Mumbia, India. We already did quite a bit in the last two days, so today we wrapped things up by engaging a taxi for a day and making our rounds of the remaining sites we wanted to see.
The height of luxury here is having a driver chauffeur us around – all for about $30 a day. Today we had Lala, the official sanctioned taxi driver of the Intercontinental, who had driven us before. Our team at the hotel looked at the list of things we wanted to do – including some chores – and gave Lala explicit instructions about the order of events and told him in no uncertain terms to escort us everywhere and take good care of us. He did all that and more.
When you don’t know where you are going, and time is limited, having this service is just invaluable. It saves time, stress and money, and just makes tourist plans flow seamlessly.
We started at our own bank’s ATM, which was hard to find, and then started our day at the Kenneseth Eliyahoo synagogue, the oldest Sephardic synagogue in the city, which has just been beautifully restored.
Just in time for its opening, we visited the Prince of Wales Museum, now called by a much longer name, as we saw yesterday. The contents were impressive, and the building itself is quite amazing. We even found Abe Lincoln in one of the galleries, and a Buddha inside the Buddha outside.
We headed off to the Crawford Market to buy a cheap but sturdy additional small suitcase, as we have been asking too much of the minimal luggage we have. This trip is tough, with two maybe three seasons to cover. No room for tchotchkes! Mission accomplished. Lala whisked our new purchase away and we went off to bargain for new toothbrushes and tooth paste, along with some heavy sports socks. We are next visiting caves that don’t allow shoes, and I have had it with the bare feet routine. This market was only partially open today, as it is Sunday, but it was exciting all the same. It was designed by Rudyard Kipling’s father.
Socks in hand, we then headed to the exclusive Malabar Hill, which we see from our hotel. It’s the Scarsdale of Mumbai, and lots of chauffeured Mercedes around. Many were going to Babu Amichand Panalal Jain Temple, as – not to stereotype them – most Jainists are very well to do. The temple is gorgeous, embellished with intricate carvings, with marble covering all the floors. I could have done it in bare feet.
Time for lunch (cue Don) and then we headed off to the City Museum. Now called the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum (formerly the Victoria and Albert Museum) is the oldest museum in the city It was originally established in 1855 as a treasure house of the decorative and industrial arts, and the building is a piece of art in its own right. Lots of British touches remain, started with the turnstile, Prince Albert in the center, Queen Victoria in bust form, and the wonderful umbrella stand for those Indian rainy days.
You may have already observed that the name Bombay has not disappeared from common usage here. Even the airport designation is BOM. Older people we have met seem to cling to the name they grew up with. I have just figured out that “Bombay” stems from the Portuguese Bom, meaning ‘good,’ applied to the bay here. But then, it sometimes takes me a while.
Don’s Food Corner
I’ve been waiting two years to go to one of Mumbai’s landmark restaurants, Britannia & Co. It’s a Parsi restaurant that has a famous chicken berry pulao dish. I made this dish once from a Madhur Jaffrey recipe which she claimed matched the version served at Britannia and I wanted to compare it for myself. I checked, double-checked and triple-checked the opening hours for the restaurant, but when we arrived it was inexplicably closed. They were shooting a movie in front of it so maybe that was the reason. I was bummed. We encounter these problems with regularity and I’m still not used to the shock whenever it upsets the plans for the day — particularly when the plans were made months ago.
As a recovery, our driver suggested another restaurant. It can sometimes be risky to follow the advice of local drivers. Their standards for cleanliness or food presentation tend to be different than ours and seem to focus on low prices instead of other standards. We went along with his suggestion because I did not have a back-up plan. But we were hesitant. We were still hesitant when we pulled up to the driver’s recommended spot.
To our relief, the interior and the uniformed waiters soothed our concerns.
We went with some standard choices, although the menu offered a vast array of various regional Indian dishes as well as Chinese. (Chinese food, with an Indian interpretation, is a favorite as you move north.)
We landed on chicken korma and a chicken biryani. Both were fine in a conventional, non-surprising way. We had the best naan we’ve tasted since being in India, but we are now closer to the region of its origin. And, keeping with the expectations of a driver-recommended restaurant, it was really cheap. About eleven dollars for the whole meal, including lots of bottled beverages.