Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Mumbai, Vultures, and Diclofenac

What on earth does that have to do with a ‘round the world cruise you may wonder. You may also wonder what diclofenac is. Or not.
India is a very religiously tolerant country (according to our tour guide, Meherrukh) and there are many religions practiced there. One is Zoroastrianism, a religion more ancient than most, which among other things does not believe in cremation or burial. They lay their dead out in “Towers of Silence” in the Hanging Gardens in Mumbai. The towers are open to the sky and the bodies used to be desicated by the sun and consumed by vultures (Gyps indicus). The towers still exist in Mumbai and their dead are still laid out there, but the vultures are gone, themselves driven to extinction by the use of diclofenac, a veterinary NSAID that causes kidney failure in vultures when they consume the bodies of animals dosed with it.

I love travel! I learn so much about so many things!

Our tour of Mumbai using Mumbai Magic tours was magnificent, especially considering we lost almost 4 hours of the tour! I highly recommend them to future World Cruisers or anybody coming to Mumbai. Farida and Meherrukh were our guides in two 20-passenger busses (12-13 in each bus so we had lots of room).

We had a general tour of the city of Bombay (or Bom Bahia, a good bay, corrupted to ‘Bombay’ until 1997) with stops at some of the more famous places and a few not so famous. Our guide calls it Bombay—as she has all her life—so I shall, too.

We got some sense of how many people live and work in Bombay by entering the Victoria Terminus (train station) via an underground road crossing. You would take your life in your hands to attempt to cross one of the central-Bombay streets where pedestrians, taxis, busses of all sizes and ages, motorcycles, trishaws, cars, and trucks are all in a supreme hurry to get somewhere and with an hearing-damaging cacaphony of horns blowing. The underground passage to the VT was as crowded, just with masses of people rather than vehicles, although our guide said the crowds were fairly light because it was a Sunday.

We walked through a fruit and vegetable market (no durians, however. Durians, if you don’t know, smell so execrably bad that they are banned in most hotels, busses, and trains. But locals—Thais, Malaysians, just about anybody in Southeast Asia—adore them! I ate one, once. Never again!), again crammed with people, buying, selling, moving, packing, cleaning up, sleeping, eating, smoking, drinking, for all I know some were probably having sex somewhere in the teeming mass of humanity.

Mahatma Ghandi lived in Bombay for many years, staying at a house that we visited. He owned very little, his room contained not much more than a pallet for sleeping, some books, and a spinning wheel. He loved to spin, he said it relaxed him. It is also the reason that, if you see a wreath around his neck, it will be of threads to commemorate his love of spinning. It also reminded him of his people and what they needed to do and to have. Because, I guess, he had so little in the way of possessions, the house doesn’t have many artifacts. What it does have are about two-dozen extremely well done dioramas of events in his life from the early days right up to his assassination.

From there we went to a Hare Krishna temple. Those of you reading this who lived in San Francisco in the 70s will remember the Hare Krishna monks at the San Francisco airport, a memory I am not fond of as they pretty much harassed all travellers with requests for money. Eventually they would be confined to only certain areas of the airport. But this Bombay temple was an experience of a whole different sort that has erased the negative memories I have of the Krishnas in the airport.

It was stiflingly hot in Bombay, and even more so in the temple where not a breath of air moved and there was a mass of humanity chanting on the upper floors of the temple. The smells of Bombay permeated the air. The chanters were separated by gender—although our guide says they didn’t have to be—and the monks were separated by a curtain from the chanters. We talked for a very short moment to a monk who sounded American but I didn’t have time to question him. And so we moved on, gathering our shoes, and heading to the Gateway of India and the “Taj.”

I think it’s hysterically funny that “The Gateway of India was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay, prior to the Delhi Durbar, in December 1911. However, they only got to see only a cardboard model of the structure since the construction did not begin till 1915.”

This was a Sunday and it defies description how many people were at the Gateway! It was also our closest view of the Taj Mahal Hotel, the one that was bombed a few years back as was the Gateway. The Indians are, if this is possible, even more security conscious than we (US) are. Almost every building I went into had an xray scanner in use. (Don’t get me going on getting back on board the ship!)

We (the Oz and US tourists) were big draws ourselves in the crowd in fornt of the Gateway. Kim  (the husband of the most prolific tour organizer, Narelle) was asked by too many Indian tourists to count to pose for pictures. And one resourceful entrepeneur was charging the Indians to have their picture taken with Kim and then charging them to print the photo on his portable printer.

We saw the Dhobi ghat laundry men (google it) and we heard about the Mumbai  Lunch Box men (that, too) who have 100% accuracy. Married women have red in the part of their hair. Giving or taking a dowry is illegal. It is illegal to reveal the sex of a child to the mother before birth. A daughter is a stranger’s wealth. So much interesting stuff! Bollywood is not a place. And the best: there is a private club in Bombay which will not allow film stars or politicians as members. I so love to travel!
In the Gulf of Oman with guards posted
Noon     24° 05’ N
60° 25’ E

Flat Stanley at Dhobi Ghat laundry

Flat Stanley in front of Gandi's statue

Pam & Randy in front of the Geteway of India

Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai

Gateway of India

Leaving Mumbai at sunset
A child at work in the fruit and vegetable market.

Fruit and vegetabler market

Our guide

Believe it or not, this is the most expensive residence in the world.
$1,000,000,00. Yes one billion with a B dollars

Dhobi ghat laundry men

More fruit and vegetable market

Asleep on the job at the fruit and vegetable market.

Dhobi ghat laundry man

A diorama at Ghandi's house

Victoria Terminus, or VT

Flat Stanley at Gandi's house

The Hanging Gardens

Bombay taxi with the meter on the outside on the passenger side

Another child at work
These men are showing off for us

Horse-drawn carriages covered with tin, much like the Mexican tinwork trays

Pedestrian walkway under the main road overhead

Tin-covered carriage

Burqa-clad women near the Taj Mahal Hotel andd the Gateway of India

Taj Hotel

The entrepreneur printing his photos on the spot

They wanted my photo, so I asked to take theirs
The Indians are SO friendly!

And SO poor!

Another friendly couple in a tin carriage
The crowd at the train station

Train station ticket window

Our very expressive guide

Note the dog sleeping in the train station

Detail of an owl carved on a pillar outside the train station

Street scene
Bombay Harbor as we are leaving. The lights are called the Queen's Necklace


  1. Wonderful blog Pam, look forward to meeting you soon !!

    Cheers, Kris

  2. We had the same guide last year .... she was great... even took us shopping for indian clothes...