Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Mumbai, India

It has been over a year now since my family returned from our RTW.  That time has flown by.  When we got back we were quickly swallowed up by the crazy schedules and social, achieving lives we had left behind.  Wilder, I am happy to report got into 4 of the 6 colleges he applied to, including his first choice.  Taking a year off of high school seems not to have harmed him at all, in fact I would venture to say it helped his applications stand out in an increasingly competitive environment.  As for me, I returned to my doctoral program at Pepperdine.  I am nearing the completion now of my coursework, and this trip to India (or China, or Belize) is a required part of our curriculum.  Also required is keeping a blog about our 12 day trip.  Well that's easy, I love blogging!  And I have missed it.

                                                            Wilder with his prom date after we returned last spring
When my family originally began planning our around the world route, I took India off the list of possibilities right away. I had heard only how hard it is, and really I was just afraid.  I figured our trip would be challenging enough without it, and I dare say it was.  Still, I was happy to be able to select it for my international coursework, and was looking forward to traveling on a more flush budget and as a participant rather than the planner!

I flew coach by myself for 10 hours to Amsterdam and then 8 more to Mumbai (previously known as Bombay).  Except for the fact that the airline gave away my aisle seat and stuck me in the middle on the first flight, it went ok.  I hardly knew what to do upon arrival with my private room at an upscale business hotel.  Traveling without my backpacking family feels foreign.  I am happy to report however, that I am adjusting!

                                                                                         The view from my room

First impressions,  Mumbai is sultry.  I arrived around midnight to temperatures in the 80's with very high humidity.  In the cab from the airport I saw that everyone in the city appeared to be awake and walking around!  We passed a couple of the huge weddings India is famous for, making me want to procure an invitation some day.  With some help from Ambien, I managed to sleep much of the first night, and awoke to meet my cohort of 8 including our fearless leader, Dean Weber.

On our first day we went to a business school in Mumbai, the Welingkar Institute, and had a lecture from Professor Swar Kranti about India, both ancient and modern.  This was an excellent introduction and way to start our trip.  The thing that struck me most was how she described the dichotomy that is India, where a person can be deeply spiritual and also corrupt.  I find that a hard concept to wrap my head around, but I think it explains a lot of what I have experienced of India thus far.

Staying awake that first afternoon was challenging, but we were assisted by a visit to the Gateway to India and the famous Taj Hotel.  That part of Mumbai looks very colonial, due of course to 200 years of British presence.  The wide streets are jam packed with cars and overhung with stately banyan trees. The Taj Hotel is known best in the west for the 2008 attack and occupation by terrorists.  Visiting felt strange the next morning when we heard news of the bombings of the Boston marathon.  Here we sat in the "dangerous" city of Mumbai while people we know were attacked and killed back home.

Other than the beauty of the architecture, I was initially struck by how few westerners I saw.  Most everyplace we traveled on our big trip we saw tourists from the west, at least in the big cities.  Here there were few, and we were often stared at and asked to pose for pictures with women and children.

On day two we visited the Lijjat Women's Cooperative and found out how what started out as a small business by and for women has grown into a very large organization that employees women from the slums and supplies papad, a type of Indian crispy bread, to all of India as well as to many parts of the world.

Afterwards we took a tour of the Crawford market where you can buy everything you can think of from fruits and vegetables to puppies and rabbits.  We also learned about the Indian's love for cows.  They believe they are holy because gods live in their stomaches.

The most difficult scene of our trip thus far occurred on our way home.  We were forced to step over an elderly woman and young child who were sleeping mid afternoon on a busy sidewalk.  The child's dress was pulled up to her chest.  She wore no underwear and flies landed on her indiscriminately.

                                                                                               No picture here

Today we had a tour of Dharavi, the biggest slum in Mumbai and the third largest in the world.  This was difficult, not necessarily though in the way I was expecting.  I was thinking it would be crowded and filthy, and it certainly was that.  But in expecting more scenes like the child on the sidewalk, I was happily wrong.  The children were cared for and mostly covered, playing with what is available as all children do.

We weren't allowed to take pictures except from the rooftops, so my description will have to suffice.  We hiked though dark warrens of make shift living quarters through which open sewers ran.  We glimpsed into a wide variety of living spaces, from clean tiled rooms sporting televisions and furniture to sweat shop looking piles of garbage with people sleeping on them.  What was most surprising however was the amount of industry going on in the slum, not just the work of cooking and cleaning, but whole sections devoted to things like plastics recycling, the making of pottery and leather (goat, not cow) working.  Our guide explained to us that the Indian government is working to eliminate the slums by replacing them with high rise apartments for the residents.  He said that the initiative wasn't working out well so far though because the government failed to understand that the people living there didn't want to move into the new buildings.  They were loathe to leave the communities that were so valuable to them.

As part of the preparation for this trip, I read a book called "Beyond the Beautiful Forevers" that details the lives of several families who lived in a Mumbai slum.  This morning's trip helped me to visualize the harrowing happenings in the book, and I highly recommend it.  Be warned, it is difficult reading.  Overall, I wished I could take all the teenagers I know (shout out to the villagers) on this tour.  Even my own world traveling kids would benefit from a morning spent in a Mumbai slum.  There is little that is more different than their lives in southern California.

We have a few hours now after the Dharavi tour to rest and regroup.  Some went shopping, but I am using the time to upload pictures and pack for our departure.  Tomorrow morning we will visit the Ghandi museum prior to catching our flight to Bangalore.  Stay tuned for more of India.

                                                                                   Me at the Gateway to India


  1. Carrie, you make it sound almost romantic, in a very strange way, the slums of Mumbai. I am absolutely terrified of venturing that far out of my comfort zone.
    I loved your pics of the beautiful architecture of Colonial India ~ exactly how I picture it in my minds's eye.
    Enjoy the rest of your time in India. Love from CA.

  2. Love your blog.... thanks for taking me on the trip!!! The pics are fabulous..... enjoy and keep it coming!!
    Stay safe... loves ya,

  3. Thank you ladies! I have to admit I am having a wonderful time! While I wouldn't call the slums romantic, they were definitely exotic. I love traveling and writing about it, wish I could do it for a living!

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