Friday, June 8th, 2012 Mumbai – Hyderabad

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Since we are leaving Mumbai this evening, we wanted to see a few other places before we go.  After we checked out and stored our bags at the hotel, we dealt with the taxi hassle yet again.  This time we walked over to the nearby taxi rank, got in a taxi and said we wanted to go to Mani Bhavan, which is the Ghandi library/museum, an important site in Mumbai.  The driver didn’t turn on the meter, but I also think he didn’t know where we were going, because he pulled into the Mumbai Central Train Station, which was next door and started talking to the other drivers there.  Can’t figure out why these drivers might be more knowledgeable than the ones at the taxi rank, but after a few minutes there seemed to be an invite to go to another taxi that could take us there for a fixed fee that I knew had to be way over the odds.  Bottom line was that none of the drivers here would do the journey on the meter and wanted RP300 to RP200 to drive us.  I figured this has to be at least 4 times what it should cost.  They didn’t want to budge, so we voted with our feet and walked out of the station and found another taxi.  He charged us RP100 for the same trip, which I knew was still more than it would be on the meter, but in the end, saving the last 50 cents to $1 on a cab ride just grinds it out of you.  I call this the “sanity tax” – at some point our time (and mental health) is worth more than a few rupees.

As it turns out, I got a rare opportunity to figure out what it should really have cost us, since later in the day we had a driver take us back to the hotel to get our bags on the meter, which rang up around RP50.  So as you can see, the initial drivers actually wanted 4-6X the meter rate.  It is rarely in your best interest to go off meter with a taxi. Of course the drivers all want to do it because they make more money.  The best bet is to ask a local (e.g. at your hotel) what the taxi ride should cost and use that information.  Of course, that’s great if you can get a taxi driver to take you for it, but often times, they will simply refuse to use the meter and their fixed rate will be a multiple of what you should pay.  At that point it is time to decide whether to pay the sanity tax or get out and find another cab.

Mani Bhavan is the home where Ghandi stayed whenever he was in Mumbai.  Today it is a Ghandi research library and has a number of displays about the man, his work, and his life.  It is free and definitely worth a look in you are in Mumbai.  Amongst the various photos on display, I liked seeing one of him sitting with Charlie Chaplin.

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The room where Ghandi slept has a display of some of his few personal belongings and artifacts. Scattered throughout the whole building are panels with some of his quotes on various topics.

Perhaps my favorite part was the dioramas that depict important junctures in Ghandi’s life.  As you can see from the photo below, these have a folksy charm, and are actually quite informative once you read the accompanying panels.  Someone took a lot of time to make these.  Of course if this was created today, we’ve expect LCD panels with fancy graphics and information, but for some reason, I think these dioramas are more engaging.

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Leaving Mani Bhavan, which is in the Malabar Hill area of town – the “Beverly Hills” of Mumbai and resident to many Bollywood Film Stars – we walked past the Tower of Silence and up to the Hanging Gardens.  The Tower of Silence is a Parsi funeral tower and can only be glimpsed from the road.  Parsis are another small Indian religious group – they are direct descendants of Persian (Iranian) Zoroastrians.  They believe that bodies should not pollute the ground and practice air burial – putting bodes in these towers and allowing vultures to pick the bones clean.  Seemingly Mumbai has had a decrease in their vulture population which is of great concern to this community.

The Hanging Gardens are a pleasant park located on one of the highest parts of Mumbai and actually built over water tanks that are the main water supply for the city below. 

The view is pretty interesting and includes a unique private residence.  Aaron’s friend had told him a little about this place – it is apparently the home of a very wealthy guy known as the Wall Street Nostradamus and is rumored to have 100 servants, but he doesn’t actually live there.  Who knows?

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We walked down the hill I the heat and had a late lunch at a restaurant called Soam which serves Gujurati vegetarian food.  I found the place using Google Places on my smart phone, which is really great when you are traveling and don’t otherwise know where to find a good local restaurant.  We had a fabulous lunch with several different dishes, which mostly consisted of some form of tasty bread and accompanying curry or sauce.

From there, we got a metered taxi back to the hotel.  He had wanted to charge me RP150 (“very good price, sir”), but relented and went on the meter, which as previously stated, rang up as RP50.  He actually spoke some English and since we were headed to the airport, I converted our trip into a fixed price trip that was within the guidelines of what the hotel had told me the journey should cost.

We arrived early at the airport, which was fine as we had heard that it can be a very slow process.  In the end we actually got through check in and security pretty quickly. At the domestic terminal, in addition to the typical waiting seats, they had a good number of loungers, which I think is a great idea in an airport.  They also had a few booths with tables and electrical power, so the boys were able to plug in the netbook and watch some programs they had brought with them for just such an opportunity.

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Our Jet Airways flight to Hyderabad lasted about 80 minutes and was uneventful.  After getting our bags, we left the new, very modern airport and were met by Frances, our friends’ driver.  Outside, on the airport grounds they had a shooting gallery and a go kart track as well as some other things that looked like much more fun than I’ve seen at any other airports.

We took a fantastic new road and about 20 minutes later arrived at Phil and Laura’s house and were greeted by them and two of their kids,  Benjamin, Abigail.  Their youngest Aidan was already asleep.

Phil and I used to work together a long while back at Dell.  When Phil and Laura moved with Dell to Singapore, I was actually their cross cultural trainer. Since then, Phil moved to NCR Corp. and runs their Hyderabad operation.

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