India - Weekend Outing: Gateway of India

"Actually, as I have absolutely no concept as to what Mumbai is like or what it would be like to be hotel bound for so long (and I like anything that allows me to procrastinate) I hope the blog entries keep on coming. Especially the pictures." - email from a friend.

Well, I'm here to give the people what they want. This person wants blog posts, more pictures, and an answer to what one does outside of work when you're hotel bound for 6 weeks. I shall attempt to do all these things in a mini-series of sorts entitled "Weekend Outings." Because when you are away from home and know no one other than coworkers and hotel staff, you are left with no other option than to get out of your hotel on the weekends and explore. Otherwise, you'll go nuts and be painfully aware of who and what you're missing at home. Or at least I would. So, I see the sights! On Saturday last weekend I went to Colaba, Crawford Market, and Victoria Terminus. On Sunday Purvashri and I went to a movie, ate lunch at Mumbai's version of the Cheesecake Factory, and shopped at Mumbai's version of Target.

General rules of the weekend game:

1. Get up, enjoy getting to run/work out for more than 30 minutes, put on light clothes and sunscreen, have a leisurely and big breakfast to fuel up, be out of the hotel by 11a. This is also known as the Walt Disney World method to starting your day.

2. Walk to the first destination and practice crossing the street. (After the office stairs, crossing the street is the second most frightening thing I do in Mumbai).

3. See stuff. Walk with the locals. Take pictures.

4. Become overstimulated in approximately 3 hours and return to the hotel exhausted.

5. Decompress by the pool.

Take special notice of point 4. I will need to break up these weekend outing posts into separate segments for each landmark because they all produce so many stories on their own. By the time I get back to my hotel room I find myself surprised by how much I've done/seen/heard and then it makes sense as to why I feel like my head is spinning and I could use a nap. Off we go!

For my first big adventure I walked to the office. Whoopee! I spend all week there and now I'm going back on my free time. The truth is I wanted to start my independent excursion in some place mildly familiar because everything else elicited thoughts of, "What the hell was that?" And when I'm exploring alone I prefer to look like I know what I'm doing even though I often don't. I find I'm willing to push on to see more if I'm a tad naive. It runs counter to my planner tendencies so I feel like a rebel.

The office is in the Colaba neighborhood, which is situated by a harbor that once had a lot of naval activity filling its shores. I'm told our office 'hood was once a busy prostitution district and was rather seedy. Swell! Now it has a lot of apartments and old warehouses with shaky stairs converted into offices for suckers like us who toss good judgment aside for a loft space.

Within the harbor is the Gateway of India, built to welcome King George V and Queen Mary upon their visit to Bombay in 1911.

Across the road from the Gateway is the famous Taj Hotel. If you know why it's famous then you'll understand why I go through metal detectors at my hotel.

The Gateway of India is kind of like Navy Pier in Chicago, except that it's much richer in history and architectural merit. People from all over Mumbai flock here on the weekends to catch a boat, buy crappy trinkets, wait for super smelly bathrooms, and stand among hordes of sweaty people taking the same pictures. Today there was a concert going on so the place was even more packed than I've seen it on subsequent weekend days.

Indians are a very enterprising culture so there was no shortage of men with bad photos of strangers in front of the Gateway used to illustrate how good their photography skills are. But the men don't provide the equipment; you do. That's right, pay someone to push a button for you and get a crappy product. Thankfully I had my trusty iPhone and felt no need to be in any shots.

As I made my way past the camera dudes to get a closer look at the Gateway I felt someone walking close by. That wasn't totally surprising but their presence stayed with me as I snapped this picture. When I turned around a woman named Siriti, or something like that, said hello and asked me my name. Dammit. This was my first encounter with "I'm just a nice woman trying to extend a warm Indian welcome to you," tourist hawking.I turn to walk back out of the Gateway area and the woman keeps talking to me, asking my name and where I'm from. In that moment I decided that I'm Jane and I'm from Texas. Jane has become my alter ego when I do weekend excursions because something tells me I shouldn't give strangers my real name. (Today, Jane became an employee of SOM and she is building condos in Chennai. I can only lie so much.)

Siriti tells me Jane is a beautiful name and she wants to give me a strand of jasmine flowers because my name is so beautiful. They will bring me great fortune! Right. I'm not falling for the false kindness and concern for my welfare. I tell her "no, thank you" but she insists I must have this bracelet of flowers. In yet another moment of brilliance I tell her I cannot take them because I am Jane, the girl from Texas, who also happens to be allergic to jasmine!

"Oh, fine. Bye."

Where is the kindness? I thought we were friends and you wanted me to have great fortune?

Outside of the gate to the Gateway I pass two young boys playing on the steps. There's nothing remarkable about this photo but unattended kids playing is very much a common scene here.

The day is still young and I'm feeling more confident in my navigational abilities so I walk toward the main drag, Colaba Causeway, to hail a taxi. Up until this point I've had people chauffeuring me in cabs because no one thinks I'm ready to handle fare negotiation on my own. Well, at this point I'm now 2 hours over 30 years old so it's high time I try it!

On my way to the Causeway I pass all sorts of buildings, decrepit and new, but this one stood out among the rest. Why?

Have a look at the sign out front:

Yikes. Nothing says exceptional "nursing" care like a cracking, peeling old sign behind barbed wire.

Shortly after this find I was off on my first solo cab ride and headed to Crawford Market. It's about to get a little wild.

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