Yesterday was a long day. We hired a driver to take us around Mumbai for the day. We had an allowance of 8 hours/80 kilometers and by the time we got back to the hotel we were a minute short of 8 hours and around a kilometer short of 80. We spent a good portion of the day sitting in our air-conditioned Toyota Camry while the Camry sat in traffic. Again, I can’t emphasize enough how crazy fun it is watching drivers navigate the Mumbai roads. As a person who loves to drive I have enormous respect for their skills. I didn’t witness an accident my entire time in India. Pretty sure there would be an accident every 5 seconds or so if you were to replace the drivers with U.S. drivers. It’s total chaos with no lanes and a combination of cars, motorcycles, rickshaws, cows, dogs, pedestrians, random speed bumps, potholes and constant noise (mostly honking). With constant traffic cars pretty much force their way in and hope other cars stop in time. I would love to give it a try but our driver wasn’t so sure I could manage. I told him I know how to drive a stick but shifting left-handed would be odd.
We saw all/most of the key sites of Mumbai including Dhobi Ghat (an outdoor facility where they process laundry for much of the city), the Gateway of India, Taj Mahal Hotel and Mani Bhavan, the house that Ghandi lived and worked in from 1917-1934, which is now a museum. Along the tour we had to go shopping on 3 separate occasions – we also experienced this on the DMZ tour. Tour operators have deals with local shops to steer customers their way. It’s just part of the package and something you have to deal with – I kind of enjoy it. In South Korea we had a semi-hard sell on amethyst jewelry. In Mumbai we had experienced professional salesmen who unsuccessfully tried to sell us Indian rugs from Kashmir. One guy gave a particularly charismatic sales pitch with a very hard sell. He started at $1,250 USD for a rug and when my travel partner Kyle said he was not interested he asked at what price he would be interested. Kyle eventually said $100 and the salesman said “sold”. Kyle then had to backtrack. He didn’t bother me as I quickly told him I’m in sales and asked if he went to the same sales seminars I went to. As I was leaving I told him he was good at his job and he said, “yeah, I know I am”. Classic.
We got back to the hotel around 7pm and were sleeping by 10pm. Had to get up at 5:30am for our flight to Dubai via Saudi Arabia.
I’m sitting in the Dammam, Saudi Arabia airport as I type this but will post later tonight when I get to the hotel as the free airport Wi-Fi does not let me upload pics. We were the only non Middle Eastern or Indian passengers on the plane. In general we received a lot of attention in Mumbai and so far in Saudi Arabia. Kids frequently look at me with inquisitive/puzzled facial expressions. I’ve experienced this a few times before, last time in rural Costa Rica. I think everyone would benefit from feeling a little uncomfortable as an outsider at some point in their life. Though I’m not a complete outsider here – I haven’t shaved since I left for the trip and this is in my favor in the Middle East. It’s very in!
The Saudia flight included a prayer before takeoff. Aside from that it was pretty normal and the food was good. I did have an Indian gentleman sitting next to me who looked over my shoulder to look out the window (I had a window seat) for nearly the entire flight. That got old but I’m guessing it was the first plane he had ever been on so I tried to not let it bother me. The transfer process at Dammam airport to our next flight was interesting…..a very manual process. We had to clear around 3 different layers of security and was escorted all around the airport. But everyone was very nice and it was a fairly quick process. Lastly, each of the bathrooms here has a place for prayer and each stall in the bathroom has what is essentially a garden hose. Not sure I want to know exactly what this is used for but all toilets are very wet. Needed to wipe it down with some towels. But at least it was clean.
Dubai should be about as opposite to Mumbai as Seoul was, just in a different way. Should be fun…visiting the only 7-star hotel in the world (self-proclaimed) and the tallest building in the world on Friday. Should have some good pics….
Update: Just checked into our hotel in Dubai. BTW, we had a full meal on the hour flight from Dammam to Dubai – barely enough time to eat it. Unbelievably nice (and busy) metro system. First appearances are exactly as I expected – Vegas minus the sins (gambling, escorts, drinking, dancing…). Which makes one wonder why you would go to Dubai. Truth is you can drink and dance in certain places but not like Vegas. I will find out tomorrow as it’s Friday night.
Kamla Nehru Park
Gateway to India
Taj Mahal Hotel