Tag Archives: Mumbai

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.

Courtyard Mumbai – Felt Like a Home Away From Home

Room at Courtyard Mumbai

By Lakshmi:

Just this year, work and life have deposited me at the Courtyard Mumbai three times.  Having stayed at the JW Marriott in the city not too long ago, I approached this property with a little trepidation.  It was the proximity to the international airport and needing a convenient travel base that convinced me to stay.  Across my stays, here’s what has made me feel so comfortable that I have been recommending it to family and friends.

– For those who have landed in Mumbai after a long international flight, the last thing you want to do is go stand at a check in counter waiting to get checked in in the middle of the night.  At this property, a lovely staff member greeted me, escorted me to my room and handled the paper work within the room.  A small gesture, but so appreciated.

– There is a really nice restaurant on site and the breakfast spread is substantial.  On arising early after eating insipid meals on a long plane ride, the buffet is a welcoming way to begin your day.

– The concierge team embodies service in everything they do.  We asked about getting a local SIM card late at night and they researched it.  We needed a car to get around and they recommended the most cost-effective options.  We were waiting for a while to have a friend pick us up and they asked if they could make a local call to find out what the hold up was. And when we returned within a few days for a repeat stay, we were welcomed back like some long-lost friends!

– The rooms are spacious, very comfortable, spotless and include free wifi.

– For those who may not have stayed at the Courtyard brand overseas, the Courtyard in Mumbai rivals many a full service Marriott stateside.

I will warn you that the hotel is not located in a pretty part of town.  It is on a very congested road and not really a place from which you embark on long walks and see picturesque sights.  But if you are staying in town for a short period of time and want  a very effective property close to the airport, you would be hard pressed finding a better value for the money than the Courtyard.

Showing Off Mumbai in a Day – Is That Even Possible?

Sea Link Bridge
Source: Wikipedia

By Lakshmi:

Last week Siddhi and I passed through Mumbai and literally had a day to explore one of my most treasured cities.

While an ideal multi-day sojourn would have involved taking a local train to Victoria Terminus to experience local life at its fullest, the time restriction limited us to renting a car for a day.  In Mumbai, you can find a plethora of air-conditioned taxi companies and our hotel arranged an air-conditioned Cool Cab for Rs. 1,500 ($27).  I rattled off our must do’s to our driver and we commenced our journey snaking through Mumbai’s infamous traffic.

It is hard for any visitor to not be taken aback with the traffic and congestion.  For Siddhi, who is used to keeping a three car distance between vehicles, she simply flipped at watching cars, motorcycles, humans and animals all share space on the packed roads with the noise of horns filling the air.

The first break from traffic was along the beautiful Bandra Worli Sea Link Road.  We traveled along this new marvel and our first stop was at Siddhi Vinayak Temple.  This temple, infamous in Mumbai has been a part of every key phase in my life and so a visit here was a must do.  Of course, it is another matter that compared to my childhood days, entering the temple requires passing through metal detectors and security.  After a beautiful “darshan” we drove to Dhobi Ghat, a must do on Siddhi’s list.  This famous outdoor laundry market processes kilos upon kilos of the city’s laundry and Siddhi’s perspective on Dhobi Ghat can be found here.  http://pauperswithouttravel.com/2012/09/02/dhobi-ghat-a-cinematic-slice-of-mumbai-life/

From Dhobi Ghat, we drove past Mohammed Ali Road, the crossroads of some awesome cuisine and shopping if you can brave the crowds.  We passed by Victoria Terminus, the train station that handles over three million commuters a day and played a role in the infamous terrorist attacks on the city.  I showed off Flora Fountain an exquisite fountain, the Times of India building, home to one of the most popular newspapers, passed by Jehangir Art Gallery, a favorite hang out spot before ending this phase of the drive at the Gateway of India.

Of course, throughout our drive, I excitedly piped in my running commentary on my husband’s and my favorite spots to hang out in  our new found romance days.  Thakker for its vegetarian Thali, Vithal Bhelwala for some amazing street food, Delhi Durbar for the most amazingly fine Roomali Rotis (bread fine enough to pass through a ring), Khadi Bhandar and the Mumbai store for shopping, Regal Cinema for movies and so much more.

At the Gateway of India, a monument built during the British reign, we walked among the zillion pigeons and people, looking at Elephanta caves on the horizon.  After our walk, we ventured into the grande dame of Indian hotels, the Taj Mahal.  The hotel had been a target of terrorist attacks, but in the typical resilient spirit that is pervasive throughout the city, has now been fully restored to its former glory.  We stopped for coffee at Sea Lounge and more on that experience can be found here.


After that much-needed fueling stop, we drove to Chowpatty, one of Mumbai’s most famous beaches and then along Marine Drive (a stretch of road which at nighttime is so beautifully lit like a necklace that it is known as Queen’s Necklace).  Our next spot for gawking was the home of one of India’s richest men.  We looked at Antilla, the 27 story, billion dollar apartment building housing Mukesh Ambani’s family.  Almost on cue, at the next traffic light our car was swarmed by beggars, contrasting the extreme lives that coexist in the womb of Mumbai.

Soon, we were in the Mahalaxmi area, home to the famous temple dedicated to the Goddess with the same name and the site of the famous Haji Ali mosque.  The two dedications to the most populous religions form an interesting juxtaposition on the seascape.

At this point, with a cold that seemed to get worse by the minute, Siddhi was getting a bit cranky.  So after a pharmacy stop (she found it amusing that these were referred to as chemists and druggists) and an abundance of Vicks on her nose, we did what most film crazed fans do.  We drove to Bandra and gawked at the homes of Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan, two of the most popular actors in Hindi cinema.

It was now several hours since our last coffee break and given our penchant for bookstores, we stopped at Crossword.  After picking up Shashi Tharoor’s new book and several more, we went upstairs to get some caffeine at Cafe Coffee Day.

With the clock ticking closer to our car turn in time, we made one final stop at my cousin’s house and returned to our hotel, feeling that we had skimmed the surface of that complex enigma called Mumbai.