Monday, July 30--I was really sad to be leaving our awesome hotel but at the same time I was ready to leave Jaipur behind. It was time to say goodbye to our serious but very nice driver Nagender (notice the cute "driver outfit" he has on) and I couldn't tell if he was more excited about his tip or the prospect of finally being rid of the crazy Americans! We were a bit worried about our domestic flight via Spice Jet Airlines but it really wasn't too bad. When we arrived in Mumbai (aka Bombay--many Indian cities are reverting back to more native-like names to further establish their independence from the British regime that ruled them for so long...) it was raining at a pretty good clip. It was evident that we would be experiencing more of the monsoon season along the coast.
We were a little worried about hiring a taxi and trying to get to our hotel. We really had no idea how far it was or how to get around the city or how much it should cost us. Upon exiting with our baggage we were promptly whisked away by two men who loaded us up and we thought we were on our way. They showed us the tariffs according to the zone of the city and it listed separate prices for a car with a/c versus without. As it was raining we told them we didn't really need the a/c but they didn't seem to like that choice so they promptly gave us a much better price for a car with a/c. The next thing we know we are at this random parking area where we, along with our luggage, were transferred to another awaiting car and driver. It was pretty strange and we were worried that we had really made a mistake by hooking up with this group.
It's hard to explain, but Mumbai is very different than any of the other cities we visited yet still very much India. This is one of the few places you can still see some of the footholds of the British Empire...many gothic buildings, British looking taxis, double decker buses, etc. It definitely feels like more of a cosmopolitan city than Delhi...the closest comparison I have is kind of like the New York City of India with a little bit of L.A. mixed in because it is the home of the Bollywood film-making industry and there is even a part of town known as "Film City."
Anyway, it was quite a long ride from the airport to our hotel...not to mention the fact that our driver had never heard of the hotel. Fortunately it is near a very well known train station (Victoria Terminus) so he at least knew how to get to the area. After having to turn around a number of times we finally realized that our hotel was housed inside some random building on the third floor. We were grateful to be out of the car and out of the rain.
We hauled our goods up to the hotel and presented them with our Travelocity reservation. They whipped out their big log book (although India has made many strides towards modernity, each hotel we stayed in had this huge book or ledger where we had to fill out our information for check-in)...anyway, they whipped out their book and my name was nowhere to be found. We were escorted to a waiting room where we sat for nearly an hour doing who-knows-what before they took us to the room.
Fortunately for us, there is a McDonald's situated right on the corner of the building we were staying in as it was a bit late and still kind of rainy. We ate something and being a bit tired from our travels just headed back the room. We watched the only English channel available, nothing less than the Hallmark channel, played some cards and called it a night.
Tuesday, July 31--We talked to our hotel about renting a car and driver for the day and they wanted to charge us double what we had paid in Delhi. Mind you, we knew that Mumbai was much more expensive than Delhi but this seemed ridiculous. We then ascertained from our guide book that where we were headed wasn't all that far away and decided to try our luck in a city taxi. Yeah, the ride over cost us just one measly dollar.
Our plan for the day was to take the ferry out to Elephanta Island to see some supposedly amazing cave sculptures. The ferry took probably about an hour and, in a brilliant move on my part, I got kind of seasick because I had forgotten to take a Dramamine back at the hotel. But it was kind of refreshing to be away from the crush of humanity and be riding a boat across Mumbai harbor. As we neared the island it looked like a lush green tropical paradise.
As we were still walking an Indian family was passing by us also on the way to the dock and the man struck up a conversation with us and gave us some tips on haggling for prices. It turned out that this man, Vijay, is actually a Christian missionary serving with his family in Saudi Arabia. He and his wife Leslie and two children Steven and Sarah (not the typical Indian-sounding names, eh?) were on vacation and in Mumbai for the first time as well.
Heidi had mentioned that her brother was a missionary in India a few years back and we ended up having a really great discussion with him about the similarities and differences in our beliefs. Vijay and his family belong to the Church of South India which he described as being somewhat similar to the Baptist Church although from what I've seen online it is described as more aligned with Protestant beliefs.
Anyway, as I mentioned, we had a great conversation with him during the hour-long boat ride and we were able to touch on many of the important topics covered in the old missionary discussions. I was very thrilled to find out that Heidi had put her small military copy of the Book of Mormon in her camera case so we were able to write in it and leave it with Vijay and his family.
I (we) had murmured some about the cost of coming to Mumbai and feeling like it was a waste, but after meeting Vijay and his family the purpose of our side trip there was very clear. It was amazing enough to meet a Christian family in India but even more amazing that we would meet a family who has been living in Saudi Arabia and would likely not have the chance to be introduced to the gospel as the LDS Church has no official presence there. We were definitely on somewhat of a high to have the great opportunity to meet them and share our beliefs with them.
Wednesday, August 1--We got up and checked out of our hotel but had them store our luggage so we could go out before going to the airport. We wanted to go to Mani Bhavan which is a house that Ghandi lived in and worked from off and on from 1917-1934. It was really hard to find a driver that knew where it was...which we found funny because they call him "Father of the Nation" and he is on all of the currency!
Anyway, it was a really cool place and they had photos of his life, letters he had written, a library of stuff by and about him, paintings and sculptures of him and a whole section completely dedicated to dioramas depicting different events from his life. Probably one of the biggest highlights was seeing the room he stayed in with some of his original belongings. We also went on the rooftop and it was incredible to think we were standing where Ghandi himself once stood.
I left the museum with a great respect for this man. It just goes to show the power that one person can have to influence people for good. In some ways Ghandi reminds me of President Hinckley in that he was a leader and a friend to the people because he traveled many places and was among the people. I was also reminded of Joseph Smith acknowledging that he was willingly going as "a lamb to the slaughter" because two days prior to his assassination Ghandi said, "If I am to die by the bullet of a mad man, I must do so smiling. There must be no anger within me. God must be in my heart and on my lips..." They both also reportedly shared very similar last words in crying out to God as they were being assassinated. It was a great experience to learn more about Ghandi and we bought some books about his life and his teachings.
We went back to the hotel and had to wait forever for the taxi they had called to come take us to the airport. There was another huge downpour the whole time we were driving there. I had to go through an extra security check at the airport for no apparent reason so that was kind of annoying. We arrived back in Delhi and were met by our driver who took us back to our hotel...or at least what we thought was our hotel. There had been some mix-up either by our travel agency or the hotel and they did not have a room for us. We were promised the same quality accommodations and were taken to a nearby hotel that was not that great but we didn't have any other choice that late at night. Needless to say we were not happy at all with the situation.
Thursday, August 2--Our last full day in India! We checked out of our gross hotel and were taken to another one that was only slightly better. As we did not want to waste the whole day to find a hotel that we would basically only use for showering and packing that night we just agreed and moved on.
This was the day we had designated to get the rest of our souvenir shopping done. Unfortunately it was raining on and off, which made things difficult at times. Luckily we had found this great area while Candice was with us that had pretty much everything we could ask for. By this point I was really feeling very "done" with the whole pushy vendor scene and the multiple "Excuse me madame"s as we walked around. Boddu had planned to meet up with us but with the rain and traffic got there a bit late. We took him out to lunch at a nearby TGI Friday's to thank him for all our help.
Later we all piled into an auto rickshaw as we went clear across town in search of some things that Heidi's brother Adam had asked her to buy. Sadly the first rickshaw broke down and Boddu had to negotiate with that driver and another one to help us continue on our way. We were able to get the things we needed and then Boddu took us to see the chapel he attends. It is a beautiful house that was converted as a church meetinghouse. We also ran into the missionaries who just happened to be there waiting for an appointment to show up. It was great talking to them and hearing a bit about their experiences.
It was time to say goodbye to Boddu and we were sad because he is such a great person and we had such a good time with him. We are hoping he will have a chance to come to the US some day soon so he can see the Salt Lake Temple and other church sites and visit his mission companions. We went back to the crappy hotel and stayed up again all night packing as we had to leave for the airport at 3 a.m.
Friday, August 3--This was probably the longest day of my life as we traveled about 36 hours to get back home thanks to some flight delays, including a 3 hour delay at JFK. I thought we would never make it. I was very happy to be back on American soil but even happier to walk into my own home.
India was such a crazy experience but such a good life experience. I wish I could truly communicate what it is like there but I think the only way to really understand is to experience it yourself. My one word of advice for most people is to strongly consider going on an organized tour if you want to go to India. I think we could have avoided some of our frustrations going that route but it is definitely doable on your own as well! Anyway, I hope you have been able to get a glimpse the unique world of India through my travelogue and pictures. Thanks for tuning in...