For Kyle’s semester break we decided to meet up with Kyle’s dad in Mumbai, India for a weekend since he was in New Delhi for work. I cannot tell you how excited I was to finally make it to India!
We considered a month-long train trip around India this summer but eventually decided that even a month wouldn’t be enough time to properly see India. So instead, we’ll be spending a month in a different location : ) before we head home to the States for a few weeks this summer.
We arrived in India around 6AM. We had arranged for the hotel we were staying at to pick us up; however, they were nowhere to be seen. Luckily we didn’t spend too much time looking for them because when we finally did arrive at the hotel they confirmed that they hadn’t sent anyone to pick us up. In addition to that, they denied any knowledge of us having arranged an early check-in. Kyle had to show them the email thread where we did indeed confirm – in addition to airport pickup – an early check in. An hour later we were taken to a lovely room with a mold covered bathroom ceiling.
Luckily, India got much better after that!
But back to our airport-to-hotel journey. By the time we realized our arranged transportation wasn’t there, we were out of the airport. We needed some rupees for a taxi so we walked toward the parking garage in search of an ATM. We didn’t find one. What we did find, was a man in a suit asking if we needed a taxi. We explained our lack of cash and he replied that it was no problem and that he would take us to an ATM.
So, we followed him through the parking garage, out to a road where his car was stopped. First stop was the ATM. After that, I wasn’t paying enough attention to details to be sure but I honestly think we drove around in a circle before he stopped the car again. Then, he told us we had arrived at our taxi. We got out, got our bags, and squeezed into one of the tiniest cars I’ve ever been inside.
We got several hours of sleep while we waited on Kyle’s dad to arrive. Once he was settled in we walked along the beach and down some of the main streets for a while. For dinner, Kyle suggested Harry’s, which was a very short walk from the hotel. I loved every single thing I ate in India, but the green vegetable curry at Harry’s was truly fantastic.
We woke up early Saturday and headed to the Gateway of India for a trip to Elephanta Island. You can buy tickets to the island from men with ID tags outside the entrance to the gate. There’s a short security line to through before you get to the Gateway. After that, we bought a couple of bottles of water and found the gate for our boat.
The trip to and from the island takes one hour each way. We paid a few extra rupees to sit on the top-level of the boat. You definitely get more sun on the top though, so keep that in mind. There were several people selling tour books as well as island locals offering to be guides for you on the island. The temperature was perfect on the way there and back (once the boat got moving on the return trip!). I’m glad we got to the island on the earlier side because by the time we were leaving it was HOT.
I expected a very small island with only the tourist section of the temple ruins, so I was surprised when we arrived at a very large island with several residential villages. When you disembark the boat, you have the option of taking a short train ride or walking along the paved path to the stairs that take you to the ruins. The temperature was still really nice so we opted to walk.
There are lots and lots of stairs to climb to reach the top! The entire stairs are lined with souvenir tents and the stairs are, luckily, pretty shaded. Once you get to the top you have to pay another tourist tax before entering the ruins.
Based on what we had read about the island and on the description provided by the guides on the boat, I expected the island to be covered in monkeys. There definitely are moneys on the island but really only a few small groups, and they kept to themselves. They seemed to get along perfectly with all of the local dogs. The baby monkeys were especially adorable.
Don’t forget to use plenty of bug spray on the island – I still (5 weeks later) have slight marks from the mosquito bites I got on the island. And that was even with the use of bug spray. Mosquitoes do – unfortunately – seem to have a special affinity for me though.
The caves date back to the late 5th and late 8th centuries AD. Coins found at the site date back the 4th century AD. There are two groups of caves. The first is a large group of five Hindu caves and the second consists of two Buddhist caves. The caves were renovated in the 1970’s after they suffered severe damage and neglect. In 1987 the caves became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
When we were done at the ruins, we walked down a path toward the lake to see a temple. This temple actually ended up being in the middle of a local village that was definitely not a part of the tourist section of the island but interesting all the same.
It was really starting to heat up at this point so we started to make our way back to the boats.
After a near collision with another boat we exited our boat and found the taxi driver who we made arrangements with to pick us up. He took us to a couple other Mumbai sites before we headed back to the hotel.
First stop was the famous Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (the feature photo at the beginning). The Gothic architecture of the UNESCO World Heritage Site is beautiful. We walked inside expecting/hoping for a few food carts to grab a bite for lunch. Nothing like that was to be found, though. There are ticket booths, and platforms, and that’s it.
Next stop was the Haji Ali Dargah. The Dargah was built in 1431 as a tomb for a wealthy merchant by his followers. The merchant settled in present day Mumbai to spread the word of Islam many years earlier. The Dargah is located on a tiny islet. The long walkway out to its location is lined with many physically disabled people. Viewing the tomb is free of charge, with the exception of a few rupees paid to the shoe attendant. Women must cover their hair to enter, so make sure you take a scarf. I kept one tied to my purse that day.
We grabbed a snack at the hotel and then walked around before heading to dinner at another nearby spot Kyle found called On Toes. The food was great but the atmosphere was much different that what we expected from a ‘pub’ establishment. After that we walked to a great rooftop bar for bat watching. I don’t think we ever figured out what type of fruit tree was attracting the bats, but they were definitely the largest bats any of us have ever seen.
Kyle’s dad had an early flight out on Sunday but we finally took a short ride in a tuk-tuk before he had to leave.
I enjoyed Mumbai, but it is definitely the dirtiest city I’ve been to. The amount of garbage on the streets and beaches was surprising, even though I knew to expect it.
A few hours later we were on our way to the airport too for our flight to Goa.
The Indian airports separate men and women into separate lines for security. You have to make sure each of your bags have a paper tag placed on them. These tags are stamped after they’ve cleared security. The tags are then checked to make sure they’ve been stamped in another line before you can proceed to the gates.
The Mumbai airport is also trying to become a silent airport, which I thought was interesting. I don’t think we heard even a single overhead announcement. And with no free wifi, the silence kept interruptions to my reading at a minimum.