Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mumbai Day 3

Victoria Station
I was on my own today.  Ned had a business meeting up in Surat. I had originally planned to go with him but a 3 hour train ride leaving at 4:00 a.m. and returning at 11p.m. was not appealing. I would have had to get a car/driver and a guide for a very long day. Next trip...Surat is known for it's textiles but I would miss it this go round. Instead, I had booked a half day tour with our previous guide Freni. We viewed some of the beautiful British architectural buildings such as the Victoria train station and what is now municipal buildings. We took a walk through the 2 hanging gardens, named because they were built over 2 of the city's reservoirs.  This is considered winter ( high 80's and just as humid), so not too many flowers were in bloom. There were butterflies galore but they never seemed to lite on anything for a photo. Mumbai is an ever expanding city and they are constantly doing reclamation of the land from the sea. Mumbai originally consisted of 7 islands that are now one large area.  In one of the more recent projects they were trying to get rid of a small inlet area that was situated between two very exclusive areas. The only problem with this was that this was the home of an old tribal fishing village (the Kolis). The current( Kolis) tribal residents still derive their livelihood from fishing and the project would have both displaced them and cut off their access to the sea. The uproar this project caused changed the plan. As in most of India, the juxtaposition of the rich and poor is just an every day occurrence, so you have a wonderfully colorful tribal village right smack in the middle of expensive high rise buildings.
Kolis Fishing Village

The Indian government has been trying to preserve the uniqueness of it's cultural history...a loosing battle as more and more people flock to the cities for both jobs and better education for their children. Parents are realizing the importance of education no matter what class they come from. While the caste system is still an integral part of life here when it comes to marriage, it seems to no longer be a barrier for job and educational opportunities.

Sha'ar Ha Rachamim
The rest of the morning was spent driving around to the different areas of Mumbai that we had not covered already. We stopped in at 2 old Synagogues as well, Sha'ar Ha Rachamim (Gate of Mercy) and Kenneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue.. There are 3 old Jewish communities in India... the Cochin Jews, the Baghdadi ( or Iraqi) Jews, and the B'nei Israel who are said to have arrived more than two thousand years ago when their ship was wrecked near the Bombay (Mumbai) coast. The Cochin Jews settled in the Kerala area of Southern India as far back as the time of King Solomon. This community grew during the 16th century with an influx of Sephardic Jews from Spain, Portugal, and Holland who were trying to escape the Inquisition. The Baghdadi Jews goes back to about 1730 when they settled in Surat. They were encouraged by the British to go to India and expand commerce after the Treaty of Nanking opened up China to the British . They first established themselves in Calcutta and then Bombay. In 1833, the community got a boost with the arrival of David Sassoon who had founded a great trading house known throughout the world, but was escaping the tyranny of the Turkish ruler of Baghdad. With the help of his sons, the Sassoon family excelled in the import and export of textiles, English piece goods, and Opium. He employed thousands of locals at the time and became a very wealthy merchant. He and his family were incredibly civic minded and generous and they built hospitals, schools, libraries, and museums.

Original Portuguese Bungalow
 Freni was wearing lovely clothes so I asked her were she shopped. She took me to her favorite store and I bought 2 lovely outfits and an extra top...3 pieces...a long top, pants, and scarf.. For less than $50 for it all. One of the outfits was silk and the others were cotton with fine embroidery. More importantly, they were comfortable. I should have just left all my clothes home! We were having fun. I was asked if I wanted to meet the owner of the tour company and have lunch with her. Of course I said yes. Deepa Krishnan is first class all the way. She apparently followed one of the links on my email and found my blog and website. She arrived with 2 large bags of Indian textiles to show me. She explained the differences between the regions and customs and told me what to look for. After lunch she asked if I would be willing to be a guinea pig for a new tour they were putting together.I would have said yes under any circumstances but the fact that only a lonely hotel room was waiting for me made my decision very easy. We laughed our way through the rest of the afternoon. We drove past the home of one of the top Bollywood actors and saw many people just waiting around to catch a glimpse of him. I got to see one of the original Portuguese forts...or the ruins of it...and then one of the original residential areas from where we have gotten the term Bungalow. They are trying to restore these lovely houses and many are still owned by the original families. The Portuguese Jesuits owned a lot of very prime land in Mumbai and their families benefited as well. To be fair, they also built lots of schools that are still in use today.Many Indians have Portuguese last names.
 English is compulsory even in the early grades. While Hindi is now official language of India, not everyone can speak it. Every state of India has it's own local dialect and even that gets broken down depending on which village your family comes from.  English will be the only common language here soon.

By the time I got back to my hotel about 7:00 p.m. I was exhausted but with a huge smile on my face. I had just spent a wonderful ladies day out.

Let's discuss food.. As much as I tried to prepare myself before I got here, American Indian food doesn't have much resemblance to real Indian food. My tummy was not thrilled...too many new spices and too hot for my liking. We came prepared..I brought a bottle of Peanut Butter and some pre-packaged pouches of Tuna fish ( I survived my trip to China in 1987 living on this!) The wait staff at the hotel was wonderful trying to get food that I could eat. This was a real learning experience. Turns out I am not really fond of Indian food but I  survived. Maybe it was the constant of it. I never hit the Tuna, but I did resort to 2 Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches on the trip). I was hoping to shed 5 pounds on this trip... didn't happen, but I didn't gain any. I managed to find things I could eat and I left without hating Indian food. It was starting to grow on me.

Link to pictures are in right side column at the top.

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