In April the Ben and I adventured to India. It was quiet sudden actually. I was thinking this was our last big adventure for a while. The kid was accepted to De La Salle for high school which means travel money turns into tuition money. Small sacrifices as travel for him will always be there but educational opportunities such as this will not. (This does not mean that I won’t give up my café life…shhhh, don’t tell).
At first I thought we would visit Korea this spring but then a colleague invited me to his wedding in India. Although India was not high on my list, it certain climbed to the top when I realized I would have the opportunity to see a real Indian wedding in all its color IN India. It really was a rare opportunity so I jumped on it. It also meant that I would have the opportunity to fly Emirates. That alone will be a separate blog post. So off we went!
Arrival into Mumbai was in the middle of the night. I did my best to regulate our sleep on the plane but we still arrived a bit loopy and it’s all a bit blurry. I did have a bit of anxiety being a single women traveling with a child so I went the easy route and booked our stay at the JW Marriott in Juhu.
Note to anyone who visits India and has a e-visa…DON’T wait in the queue! I followed the hordes of people, waited 40 minutes in a huge line only to be directed to counter 8….where there was no line. As I said, we were pretty loopy and it was a 2:30am. We met up with our pre-arranged hotel car service by 4pm and headed to the hotel. It’s not that far from the airport however we were warned about the horrible traffic in Mumbai so I suppose our early arrival was a good thing. By 5am we made it into our room and that gave us about 4 hours to sleep before we had to get up, prep and meet our guide for our first day. Of course, I only lasted 3 hours before I could not sleep anymore.
At 11:00am we headed to the lobby and met my friend who was also in town for the wedding and waited for our guide. I utilized Tours By Locals again to find our guide. I had such luck with this service in the past that it’s fast becoming my go-to for tours. Mohammed would be our guide for the next three days. Not just for guided tours but also for being of service around town. I was uneasy being a single women with a child in such densely populated city. I didn’t want to feel always on my guard or questioning my method of transportation or what I was eating.
Day 1 tour was of Mumbai city, mostly the south end. I was so thankful to have a driver because of the crowds and the heat this is not the town I would have the patience to navigate this on my own. traffic…oye, they were not kidding. Stop and go, stop and go, stop and go. I was so afraid Ben would be carsick. Being Filipino, seeing such poverty isn’t new to me. However, at this scale was new. That was an eye opener.
We made usual tops to the Dhobi Ghat Laundry laundry, the Taj Palace Hotel, the Gateway of India, the Hanging Gardens, and even Mani Bhavan (Ghandi’s Mumbai house). Also on the list was the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Victoria Terminus), which is a UNESCO world heritage site. Considering the traffic, we managed to see a lot that first day. However, as every hour in the car passed jet-lag kicked in and it was difficult to stay engaged. After early dinner it was early to bed.
Dhobi Ghat Laundry. Laundry is traditionally done by men.
Day 2 was a drive north to the Kanheri Caves. In my head I imagined that India was lush and green. India is a huge country and I suppose there are other places that are, but Mumbai seemed very dry and in some way the vegetation dry like at home in the East Bay. The caves were really interesting to me as they dated from the 1st Century BC. It’s mind boggling to stand in a place like touch the walls and think of the activity that took place, the their hands touching the same walls. You really can’t help but have one of those “What does it all mean? What is my life about?” moments. After the caves we continued with some car touring of Mumbai and a bit of shopping including finding something to wear to the wedding that weekend. Our guide served as a perfect escort.
Day 3 was a rest day. Ben and I slept late, had a very slow breakfast and spent the afternoon at the beautiful pool.
I found being a single female traveling with a child somewhat unnerving. The hotel grounds were pretty secure. To get through the beach were two gigantic doors between the hotel pool and beach. One metal and one wood. To get back inside you had to pull a string to ring a large brass bell. We attempted to venture down to the beach. You can’t really swim in the sea around Mumbai as it’s pretty dirty. Nor this this part of the world an appropriate place for a woman to sun herself on the sand. However, this was the Indian Ocean and at the very least we had to touch it. So we did. Then we stood there…stood there until the stares from all the men walking (and some stopping) made us very uncomfortable. Total time outside the hotel wall, 10 minutes.
Day 4 and 5 we switched to the wedding hotel. I could write pages about that experience, however weddings are really personal events. Out of respect for my friend, I don’t want to say much other than, WOW! What an honor to be invited and how welcomed we felt. I so wanted to take pictures of all the beautiful clothes worn by the guests…but again, reverence for the event only allowed me to take pictures in my mind. The food was also like nothing else and certainly not like the majority of Indian food found in the US.
Day 6 was the end of our quick trip to India. That afternoon we were back on the plane and off to Dubai, UAE where we would have a few hours to tour as it was an overnight stay before our return flight to San Francisco. It was only a 3 hour flight back to Dubai. We checked our bags through to San Francisco so all we had was our carry-on. For short stop overs visas are not required so it was a quick and painless exit through customs. We were met by our guide and off we went in a flash to get to to the Burj Kalif for our 7pm ticket time. I pre-purchased these tickets and upgraded to the “fast track” to bypass the lines. Our time was limited and I didn’t want to spend hours in line…and there was a very long line.
Honestly, this was the only thing we wanted to do. Anything after was going to be a bonus. I was pleasantly surprised by Dubai. It really is a international cosmopolitan city. It felt a bit like Las Vegas. They even had a water show by the same guy who designed the water show at the Bellagio. We drove the rest of the evening viewing Dubai from the car. The buildings are truly amazing. I don’t know if this is true but our guide told us that the rule in Dubai is that buildings had permits for 45 years. After than they could extend the permit for 5 years if the building was in good condition. If not, down the whole thing goes. Can you imagine? There are a lot of big buildings in that city and many will hit that 45 year marker in my lifetime. It will be interesting to watch it develop an changed. At one final stop Ben and I took the opportunity to run on the beach in the dark just so we could touch the waters of the Persian Gulf. I really regret not having time to shop. However I knew that this would be a destination I would return to. My sisters really need to see it. We didn’t last much longer after that. Ben was feeling car sick, we needed to sleep and our flight the next day was at 9am.
After a quick stop at Burger King, we checked into the Millennium Plaza Hotel. It’s a typical international business hotel. Rooms were extra large but in-room amenities were typical. We wouldn’t have time to do anymore than sleep there.
While checking my email before bed, Emirates sent me an online deal to upgrade my seats to San Francisco to business class at an heavily discounted rate. Although the coach seats were quite nice, we were hella tired and were unfortunately NOT sitting next to each other on the return flight AND both of us in middle seats. It was a YOLO moment. 16 hours on a plane, likely our last adventure together for a while, we were going home in style.
It was so amazing that we were actually bummed out when the flight was over.
Also, if you have not installed Whatsapp on your smart phone, I highly recommend it. In my experience, most people who are in the tourist trade (guides, Airbnb hosts, drivers) use the app and you can start communications even before your trip.
Hotel observations. The JW Marriott is a pretty nice hotel…not perfect, but all things considered (such as I’m in India) it was ok. I was disappointed, even after confirming my reservation a head of time, that they only gave us a room with a king bed. I tried to ask for another room, but was quickly told they were sold out. Jeez, Marriott…I’m paying for a Club Lounge room and I told you a month earlier that I had a teen-age boy with me, you couldn’t hold one? I’m sure Ben didn’t want to share a bed with his mom but at least it’s large enough that we can sleep German style (where separate blankets are on each side of the bed). I was annoyed that we had a street view room (again, club lounge not cheap) but figured it at least made good people watching. The breakfasts in the Lotus Café were really nice. So expansive and western style food along with traditional Indian. Big hit for a kid who only wants pancakes and French toast. I tried the Indian style breakfasts and found them very yummy. I can eat donuts at home. We could take a similar breakfast in the club lounge but preferred the open café. I regret that we didn’t try dinner in the Lotus Cafe.
I took evenings in the club lounge so I could enjoy complimentary hors-d’oeuvre and beer At times it was crowded and noisy with men who gathered to watch cricket match. However, it had a great view of the grounds and nightly sunset on the Arabian sea. Plenty to drink but the snacks were marginal I was really surprised by that.
It’s not the hotels fault but there is no plus for a beach location other than the sunset. As I said, Ben and I tried to go for a walk but encounter some very uncomfortable attention by men. Still, sometimes you felt trapped in the hotel
The hotel staff were very kind. In particular the staff in the Lotus café.