Yesterday we flew out of possibly the nicest, most advanced airport in the world in Seoul (Incheon) and arrived at one of the least impressive major airports in the world in Mumbai. Indian music was playing as we boarded the plane and this flight marked a clear transition from our first three Asian cities (Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul). India is very different and I was excited to experience it. Speaking English to people who understand it is great and the taxi rides are amazing (more on that later). But India is still very much a “Third World” country by my objectives. India is a developing country but it still has a lot of progress to make.
Walking off the plane into Chhatrapati Shivaji airport in Mumbai was exactly as I expected. The colors and look of the airport are straight out of the ’70s, it was warm and humid and there was a strong musty smell everywhere. I felt like it could be the opening to a Wes Anderson film (Darjeeling Limited is my obvious reference). It just needed some Kinks music playing in the background.
We are staying at a very nice hotel near the airport – a Hilton – that we got for a reasonable price. But only steps from the Hilton is the mass chaos of Mumbai. They have a TSA-like security checkpoint at the entrance of the hotel – this was a bit unexpected. There appears to be around a 5-1 worker to guest ratio at the hotel. Every hotel worker greets with the appropriate greeting when walking by (e.g. good morning, sir) and smiles. It’s kind of great and kind of awkward. A little bit like a few Indian restaurants I’ve been to where the owner randomly stands near the table and smiles.
I decided to splurge on the lunch buffet, if you can call it that, and I’m happy I did. Our primary server brought around six different items to sample to our table directly from the kitchen – all made for us. And various servers randomly brought items to sample from the buffet. The food was a mix of Indian and American and extremely high quality. And it was only 1350 rupee (around $25 USD). Fairly amazing.
We took a taxi to a the nearby suburb of Powai tonight. Powai is kind of like the wealthy uptown of Mumbai. The taxi ride was the most fun I’ve ever had in a taxi. Mass chaos with seemingly near-misses every 30 seconds or so. And constant horn honking by all cars (to let other cars know they are there). Exactly what I expected but better. I’m going to try to take a video tomorrow – words cannot do this justice.
Powai is the nicest or one of the nicest areas of Mumbai but would be considered a slum by American standards. There is a lake littered with trash and sewage and the roads are a mess. But this is countered by some hip coffee shops and stores. The city of Mumbai, and especially our visit, is a cross of wealth and poverty. For example, we are hiring a car tomorrow for a day as this is the only recommended way to see the city for various reasons and is fairly inexpensive So we will go from our luxury hotel to our private driver to explore the poverty ridden parts of the city. Makes you realize how fortunate you are…
Seoul to Mumbai route:
Desserts at lunch buffet: