On our very first trip to India in 2010, Mumbai was our first destination, and then, as now, we were staying at the Taj Palace Hotel. However, that was only a year after a violent terrorist attack on the hotel that had resulted in the deaths of many guests and staff and the entire heritage wing of the Taj was closed for a thorough renovation. Now, ten years later, the full hotel was open and full of activity. Beautiful women draped in delicate fabrics seemed to float through the lobby at night, while in the daytime all manner of tourists - from Europeans and Americans in jeans to Saudi women in heavy black hijabs and metal face wear - sat in clusters awaiting their guides or drivers.
We met our guide, an older, very elegant woman dressed in a lightweight sari, and set off on our city tour. Although we had in fact been to Mumbai, I missed the city tour the first time because I succumbed to a stomach and intestinal assault. This time, I enjoyed every minute. Our guide took us to the beautiful 19th century, gothic university, and pointed out a distant skyscraper that is home to the Mumbai stock exchange. She took us to the Crawford Market where we saw all kinds of fresh fruit and vegetables, spices, nuts and dates. Just before noon we drove to Churchgate where we saw the Dabbawalas at work. These men organize the daily delivery of 2000 hot lunches from suburban homes direct to the offices of businessmen and bureaucrats through a relay system of trains, handcarts, and bicycle deliverymen. Everything gets sorted out, hand delivered to the right office, and then collected for a return home, only to repeat the same the next day.
Another fascinating thing to see in Mumbai was the outdoor laundry known as the Dhobi Talab. Thousands of pieces of clothing - stone washed jeans, underwear, sheets, dresses, etc. - were collected from homes and brought here to be washed in outdoor cement vats, tumble dried, and then air dried along miles of clotheslines, before being starched, pressed and hand delivered back to their customers’ homes. All the workers were men.
We also drove to the posh neighborhood of Malabar Hill where we visited a Jain Temple and a lovely park known as the Hanging Gardens. Our last two stops of the day were to Mani Bhavan, Ghandi’s residence in Mumbai, and the huge Prince of Wales Museum filled with ancient treasures from the earliest ancient civilizations on the Indus River to works of art from Hindu, Mughal, and Budhist cultures.
On our last morning in Mumbai, I walked across the street from the Taj to get a proper photo of the India Gate, built to commemorate the arrival in 1911 of King George. Soon it was time to leave Mumbai and India and return home to San Francisco. Our Air Emirates flight took us for an overnight at a very comfortable, if utilitarian airport hotel in Dubai, and then for our fifteen hour flight home. The time in Dubai is exactly twelve hours ahead of San Francisco time, so we don’t need to reset our watches mid flight. Just our internal sleep switches.