India Part 3
Had made plans for connecting with the teams that support my company in Mumbai – one of the gentleman had come over to Pune the evening before to meet me and drive me early in the morning back to Mumbai. I would be checking into the hotel in Mumbai with all of P and my luggage, then have the remainder of the day to sight see/meet and greet with the team before flying out on Friday.
Wed night, P was in a pretty sore state with his back still, so packing up all of our luggage for transport fell to me. I awoke early on Thursday to pack and be awake to meet with the team. The plan was to connect with them at 7:30; this would allow time for me to enjoy breakfast. In order to finish packing both sets of bags, I arose at 5:30, this was still a tiny bit of a struggle as I’d not gotten to bed until well after 3:30.
After enjoying the final day of the hotel banquet style made to order Indian dishes that was included with our stay at the Hyatt, armed with all of our travel luggage, I awaited in the lobby the arrival of my friends.
Connected up with the two of my escorts for the day V and W – who were gracious enough to have secured a driver for the trip back to Mumbai. Its approximately a 2-3 hour drive depending upon the weather and the road conditions between the two major cities. It was quite nice to be traversing this distance during the day time, which afforded the chance to see the amazing mountain views.
The weather in Pune was quite lovely the entirety of our stay. It was easy to not notice this as it was just so moderate and temperate, with the highs in the 80’s lows in the 60’s – and the humidity relatively low it was really quite comfortable and pleasant.
For the drive, we rode with the windows down, and it was nice, to feel the air and to see the majesty in the mountain views. I’ve always enjoyed mountain views, and this was really a rare treat, V mentioned that the views are even more amazing during the monsoon season, as the water falls off the mountains in waterfall like cascades, which was easy to see and imagine from the way that the water had clearly sculpted the slopes.
We stopped at a halfway between way stop, and while I was a little apprehensive about leaving all of my luggage in the car, I took my comfort from the driver/V/W and I allowed their contagious non-concern to permeate my being and to trust that everything would be just fine. They had offered to provide some of the American Rest area selections, but I had let them know I was still quite full from breakfast, but that they should enjoy whatever seemed best for them.
We ended up in the local style place, and V and W both got some small things for breakfast, including one that I have grown to love – its a donut like treat that looks for all the world like a gummy worm type of candy. Its taste was very reminiscence to round rock donuts, and I was immediately delighted to have found some taste memory connection. They also procured a cup of Chai for me, local style, which is served in small cups, much the way coffee is enjoyed in Brazil. The chai was very good, fresh and potent, and helped further wake me from my small amount of sleep and started the day off brighter.
The driver had the most amazing eyes, his eyes were dark brown hazel, and had that depth/haunting quality to them that my brothers eyes have, he had the most interesting tattoo on his arm with a quote that I photographed, and later looked up to learn its source. “Hurt me with the truth, but never comfort me with a lie” – its apparently a proverb with unclear historical reference. It just struck me as so profound at the time, and quite serendipitous to me. Life lessons in small things.
It started to become apparent as we neared and reached Mumbai, that the weather in Pune had been so much more mild, as the humidity was the first awareness that hit my senses of arriving. It was approximately 10:45 when we arrived at the Intercontinental Mumbai for checkin, V and W contacted PG who would be the third of my escorts for the sight seeing portion of the trip.
The hotel was stunning, literally across the street from the ocean, with a breathtaking view, that was hrmmm quite uplifting to the spirit, and provided a temperate breeze from across the water. Still quite warm even for early morning, we went up to my room to freshen up whil ewe waited for PG to arrive to the hotel. This did not take long, and after a brief introduction and welcome, we were well on our way in a local style taxi for the sight seeing expedition.
The first stop on our tour, ended up being one of the most profound and impactful experiences I had in the while of India. We went to a temple in Mumbai to Lord Shiva. As we entered from the small neighborhood type area, there was a feeling of reverence evident to me, and I immediately slowed to observe, and reflect. There was a sacred cow in a structure to the side, well cared for, and happily visible out of the heat of the sun and the structure providing it a safe comfortable area in which to relax. There were colorful signs along the walls, tribute type signs to many of the different deities. As we climbed up the wide cobblestone walkway up spiraling around to the top of the tower temple, I was struck but the age, and the sheer number of feet that had crossed this path before.
As we reached one of the lower platform levels, there was a shrine and guru of some sort taking up residency in the area, it smelled of incense, and had a reverent feeling to the area, some had left shoes out here, but the guru waved us past, onward to the upper levels of the temple.
As we four walked up the steps, I was sweating heavily. The sun baking down on the black blouse I’d ignorantly thought to wear into this location, and the heat from the climbing, in addition to the thick humidity and the general temperature. It felt much like a summer day in Orlando where I was raised, one of those days when you would not spend excessive amounts of time out doors.
We reached the outdoor foray area of the temple and there was a cubby type location for us to slide our sandals off and into, as we walked the rest of the way into the temple proper area feet uncovered. The stones were well worn, and even in the heat there was an element of coolness to them, while baking in the sun had warmed them to the touch, it was not the type of heat that maintained or lingered, it was not an uncomfortable walking area. The stones were also surprisingly clean, well swept, and maintained.
The temple area had three main elements to it, the statue of the bull to whisper requests into the ear to send to the god. The antechamber in the rear where there was a place for longer term meditation and prayer. The altar area where they were anointing the ardent were anointing the statue and saying the prayers, and a small area to send a quick prayer and to be anointed. PG got anointed, which I’m truly not certain of the symbolism of this white adornment, I will need to spend some time meditating and researching to learn the secrets of this, but I think it has to do with a donation of gift provided.
The feeling in the place had a pure sense of reverence, and it was very easy to feel it as a holy location. I was humbled, and spoke a soft prayer to one of the many gods of whom I’ve had patronage over the past few years. I whispered my needs into the ear of the bull, and felt a pulse of energy as they were sent towards the altar at the center. We stayed for a few moments, and as we headed out to return to our shoes, there was a loud noise, as they started a service.
We returned to the main temple area, and I was able to participate in the ritual aarti that took place. There was chanting, clapping, noise and general loud ringing of bells in a synchronicity. There was a feeling of raising energy and joining of life force in a elevated prayer. It was very easy to be swept up in the movement and the energy. I was elated, as I suddenly had the feeling of being in the presence of a god form, and that my prayers were being responded to and needed clarity was on the way to me. The service ended with an anointment table and a statue to off to one side, to acknowledge and offer thanks for these responses to prayer. I offered thanks, and accepted an anointment on my head for the answers and fulfillment to come to my requests.
Generally, it was one of the most profoundly spiritual moments I’ve experienced in more than twenty years. I felt clarity, connection, deep center, and purpose. Generally, I felt one with all of the universe, all of humanity and it was a truly humbling experience to feel my place and acknowledge my path as both relevant and irrelevant, my struggles as unique and yet precisely the same as everyone else, my challenges no more or less than those of all around me. I was not alone, and the things I needed were at hand. This was more comfort then words will allow to be expressed.
I expressed my overwhelming gratitude to my guides for bringing me to this place, for facilitating my experience, and while it was hard to articulate exactly the overwhelming awe I was experiencing, I think my tears and general lightheartedness did go a distance towards providing ample explanation.
In the interest of providing me a full and robust sightseeing tour, we departed the temple, and the tour around Mumbai continued. We headed towards the statue for the Gateway to India. A truly inspiring archway that points the direction towards the center of India, and faces out over the port of Mumbai. Its quite impressive to behold, and while the crowds were thick around the actual building, even from a short distance, it was quite dwarfing. It sits across the street from a famous hotel the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel; which had some calamitous history in recent years, but has been rebuilt and restructured, much of the original structure is still in tact, and it is quite an impressive sight. We walked down and photographed both of these structures, before heading around a few more sights on our driving around the city, and then onward to lunch.
The coastal waterway path from the Gateway up towards the hotel, was impressive, and quite enjoyable to watch and see. It offered coastal breezes, which in the open air taxis were greatly appreciated. The ride around in the car was a little bit, squishy, being as how the vehicles tend towards the smaller side, and there were three of us along the back, but it did not feel overly tight, as we enjoyed the views, and alternated time in the middle seat, big thank yous to V for most frequently volunteering to ride in that middle seat, to allow me both the opportunity to see out the window and experience the views as we rode.
We headed over to one of the first options for lunch, and as we waited, it was determined that the wait would be very long, and the second option had no wait, and would be able to get us in very quickly. We headed over to the second restaurant, and the team started to arrive very quickly after we arrived. It is worth echoing again, that all of the food I enjoyed in India was both amazingly fresh, flavorful and so filling without any side effects I’d be cautioned to expect/anticipate. I’ve always enjoyed Indian food, and the opportunity to experience so many flavorful variations is definitely worth mentioning repeatedly.
As my energy was starting to fall off, it was again time for a chai tea at the restaurant. This place offered either individual portions, or the chance to dine family style where we would select entries for the table. We opted for this option. I got to meet all of the team, and they played musical chairs here and there and it was such a lively large gathering that we had three full tables of sharing. This provided me the chance to try some different variations. I had made the request of my hosts that my only request was Chai Tea, and that the food be spicy, Indian spicy. They were happy to oblige and I was serenaded with tales of the recent green chili contest from a few days prior.
The food arrived, and was served from the gentlemen walking the tables, in large portions. All of it had amazing flavor, and it was simple more than I could possible consume. I was struck by the kindness and kinship felt between the team mates. They were all enjoying this time, they had all come out to meet me and enjoy the meal and time with me, and it was a holiday for them. This was a choice, not an obligation, and they had made time and were enjoying the experience.
We talked, and discussed work a brief amount, and discussed my experiences and learnings in India. I got to meet A, who had been kind enough to prepare a wonderful sight seeing list for me for Pune, and helped plan this outing for lunch, she also served as my faithful companion for the rest of the afternoon and evening, and was a welcome source of infinite information about Mumbai and bubbling optimism. She provided me with a suggestion of advise when I kept staring at all the food I was unable to finish, everything being more delicious then the previous in the course of the meal, that I should stick to enjoying the things that were my favorites, a very different approach to the meal then I was accustomed to, but it was definitely a welcome suggestion.
It was decided we would walk over to a very old famous tea house after the meal, to allow me the chance to experience some of the best tea Mumbai had to offer. The walk was quite fascinating to me, the streets in Mumbai are not unlike many of the streets in Europe; or New york for that matter, the sprawl of urban life evident every where. The buildings alternated between ancient style structure, to very new and modern, with not so much as a blink or beat in the diversity. The walk was not long, and it was actually a nice way to work off some of the overly stuffed from too much delicious food that I had felt when we first left the restaurant. I was however, drifting towards sleepy again, lack of sleep, general heat, and overfull tummy working against my curiosity and interest in exploring.
Some of the team opted for Ice Cream over the tea house, and many departed on their way to enjoy the remainder of the holiday after lunch. There was a smaller group of us that enjoyed the tea house, and I was able to sample some of the most exquisite high grade single estate Assam tea I’d ever had, a rare treat. A made certain I was able to try some of the Chai the place was also famous for, and this was quite amazing, it shows the difference that using a standard clay pot, over time tends to make in the texture and flavor of the tea. This tea, had the closest flavor to the tea I brew at home, and it was just outstanding. We talked and chatted, and I enjoyed and savored my tea.
The discussion became where to enjoy next, and the decision was made to try and take me to the mall, so I could experience one of those in India, and also to find some more tea for me to take as a souvenir on the way home. On the way to the mall, we drove around the city more, and I learned about the different districts, and how Mumbai was originally 7 different islands, that were filled in to form the city. It was amazing the history that my hosts were able to provide, it was honestly better than most tours I’ve taken in other cities. We stopped for a photo opportunity at the largest single family dwelling, a huge house high rise apparently owned by one of the Oil brothers.
The mall itself was strikingly similar to an american mall, western ideas clearly evident. It was interesting to observe some of the differences, the central cluster area was not a food court, but a high end grocery store. There was also an atrium area in the center with an overlook, that was meticulously clean. While there were many brand stores that I recognized from the west, there were also many stores that were specifically and unique to India. One of these being an ayurvedic store, that I just loved. There were so many things I would have happily packed up to bring home with me from this mall and the trip over all. I had however, upon initial arrival to the hotel, coordinated with the concierge to ship all my previously obtained souvenirs home, and they were already boxed up and on the way back to the house. I exercised unusually uncharacteristic restraint and did not purchase many more items, I did however find some amazing tea finds, that I was quite excited to be bringing home. Sitting in the grocery area, a store very similar to a whole foods, I was suddenly met with an overwhelming sense of exhaustion, the lack of sleep from the rest of the week suddenly catching up with me, in the moment of respite over the cup of tea. A was quite gracious and had altered the travel plans to allow me the chance to head back to the hotel to freshen up, and check on my husband, who I knew would be arriving shortly from Pune.
We left the mall, heading out and walking to pick up the cab. The drive back to the hotel was a little crazy, there was a significant amount of traffic, being rush hour in the evening, and also heading towards the beach, where the final festival day of burning was to be occurring. The place was overly packed with people, and the drive took us a significant amount of time. I was drifting during this time, affording a few precious moments of napping as we waited, and rode.
We were able to reach the hotel, and P arrived moments later. Knowing he was safely checked into the hotel, having freshened up, and changed my blouse, we headed out to get some local chaat from the beach. Refreshed from a few moments respite, and ready for more experiences to round out the night.
We headed over to the beach, and I got to enjoy a traditional street style Chaat & bhelpuri – both of which were very different. Several of my colleagues had rounded out the day by meeting up with us, to enjoy the evening meal, and to chat before we parted ways back at the hotel.
Overall it was an amazing day, a wonderful chance to meet and greet, and an overwhelmingly positive experience for me in Mumbai.
Returning to the hotel room, and finding P camped out on the bed, having forgotten his hat in the cab, and then having forgotten to return his badge –> forcing the poor driver to return twice to the hotel to provide him with these things, it was an overall crazy evening.
The view from the hotel room was nice, and the room over all was quite opulent, it was especially nice to experience considering I had been able to pay for the room using my points, and so it cost nothing for such a lavish experience.
In the morning, I was able to enjoy a quiet breakfast in the really neat GastroPub that the hotel had, the waiters went above and beyond to provide me with exceptional service, something I’ve come to expect always from IHG hotels, and one of the reasons, given my choice, I would chose to only stay in chains they own. I had a beautiful ocean view to enjoy with my breakfast, as I reflected on all of my times and experiences in India.
We had scheduled transfers to the airport early in the morning, as it was apparently customary to arrive at the airport in Mumbai 3 hours before fights, and due to the rush hour traffic, this required that we leave the hotel quite early. The trip to the airport was long, but it was uneventful, and it was a very nice view of the city as we headed out.
The check in experience at the airport in Mumbai was also an experience. We were booked in business class, which I would highly recommend to everyone traveling to India. We were treated like royalty, and offered a very reasonable upgrade to first class for the flight to London. This upgraded our lounge experience for the 3 hours in the airport, and more than fast tracked us through security, we had a private experience passing through security. It was interesting, that the military personal doing the security screening at the airport, actually screened something in P’s bag – an iPad stand, that on the scanner for all the world looked like a large style pocket knife. I was actually quite impressed with the entire experience.
In the lounge we were treated to a 3 course breakfast, and a scheduled massage service, while we waited for our flight. Talk about impeccable service and comfort treatment. This was a crowning token of our hospitality in all of India, as the final blissful moment as they sent us off over the sea back to our next destination.
As I finalize writing this almost two weeks later, I find that some parts of my heart have remained appropriately in India. I have touch points there now, that I can access, and sense, and that I miss terrible. I feel a deep longing in my soul for a return to this place. The wonder and overwhelming positive nature of the people and the experiences make it humbling and remind me daily of the possibilities that abound in the world. The very things that can be imagined and done, if I am just willing to dream, and step into that realm of knowing that exists beyond belief now for me.
It is my strong desire to again return to India, as I have yet to scratch the surface of all the experiences and learning that are available and awaiting me there. I would like to extend my soul felt gratitude to all of the hosts, and all of the individual spirits and souls that went above and beyond to ensure that our experience in this amazing culture and country was profound, intimate, and overall profoundly positive. May blessings abound for each and all of you, and may they extend beyond to all you touch for this kindness.
I will cherish the memories, and experiences, as I continue to mentally walk through them, and remain focused on the lessons I’ve learned in my time visiting.