Well, we’ve made it through 24 hours here and are still alive, which is a good sign.
Traffic here can only be described as crazy with pedestrians dodging cars at almost every turn, and frequently between them as well. As a passenger in a taxi, you wish that you could find some way to get in on the horn business, because if you could, you’d end up a millionaire. On the other hand, being a pedestrian reminded me of the old video game Frogger where cars try to run you over at every point and you have to hop across the road in cadence with the traffic. Except in this game you only have one life, unless you happen to be a Hindu, in which case you might think differently, Amazingly we witnessed no vehicle on vehicle or vehicle on person accidents.
We’ve come across a number of strange, pseudo English signs like “Horn OK please” which seems to be painted on the back of almost all trucks. Have yet to figure out what this means – kind of sounds like they are asking you to beep them. Then there was this sign which I think is meant in the sense of suction and blowing machine, but sounds a bit like a scary prop from an adult movie:
The way the taxi drivers drive here, you could be forgiven for assuming that the city had been colonized by the Italians, but in fact it was the British and Portuguese who put their stamps here. In fact, one theory for the name of the city comes from the Portuguese Bom Bahia (good harbor), and Bombay was acquired by the British as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganca in her marriage to Charles II in 1661 (or there abouts). Last year Kelly and I traveled through Spain and Portugal and spend some time in Braganca, which is a tiny town in the remote north east of Portugal. By contrast, modern Mumbai is a bustling city of officially 22 million people, but clearly many more, and is India’s largest. Think “Indian New York” – the largest populated city, the financial capital, and an expensive place to live. Except New York is a bit better kept.
Staying at the same place is a Welsh couple from Porthcawl, which is the next town over from where Nigel and Mo live, so it’s a small world. The wife, Janice, works for the Y and is here to setup a program of babysitting for the children of prostitutes if I understood correctly, and will be here through September. The aim is to keep the kids off the streets.
We went with Janice and her husband Martin for all of us to get SIM cards for our phones, but they did know that they needed to have their phones unlocked to take a different carrier’s SIM card and so ended up having to buy a basic local phone (only about US$10). I had taken care to get Aaron and my phones unlocked before we left, which will allow us to stay in touch and also hopefully have internet access when we need it.
Now, what is simple in the US or the UK is not necessarily so in India. Just to get prepaid SIM cards we had to take our passports for them to copy, submit a photo, sign the forms and photos and generally wait around, but we did get them in the end. I think they actually wanted a letter of introduction from our hotel, but we managed to skip that one.
We then headed to the Gateway of India which is a local landmark ceremonial gate built to commemorate the 1911 visit of George and Mary and was the departure point for the last British solders of the Raj. In fact what George and Mary went under was a cardboard facsimile, as the read gateway wasn’t built until 1924. Across the street, we stopped in a looked around the swanky Taj Mahal hotel which is apparently THE place to stay here. Unfortunately it was also one of THE places targeted in the vicious attacks a few years ago, along with the Chabad House and other Jewish sites.
On our way to lunch we made a stop at the Knesseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, a very old facility that was build by the Sassoon family, who were Persian Jews that emigrated here.
This being our first real meal in India, we splurged a bit and had lunch at Khyber, an award winning fairly upmarket restaurant specializing in NW Indian cuisine. I tried a drink called Jaljeera, which is intended as an aperitif. The best I can describe it was like drinking the brine from the eggs at Passover, but with cumin and mint mixed in. Very salty and not really to my taste. The rest of the meal was very good though.
From the restaurant we walked to Victoria Terminal (also called CST), a Victorian gem of a railway station, beautifully crafted and full of details, the interior of which was modeled after London’s St. Pancras Station. If you can believe it, this station is used by more than two million people each day!
Another 1KM or so along the road brought us to the Crawford Market, one of the larger local markets with everything from food to animals for sale. This was perhaps the most extreme olfactory experience of the day, but only slightly more intense than walking down any other street in the city.
To me the city is like playing scent roulette – smells of perfume, flowers, fruit, and other sweet aromas waft past you as you walk, and then get replaced by something very malodorous that often cannot be identified.
We had planned on stopping by the Chabad House to make a donation and when I called earlier in the day Rabbi Mendie extended an invitation for dinner that we ultimately took up. The food was simple, but the company was nice and we even had a little Gematria study and ma’ariv thrown in.
It was then time to go back to our hotel and sleep.
Day 1 survived!