies on the west coast of India and has a deep natural harbour. In 2009, Mumbai was named an alpha world city. It is also the wealthiest city in India, and has the highest GDP of any city in South, West, or Central Asia. Mumbai has the highest number of billionaires and millionaires among all cities in India.“
You can learn more about Mumbai by clicking here:
Arriving in Mumbai:
I left Bangkok in the evening of the 28th of April. I flew Thai Air and everything went pretty smoothly , until I walked into the plane. I mentioned this in my previous post India, A dream come true that Thai air puts no love into their flights to and from India. Which is super sad. I flew on a 747-300 Boeng plane, with angle lay flat business class seats. The food was mediocre , and the service was almost non existent. I spent my time on board going through my itinerary, and building up excitement knowing that my dreams are about to come true. Kelly was already there, checked into our room and had spent a spectacular day there, and I couldn’t wait to see her…
I landed at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (BOM) around 9:55 pm local time. The walk to customs took an hour ( ok 20 minutes ) and it was pretty empty on the arrivals side. Passport control and Customs was quick, they made sure I had my India Visa, and that my passport was current. Grabbed my bag and headed out to arrivals to meet my driver and the owner of the travel company I hired Times India Travels , Vjay. When I exited, there was my name plastered on a piece of white parchment. I felt special.
We made with our formalities, and exited the terminal. I’m now on Mother India Soil, and boy does it come with a huge amount of different smells. From incense, jasmine, heavy cologne, arm pit smells, and what smelt like a sewer or Bog, I knew from that moment, that India will take me on a roller coaster ride of emotions and experience, and if nothing else, smells . While driving to my hotel, Vjay was talking to me about my itinerary, drivers, etc, and gave me a cellphone to use while in India so that I may contact my drivers. Then it came, the question. ” So I was doing research on Miss HU and is she and actress?” OMG I hate this. To which I responded, ” what do you mean?” ” Well I know you work in the movie industry, and the Ms Hu is an actress, and I’m excited to meet her” Eyes rolled so far back I could see behind me……. Long story short. I was not amused….
We arrived to my hotel, The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, checked in and immediately met Kelly in a side lounge. We hugged and laughed and we were just so excited to finally start this journey together. We paid Vjay the remainder of the moneys owed, he embarrassed himself by acknowledging Kelly as an actress ( another huge eye roll) dispatched with all the necessary formalities, and was given a time for pick up by our driver the next day.
Kelly quickly ushered me up to our hotel room, and I was already in awe with the property. The room was GORGEOUS. And mind you our room was just a humble standard room. There were two large double beds, a gorgeous sitting area, large closet space and a a drop dead gorgeous bathroom… You can read my full review on Trip Advisor: Here
Day: 2 Mumbai:
This morning I woke to the sounds of peacocks and my internal excitement. I got up ran downstairs , and enjoyed a nice cup of coffee and a cigarette on the beautiful veranda over looking the pool. Today we will visit the Elephanta caves, Juhu Choupati and Dhobhi Ghat, and hopefully a temple. So we got ready, and went for breakfast first within the hotel at Sea Lounge Bombay. It was just the best introduction to continental/ indian food that a number 1 Five Star Hotel can provide. It was delicious. The buffet overlooked the Arabian sea and the Gateway to India Arc, and I was just so excited to get on out there and explore!
After breakfast we posed for pictures in our hotel and went to meet Our concierge, who already knew us by name, and who helped us with directions and how to acquire our boat tickets to Elefanta Islands.First stop, Gateway to India.
Right outside our secured hotel we could see the Gateway to India. A very Arc Du Triumph looking structure that was built to welcome the Queen of England, Queen Victoria. It is a little out of place in this exotic land, but a strong reminder of how powerful the British crown was here. We passed through all types of vendors and tuktuks all hailing for our attention. The smells hit you right away, and I must comment that I didn’t mind them at all. The Gateway to India is impressive structure that commands a whole minute of your attention. Its really just great for a quick photo op, to which we of course seized the moment.
Directly below ( port side) of the structure is where one secures tickets on a rickety boat to Elefanta island. So we bought our tickets and boarded a boat that looked like it could capsize any second, along with a few hundred ( ok about 40 ) other people and families and off we went to start our adventure to the UNESCO world heritage site of Elefanata and their amazing caves.
The Elephanta caves are located about 6.1 miles from Mumbai so about an hour or so by boat. When you land on the island, its about another 10 – 15 minutes walk past the water, water buffalos, and massive street merchants selling everything, and of course the mischevieous monkeys on the island. Once you reach the top of the island where the caves are , be prepared to be blown away by its majesty.
The Elephanta caves are caves with rock carvings dating back to the 5 and 7th centuries dedicated to Lord Shiva. It was a place of worship for Hindus, until the Portuguese came back in the 1500’s and destroyed a lot of the temple during their rule. There are many depictions of the Hindu God Lord Shiva and it is something out of the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It was so surreal, that I couldn’t believe I was actually experiencing it. One can just imagine what it must’ve been like when temple worshipers back in the 6th century prayed , lit incense and candles and helped to magnify the intensity of this very sacred looking and feeling place. We spend a few hours here just in awe of the carvings, and the energy of the place. We were thoroughly entertained by the clever monkeys who refused my water, but ran and stole someone’s pepsi…. Oh India 🙂
The Elephanta caves were spectacular and beautiful. And so worth the rocky boat journey. I get sea sick. I forgot to mention about the Arabian Sea or rather the water surrounding Mumbai was so filthy. I mean it was filthy and for miles on end. So sad…
We went back to our hotel room to freshen up as we were so hot and exhausted from the heat. We rang up our driver and within a few minutes he was downstairs waiting for us. We spoke with one of the concierges before we headed out again, to inquire about whether or not they have my most favorite Indian Movie : Jodhar Akbar The romantic story about at Muslim Mughal Emperor Akbar and his love for Hindu Rajput Princess Jodhar. I wanted to watch it since we were going to visit the epic drama story backdrops and palaces which were loosely based on historical facts. Just to show you how amazing this hotel and service is, they bought us a brand new copy and it was in our room ready to watch upon our return.
I forgot to mention a very important tidbit about out trip. We were so kindly taken cared of during our entire stay in India due to the fact that Kelly’s aunt Judy was very good friends with the mother of the CEO of the Taj Hotel Group, Mr Raymond Bickson. Because of this we were taken extra care of throughout our stay. We would meet up with Mr Bickson throughout our stay at the the Taj Mahal Palace hotel the first of with to commence this evening with a light dinner at one of their restaurants: Morimoto…
Sorry went a bit off track.
After we freshened up, we were on our way with our driver to visit Juhu Choupati and Dhobhi Ghat.
Our driver was hilarious and fun and when he drove by Juhu Choupati, a beach area where people enjoy throwing rubbish and other things , we decided to skip it and go straight to Dhobhi Ghat.
Dhabi Ghat is a community of ghats ( steps leading to a river or waterway) where most of the washing in the city is done. All the large hotels and homes use this ghat and its people to wash their clothing and bedding. It is a really interesting and intricate maze of stone tubs where people wash clothes and their bodies You can see the flags of clothing waving in the air as they dry and people beating up the fabrics to wring out the dirt. If only they could keep clean and smell from affecting their public restrooms which can easily change one’s attitude and curb ones appetite.
Next we drove by Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus) to check out this beautiful train station which was constructed in Victorian Revival Gothic style Like everywhere in India, the traffic was so bad, we decided to skip going inside and instead had our driver drop us off while he circles around so we can take silly Pictures. 🙂
Now that we had seen some sights, I really wanted to go and get intoxicated with Hindu spirituality. So I asked our driver if we could go and visit the Mahalaxmi Temple.It is one of the most well known temples in the city and is situated on something known as Bhulabhai Desai Road. The area is also known as Mahalaxmi after the temple. The name of the central deity of Devi Mahatmyam is known as Mahalaxmi. Getting there, was quite a challenge. Because we were in prime traffic hours, we were in a bit of a pickle. Our poor driver, he took us to the temple well knowing that it was the worst time to go. If I could only post videos on here ( something I’ll learn soon I promise) I could show you how much of a pickle we were in. He drove down a road which was packed with people We were in the muslim quarter, and one could tell with all the Henna dyed beards and white robes. The pedestrians numbered literally in the hundreds and behind us were a parking lot load of motor bikes. To make matters worse, the cows, dogs, and other animals blocking the road, and the plethora of people making their way to the mosque and our car not belonging on that road added to lots of hisses, stares, honking, yelling, screaming, and us freaking out for a bit. People had to move their products for sale and animals out of the way so we could inch our way out of the street. Our poor driver was so stressed and we were equally growing angry. It must be the local Hawaiian TITTA in us
We finally made it out, and was dropped off by our driver and instructed on where to walk. The road up to the temple is very chaotic , or is it just free flowing? You pick up your offerings along the way, milk, honey, grass, flowers, trinkets etc. The temple by that time, and being one of the most popular in the city, was busy. We lined up accordingly, and made our way into the temple, while temple priests, slapped and yelled at people who weren’t moving fast enough. The icons are gorgeous. There are three goddess present with the middle one being Mahalaxmi. We gave our offerings, took some rice candy and was given a Bindi on our third eye, the most important gift for me 🙂 .
Here’s our crazy traffic Jam situation:
With our new beautiful Bindis, and an emotional experience getting there , we decided that we needed some retail therapy. Our driver new exactly what I wanted. I was after some local wears so that I can fit better in with everyone, even though I’m super white and stand at 5 foot 11. We ended up at this area that sells beautiful Saris, and Salwar Khamis. I found 2 gorgeous ones but unfortunately my credit card did not like the establishment at all. Kelly being the kind and generous person she is decided to gift me my first outfits and I will forever remember that act of kindness… The tailors came, measured me and immediately went to work… I can’t remember if they ended up delivering it to our hotel or if I waited to pick them up. Whatever happened , I got my 2 beautiful Salwar Khamis. We went back to our hotel to get ready, tonight we meet with the famous and beloved CEO of the Taj Hotel Group, Mr. Raymond Bickson.
Wasabi: By , Morimoto : I’ve been to Morimoto in Hawaii and it’s delicious, so i was excited to try this place. Although I was already physically exhausted, I knew how important it was to meet with Mr. Bickson who has been taking great care of us. The restaurant is gorgeous, with beautiful hues of red. We met Mr. Bickson, and I was so happy to see that he is truly a local Hawaiian Gentlemen. He was soft spoken, kind, and very intelligent. You can tell the staff truly loves him for they do not do things for him out of fear but out of love and respect. It was really something to behold. We spoke about home, and how he got his start in this industry and with this hotel group, we ate, we laughed, and we talked about the rest of our trip, to which he had much advice for us. Tired and well, tired, we retired to our room for a nice long sleep. Oh the magical dreams I had.
Day 3: Dharavi Slums
The day before we inquired with our concierge about visiting the Dharavi Slums. He hired us a local guide who is from there and who belongs to a local company of a few young gentlemen called Be the Local Tours who take people on comprehensive tours of their slum. We met him and our driver ( who was someone completely different, supposedly his brother ) who took us to Victoria Station to board our local train to the slums.
At the train station, it was buzzing with activities. There were all the Dabbawala organizing their lunch boxes, and getting ready for delivery. Dabbawala are just amazing. They are predominately illiterate, yet they collect the lunch boxes from worker’s homes in the late morning, organizes, them, and knows exactly what box goes to whom and where they work without error. This is all done by memory. Just goes to show how highly intelligent they are.
We boarded our train enroute to the Slum ( God I hate that word, lets just for the future of this blog, call them villages) and that alone was an adventure. There are different compartments, with some for women only. But since we were traveling with a young man, we went into the unisexes one. There are metal fan blowers and a dingy cabin that whisks you away. The train made many stops , well if you can call them a stop, they made many slowed down stops ( LOL) where people ran and jumped on. On one stop, the local Hydras ( transexuals) jumped on clapping their hands and demanding money from men . They would pinch their cheeks and blurt out somethings until they gave them a coin or two. Our young guide who’s dark brown , turned red! I found them fascinating and fun.
We finally arrived to the “village” of Dharavi. We started to immediately take photos and was quickly advised: ” Madams, I ask that you please do not take pictures once inside. The people who live here are not animals in a zoo. And please don’t show disgust, as it will make the people here feel bad. ” OMG I totally get it.
Dharavi is the largest “village” ( slum) in all of India. There are about 1 million people living here. The “village” is not what you would think when you think of a ( slum) . It is completely self sufficient . NOTHING IS WASTED . Down to the brissels from a tooth brush or ripped tire parts, everything is recycled and brought to life again as something else. Everyone works, and no one is lazing around . We walked through factories and some questionable corporate ones who have their operations there while paying pennies to their workers , they will remain unnamed of course. 😦
We watched how fabrics are made, and bought some, and the day to day lives of people . We walked through tiny mazes throughout the village all leading to so many different places. It is not dirty compared to the streets of Mumbai, and although a few people have told me that I probably was only shown the cleaner parts, I have to disagree after visiting here that I feel the people have pride in their place of residence and business that they try to keep it as clean as possible. Our tour ended with us visiting the company, and its owner who explained to us how everything they earn is given back to the community. We felt really happy that we were able to contribute to the success of their business and of their community. Right before we left, our guide took us to his home where we met his mother and sister. I was so touched, and so humbled, they offered us some hot Chai Masala which we did not turn down . The room where they lived was humble yet it felt like home. His younger sister was a seamstress, and she measured us and told us she would make us our own salwar kermis out of the beautiful white fabric cotton we bought. We were very touched by this experience, and later on that evening, our outfits were delivered to our hotel. I highly recommend Be the Local Tours
After the tour our driver picked us up at the “Village” and took us to lunch. We were starving. After lunch we decided to visit a few more temples. The Jain Temple we visited was interesting yet small, and I had not done much research yet to completely appreciate this place, but that would come later. We then went to visit the Hare Krishnas, who were so welcoming and so sweet. It’s no wonder, and Lord Krishna is such a loving God. We then went to see the hanging gardens, and the open spice markets. After a must visit to Leopolds of ” Shantaram ” Fame… What a day it was for us. Tonight, dinner with Mr. Bickson again.
When we arrived back to our hotel, we were advised that Mr. Bicksons assistant would like to meet with us. She came with two envelopes, one for each of us with a small itinerary for each city we were to visit outside of Mubai where we will be guests of the Hotel for dinner and some small tours.. We were just blown away at his kindness. You will come to understand what I’m talking about in my other posts soon to come.
We ran up to our rooms for some rest and relaxation. Watched Jodha Akbar, napped and got ready for dinner. We were met promptly by Mr. Bickson and his Range Rover driver to go and visit the other Taj Property for some amazing Thai food. We talked over amazing food and got to know each other a little better. He really is such a kind soul. He talked to me about when the bombing attack happened at the Taj Mahal palace and what they did to recuperate from it. The hotel we were staying at has such an interesting history, but my poor fingers are too tired to go into detail about it.
We said our goodnights after a lengthy lovely dinner and went back to our room for some sleep. We would be leaving the next day to the lake district of Rajasthan called Udaipur and we still needed to pack it all up.
The next morning after our lovely breakfast at Sea Lounge and headed out early to visit a small fishing village before returning to get dressed and leave.
World Kolwada is very very busy. People go out in the night to fish, and in the morning, all the wives and families are there de-spining shrimp and other fishes ready to sell. It is quite smelly but of course any fishing village would smell like, well, fish.
Sad to say we were on our way to the airport, and though how full with happiness we already were in the tip of the massive mountain of our journey we just started. We got to the airport to board our flight to Udaipur, which of course in typical Indian style went with many hitches. First off, we were never told that you can carry maximum 40 lbs of luggage . We were at 50 coming off our business class flights where we were each allowed 2 bags at 70 lbs each. So to have to endure paying extra for baggage already caused us to be in a very sour mood. Next, no one told us that when you pass through security, you must first have luggage tags on your carry on and your purse. Yes again, I almost lost my sh.. and of course the female security agents are massive Bi… But I’m not traveling in my country, and I have to calm down and respect their customs no matter how backwards it would be.
Thankfully through Kelly, we were able to sit in a lounge and relax prior to boarding our flight. Made for a really good laugh….
Next Stop, UDAIPUR land of lakes and lake palaces…