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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Mumbai, India (Bombay)

Early Thursday morning, January 12

After arriving in the Mumbai Airport, Nameeta and a driver picked us up and we headed to her apartment in Bandra, a section of Mumbai where a lot of Bollywood actors live. We stayed up talking and catching up. Of course, we also had to eat—I tried a small, unusual fruit called a chikoo, also known as sapota. Nameeta also had gajar halwa, a sweet dish with minced carrot, cream cashew nuts with clarified butter (ghee) and sugar.

The next morning, Nameeta had breakfast prepared for us: Idli (steamed rice dumplings) topped with hot spicy sambhar (lentil puree) and coconut chutney. Also uthapam (open rice pancakes) some with onions, and some with onions and tomatoes. (I loved the uthapam!)

After getting cleaned up, we headed out to Smita and Nameeta’s parents’ house. Leaving, I noticed the crazy traffic—lots of horn blowing as everyone jockeyed for position. It looked like organized chaos. Between that and everyone driving on the left side of the road, I was glad we had a driver. (His name was Jadhiv, by the way.) Of course, I kept trying to get into the driver’s side every time I rode in the front seat. On the way, we stopped to do some shopping. I bought two pair of leather sandals—one with open toes, and one with closed toes. These came in very handy over the course of the trip.

We had lunch with Smita’s mom which consisted of buttery garlic crab, lentils, chickpea and potato curry, and roti.

Following this, Jadhiv drove us our hotel (The Shalimar, in midtown) to check-in, where we would be conducting focus groups for the next two evenings. After work, we went out to dinner near the hotel at an Italian place, called “Under the Over.”

Friday, January 13

After breakfast at the hotel, John, Smita, Nameeta and I headed out to Film City, where Nameeta was meeting with the founder of a film institute which was being built, called Whistling Woods. We toured the building in progress, and were presented the business plan.

Afterwards, we toured Film city, and saw the set of the Indian Version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” which is hosted by India’s most famous celebrity, Amitabh Bachshan. This 35 year veteran of Indian films is highly regarded, and was in the newspaper every single day.

Leaving Film City, we drove back into Mumbai where we had lunch at Taj Lands End with a director who collaborates with Nameeta, named Sunil. In this awesome meal, I had muurg malai kebab (very tasty marinated tender tender chicken), tiger prawns in chettinad (red coconut curry sauce), garlic naan, roomali roti (very thin handkerchief-like bread), ganna juice (sugar cane juice) with Bacardi, and Muurg do pyaz (chicken in a spicy tomato and onion). We grabbed some pan (betel leaf with coconut, cherries, rose essence, anis, cardamom, clove, shredded betel nuts, used as a digistif) as we left.

After being entirely stuffed, we went back to hotel for rest before focus groups. To celebrate the last of the focus groups, we went out to have Sizzlers at a restaurant called Kobe in Phoenix Mills. “Sizzlers” come on a hot skillet, kind of like fajitas, but the meat also has French fries and other vegetables sizzling with it. After dinner, Smita and I drank Belinis at a pretty empty club while John had Heinekens.

Saturday, January 14

Saturday morning, Nameeta’s husband Ajay met John and I at the hotel with Jadhiv, the driver. Smita and Namita were already on the way to meet us by the Gateway of India. We joined them there, and then took a ferry to the Island of Elephanta, where there is a temple to Shiva from 700 AD carved from the mountain. From the ferry, we had a great view of the Gateway and the Taj hotel.

Once at Elephanta, we hiked up the mountain to the temple. Monkeys were everywhere. We had a very good guide, who explained the significance of the carvings in the cave temple. Afterwards, we had some snacks and beers as we sat on the mountainside overlooking the water. The day was a day of festival where everyone flew kites and ate a sweet candy where we were then to also “speak sweetly.” (We witnessed the kite flying event on the beach once we got back to Mumbai.) Coming back down from the mountain, I bought a set of red Ganeshas, the elephant headed deity who is the son of Shiva. Ganesha is a favorite god, as he is the remover of obstacles.

After ferrying back, we shopped along the Colaba Causeway. Here I bought three khurtas to wear as I had only packed winter clothing. (The weather in Mumbai was quite warm—80s and 90s, despite the fact that it was still winter.) I also bought an elephant made from rose wood. We had lunch at an old haunt called “Leopolds” (where I tried Indian Chinese food).

That evening, at Nameeta’s and Ajay’s, we meet up with a trio from the Netherlands who Nameeta was working with to bring an exhibit to Amsterdam recreating Mumbai. Earlier that day, on the Colaba, Ajay had purchased a street salesman’s entire inventory of rat poison (including his box and sign) just for the exhibit.

Sunday, January 15

Ajay made toast and eggs before heading out with a driver to Mantheran, a hilltop station, where we took hairpin curves beside cliffs up a mountain. On the drive up, we stopped at a roadside restaurant (more like a roadside stand with some tables and chairs) where we had Wada Pav, a deep fried potato mixture on a roll with hot green peppers and chutney, and pagoras (crispy fried onions.)

Manthran is environmentally friendly, so no cars are allowed. We had to stop and go up the rest of the way on horseback. Near the villa where we stayed (known as The Byke) there was a little village with shops. The roads were covered with red dust, which got all over our shoes and pants. On the way up the mountain, I was on a horse named Arju. John was on Albela. Monkeys lined the trees as we rode.

John and I were in a huge room with a bed and bathroom downstairs and a bed upstairs as well.

After arriving, the staff was eager for us to have lunch (the head guy had informed them that they had very important guests). We had a huge lunch called Thalis. The meal was completely vegetarian, but I didn’t even notice because there was so much variety and so many tastes. After lunch, we went to the game room where Smita and Nameeta taught John and I how to play a mini-billiard like game called Carrom.

After a nap, I awoke to find everyone else sleeping, so I decided to head up the road to the village by myself. Watching the sunset, I met up with two young people who taught me some Hindi and were interested in knowing who my favorite Bollywood stars were, and were eager to share their favorite Hollywood stars.

As I walked back, I met up with Ajay, Nameeta, Smita, and John coming the other way, so I turned around and walked back into the heart of the village. We walked alongside cows, bulls, and goats. One calf became particularly fond of me, nudging its head against me and following me around. A bull seemed to follow us for a while, too. He wasn’t nearly as friendly. Ajay and I both got head massages at the barbershop. John gambled at a local attraction, winning lots of rupees (at least to the villagers.) Heading back to the Byke, we played poker and Kingfisher beer and dinner by poolside.

Monday, January 16.

With slingshots we purchased the evening before in hand to keep monkeys from stealing our food, we enjoyed tea and breakfast on the front porch. Afterwards, we went horseback riding to Charlotte Lake, Lord’s Point and Echo point . This time I was on Albela, who was 15 years old. The horse keepers, who accompanied us, get paid 1000 Rupees a month, and sleep in the stables with the horses. Mine was named Pravahda. After heading back to The Byke we relaxed on our porch, packed, and then I mounted Abela once again to head back down the mountain. The staff was extremely disappointed we didn’t stay for lunch but we did not want to eat that much before the descent from the mountain.

Instead we stopped at the same roadside restaurant and again had Wada Pav (this time, much hotter than the previous day.)

After some shopping at a store called Fabindia, where I bought several more khurtas and an outfit for my niece, we picked up some Kingfisher and went to visit some with Smita’s family.

Later that evening, Nameeta had made reservations at a restaurant called Saltwater Grill, owned by one of her friends (who later comped the meal.) The food was delicious, and the view spectacular. The linen topped tables sat on the sand on the beach of the Arabian Sea, with the palm trees lined in lights and the view of “the queen’s necklace,” the lights that curve around the bay on Marine Drive. After dinner, we crossed the street to have cream and strawberries at a famous Mumbai institution.

Tuesday, January 17.

Tuesday morning, John, Nameeta, Smita, and I took rickshaws (small three-wheeled cabs) shopping in a district called Santacruz. Afterwards, we had lunch at “Only Parathas” where we had Parathas, bread stuffed with different vegetables. I had lassi to drink—a thick yogurt based drink.

After lunch and shopping, we headed back to Nameeta’s to pack our things. We went to dinner at Smita’s and Nameeta’s parents house before leaving for the airport to head back to Atlanta.


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