Bombay, India - Day 1
We arrived & docked in Bombay at 6am, Wednesday March 28. We’re scheduled to remain here until 11pm tomorrow evening, when we set sail for Egypt, 3,245 miles to our west. Total cruise distance to date - 27,531 miles. The city is shrouded in smog as you can see – we were told it remains this way because of the lack of pollution laws combined with a population of 17 million, the 6th largest metro area in the world.
After a quick breakfast, our tour group left the pier at 7:45 for a short trip to Gateway of India, the city’s most recognized landmark. This was built in 1911 to commemorate the visit of King George V & Queen Mary – the archway you see below was originally conceived as an entry point for people arriving on steamers from England. In the background, you can see the Taj Mahal hotel, partially rebuilt after terrorists bombed the lobby recently. We boarded a small boat and approximately 1 hour later, arrived at Elephanta Island for a tour of the Elephanta Caves. These caves & sculptures were created/carved by Hindus approximately 1,000 years ago dedicated to Lord Shiva. The Portuguese named the island Elephanta, after the large statue of an elephant they found near the spot where they docked their ships. Once we arrived on the island, we had a choice of either taking a short train ride (2 miles) to the base of the mountain or walking – most of the group elected to walk because it was still early in the morning and we all needed the exercise – particularly ME…I think I’ve gained 15 pounds since January but won’t go near a scale to verify! By the time we reached the base of the mountain to begin our climb, the sun had burned through the smog and it was getting quite hot with high humidity, but our venture had just started. So…you’re standing at the base of a mountain and there before you, lays a stone walkway about 10’ wide, straight up to the top! On either side of the walkway, vendors have their tables setup with every imaginable trinket & souvenir, and they ALL believe their products are the best and they ALL believe you shouldn’t leave without purchasing! We start the steep climb and the sweat from the humidity & ascent begins rolling off of us. Of course, these vendors have cold water to sell, hand-fans, cold beer – they see you sweating & gasping for air…it takes 5 minutes for you to muster enough breath to say “no thank you” - but they just keep coming at you! Half way up, they offer to sell you a chair connected on either side with a pole – they will CARRY you to the top for $10 – I WAS TEMPTED!! We finally made it up the mountainside and waited for our small group to assemble before moving on to the caves. Since we were among the first tourists of the day, the area was just waking up. After a few minutes, we see a cloud of dust and the tree branches rustling – the MONKEYS have found us! Dozens & dozens of monkeys – some carrying their babies – all coming to greet us & beg for food. The tour guide warned us ahead of time not to carry food & to keep our distance, but everyone wanted and successfully got a few photos. Then it was on to the caves & sculptures – absolutely incredible – our photos don’t begin to capture the beauty & mystique of these ancient masterpieces. After 2 hours, we started back down the mountain and once reaching the base, the local cows & bulls were awake! Similar to the monkeys and surprisingly, they beg for food as well! They particularly like corn-on-the-cob. The vendors pan-fry it for human consumption and if the animals see you eating it, they won’t leave you alone. As we waited for our entire group to reach the bottom, we saw several unsuspecting people being chased by bulls in pursuit of their corn! It was quite comical – no one was ever in any danger as all the animals seemed pretty tame in that respect. Even though the temperature had reached 90 by mid-day, we elected to walk to the boat vs. taking the train. Once aboard, it was another hour back across the harbor to the pier, then a short bus trip to the ship – through 3 security checkpoints. We had to present our passports, a pink India immigration card & also our ship-card. No complaints here – good security! Once back onboard, it was time to shower & grab a late lunch – we were starving after all that exercise in the heat! We originally intended to catch a cab and go to city center for the evening, but during lunch we heard a few horror stories from other passengers about their experiences earlier in the day so we decided to stay on the ship all night and start in a different direction early Thursday morning.
It's 4am - we've decided to join a ship-sponsored city tour at 9am this morning vs. venturing out on our own - more to follow!
Despite our extended stay here, interest in touring Bombay dwindled considerably for Day 2 – surprisingly, our large bus had a total of 10 passengers on board, and was the only bus venturing out today. Normally, there are 15 – 20 busses filled to capacity.
My city population number was incorrectly stated earlier – I was told today there are 21 million people here, significantly higher than my original 17million. That said, we toured the entire city today. Bombay is a mixture of several dynamics, but none of them are isolated to geographic areas – they all run together. There’s not an affluent area, or a poor area, or a “middle-class” neighborhood – rather, you get a combination of all income sectors no matter where you travel. Imagine yourself driving through Times Square in New York – tall buildings, neon signs, etc. Imagine the sidewalks there with business people going to and from office buildings, just as you would expect. Imagine people milking cows on the same sidewalk and selling it as “fresh milk” – imagine a few cows roaming in the middle of Times Square, and a horned-bull lying beneath a traffic light. Imagine several goats resting under a retailer’s awning – imagine food carts lining the streets with wood-burning fires spewing smoke keeping their products warm – imagine young children chasing tourist busses begging for money at every stop – imagine young homeless children with no clothing being bathed by siblings out of a bucket of dirty water on these same sidewalks. Imagine Times Square with all its beauty & modern architecture – imagine Rockefeller Center – then imagine a society who openly relieve themselves on walkways, regardless of location or time of day – regardless of retail establishment or landmark. Street after street after street after street – we were in awe of many beautiful structures…new office buildings…churches…train stations…temples…markets…hotels. We were amazed by the number of taxis – there are 500,000 in the city. Traffic is bumper-to-bumper wherever you go, and whatever the hour. Like New York, the city never sleeps. Amidst all the beauty in landscape & design…amidst everything that could otherwise be postcard material – you have the wooden carts pulled by Oxen, the wild dogs running between traffic, you have constant, continual chaos with horns blowing, people screaming, many just lying on the side of the roads sleeping or passed out. You have extreme wealth; you have gut-wrenching poverty & despair – simultaneously. We stopped at a park named Hanging Gardens – an absolutely beautiful display of flowers & foliage! Just one city block south, there were dozens of vultures circling in the air. Why?? As our tour guide explained…”look at the round cement building on the hill – it has no top – many people take their dead family members here, drop them down, & the vultures eat them…that’s why the birds are overhead…they are waiting”. Absolutely incredible…
Despite all the glitz & glamour – despite the fine colleges here – despite the world’s largest movie industry, despite the sprawling financial center that calls Bombay home…there’s a seedy undercurrent and mixed lifestyle here that just defies logic – at least to the two of us. How can some of the very best and some of the absolute worst be allowed to co-exist on the same street corner without someone, somewhere, at some point saying…this isn’t right…we need to do something???
While clearly, it’s not my place to pass judgment or criticize, I thank the good Lord I was blessed with a humble but clean childhood, a society with comparatively good morals, with sound laws & regulations, with a government progressive enough to understand infrastructure & the importance of enforcement – I thank God I was able to raise my children in a healthy environment – I thank God they each have the opportunity to succeed & make a difference - I’m so proud to call America my home.
Our final stop today was the Taj Mahal hotel for coffee & cookies – AFTER we were processed through metal detectors & armed guards. Beautiful, absolutely grand hotel. This is the same hotel where just 3 years ago, nine suicide bombers attempted to bring the structure to the ground. They’ve done a tremendous job rebuilding the towering lobby in such a short period of time – it’s a shame they don’t have the same sense of urgency for the balance of the city. Enough said…we sail at 11pm tonight…4 hours from now…not soon enough for the 1,000+ passengers on the Amsterdam.
I will begin posting city pictures tomorrow morning…