To keep with tradition, we drove from Jaipur to Delhi airport the next day, completing the Golden Triangle. It was a long haul, and sad to be saying farewell to our driver, Anand, after all those miles.
We headed through Delhi airport to departure, past their elephants. We learned on our tour that if the elephant's trunk is down, it signals 'welcome', and if it's up, touching the forehead, it means 'hello'. Our plane eventually left for Mumbai (Bombay) as the sun was setting.
After such an incredible journey, something was bound to go wrong. In this case, it was The Strand Hotel which happened to us. When we arrived at Delhi, Vistara offered to put us on an earlier flight, which would get us in two hours ahead of schedule. Fantastic, we thought. Marilyn promptly phoned the hotel to tell them about our change of plans. They said that was fine. But when we arrived, there was no taxi waiting.
We stood for over an hour calling the hotel, calling the driver - they didn't seem to know where the airport was! Eventually, we gave up and took an Uber. Mumbai airport is fantastic for that. They even have a dedicated team of people who can help you book an Uber if you don't have the app. Within minutes, we were on our way.
Things got progressively worse once we reached the hotel. Instead of 'We're so sorry about the mix up,' or 'let's get you checked in,' the guy behind the counter proceeded to start a massive argument with us, even calling in the Uber driver to give him a dressing down for daring to pick us up! He kept insisting it was our fault for changing our flight, even though we'd given him our new flight details. He kept telling us our taxi had been waiting, as arranged, at international arrivals.
Why? We were always coming from Delhi.
No part of our original flight or our new flight had been international.
Eventually Dad said 'Do you want us to stay or not? We can find another hotel,' at which point he grudgingly took our passports and gave us the keys. The staff continued to be miffy with us the entire stay. Rude doesn't even begin to cover it.
Honest to goodness, it was Fawlty Towers without the laughs.
It soon became apparent that the place was falling apart. They were using one of those toilet bricks you find in urinals as an air freshener to mask the stench of burnt rubber. It was so overpowering that I flushed it down the loo. Dad's room smelt strongly of mildew and there was mold growing in the fridge. The front of his aircon unit fell off the wall when he went to adjust the temperature. Even the wiring was taped together, and the sockets sparked when you plugged anything in.
|Would you order room service from a menu like this?|
The place was a mess, and the staff were offensive to the point of being caricatures. We'd booked through Booking.com because it had good reviews, but it seems the reviews on Trip Advisor were more accurate. Basically, everything stated in the one-star reviews is what we experienced. 'Go here only if you have nowhere else to stay,' pretty much summed it up. If it hadn't been so very late at night, we would have found somewhere else, but we'd just travelled all the way from Jaipur, via Delhi, and we were absolutely knackered. It was a real comedown after our fantastic stay at Dera Rawatsar, but we were determined to make the best of it. There were definitely many other things to explore in the area. The hotel was right on the seafront, just down the road from The Gateway of India.
Across the road is the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which is renowned for a terror attack which took place in 2008, when 200 hostages were evacuated through the windows.
The next morning - Christmas Day - we headed out in search of breakfast and found a gorgeous little café around the corner called Basilico. Free wifi, good coffee and the most mouth-watering cake collection you can imagine. I opted for their shakshouka, which was absolutely delicious. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up.
After that, we hit the extremely busy streets of Colaba Market. This is one long road with jewelry, pashmina, trinket and clothes shops all the way down it. As I mentioned before, I hadn't been out of Africa in almost two years and was in desperate need of some clothes. I also wanted to do some gift shopping, so parted ways with Dad & Marilyn, who went off to explore the CSMVS Museum. I walked back to the beginning of the market, bought a cheap wheelie case, and promptly began filling it.
Halfway down, I happened to glance to my right and see a door with a delicately calved hand, palm facing me. What is this? I wondered, pressing my own palm to it. Inside I found a tiny, dimly-lit room with a lady dressed in red behind the counter. It smelt exquisite in there.
Turned out to be a foot spa. I'm generally not one for massages, but the place seemed so unusual, as though the shop might disappear if I left, that I handed over my money and made my way upstairs.
I floated back down the stairs about forty minutes later. The place is called Sabai Spa and if you ever find yourself lost in the hustle and bustle of Colaba Causeway, I absolutely recommend it. Quite divine.
Meanwhile, Dad & Marilyn had managed to track down Nataraja - and his foot.
That night we headed out to Pizza Express to stuff ourselves with food and beer, enjoying Christmas without the trappings and pressure of western commercialism. Bar a few Santa hats and some tinsel, India is a lot like Rwanda in its observance of Christmas. You sort of know it's happening, if you look, but it's extremely easy to ignore. Not the three-month advertising campaign it's become in the UK. Dad said he lost all Christmas spirit this year when he opened his front door to find a loan company asking if he needed to borrow money. So many people getting into debt and feeling pressured to provide a good time at all costs. Not sure that's the message that was originally intended.
The next day was our last in India. We checked out of the hotel and left our bags at reception. Dad & Marilyn were flying back to the UK, and I was headed back to Rwanda, but our flights weren't until the wee hours, so we decided to fill some time by booking a sightseeing tour of Mumbai. The first stop was Mani Bhavan, Ghandi's home and headquarters for seventeen years.
This is the room he lived in, with his bed and spinning wheel. There are some truly fascinating parts to this museum, including a letter he wrote to Hitler, and an entire room showing key points in his life reconstructed using models. After visiting his cremation site at Raj Ghat in Delhi, this felt like a fitting conclusion to our trip. A chance to read much more about his life and works.
Our next stop was a Jain temple. We were allowed to look around the courtyard and the aisles to either side of the main room. It was interesting, but the first rule on the notice board was: 'Women who are menstruating must not enter the temple,' at which point you've really lost my interest. Woman parted her legs and birthed you into this world, you'd deny her access to a temple because she's on her period? It's all very well to say 'respect tradition', but if that tradition doesn't respect half the world's population, perhaps it needs rethinking. FGM is a tradition, after all. At a certain point, things need to evolve.
From there we visited the Hanging Gardens of Mumbai. Perhaps slightly disappointing, as it conjures images of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the world, and it's really just a park built over a giant water storage facility. Possibly oversold it in the naming there, but still a nice stroll.
Our route also took us past the Tower of Silence, which is something that lives up to its name, only you can't really see it through the trees and it's not open to the public, so here's a picture from Wiki and an artist's impression.
It's a Parsi (Zoroastrian) place for the dead, where they expose bodies to the crows to be stripped of flesh.
From the intriguing to the really odd, our next stop was a local laundry. I'm not entirely sure how this first became a major tourist attraction, but it is strangely captivating. It's an area of town where all the hotels and businesses send their sheets and uniforms for cleaning. Rows upon rows of laundry drying in the sun, and people up to their elbows in soapsuds. You just park up by the edge of the road and look over the wall at it.
Mumbai traffic is a lot like Delhi traffic: fairly stagnant, so we languished in the back seat looking up at the buildings going by whilst meandering our way back to Colaba Causeway so that Dad & Marilyn could experience the joy of a Sabai foot massage.
That last one is the home of Mukesh Ambani, the richest man in India, complete with pool and helipad. It houses one family and has a staff of 600 to maintain it, though depending on which driver you talk to, that quickly rises to over 1,000.
Whilst Dad & Marilyn enjoyed their massage, I did a little last-minute clothes shopping, then we all headed round the corner to our favourite café for coffee and cake.
After that, it was about time to take another taxi to the airport. The sun was setting on our holiday, both literally and metaphorically, as we headed down the Queen's Necklace, as the buildings around the bay are known.
We had quite a bit of time to spare, so had snacks and did some duty-free shopping before final hugs and heading our separate ways to departure. I timed it just right, arriving at my gate just as boarding opened. Although, we did then sit on the tarmac for over an hour.
The flight back with RwandAir was much smoother than the flight there, although I had a Mumbai arrivals experience when I rocked up at 5 a.m. in Kigali - my taxi driver didn't show. Despite clearly stating a.m., he'd convinced himself I was arriving in the afternoon. Luckily, there was another taxi there who transported me to my door.
An incredible holiday. So much packed into two weeks. I still think Chand Baori was my favourite sight from the whole trip, and Goa for its laid-back, colourful atmosphere. Jaipur was also extremely interesting, and Mumbai seemed markedly reserved in comparison. Very much enjoyed our adventure. Now I need to sleep for a week.