We stepped out of the sanitary cleanliness of Singapore Airlines into Mumbai Airport at about 10.30am. What hits you first about India is not the sounds or the sights – it’s the smell. Smells are not easy to describe and neither is the smell of India. It’s a mix of lots of things – spices perhaps, people certainly, pollution and who knows what else all rolled into one. The fact is that one senses it immediately. Also, while it’s not unpleasant, it’s everywhere and it becomes normal after a while. Anyway, the airport at Mumbai is not exceptional in any way, except that like at most airports, all that anyone really wants to do is to get out of there as fast as possible. When we stepped out that all changed – the heat, the smell and the sights – the boys were captivated from the first minute, Gal, our twelve year old was not. Before we had left home she had rented the movie The Cheetah Girls – One World, which takes place in India almost exclusively in a five star hotel. As a result, on seeing “real” India it seemed that all her excitement and expectations evaporated almost immediately she left the airport terminal. We were quickly found by the two guys sent by the travel agency and bundled into the waiting van with all our stuff. We travel pretty heavy – suitcases, stroller, carseats for both boys – but it all fitted inside.
Slumdog Millionaire does a pretty good job of portraying Mumbai – the drive to our hotel in the Colaba area took over an hour and from the comfort of our air conditioned van we saw India of today – infrastructure projects underway, huge apartment blocks going up, ads for everything from cellphones to cable TV and a non stop array of beggars thrusting everything at our windows – including a naked baby and school books. The city literally looks like it is falling apart, though some effort is being made to build it up as well. It is a vibrant, pulsating madness – non stop traffic, incredibly exotic sites to the uninitiated and polluted – driving alongside the ocean everything looks hazy. And tons and tons of people.
We finally reached the Colaba area – site of many hotels and much loved by tourists and the van dropped us off at the Hotel Godwin, a 3 star hotel that I had found on Tripadvisor. On a tree lined street and fairly quiet, and within walking distance to many sites, shopping and restaurants. We were given a large room on one of the upper floors that had an extra alcove attached and slept five – a large and comfortable room but not luxurious in any way which suited us just fine taking into account the very high cost of luxury hotels in Mumbai.
We could sort of make out the ocean through the various apartment buildings that were blocking the view. We had a truly excellent view of the balconies and rooms of the neighboring apartments.
My plans for the day were ambitious – we would walk through Colaba, and past the University all the way to the train terminus which is a World Heritage Site in itself. We left the hotel, walked a few hundred meters to the famous Taj Mahal Hotel and went in. Security was quite impressive – a metal detector and various security people hanging around. We walked through the very impressive shopping arcade and went out again to look for lunch.
I like the Rough Guides and we used the Rough Guide to South India – it took us to Kamat, a long established vegetarian restaurant in Colaba that was really excellent. We sat in the airconditioned family section upstairs which was a real respite from the street outside. The food was South Indian and really good. The kids were introduced to lime and soda, which would become a staple drink of theirs.
After lunch my plans were scrapped – there would have been a revolt if we had carried on walking. Instead, we went back to the hotel where Hilit and the kids collapsed on the beds and were asleep almost instantly (at about 2pm).
PS I’m now planning great family trips to India myself. If you’d like to see what I can do for your family visit here for more info!