Day 23 – Mumbai afternoon

This afternoon I visited Dharavi, the biggest slum in Asia. Originally factories occupied this area. They gave each worker a one-room space for living.

At a certain point, a labor disagreement caused the factories to shut down, and the workers lost their jobs. The disagreement is still hung up in the courts many decades later.

These are some of the old worker factory housing.

My guide suggests that the residents of  Dharavi are quite wealthy given the price of Mumbai real estate. Mumbai law says that anyone who has lived in a place for ten or more years owns it. Most of the residents have been there for thirty years or more in one or two story shacks that over time they have improved into more permanent structures. The brown lines are from hanging toilets, the excrement flows into the polluted river and into the sea.


The residents have formed associations and are able to negotiate with developers who trade the residents’ land to build new highrise apartments. The residents get equivalent space in the new high rise, the developer can build new upscale apartments in area of the slum houses he razes and the government gets rid of the slums for free. According to my guide, in five or ten years there should be no more slums in Mumbai.

The residents operate many businesses in Dharavi. One involves women making pappadams. Women and children roll out the dough on round plates, then set them on baskets to dry, after which they are baked or fried.

Another business, illegal, is cock-fighting. These poor animals have wounds and scars from prior fights.

Pottery is a full-blown cottage industry. They use wheels 


Or molds



The kilns are right in the courtyards and put out lots of heat and smoke.

Kids are everywhere in Dharavi. They are very friendly. These boys do their homework in the lane, which gives them more light than the dinghy one-room shelters.



Now is a very busy time for the potters as the holiday of Diwali is coming up and everyone needs many ceramic lamps for lights to place in their windows.

Leather is another industry, which requires a lot of processing with toxic chemicals. It doesn’t  result in fine leather. 



Men do sewing and embroidery on sewing machines.


A more mechanized machine embroidery uses computer software 


But the sequins are still put on by hand.

Recycling operations are a big business. After plastic is cut up and made into tiny pellets, they remove colored bits of plastic from the white bits, bit by bit.


 Trucks pick up and cart off for further recycling.


Mountains of plastic on a roof with a mosque and a highrise in the distance.


This Muslim bakery owner keeps a goat close by while his rolls are baked.


After the tour I was dropped off at the airport in plenty of time to catch my flight, which leaves near midnight. Although it was a very good last day in Mumbai, I’m glad to be on my way home.

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Day 23 – Mumbai Morning

This morning the tour started at 5:30am to see Mumbai in the early hours. First stop was the newspaper distributors. As many languages are spoken in Mumbai, the newspapers are printed in many languages. Print journalism still thrives.


These men prepare newspapers and sell them to minor distributors who deliver the papers on bicycles to various selling points in the city.


They have regular customers who purchase the papers for distribution. These pictures don’t give a sense of the enormity of the process.

Next we visited the wholesale veggie market. It is chaos personified.

The produce comes from all over India, much from local villages. The market is located next to the Dakar train station.

All kinds of produce is sold by all kinds of people.

Porters carry heavy bags from truck to vendor and vendor to truck. Everything we saw, except for a much smaller indoor portion, is illegal. The vendors pay off the police and are gone by the time every day the police do a sweep.


This man is selling ingredients to make a betel nut chew, which gives the chewer a buzz and might help energize.

Next we visited the very colorful flower market.


Garlands made for the bride and groom at Hindu weddings.


Heavy loads here too.

Many of the informal vendors are villagers from surrounding areas.

We next saw the laundry works near the Mahalaxmi train station. This entire area is devoted to doing laundry, primarily for hotels, hospitals and other institutions.

Individual bins are rented out to the washers, who clean and hang the items up to sun dry.


Next came the fishing colony at Cuffe Parade. We were cautioned that photos were not allowed. In 2008 the terrorists that took over the Taj Hotel had come into Mumbai through the fishing village,  so photos have been restricted since.


We visited Sassoon Docks, which hosts one of the largest fish markets in the city, but again photos were restricted. We could not take photos of the crowds of women in saris who clean the shrimp and the other fish. This man sharpens the tools they use.

Ice is important to keep the fish fresh as it’s taken by trucks to restaurants and stores in all parts of the city.

More ice.


And nets in the fishing colony.

Another small laundry facility.


A school located right next to the laundry.


At the end of the tour, we had dosas for breakfast at a local restaurant.


My very agreeable fellow tour members from Catalonia and Mexico.

My plane leaves at nearly midnight so I will visit another part of Mumbai before I leave.

Day 22 – Mumbai

This morning I visited the Elefanta Caves, an UNESCO Heritage Site located on an island about 10km east of the city in the bay of Mumbai. Ferries leave from the Gateway of India and take over an hour to reach the island.

This young man and his mother on the ferry are from Dubai. The mother had on her burka until she lifted it up when they went to take the selfie. She was clearly very proud of her son, as all mothers are.


This young girl, her mother in a bright yellow Salwar Kameez, and her grandmother in a sari represent three generations in clothing choices.

About 1100 people live on the island. Most of them work in tourism, only 10% are fishermen. The island has electricity only three hours each evening and no running water.

The man-made basalt caves were built in the 5th to 8th Century AD, although the origins are not known. The main cave honors Shiva. A yoni and lingam stand in a square temple guarded by four large guardian statues on each side. The local people come each morning to worship there.


A very interesting depiction of the trinity: creator, preserver, destroyer.


The Portuguese destroyed many of the statues. This one is the famous pose of Shiva doing the cosmic dance, but much of it has been destroyed.



My guide had a penchant for photography. I trusted his choices…like this long shot…so I have a number of photos he took of me in the caves.

The villagers come every day to gather drinking waster from this storage reservoir in the cave, which collects rain water as it has since the 8th century.


I was not interested in the booth after booth of cheap jewelry on the way up and down the 120 steps to the caves, but this medallion piece on the end of a row caught my eye. Turns out it’s hung to ward off the evil eye, and merchants change them every Saturday to keep them potent.

This young man was selling something different and natural…geodes and jewelry made from them.

The villagers don’t farm because the numerous monkeys and the mangrove forests on the island make it unfeasible.

Coming back, the grey thunderclouds threatened rain, but it stayed dry. 


Heading back to town…

To the famous Taj Hotel and the Gateway of India, built for the visit of King George and Queen Mary in 1911.


Tomorrow it’s up early for a market tour.

Day 21 -Mumbai

I landed in Mumbai on time and was picked up by woman driver I had arranged through the hotel. She drove us over the Bandra–Worli Sea Link, officially called Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link, a cable-stayed bridge that links Bandra in the Western Suburbs of Mumbai with Worli in South Mumbai.


Despite the bridge cutting time off the journey,  it still took over an hour to get to the hotel in Colaba. Home to about 19 million people, and the financial capital of India, modern Mumbai sharply contrasts with the crumbling Kolkata.

On Marine Drive, young people hang out, checking their cellphones.

Mumbai is home to some of India’s wealthiest families. The house behind the green arrow is the most expensive private home in the world. It is called Antilia and is owned by Mukesh Ambani, Chairman of Reliance Industries. He employs a staff of 600 to maintain the 27-floor residence 24/7. 

Somewhat unbelievable, that number. The woman who picked me up from the airport said it was a staff of 300. Another guide put it at 600, as does Wikipedia. Whether it’s 600 or 300, that’s a good number of jobs for people who could use them.

I took a half-day city tour, which brought me to Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya. This home, once owned by Mani Bhavan, has been made into a museum showing the highlights in Gandhi’s life.

Mani Bhavan was Gandhi’s friend and allowed him to stay in his home whenever he came to Mumbai.


The house has been made into a museum and research center on Gandhi’s life and principles of non-violence.

One of the interesting displays is a letter Gandhi wrote to Hitler in 1939.

Next I visited a Jain Temple. Jainism is the second oldest religion in India. It does away with the caste system and the need for a Brahmin priest to intervene between the worshipper and God. Many of the lower castes joined the religion. 


There are 23 Jain masters worshipped in the religion. I don’t know how that all works, except I do know they do not believe in harming living beings, so they won’t eat root vegetables because insects might get hurt in the harvesting. They wear face masks so they won’t inadvertently swallow a flying insect.


Next we visited Mumbai’s Hanging Gardens on Malabar Hill. The gardens are also known as Pherozeshah Mehta Gardens, and they were first built in 1881 over one of Bombay’s main water reservoirs. The gardens are primarily dedicated to Pherozeshah Mehta, a prominent Parsi political leader, activist and lawyer, a four-time mayor known as the Lion of Bombay.
I loved seeing all these old guys enjoying their park bench. Many joggers,  but not these guys.


 Or these young ones either.

Next we visited Crawford Market, which was founded in 1869 by the British.

Until recently it was Mumbai’s main wholesale fruit market.

I don’t know what these fruit are, but I was told they grow under water like lilies.

The Spice King sells organic handmade masala. He opened jar after jar of spices, offering me a sniff of each. My cold didn’t afford me the full effect.

India’s first Train station is lit up with different colors depending on the occasion. For example, on Indian independence day it is India’s colors.

The Gateway to India is also lit up at night. 


I got something for dinner at a famous street stall called Bademiya.


Runners present you with a menu that hangs around their neck. You give them the order, then they run off to get it made.


One of these chefs makes Rumali roti.

It’s very thin bread made on an overturned wok-like upside down hot oven.

I was glad to find Rumali Roti again. Yummy!

Day 20 – Kolkata

Today I visited the Indian Museum, the largest and oldest multipurpose museum in India and SE Asia. Founded in 1814, it is housed in an enormous building which has seen better days. 


Despite the building’s aging facilities and lack of signage, the museum is full of interesting and surprising content, particularly the remains of an early stupa from the second century BCE found in Bharhut in 1823.

This eastern gateway is 23 feet tall, all made of red sandstone. The other gateways have disappeared over time.


The carvings reflect the village life. This man appears to be having a tooth extracted while a monkey gives him a manicure.


In the early art of Buddhism, the Buddha figure was never represented. Instead, there were symbols, such as a seat, footprints, the Bodhi tree, the wheel and the stupa. Animal spirits are also depicted in the carvings.

The Bharhut display alone made the museum visit worthwhile.

The Egyptian section contains a mummy, along with very good high-level explanations of what the Egyptian civilization of the Pharoahs was about.

The fossil room seemed straight out of the 19th century. This prehistoric deer-like mammal has a horn-spread of 11 feet.

Each table contains fossils carefully labeled from the Cambrian, the Pleistocene, the Mesozoic, and all those other times and places billions of years back that I can never keep straight. Lots of little worm-like spiral fossils and fragments, all named and labeled.

In the textile room, Ram and Sita do their usual thing.

This Baluchari sari has astounding woven detail.

Footwear and ankle bracelets.

More footwear. They do not look comfortable.

One very interesting museum section displayed masks of West Bengal used in religious dances. Here is Durga with her 10 additional heads and third eyes.

Some of the masks are made of paper, cloth and clay. Here’s Krishna of the blue face. Too bad his peacock feather headdress did not fit in the photo.

Some tribal villages produce more primitive masks. The mask collection is so stunning it should be brought to the SF Asian Art Museum for an exhibit along with the dancers and/or videos of the dances. 


No cups, so this man decided to slurp from the spout. 

This cute couple was just one of many Indians who wanted a photo. I could not rest on a bench in the museum without the inevitable “one photo” request. I always say “yes” because it’s only fair exchange for the many I take.

The Indian youth are big on selfies. These are just a few of the many I saw being taken in the museum.


There was a very small exhibit on Durga, the all-powerful, fierce, protective mother. Ride that cat! Kill that buffalo demon! Yee-ha! 

This street shot of the New Market, which is right next to my hotel, is a stock photo.  It must have been taken years back because now there are twice as many people and most of them are on their cell phones.


I could not stop to shop or even take a photo because, one after another, men would harass me…”Where are you from? Come see my shop. I have very nice saris…Come, ma’am, please, just look. Ma’am, come, please…” and the streets were absolutely packed, like riding Muni at rush hour, so I had to keep my eyes on the slippery, wet and broken pavement, and keep one hand clasped over the zipper on my purse, and the other clutching my bag close while edging slowly toward the hotel amidst the harangues. Not pleasant.

But the hotel is a refuge, and I am thankful for it. Tomorrow it’s off to Mumbai.

Day 19 – Paro to Kolkata 

Sunny but chilly this morning on the way to the Paro airport.



An immigration officer at the airport sports a button with the faces of the current king and his father.

Take off shows some of Bhutan’s mountain roads, most of them under construction.

We were able to land in kolkata, even though a tremendous storm had been blowing since midnight last night. It’s a warm rain but comes down on sheets. The roads are rivers.

At the Oberoi Grand Hotel, rain hits my windows, and the palms sway in the wind. I am glad to be safely inside.

It’s a heritage hotel that once served as a guest house for British visiters in the 1800s. During World War II, the British took it over to house military. It has a fascinating history, and perhaps tomorrow I’ll take a free tour of the hotel. It’s huge, taking up an entire city block. It is very good to have such comforts after the Bhutan visit.

I had planned to go to the India Museum, but it is closed on Monday, and it was raining too hard on any case. Bored, I went down to the lobby to see if there was a shop and found out that a special exhibition was open on the mezzanine. Booth upon booth displayed clothing from India’s fashion designers. The festival of Diwali is coming up, and crowds of women shopped,  looking for something festive for the holiday.


Most of the clothes reeked of gold and glitz, way too gaudy for my taste, but I had fun looking with the rest of them.

I spent quite a bit of time with these three guys, from the company Shunya Batik, whose booth displayed kantha and batik done by villagers west of Kolkata. 

This batik is based on sketches of villagers. 


It’s amazing to realize that each image was waxed several times to allow the layering of dyes. The faces remind me of India’s vitality.

Tomorrow if the rain lets up some, I’m off to the museum.

Day 18 Paro -Tiger’s Nest

Not much good to say about the food for foreigners here in Bhutan, except that the veggies are fresh. Last night’s dinner included a mono, the dumpling, good greens, and some inedible pork bits with a glump of fat.

Breakfast this morning included some kind of weiners, which remained untasted, although the marsala omelette was excellent and enough for three people.


We headed to the Tiger’s Nest for the big hike. Walking sticks are sold at the start. I brought my own, much needed…essential.

You can ride a horse up to the cafe, which is about midway, but I chose to walk, not trusting the animals, although they go up and down maybe four times a day.

Others in our group rode up partway and walked the rest.

A prayer wheel whirled by water made a good resting spot on the way.

And prayer flags.

A man who gathers wood for the cafe stands by the trail.


There it is! The Tiger’s Nest. More awesome than depicted in all the photos.

And here I am, all hot and sweaty. And happy to have arrived.

It was all I could do to hike up the nearly 5,500 steps to the cafe. It’s a 1700-foot rise in elevation to the monastery and 4 miles round trip. I decided to recognize my limitations and stop at the cafe half-way point.
The trail is wide but steep and rocky. This photo makes it look too easy.


We had lunch in the cafe. Some in the group went up to the monastery. 

Coming down was faster but hard on the knees.  Several of the Indian tourists gave me compliments on the way down. “Madam, you are strong!” Another couple said, “You are our inspiration,” and asked for a photo with them as proof that it can be done at an advanced age.

Hikers kept running past me on the way down, but I took it slow and steady. One little stumble is all it takes. Two twenty-something Indian young men passed me by, one of them excitedly talking to his friend in an Indian sing-song lilt with rolling of the r’s, as he tried to convince his friend that “It happened. Believe me. It did. I know it seems impossible, but everrrrrything is connected.  All you have to do is ask and…” His voice faded off as they tromped down the hill and around the next bend. I just asked to get down without breaking my neck.

These Western tourists are resting after the descent. Whew!


On the way back to the hotel, we were fortunate to come upon an archery tournament. The target is 476 feet away, and the arrows fly so fast they are almost invisible.

The victors sing a song when they hit the bullseye. 
Tonight we had a farewell dinner and said goodby to our companions of the past couple of weeks. Tomorrow morning, we take off for different destinations, I to Kolkata, where the forecast is for rain and about 80 degrees F.