Whew! Haven’t been here in a while! But seems like the right moment to use this space again…
I knew India was going to be far away - I mean, look at the map. But it is on the other side of the planet and my body is still adapting to that fact. Day is night; night is day. I’m hungry and tired at odd hours. The key is staying awake and trying not to nap.
We arrived just after midnight on Nov. 14 and it took an hour to drive from the airport to our hotel, in south Mumbai. An hour. At one in the morning. No traffic. This city is enormous and had we arrived during the day, it would have taken twice as long. We went immediately to bed and then, in the spirit of overcoming jetlag, got up at 7:30 and started the day.
Breakfast is included and sure, you can get pancakes and waffles and eggs, but why would you do that when you could eat weird glops and soups and fried things? Indian breakfast is much more interesting - all kinds of rices and these little fried donut-esque things but savory and you dip them in a spiced soup called sambar. Then there’s tons of fresh fruit and delicious yogurts and mini-bananas that put the cavendish variety to shame in terms of flavor.
We headed out into the city after that. It’s hot here. 90 degrees and humid - a far cry from the wintery scene we left behind in Denver. And the air is horrendous. So smoggy that you can’t even see more than a few blocks from our hotel room window. It’s rated “unhealthy” - no surprise - and I’m told it’s the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. So, of course, no one wants to breathe that air if they don’t have to, so they drive in their cars, which then contributes to the smog and the traffic. But there’s no real way to avoid it - so on we go.
We walk towards the Gateway of India, a triumphal arch built to commemorate the visit of King George V in 1911. It sits right on the edge of the water and directly across the street from it is the Taj Mahal Hotel, a grand old hotel built in 1903, and known for hosting seriously high-level guests (like President Obama). The hotel was also one of the places attacked in November 2008 by Islamic terrorists.
We stroll through the markets - people selling gorgeous, perfect-looking vegetables. Goats and chickens all over the place. A horrendous chicken murder scene - the butcher’s table is directly on top of the chicken coop where several dozen chickens are crammed inside, awaiting their untimely end. A lady with a pile of grass that she sells to you so you can feed her cow (it’s good luck). Cars and motorcycles zipping around all of this, women with huge bundles piled on top of their heads, old rusty bikes from what looks like the WWII era. A man pushing a mobile cart and offering to use tooth powder on you (I passed). Amazingly beautiful colonial-era buildings that are now so rundown that they have small trees growing out of them - and right next to those, the tin and tarp shanties of the slums, where the sewage drains directly into the bay. Trash everywhere, but also people picking up trash - a never-ending cycle.
At this point, I am so overwhelmed. There’s a non-stop cacophony of horns and construction and traffic and more horns. People everywhere and someone constantly trying to get you to buy something, to come into their shop, to open your wallet. We duck into a spa to get foot massages and sit in a dark, cool room for an hour. It’s revitalizing. Back out we go, to lunch at Leopold Cafe, another Mumbai landmark and another site of the 2008 terrorist attacks. You can still see bullet holes in the walls - the owners chose not to plaster them over, as a reminder of what happened ten years ago.
Then on to our main mission of the day - looking for rugs. We found a small rug place down an alleyway off the beaten path. Family owned business that mostly does repair work but had a supply of rugs from all over - Iran, India, Turkey, Afghanistan. They brought out carpet after carpet and we haggled and hemmed and hawed and drank tea and haggled some more and finally settled on two - one a geometric pattern and the other with some sort of cat/goat design. Visitors to the Krantz/Carney household will no doubt approve.