Category Archives: TRAVEL

Mumbai: Stuck in the Middle

When you step off the plane at Mumbai’s sleek international airport, a few things immediately happen:

One, you’re instantly overwhelmed by the city’s scale. Before stepping out of the terminal, you get a sense for just how massive the experience that awaits you is. After all, this is a megacity of 25 million people crammed into a space that’s half the size of London. If you’re used to the New York minute, the Mumbai minute will take you by storm.

Two, the coexistence of massive wealth and massive poverty. The flashy logos of Gucci and Louis Vuitton live alongside children begging for scraps of food. Walking through Bandra, you can book an ultra-luxurious hotel room at the world-class Taj Land’s End Hotel only to see families living in tin shacks not half a block away.

Three, Mumbai stimulates the five senses and doesn’t let go. The smells of freshly fried street food, the purring of rickshaws weaving through otherworldly traffic jams, and the vibrant colors seem to echo into all parts of this global city.

For me, I was hit by one more thing– the notion that I was arriving in a city where I was neither a tourist or a local. As I observed my surroundings, I thought back to comedian Aziz Ansari’s piece in The New York Times where he describes a trip to his ancestral home city of Trivandrum. He recalls being stuck in the middle of two cultures. The India he identifies with is a country he’s never lived in, only one he hears about through stories, relatives, and artifacts.

I, like Ansari, grew up with an Indian name, with Indian parents, in a household where Indian languages were regularly spoken and Indian food was regularly consumed. But there I was in a coffee shop in central Mumbai, in India’s most cosmopolitan city, and I felt lost. I wasn’t an outside observer with no knowledge of the country and its customs but I was in no way a Mumbaikar.

“Sure, I appear Indian, but my clothes and sneakers were clearly American. Even in India, I was kind of an outsider.”

Aziz Ansari, The New York Times

I was stuck in the middle.

A whirlwind of thoughts flooded my brain. Just because I have Indian heritage, does that allow me to critique the country’s practices? Since I stuck out as an American simply by the way I walk, does that mean I don’t belong here? That I’ll never truly fit in? That even if I dive deep into my roots, staying in flats and eating the cuisine I grew up on, I would still be viewed as a foreigner?

I wrestled with these questions on my flight home and I continue to do so to this day. It’s bizarre to see New York on one side of your boarding card, Mumbai on the other, and knowing that home lies somewhere in the middle.

Are all oases this stunning?

We got lost.  Not once, not twice, but multiple times on our quest to get to experience an oasis for the first time.  Our family who lives in Oman had told us this was a must do on our trip.  Magazines, newspapers, and travel bloggers concurred.  However, Wadi Bani Khalid seemed to be playing a game of cat and mouse with us.  Each person who we stopped to ask for directions, appeared to send us on yet another path.  We saw multiple signs and yet the target proved elusive.  I could not be more grateful to our relative who patiently persisted and finally got us to this absolutely breathtaking location situated about 200 kilometers away from Muscat.

So, call me naive, but when I heard the word “oasis”, I was envisioning a bunch of palm trees surrounding a body of water.  That’s what I had read in books and seen in paintings.  But what I saw is really hard to put into words.

Nestled among the magnificent Eastern Hajar mountains, with majestic rock formations and boulders, Wadi Bani Khalid has the clearest, most gorgeous oasis where at any given time, the water appears to cover the entire spectrum of green and blue hues.  It is not an easy hike to traverse the wadi, your leg muscles get a workout for sure, but what you end up seeing and absorbing will stay with you for a lifetime.  We saw tourists come, spend just a tad bit of time, take pictures and leave.  Please don’t do that.  Plan to spend a half a day, hiking the area, swimming and just sitting back, enjoying a nice lunch al fresco before heading back to city life.  I’ve tried to capture our adventure in pictures below.

Since we had family living in Oman, we chose to drive here from Muscat.  You could rent a car and drive out on your own or take one of the tours offered by the many local tour companies.  The only risk, as we discovered with driving, is that the mountains interfere with the GPS signal and you need to allocate plenty of time to get here.

If you choose to take a tour, here’s a link to one from Viator:

Visit Wadi Bani Khalid

 

Ten ways the San Francisco MOMA made me weak in my knees and fall in love at first sight!

It is quite a disservice to any museum, but especially one as rich (defining rich here not just by the collections, but the thinking that went into the design) as the San Francisco MOMA to pick just a few things as highlights.  Isn’t beauty in the eyes of the beholder? What holds appeal to me may not be “the” thing that attracts another person. However, given that this was love at first sight, I can’t help but gush about a few things that struck me. So here in no particular order, is a photo essay (with captions) capturing how the SF MOMA wooed me over.

Pick up all you need to know about the SF MOMA here.