Mumbai Dispatch: Best Exotic Scariest Vacation + Other Things

November 9, 2013
Taj Mahal hotel during 2008 attacks

Taj Mahal Hotel during 2008 attacks

Photo Credit

Some thoughts after watching armed guards search our car for bombs.

I started traveling outside North America at the relatively advanced age of 40 with a business trip to Singapore and Hong Kong, which I took entirely alone and graduated quickly to London, Italy, The Netherlands, Paris, Austria, Germany and…well, you get it. Europe was familiar enough to be comfortable, and I visited just about annually or more often.

Asia? Didn’t resonate for me, I have to admit. But the UK, Rome, Paris, Amsterdam? Heart those places.

Our trip to Morocco last year was the most exotic place I’d ever traveled and it was a fantastic experience.  I’d always been interested in India, but I had many fears, too. So when I convinced M. that we should go to India, I was really stepping out of my comfort zone.  But not too far, because if I like to travel well, M. likes to travel really, really well, so I knew to some extent we’d be in a protective bubble. I’m here, and I still have those fears, even inside the protective embrace of luxury.

You can argue that by traveling in this bubble, we’re not seeing the real India and of course, you’re right. We’re not seeing all of it, not by a long shot.  In my defense I’ll say that, I’m much older now and not as resilient as I was in my youth.

Still, the realities of travel to a Third World country were brought home in a big way when our car pulled up at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai.  There, guards ran mirrors on long handles underneath our car and opened the hood, looking for bombs. As they did, they gave our driver a long, assessing look.

That’s because tourists at this hotel and others were among more than 100 killed in a series of shooting and bombing attacks in November 2008.  This is one of the realities of travel in the world today and when I think about it, now it is reality any time.

Because there have always been do-badders and there always will be. That’s the sad fact of life.

Before we could enter our hotel, we and our baggage went through the kind of X-ray scanning airports use. Only then could we check in.

The hotel is beautiful and to me it is labyrinthine. You’d think tourists would be hard  for terrorists to find inside. Apparently not.

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A sweetish smell permeated the hotel. I thought it was flowers because I saw bowls of rose petals everywhere. But it was this:

citronellaLarge citronella candles burn in the hallways of our hotel. I was glad to see them.  This was just one door down.

Hallway outside our door

Hallway outside our door

The hotel is dark and mysterious and exotic. Our room is spacious but has that Florida mildew smell so familiar to me.

Looking down.

Looking down.

chest outside rmThe beautiful, decorative chest outside our door.

Waiting for the elevator, I shot this

Waiting for the elevator, I shot this

Oh, and this is the Arabian Sea, from our hotel room window.


View from our window

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Looking at an appealing marble tub in my bathroom, I couldn’t help but wonder: if you can’t drink the water, would you really want to soak in it? Just wondering. I suppose I could Google it, but I learned early that Google is not a neurotic’s friend.

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The smartest decision I made is to not wear my contact lenses on this trip, opting instead for stylin’ new glasses I got at Costco’s Optical last month. Mumbai’s  haze and smoke are real eye irritants and you may remember my very long day spent at the Victorian-like eye center in NYC last spring.  I don’t want to repeat it here in India.  A woman at my gym recommended I bring a face mask and I can see why.

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Inexplicably, M’s bank card will not work at any of the three banks nearby. Ironic, too, since he’s a banking and securities lawyer.  He changed some dollars into rupees at the hotel desk, but that’s not going to be the best long-term solution.

And finally, here are some of the sights from outside our hotel room:

Note the haze; it’s not my camera.

saris best

Beautiful saris.

The women all look beautiful.

mu-tajpal-window-moboatsWe ordered delicious room service of dal, naan and chicken biryani and took some great photos of the food. Only two would import. We’re hoping this doesn’t mean our fabulous little camera has pooped out on the first day of our trip.  (My Air is also acting up, which would be awful.) Here’s what did import:

rm service sauces nicely presented

Enough for now, more later.


11 comments on “Mumbai Dispatch: Best Exotic Scariest Vacation + Other Things
  1. Evalyn says:

    Please get back home safely…so far your posts from Mumbai have frightened me almost as much as my reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers did…..maybe even more…..sending peaceful good vibes your way….hug Michael for me…it was that detail of the musty odor in your luxury hotel that somehow got to me….and the little piece of info that terrorists go on the hunt for tourists ….this is not the tour of Indian ashrams and Buddhist shrines that has interested me, but now even that interest is waning….get home safe and spend Thanksgiving Day with us! Xx

    • admin says:

      Dearest Ev, this is the world we live in….there is risk everywhere, including in our own beautiful cities. Random acts of violence happen everywhere. I am just back from Gandhi’s home and was touched and inspired by what I saw there, including his modest room. His nonviolent philosophy, all of it, warmed my heart in ways I can attempt to express later. It looks like we begin something like the Bataan Death March on this tour quite soon, but we do have some long transport times and hope to write more then. Let’s make a plan to sit down over dinner –Indian food, maybe? and discuss all before the new year. xoxo

  2. Evalyn Baron says:

    Yes….let’s…..I know just the little place on Fillmore….looking forward to all your special “embedded” reportage from the complex war zone of humanity and genius that is India…..we send love, as ever….xx ev and peter

  3. Fascinating, Carol! You make it all so vivid. I agree with you–the danger is everywhere; it just becomes more apparent when they’re checking your car for bombs. And a discovery: scary doesn’t hurt as much as suffering; took me a whole day to bring myself to read the airport post. Loved this post.

  4. Jennifer says:

    This seems like an amazing trip albeit a tad nerve-wracking, but good for you for taking it. We lived in Japan for 3 years but didn’t explore the rest of Asia because we were young and poor. This would be a fantastic trip to take. And FYI, if you enter a military installation stateside, having your car searched is a very real possibility, even if you live there. Does it happen all the time? Probably not, but I have had the experience of removing myself and 3 young kids.

    Enjoy your time. Be safe!

  5. Safe travels to you, Carol. I’ve heard before about the fear aspect of travel in India, enough that it’s on my don’t need to experience first-hand list. I’ve been to London and other parts of the UK, and definitely hope to go back and see more of Europe, and Thailand appeals to me. I’d love to do an African Safari, and Australia is a dream someday. I’d be happy to make it to Hawaii for an anniversary, because I’ve never been anywhere tropical outside the US. Next year is our twentieth. Hopefully by twenty-five.

  6. Rose says:

    Dear Carol: The Taj looks majestic. Any photos of your room? Hoping the air clears as you proceed with your itinerary. Love your blog.

  7. The haze is from auto exhaust or Industrial?

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