This is our last stop on the journey. Tonight, if all goes well, we fly home on the big red-eye. We are bone-tired, and so over-saturated with the relentless sensory stimulation that is India. Most of us were wishing we could just go home after Kochi. The idea of another major city at this point was simply too much to contemplate.
Then we got here and were once again completely dazzled! First we came to our world-class elegant hotel, the Trident, situated on Island 8 of the 8 islands strung like a shining necklace along the Arabian Sea. The area where we are is kind of industrial/commercial, near a couple of consulates and a lot of new skyscrapers. But the luxury and cool beauty of this hotel is quite stunning, and soooooo comfortable and deluxe. We even did the unthinkable here and ate green salads with both lunch and dinner, with no ill effects. We were longing for green and crunchy after 3 weeks of abstaining and this place is so clean!
Yesterday afternoon we were taken on a short city tour. This is the setting for Slumdog Millionaire, and from the moment we arrived we could see the thousands of shanty houses piled up against the airport runway, and the alleys running back into the slums along many of the streets we drove on. Blue tarps are everywhere in these shanties, obviously to keep out the rain, and so the shanty areas look Ike ragged quilts with bright blue squares. But we had not expected the vibrant energy of this place, or how elegant the city center would be, or how well it all seems to meld together. The sea is everywhere. Entered the main city along a very long bridge across the sea between two islands. From there the skyline of the city looks like New York, with a long stretch of sparkling skyscrapers reflecting in the water.
We went to look at the Dobhi Ghat, a historic commercial laundry area still in use where people pound laundry in a labyrinth of stone tubs, then hang the stuff up to dry on clotheslines overhead. It was such a surprise to see this remnant of old times right in the heart of downtown.
From there we went to see the beautiful Victoria Station, built to honor Queen Victoria, a melding of European and Indian architecture that was super ornate and huge.
We visited the Royal Taj Hotel, the premier place where foreigners stay (and one of the 3 locations bombed in the 2008 Mumbai bomb attacks),
as well as a lovely park across the street on the sea front, teeming with thousands of people on a Saturday afternoon, and the location of a huge architectural arch called the Gateway to India. It seemed somehow appropriate that we would end our trip near that Gateway, although we are leaving rather than arriving.
Today is Sunday. We have this one last day here, and then we leave at 9:30 tonight to fly to New York and then on home by Monday evening. Last night we learned that a popular and controversial religious/political leader, Bal Thackeray, died yesterday here in Mumbai. We had seen crowds of people out in the streets at various places, and apparently they were keeping a vigil as he died. This event prevented our group from going out to a restaurant last night, and may have an impact on our tour plans for today. Apparently there is a worry about violence and outbursts if people are not respecting the mourning that is going on, so it's possible that today will be a quiet one spent near our hotel. Since we are so worn out, that is Ok with us, whatever happens.
One of the women traveling with us, Annie, sent us all such a beautiful piece of writing this morning which I think sums up what many of us have felt about this trip. The writer is Leo Babauta, and he is not writing about India, but he says it perfectly:
"I am struck by the beauty of this world, and the fragile human lives struggling to make their way within it.
The pain and stress and anger and sadness and loneliness and frustration and fear and cravings and irritations that we will experience today … they are made up. We can let them go as easily as they arise. They are unnecessary, if we realize that we’ve created them for no good reason.
Instead, see the beauty in every moment. In every person’s so human actions. In our own frailties and failures.
This world is a morning poem, and we have but to see it to be shaken by its beauty, over and over."
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