The following post rocks…not because of what we have to say, but because we met my cousin (actually stole her from the Indian wedding scene) for a few weeks of traveling together. She is a professional photographer, so we were morphed into movie stars at every moment…even un-showered and wearing 5 day old clothes, she could capture moments we are happy to share. Just nice lighting for a master of the camera, I guess. So let me introduce you to my cousin, Ella. She took many of the following photos (and will for the next few posts). It’s not that Joshua takes bad pictures…he’s quite good, but she has a love for the art that is unparalleled…so enjoy. If interested, check out more of her work on Facebook here.
We decided to meet in Mumbai, the Bollywood capital of India. Many travelers looked down at us for going to such a big city, preferring the smaller gems of Rishikesh and Rajisthan, but we absolutely loved it. We explored every nook and cranny during our stay in Colaba…right in the center of the action (and the heart of Shantaram which we all read in preparation). We even had a beer (tower) at Leopold’s to pay homage to the book.
From the very first moment, we knew Mumbai had something special planned for us because a pigeon pooped right on my face…like a bullseye on the center of my forehead and nose (and only luckily missed my mouth because it was closed). It hit me so hard I thought someone had thrown something at me, and Joshua turned around upon hearing the impact. Smack in the face…guaranteed good luck. (I tried to wipe it away before they could get a picture…there’s still a lot left!)
My cousin is a food lover and is known to try the weirdest thing she can find on the menu, so we stepped out of our curry comfort zone and went wild. Our first stop was Elko in the Bandra neighborhood which serves up the best (and only) pani puri we’ve had. We ordered three of the chaats (an Indian snack) which were only available outside, and we were given a small plastic dish. The guy behind the counter handed us each a small fried globe that he poked a hole in and stuffed with a few garbanzo beans and spices. He dipped the whole thing in a sweet juice and a spicy juice (one is tamarind and the other I don’t know). Then he handed us the dripping chaat which we had to stuff in our mouths quickly because he was already preparing the next while we were chewing…you get six in rapid succession.
I’m the fastest eater in the world (like someone is going to take my plate away) and it was TOO fast for me!
We also tried fresh pressed sugar cane juice, dahi puri, raj kachori and my very first falooda. A falooda is something I never thought I would like, ever, and then I tried one and haven’t stopped ordering them since. It’s like a runny milkshake poured over noodles and chia seeds and then topped with a scoop of ice cream that come in a range of flavors from rose to saffron. Totally gross, but OH SO GOOD. (No wonder I’ve had a two month stomach ache!)
We visited a paan maker who wrapped about 40 fruits and spices into a leaf that is traditionally served as a digestive after meals. Ella could eat one every block, it seemed, so she often compared one specialist to the next. I was along for the ride–the flavor was way too potent for me, like eating a tube of toothpaste.
One of my favorite moments in Mumbai was sitting outside the Haji Ali around sunset. Instead of just posing for photos with other visitors, people started handing us babies. I really enjoyed “kiss the baby” and would hold on as long as they would let me!
We spent Christmas in Mumbai, which meant we had to find a few special things to do to remember the season and recognize the fact we were away from family traditions during the holiday.
We ate dessert for dinner on Christmas Eve…actually, we drank rich chocolate drinks and ate churros, and I tried to leave a note for Santa in chocolate to no avail.
We found a restaurant advertising Christmas Dinner which we couldn’t pass up. I got a proper turkey and stuffing which raised the bar for travel holidays meals forever. And, to top it off, I ran into an old dorm-mate from UCLA at the same restaurant…the Bruins are a resourceful bunch!
Joshua’s family spends every Christmas in the movie theater. Last year I was forced to sit through War Horse. This year I got to pick the movie…the latest Bollywood release Dabangg 2 in Hindi (who needs subtitles?). Seeing a film in India was truly a unique experience. First, the national anthem played and everyone stood. Then from the opening title to the final credits, the crowd didn’t stop cheering, hooting and whistling (except at intermission). Does the hero demolish his enemies? Yes. Does he stir up dust while he walks? Most definitely! Does he sing and dance about his love for the female lead? Hell yeah! We couldn’t understand a single word, yet we could understand everything from the blatant eyebrow raise to the non-sexual innuendo (mustache rubs and pelvic thrusts) from the incredible acting and helpful audience. A Bollywood film in Bollywood, yes please!
No trip to Mumbai would be complete without a visit to two human power institutions. The first is the dobi ghats where all of Mumbai’s washing is done by cleaners who stand in knee deep water to wash and dry pants and sheets in every color of the rainbow. How they get it all back to the right person or place…no idea?!
The second amazing stop was watching the dabbawallas deliver hot lunches to all of Mumbai. For a few rupees, households can send a hot lunch with a dabbawalla to the city in a lunch bag where it will be delivered to the correct person through a symbol and color coding system. Over 200,000 lunches get delivered per day using public transportation with only 1 in 6 million being delivered incorrectly. We watched these guys carry 50-60 lunches each on their heads and dangling from their arms. Respect!
We took a trip to Elephanta Island one day for a visit to the cave temples. While the temples themselves were amazing, we couldn’t move more than a foot before being asked for a photo, so we sat and enjoyed people watching (or accepted the fact we were photo-bombing every picture).
Elephanta Island had an interesting monkey population who were so freakishly human we had to laugh. They ate chips and lollipops with the eagerness of young children.
One evening in the heart of Mumbai we stumbled upon a parade which we thought was a wedding celebration, but was actually for Christmas. We joined the kids following the incense, confetti machines and loud drums down the street. The police cleared the way for street fireworks by splashing water on the drunken bums!
When the time came to leave Mumbai (sadly), we set off on a 20+ hour train ride to our next destination. We couldn’t figure out how the seats/classes worked on the train, and my first impression was more prison than public transportation, but the price was unbeatable.
For the second leg of the same journey we found the wrong seats with the right guys who shared their meal (which was WAY better than the butter sandwich Joshua ate earlier in the day) and showed us the ropes of “sleeper” train travel. First lesson, prepare for COLD!