We hit the big city

Mumbai, India.

Yesterday was quite the travel day. We got up at 3AM in Panaji to leave at 4AM for the Goa airport, an hour away. The chaos there made us glad we had two hours to get to the right gate for our 7AM flight.

It’s maddening here that there is zero signage in places like airports, where you are expecting some clarity around your airline check-in, security and your gate. But, when you remember – for the 10th time – that half of all Indians are illiterate, and that the expectation is that you will always have to ask directions anyway, then the complete chaos sort of makes sense, even though it also does makes me crazy.

At any rate, we got to Mumbai right on time, and had a great Uber driver, who prepared us for the city traffic. It’s worse than the trip in from JFK to Manhattan – took us two hours. We were drained.

But life improved once we got to our seaside luxury room at the Intercontinental, along with the fruit, etc. Despite the modern convention of the see-through bathroom, it just helped make us feel human again, and we’ll treasure every moment here. (Now that the shades are lowered in the bathroom.)

We walked around the city a bit before retiring to the rooftop lounge for a pre-birthday drink to celebrate Don’s biggie, which is today. Nice watching the sun set over the Arabian Sea.

So far, our experience has been that any rides except an Uber will be much more difficult than travel in the south. It seems most taxi drivers can’t read, and you can forget English. That makes it hard unless you can pronounce the address of the place you are headed, or can identify a well-known landmark nearby. The days of a friendly tuk-tuk driver chauffering us all over town are over now that we’re in Mumbai.

We did have a very exciting experience today, but that’s worthy of its own post. After doing some research and getting haircuts at a place aptly named B Blunt, we took off for a special late birthday lunch at the Taj Mahal Hotel. Yes, before you ask, that was the hotel attacked by terrorists in November of 2008, a 9/11 event for Mumbaikars.

We well remember being in Colonial Williamsburg for Thanksgiving and watching the attack unfold on television. I never thought we would be here, in what is today an incredibly beautiful place.

Don’s Birthday Food Corner

Celebrating both my REALLY BIG birthday and a haircut that wasn’t too horrible — always a heart-stopping experience in a foreign country, but less so for me because there is far less hair to worry about — we took a taxi to the grand Taj Mahal Hotel in search of a special meal in special surroundings. We were not disappointed.

I stopped at the front desk to ask where the restaurant was. Which restaurant? Chinese? Japanese? Italian? Continental? Indian? Well, Indian, of course. My original birthday wish, after all, was to go out for an Indian meal — in India.

Although the waiter was a little patronizing at first, assuming we knew nothing about Indian food and steering us to the most banal of all choices, we quickly showed that we knew something and was able to comment on different regional differences. Despite this showy-off attitude, we ended up tasting dishes that we’re familiar with, most of which I have made in our own little kitchen.

We started by sharing a roasted corn soup. It wasn’t purely corn. They were able to sneak in some Indian spices and a little fire. (They can’t help themselves.) I had a specialty of the house that I was unfamiliar with, roasted broccoli that had been marinated overnight in a mustard sauce. It tasted too mustardy for me. More Coleman’s mustard than an Indian-spiced dish, I thought. A Raj concoction?

We then went on to aloo gobi, a “dry” dish of potato and cauliflower. That went with a lamb curry that was a little lighter than a classic roghan ghosht. Not as robust, but the lamb was incredibly tender. This came with basmati rice, a nice raita of yogurt with cucumber and tomato, and naan bread.

I had told the waiter that I had experience making these dishes at home and he came back and asked on a rating of one to ten how their preparation compared to mine. I jokingly gave him a five. In truth, my homemade versions and this fancy restaurant versions were amazingly close, although I thought the Taj Mahal’s cauliflower was a little overdone (and, perhaps, had been reheated).

The waiter was appalled that we had beer instead of a pairing of Indian wines. Indian wines? Is the world ready? We’re still trying to assimilate Australian and South African wines.

All in all, a great birthday with only a few moments of weeping, stopped finally by the comforting thought that I still have all my original body parts, as the therapists at SwaSwara can attest.

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