Thursday, December 9, 2010

India, Part Three: More Mumbai and Sari Shopping

So... where was I last?

Gateway to India, and right across from it, the Taj Mahal hotel, where the attacks took place November 26th. The hotel only shows a few outwards signs of the attacks... singed facade here and there, closed sections. It's a beautiful building and I'm afraid my camera probably didn't do it justice, since the sun was right behind it. Four security checks later, including x-raying my purse and two purse searches, and I was in the hotel. The lobby is magnificent (what do you expect from a place that charges a minimum of $400 US a night, if my guidebook is right?), and, on my way to the coffee "shop" for tea, I passed the memorial for those who died that day (rumor has it that the hotel is paying all of the survivors' hospital bills, a ridiculous sum of money.) The coffee shop turned out to be a restaurant where shabby little me in a polo shirt and jeans, hair all akimbo from the wind, sat and knit amidst business people and guests while waiting for my tea and water. It was a nice little respite and a break from the early afternoon heat (and the tea and water still cost less than a trip to Starbucks.) Afterwards, I walked out into the sunlight and heat to begin my (originally short but now turned out long) walk to Kala Goda circle.

Now, Kala Goda is home to a few big museums and shops. You would think that I wouldn't miss it, right?


Somehow, I bypassed it entirely and ended up at Horniman circle, at its heart a botanical garden. A few minutes in the shade there was enough to steel myself back into the sunlight and out to ask the first person I see: "Kala Goda?" He nods and points me back in the direction from where I had come, waving a bit to indicate that it's still a bit of a distance. And so began my comedy sketch of an afternoon, with me bypassing most of what I had been looking for and eventually finding it. Kala Goda wasn't entirely my fault-- apparently, the big black statue of a man on a horse that gave the place its name had been moved in favor of a car park. *sigh*

At Kala Goda was the Prince of Wales museum (now Charp...something Shri... something or other museum), and I went in, taking advantage of the cool shade just when I needed it the most. Along with the tourist admission price came an audio tour-- and while it was pretty neat to have things explained to me, the audio guide was a TALKER. So, sometimes I'd start the recording for a specific thing and moved on, using that for background noise. The museum, itself, had more of the stone carvings, carved ivories, tiny manuscripts, but my favorite room was the monetary history room, with Indian coins through the ages, going deeply BC. My favorite coins? The itty-bitty quarter- and half-rupees-- little push-pin size circles that I most certainly would lose in a heartbeat. And you should see all of the Portuguese-Goan coins. I was reluctant to go back into the heat afterwards, but I did, but not for long.

A short hike and I was back in the Taj area-- there's a road that runs behind the hotel called "Colaba Causeway", lined on one side with shops and hawkers stalls, filled with tourists and noise and shopping where you can bargain down anything to at least half, if not more, of what they quote to you (and most of the time, they probably quote 75% more to us tourists!) On Colaba causeway is the Leopold Cafe, another famous landmark dating back to the 1800s. This was another place where the attacks took place, and army officers with rifles sit out front, guarding a very difficult to guard location. Unlike the Taj, there were no security checks, no metal detectors. But I went in and enjoyed the cool break from the heat and humidity, eating a mango ice cream while still being able to hear the chaos and bustle through the open doorways. The cafe has an old-fashioned ice-cream parlor/dineresque feel, with small glass-topped tables through which you could see their menu, ranging from indo-chinese to italian to indian dishes, and an assortment of ice creams and kulfis that make your head spin (too bad I hadn't discovered the wonder of kulfi yet, else I probably wouldn't have been tempted by the mango ice cream). One odd thing that I kept noticing were people taking photographs of the area where I was seated, so I turned around to see if there was something behind me... and see a boarded glass window with gunshot holes clearly visible. Everything else in the place was repaired, but I think that they're never going to replace that window or any of the gunshot holes in the walls-- too many people with a morbid curiosity will make those a draw for a while.

The rest of the afternoon was an exercise in comedy-- I was on the lookout for this one specific store, and somehow managed to bypass it on other roads multiple times despite help and directions from so many people (me taking the second right instead of the first, or getting turned around in the circle!) But I liked that experience-- if not for that, I wouldn't have been able to see half of what I did! Regal cinema, with it's art-deco style, the University in all of its glory (the clock tower and other buildings have a cathedral-esque look to them, lovely), the estate that had been converted to the police headquarters, every detail of Kala Goda. I did find the store (and shopped), just before being picked up for dinner.

Dinner that night was a fantastic experience-- we went to a vegetarian thali place, where they serve you these platters full of different sauces and tons of breads or crisps or sweets to eat with them. It was sort of like a reverse mirror image of Rodizio! The food kept coming-- sweets and savory, and I ate until I had to practically be rolled out of the place! It was a fun experience, and when Aunt Kay asked if I wanted to take a picture of our turbaned waiter and then asked him if we could, the entire turbaned staff came out of the kitchen for a photo!

The next morning, we were out bright and early (well, shops here do open late, but still early after that long night) to go shopping for dupattas at the sari shops (and subsequently my sari.) That was a fun and new experience! They would take you up to the counter where the dupattas were stored, and, as you talked, they would shake out, so expertly, shawl after shawl, brocade, embroidered, all colors of the rainbow, before you could even say "Blue and silver!" This was repeated in all of the shops, each one just as stunning as the next. You should see some of the more elaborate saris on display-- so full of embroidery and sequin work and beadwork! Modern saris with fishtail hems sewn in. And seats to perch on as you contemplate your purchase.

After shopping, we went to lunch with one of Aunt Kay's schoolmates at the Bombay Gymkana, kind of like a country club, originally built by the British for British only (isn't that always like them?), now open to Indians. It was a lovely lunch, sitting outside on the second floor overlooking the cricket pitch. That day, I had, in addition to two indian dishes, an Indo-Chinese "American Chow Mein" (nothing like American chinese food, but crunchy and yummy-- with a fried egg on top!). And I had my first taste of kulfi, Indian ice cream. (I'm now truly addicted!) That afternoon, I actually saw a parrot fly past us!

After lunch was a drive-by of Victoria Terminus, a beautiful indo-victorian structure, intricately carved with peacocks and monkeys and other varied and sundry animals and plants. And the government building behind it, equally carved. A trip to Crawford market (we didn't go inside the closed market-- too chaotic, but to some of the outside stalls.) And then back to the sari shops for my sari.

That morning, I think the decision had been made by me unconsciously when I had seen, wrapped up for another customer, a beautifully embroidered sari in a chiffon material. So, when we went shopping, we basically went straight to that store, and, when I was shown the more traditional brocaded saris, I still had the other sari in mind. I did get draped in a rich royal blue and silver brocaded sari that I felt was beautiful, but too cool and strong a color for me, then, we sat down and had them show us the floral embroidered sari. I wasn't totally sold by it-- the color, again, a sea green, seemed too strong-- until I was draped in it and completely fell in love. Even a trip upstairs to see the more traditional brocaded saris (and another sea green/purple combo that took my breath away), just made me love that one more. Being draped in one is a fun experience for this first-timer, when you first look in a mirror and see yourself dressed in this beautiful length of fabric-- and it's HARD to make a choice!

So, I've ended up with, as it turns out, a Parsi- style sari (would you believe it?) I'm off this morning to get the petticoat and blouse-liner material, since I had to borrow a petticoat from Aunt Dhun for the wedding.

Dinner that night was at Aunt Kay's Uncle Jimmy's house, with assortment after assortment of good food (mmmm curry!) and more kulfi! (As well as more sweets than I can remember, all of which I love) This trip may actually need to be called "Carla's trip to India in 101 foods."

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