Taj Mahal Hotel during 2008 attacks
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:
Large 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
The hotel is dark and mysterious and exotic. Our room is spacious but has that Florida mildew smell so familiar to me.
The beautiful, decorative chest outside our door.
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.
The women all look beautiful.
We 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:
Enough for now, more later.