A Warm Welcome – Mumbai, India

[ 1 ] February 11, 2013 |

True serendipity strikes very few times in one’s life. That in mind, when greeted by one of these rare moments, our mantra during this trip has always been “lean into it”. This was one of those moments.

Meeting our Future Hosts

Our trip to Mumbai was predicated on meeting up with Arjun Ramen and Lavanya (“Lav”) Ashok, two friends we met while visiting Istanbul, Turkey in July 2011. Standing outside the Hagia Sofia, Alison and I were trying to find a tour guide when we noticed another young couple looking to book a guide as well. We decided to share a guide between the four of us and split the cost. Fifteen minutes into our tour we realized that Lav and I had actually graduated from Wharton undergrad the same year. Of the roughly 450 Wharton undergrads that graduated in 2004, two of us just so happen to bump into each other in Istanbul of all places! What are the chances?

meeting our soon to be friends, Lav and Arjun, in Instanbul, Turkey

Our soon to be friends, Lav and Arjun, strutting their stuff at the Blue Mosque in Instanbul, Turkey

Pat and Arjun enjoying the sights in Istanbul, Turkey

Pat and Arjun goofing around at the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul, Turkey

The four of us naturally hit it off, and even decided to spend the next couple days touring Istanbul and sharing meals together. Once Lav and Arjun figured out that we were planning on coming to India at some point in our trip, we were strictly instructed that we had to visit them in Mumbai. And so a promise was made. Fifteen months later, we were finally on our way to see this vibrant, chaotic, and enchanting country we’ve anticipated visiting for many years; India!

Pat and Al outside the Gateway to India. For the past two hundred years, this monument has served as the entry point and welcoming signal to countless of visitors to India.

India opens its arms and welcomes Pat and Al!

After 24 hours of travel and a quick nap at the Bangkok airport during a LONG layover (darn you cheap flights), we finally landed in Mumbai.  We immediately got a prepaid taxi and headed to Lav and Arjun’s apartment. After 45 minutes of winding our way through the congested city streets we finally arrived at their building. An adorable two-bedroom apartment, we couldn’t have asked for a more comfortable place to hang our hats for the week or so we would be staying. Lav and Arjun greeted us with open arms and made sure we felt right at home as if no time had passed since we last met.

City Tour 

The morning after we arrived, Lav had arranged a private tour of Colaba. Located on the city’s southernmost peninsula, Colaba is the center of historical Mumbai and home to most of its Victorian era developments including the Gateway of India, Mumbai University, Taj Mahal Palace, and Victoria Terminus just to name a few.

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Taj Mahal Palace Hotel

Mumbai University

Mumbai University

at the Gateway to India - for the past two hundred years, this monument has served as the entry point and welcoming signal to countless of visitors to India

Pat and Al at the Gateway to India! Since the Queen of England walked through these gates in 1924, this monument has served as a welcoming point of entry for countless visitors since.

Our guide, Alisha Sadikot, was amazing. Alisha is the founder of The Inheritage Project, an organization promoting public engagement with Mumbai’s varied heritage resources. Alisha had just returned from London where she was studying Art History and Heritage Education and currently works at the City Museum of Mumbai.  She only does tours a few times a month – so we were VERY lucky to grab a tour with her. Alisha made Colaba come alive for us. Almost every building had a story and backdrop that was woven into the larger historical context of the area. It was amazing. I would highly recommend Alisha to anyone looking for a historical walk through one of Mumbai’s richest cultural and historical districts.

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our amazing guide Alisha

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receiving more tutelage by our amazing guide Alisha

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gorgeous victorian era buildings located in Mumbai’s oldest neighborhood

One of the coolest and most interesting stories Alisha told us was about Watson’s Hotel. While you would never know this from its current dilapidated state, this building was once the nicest and most posh hotel in all of Mumbai. The grandfather and precursor to modern day skyscrapers, this building was also the first recorded building to use cast iron to form its structural skeleton. So revolutionary at the time, visitors from all over would come to Mumbai just to gaze upon this architectural gem. Its most famous resident however, certainly had to be Mark Twain who stayed at the hotel and wrote about his experiences and encounters during his stay.

The Former Watson's Hotel

The Former Watson’s Hotel

Another favorite experience on our tour with Alisha was visiting the Oval Maiden, an expansive 22 acre green space in the heart of Colaba. With countless cricket matches going on, I couldn’t resist trying my hand at it. Thanks to Lav and her persuasive skills, she found a couple willing youngsters willing to let me  into their game.

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view across the oval maiden with the Bombay High Court in the background.

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local “experts” explaining the basics of cricket to me

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beginners luck

Dharavi Slum

One of our favorite and most meaningful memories we made in Mumbai was touring Dharavi, Mumbai’s largest slum. A special experience in and of itself, we decided to dedicate a special post just to this experience. If you would like to read more about our trip through Dharavi, click HERE for a link to that post.

life in Dharavi

life in Dharavi

Street Life

The financial and entertainment center of India, Mumbai is sometimes referred to as a microcosm of the larger country. A significant wealth disparity is an inescapable reality as lavish residential and corporate skyscrapers grow like trees out from knolls of impoverished neighborhoods. The streets are the heart beat of the city and the everyday interactions found here give us as tourists but a mere glimpse into this part of  the real Mumbai. For a look into the everyday lives of Mumbai’s working class, click HERE to view our post about Street Life in Mumbai.

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taxi driving enjoying his morning chai

Navratri, Dussehra and Bharata Natyam

To our surprise, one of the largest Hindu festivals of the year just so happened to be going on during our stay in Mumbai. Celebrated with exceptional zeal in northern India, Navratri is a nine-night, ten-day celebration marking the start of the harvest season. The Divine Mother Goddess Durga is especially venerated during this time symbolizing the reactivation of the fertility of the soil. The final day of Navratri, referred to a “Dussehra” is the culminating celebration and a national holiday. During Dussehra, many people take the opportunity to show gratitude and celebrate important teachers and mentors in their lives.

Originally from the Tamil Nadu region in southern India, Lav has been taking a Bharata Natyam dance course (the classical dance of her home region) over the past year. Lucky for us her dance class was putting on a special Dussehra performance for their teacher. We got to tag along to watch both Lav and her classmates perform this amazing type of classical dance and in the mean time get a larger sense of what Dussehra was all about. Check out this YouTube video of Bharata Natyam.

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Lav’s Bharata Natyam class performing for Dussehra

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Lav’s Bharata Natyam class performing for Dussehra

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snacks :)

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younger students performing

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Lav and her fellow Bharata Natyam dancers

Vasai Fort

After a morning of amazing dance, we made a quick trip out to the nearby Vasai Fort – the location of the first (non-indigenous) settlement of Mumbai. Settled by Portuguese traders, the fort was amazingly intact for its age. Best yet, given it is located about 2 hours north of Mumbai city proper, it was nearly deserted and we had the entire site basically to ourselves – a HUGE RARITY in India. As you can tell from the pictures below, we took full advantage of our empty studio and had some photographic fun.

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the girls dancing a bollywood groove

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jump if you like Dussehra

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our rickshaw driver napping

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Lav’s friend from dance class

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candid caught by Lav

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portal view at Vasai Fort

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Vasai building relic

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former cathedral at Vasai Fort

Dussehra festivities were in full swing that night. Durga floats followed by herds of dancing locals filled the streets. Dance parties were on every street corner and popular Indian music was blaring from every speaker. It was everything I imagined an Indian party should be like. Unfortunately for us, the poor night lighting failed to yield any useable pictures – guess you’ll just have to image this one.

Food and Night Life

We did a lot of hanging out, sharing meals, and catching up with Lav and Arjun during our week long stay in Mumbai. The majority of our time outside the apartment was spent in Mumbai’s Bandra Neighborhood. Originally a Portuguese settlement, this area of the city is beyond charming. Cobble stone streets and small single family bungalows (an extreme rarity for Mumbai) make Bandra one of the hippest and most popular areas of the city. It is filled with a plethora of unique restaurants cooking up every type of international cuisine imaginable.

Here are just a few of our favorite eateries we visited during our stay in Mumbai: Salt Water CaféOlive Bar & KitchenToto’s GarageCafé Indigo, and Pali Village Cafe. We even managed to catch a glimpse of Shahrukh Khan at Olive, a restaurant we patroned Saturday night. Named the “world’s biggest movie star” by the Los Angeles Times, for those not as familiar with the Bollywood scene, Shahrukh Khan is somewhere between the Brad Pitt and George Clooney of India. Lav’s bubbly star-struck reaction was enough to indicate that he’s kind of a big deal.

Huge Thanks to Lav and Arjun

Since we were flying to Udaipur the next morning, Dussehra was the perfect sendoff to an amazing time Mumbai. We are eternally thankful for our serendipitous friendship with Lav and Arjun and their endless hospitality. The best ambassadors your country could ask for, you both made our introduction to India a fantastic one and we are looking forward to repaying the favor next time you visit our neck of the wood in the U.S.

a very special thank you to  Lav and Arjun

A very special THANK YOU to Lav and Arjun – the best hosts a friend could ask for

 

 

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Category: Asia, Blog, Destinations, Featured Posts, India, Pat's Blog

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  1. Frank Roby says:

    If you are still in India, I would love for you visit St. Stephens Hospital and meet our friends, Dr. Sudhir Joseph and his wife, Mollie (also a physician). He is the managing director of the hospital. You could probably stay in the hospital guest apartment where Linda and I have stayed many times, for free. I will be there in March for the semi-annual board meeting.

    Hope to see y’all soon back in Dallas.

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