Friday, October 29, 2010

Our Trip to Mumbai Part 3....

If there are three words in the English language that can wreak more havoc on a diet than "Complimentary Breakfast Buffet" - - I don't know what they are!!  Amy Suzanne had an 8:30 A.M. call to meet Ganesh, our driver, out in front of the hotel.  I was dying for a cup of coffee, so I went downstairs first and read the complimentary Times of India newspaper.  I took a look at the breakfast buffet...and opted for a nice, safe omelet...then I saw the other end of the line and all of the Indian specialties...paneer, roti, dal, dosa...  I may have over-loaded my plate a bit.  Amy came downstairs, studying her slide presentation (not really certain if she was going to use it or not...) and had a bit of breakfast as well.  It was really quite good...the Indian choices were outstanding and the omelet-bar ladies knew what they were doing!!

We climbed into the back of Ganesh's car and Suzanne's stop was to be first.  We told the driver to take us to "The Indian School of Business" - - which, it seems is universally known as "ISB".  Evidently this is not known in Bombay.  We told Ganesh "ISB'...and off we went.  The traffic was bad...but not deadly-bad - - we wound our way around the "residential district" where our hotel was....and - - Ganesh stops the car and says "We are here, Ma'am..." Suzanne pointed out immediately, this was definitely NOT "the place" unless Deloitte has begun recruiting students who are very young!!!!  Walking up the steps to a place clearly signed as "ISB" - were dozens of small Indian children in school uniforms, with their huge book-bags strapped on their tiny backs (I call these "self-propelled backpacks!!") - - and each one had a badminton racket sticking out of the top pouch!!  "Ganesh, I don't think this is the right place!!" said Suzanne...with a puzzled sound to her voice...

I chimed-in:  "Yeah, Ganesh....I think this is the "Indian School of Badminton" !!"

Ganesh gets out of the car and goes and asks one of the parents (who were standing outside this "ISB"... busy getting their kids inside for class) for directions.  NOT a good feeling when your 8,500 miles from home and your DRIVER doesn't know where the hell you are!!  It must have been a common question, because another man began pointing straight and then gesturing to the right.  It seems that the proper "ISB" was very close by!  And it was.  We got Suzanne to her destination on-time....I gave her a good-luck kiss and in she went!

I told Ganesh that it was a day to do sightseeing for me...and that I first wanted to go to Elephanta Island.  He said "No problem, Sir" (the most common phrase that a driver must learn in "drivers school"!)  And, while it really wasn't a "problem", per se...I don't think that even seasoned-driver Ganesh expected that it was going to take just over two hours to get to Downtown Mumbai!!!

The stop-and- go traffic was simply some of the worst I have ever seen in my life (and I have lived in Los Angeles all of my life!!)  Almost beyond belief!!  It was far more "stop" than "go" - - we crawled along, barely ever getting the car up to 20 KPH...even on the flyovers.  There was a big backup at the Rajiv Gandhi Sea Bridge - also known as the "Bandra-Worli Sea Link" (see photo at the top of this article) - where we stopped to pay a toll.  This is a relatively new bridge which was just opened this past June.  India’s first open sea bridge, the bridge is a 5.6-km cable-held engineering marvel that was expected to cut travel time by 80 percent for this city’s harried commuters!!  If this is so....then I daresay I would have slit my wrists driving in this town pre-bridge-opening!!

We arrived at the appointed drop-off place (at a park surrounding the Gateway of India monument) - - and I told Ganesh that I would like to be back in the car and headed for the hotel before the afternoon "rush hour" (as if there is any difference!) - which I had heard begins at 5:00 P.M.  I thanked him....and was immediately descended upon by 4-5 people telling me that I should buy my ferry tickets to the Island from them!!  Being totally lost...I chose the guy who seemed to speak the best English....and followed him to a row of ticket-shacks (I'd use the term "booth" - - but - that's really not what they were.)  I paid my 200.00 rupees, which included my ferry ticket to Elephanta Island and a little photo and guide book that had a rudimentary map of the area.  That's about $4.00 total in U.S. dollars.

The nice man who walked me to get my ticket told me that I had just missed the 11:00 A.M. boat ( had been a TWO HOUR PLUS trip from the time we dropped Amy off at the REAL "ISB"!!  It was now after 11:00 in the morning!) -   but not to worry....there would be another boat on the half-hour and every half-hour until 5:00 P.M.  In the meantime...he offered to "show me around"...  I knew I was going to have to tip him for this "service"  - - he was good company and knew his way around the square....but I should have known there was some sort of ulterior motive to his spending "quality time" with some American tourist like me!  It seems there always is in these tourist just sort of need to get used to it!!  We walked around the park where the Gateway of India is - - and there were many Euro and American-looking tourists snapping pictures...and for every tourist - there were 25 Indians... all selling something - post-cards, trinkets and bangles, balloons, photo and printing services (I did this at Warangal and got some good photos from the experience....they take the pics...and sell you copies)  The very best thing about having my "guide" with me was that he kept the hawkers and beggars away from me.  Well...all but the really hard-core salesmen and women who simply did NOT know the meaning of the words "No thank you, I really don't need a 10-pack of balloons today!"

There were some beautiful old banyan trees in the park....lots of people sitting and enjoying their wonderful shade.  While it was not "summertime-hot" during our short visit to Bombay - - it was plenty warm....and waaaaay more humid than on the Deccan Plateau where Hyderabad lies.  It was pretty steamy by 11:15 A.M.

My new friend and I began to leave the perimeter of the park and headed up a small side-street.  While I felt perfectly safe (this guy was really protective of me!) - I kept an eye out for the way back to the docks where the ferry boat was due to leave from in a short fifteen minutes.  We made a left-turn and then a right turn....and - then he said the words I should have known were coming:

"Please, step into my shop!"

To be continued in the next two parts ...."Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Kashmir Rugs (But Were Afraid To Ask!)" - and - "The Boat to Elephanta Island"

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