Saturday, August 15, 2009

It's the end of a couple of intense days here in the urbs primus of the subcontinent. I'll try to be as succinct as possible, and yet try to capture all that's been happening. On Thursday, we moved from the somewhat suburban area of Bandra in the north, to the main area of the city, a bit further south on the peninsula. By the way, we have had very little rain here in the monsoon season, which has been somewhat pleasant for us, but a terrible sign of the drought which has been waging war on the crops of India. The only thing that dominates the news of drought in the papers is the somewhat ridiculous hysteria surround H1N1 "Swine" flu. I hadn't mentioned before, but before we even went through passport control at the airport here in Mumbai, we had to pass through a basically perfunctory flu check, with a document that had to be filled out stating we weren't ill. Many of the baggage handlers and all the people at the flu desk were wearing surgical masks, which we continued to see all over the streets of Mumbai. The only positive thing about this, is that it gave the street hawkers something else to sell on the trains and streets besides boxes of tissues from Dubai, and Indian Flags for Independence Day, which was today. I make light of the swine flu thing but I did catch something on Friday, and of course started to panic that indeed I had gotten sick with it. I'm still feeling a little coughy, but I hope by tomorrow I'll be up and running.

But back to our days. Thursday we took the train down to our new hotel, which is really not what we thought it would be. The place isn't terrible, it's just on a terrible street, right near Bombay Hospital and some sort of masjid (mosque) that I think must be a shrine of some sort where people pray for health because it is always busy and there are lines of people camped out all night with every imaginable infirmity you can think of, crippled, limbless, blind, just plain poor, and they are always begging as you go by. Anyway, we checked in and took off for Elephanta Island and the cave temples there. The boats leave from a dock right be the Gate of India, and the Taj Hotel, so we had our first views of these pretty impressive monuments. The ride out to the island is quite hot, but we made friends with a young kid from Bangalore (Anil) on holidays with his mother, who I think was feeling he'd rather hang out with the couple of cool guys, than visit shrines with his mom. He spoke English really well, and wanted the chance to gab with native speakers. We hung out with him all day, his mom sort of trailing behind. We also met a group of social workers from Orissa, who also loved chatting with us. The truth is, there aren't many westerners around, so people enjoy talking with the foreign tourists. The main cave at Elephanta is pretty impressive, a huge Shiva shrine, with a couple of impressive carvings and large lingams. On the way back to the boat to leave, Anil lost his mom and had to go back to find her, so we parted ways, and instead, picked up a lovely family from Mumbai, husband, wife, and two adorable boys, one whose name was Raz, which means 'mystery' not only in Hindi but in Hebrew as well! Pretty remarkable. After the boat back, it was high tea at the Taj Hotel, and then dinner out with Vikram (at Swati Snacks, a great Gujarati, meaning vegetarian, restaurant) who runs one of the Gay Indian groups which is one of organizations which petitioned the Indian Supreme Court to knock down the anti-gay law recently. Anyway, that's a lot for now. I'll fill in the next few days tomorrow before we head back. There is only one other thing I must mention. I'm trying to capture a little of what we're seeing and experiencing, and the photos will help with the sights, and I can describe the sounds, the honking and the honking and the cawing of the ominous crows. But the smells would be hard to put into words, both bad and good, the urine and waste, the incense burning on the food carts and in the temples, the wood fires that are used to make the tea that tea-wallahs cary around...

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