Mumbai is Muggy

Trip Start Mar 29, 2007
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Trip End Sep 30, 2009


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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

I offered to help out some of my local company friends in a recruiting blitz in Mumbai over the weekend and decided to turn it into a long weekend so I can check out the city and enjoy some time out of Hyderabad.  For you Americans out there...something different about the recruiting scene down here is when you are typically looking for another job in India, you can only interview on weekends as it's a bit difficult to be asking your current employer for several days off during the week as you interview around town.  As a result...nearly all of our recruiting blitz's are done over a Saturday and Sunday and quite often for up to 12 hours each day.  It's a pain...but hey, for me it's a free trip to Mumbai and I'll be taking Friday and Monday as vacation to combine a little pleasure with my business and explore the city.

Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, is the most populous city of India, and by some measures the most populous city in the world with an estimated metro population of over 14 million people.  It also has one of the the largest population density with nearly 30,000 people per square kilometer...or 76,000 people per square mile...that's a lot.  Here are some stat's on the most "dense" cities in Asia...a lot of Indian cities in this list..including my new home town:

(1) Mumbai, India 29,434/kmē (76,234/sq mi)
(2) Kolkata, India 24,760/kmē (64,128/sq mi) 
(3) Chennai, India 24,231/kmē (62,758/sq mi) 
(4) Bangalore, India 26,719/kmē (69,202/sq mi) 
(5) Dhaka, Bangladesh 14,608/kmē (37,835/sq mi)
(6) Hyderabad, India 14,192/kmē (36,757/sq mi).....Where I live!!!  Woo hoo!
(7) Nagpur, India 12,300/kmē (31,857/sq mi) 
(8) Delhi, India 9,339/kmē (24,188/sq mi) 
(9) Pune, India 8,733/kmē (22,618/sq mi) 
(10) Ahmedabad, India 4,107/kmē (10,637/sq mi)

Anyway...it's some place I definitely wanted to check out as you really can't visit India without visiting it's largest, most cosmopolitan city.  I probably won't get a chance to check out the infamous nightlife this time as I'm working all weekend...but there will be other opportunities to come back with friends for a personal trip where we can stay up until the wee hours of the morning partying at some Mumbai club with the stars of Bollywood.

I woke up god awful early Friday morning after our Thursday night company party to catch an early morning Kingfisher Airlines flight direct to Mumbai.  I love this airline.  Most of you reading this know that flying domestic in the States sucks...you are essentially treated like baggage and/or bus passengers.  When it comes to flying a local airline abroad, I've experienced some amazing flight experiences, but Kingfisher is definitely close to the top if not on the top.  The airline is owned and operated by Vijay Mallya who is sometimes called the "King of Good Times".  Yes this is also the same guy also who is in a leadership role of the corporate entity that owns Kingfisher beer which is India's number one selling beer.  He takes his "good times" description to heart and includes it in how he treats his passengers.  The flight to Mumbai is only 1 hour...but on that flight you get: 1) an in-flight vanity kit, 2) seat-back Satellite TV, 3) a hot meal and 4) the opportunity to be served by some of the nicest stewardess this side of Singapore Airlines.  They actually call their stewardess's "air models"....and the name fits.  Their slogan is "Fly the Good Times" and I will try to fly their airline whenever I can in the future...and you should too!  End of commercial...if anyone from Kingfisher Air reads this blog, kindly forward me free flight coupons.

Anyway...upon arriving in Mumbai I'm smacked hard in the face by the humidity...it's about the same temp here as in Hyderabad but because we're now seaside...the humidity is a killer.  My hotel (Hotel Leela) has arranged a pickup and within 15 minutes I'm in the executive lounge sipping a glass of champagne while my room is prepared...nice.  The room is very comfortable and after unpacking I have some lunch which was a real, honest-to-God hamburger!!!  Red meat for the first time in weeks!!!  After scarfing down the burger, I start looking for a way to hire a car and driver for the day.  Once again I'm smacked hard in the face...but this time by the difference in cost between Hyderabad and Mumbai.  The hotel quotes a rate of 5000 rupees to hire one of their cars for the day...or about $120 USD...for one day!!!  After I recover from my panic attack I get the concierge to admit that it's possible to also hire an air-conditioned taxi for about 1500 rupees for the day...sold!  My driver (Ali) and I depart our hotel which is close to the airport to the city center which is a good hour away in light traffic...don't get me started on how long it takes in heavy traffic

My main tourists stops include the famous Dhobi Gaht open air laundries where nearly half the city has it's laundry done on a daily basis.  Basically the laundry consists of row after row of concrete wash pens, each with its own flogging stone. The laundry guy/gal (the Dhobi) sloshes dirty linen into a soapy water mixture, beats the crap out of the clothes with the flogging stones, and then puts the linen into huge vats of starch. After they are dried, they are ironed and delivered to the owners.  There were also some kids that were bathing in the laundry vats...I only hope in a different vat then was used to wash clothes in.  I was pretty much the only non-local walking around this area and as I was walking up some stairs to get back to street level, some kid starts asking me for money.  I can handle beggars...no problem...I just ignore them for the most part.  But this kid does something a bit different that caused me to react a bit harsh.  He suddenly grabs my leg and won't let go...I summon up one of the harshest, deepest, loudest voices I've ever heard come out of my mouth and tell him to get off me.  He does...but evidently my satan voice has scared all of the other locals around me and everyone is looking at me with fear in their eyes.  For the remainder of the walk up the stairway, I've given about a 5 foot buffer-zone by everyone near me.  I might have to break out that voice again sometime.  Next stop was the Haji Ali Mosque/Tomb located on a man made island off the coast of Mumbai.  The mosque is built on a tiny island located 500 yards from the coast in the middle of Worli Bay.  It's connected to the city by a narrow 500 yard long causeway which is not bound by railings and is pounded on by the sea during high-tide. So if you want to visit the mosque itself, it's only accessible only during low tide.  I wanted to take the walk to the mosque...but the either the tide was too high or the line was way too long to get onto the causeway...maybe next time.  Towards the southern tip of the city I had lunch at a Mumbai expat institution Leopolds cafe.  It's a fairly famous backpacker/expat hangout and is located steps away from the Gateway of India.  The food is really good too (try the madras chicken and the garlic naan...yuumy).  I actually stopped by here again on Monday for another cold beer.  Outside of Leopolds the locals know that there are likely to be many many expats, so the beggars and dope sellers are abundant and constantly either asking for money or trying to sell you pot.  I didn't have to use my demon voice...but I definitely thought about it.  After lunch I went and checked out probably the most famous landmark in Mumbai...the Gateway to India.  Located on the waterfront in South Mumbai, the Gateway is a huge arch nearly 100 feet high. The Gateway is traditionally the first thing visitors arriving by boat would see of Mumbai...similar to how boat travelers to NYC would first see the Statue of Liberty.  It was built from 1911 to 1924 to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay.  It also represents the place where the last British troops marched out of India when the British officially left.  Right across from the Gateway is the famous Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel.  It's a member of the Taj hotels group which also owns the Taj Krishna where I stayed in Hyderabad my first four weeks in India.  Some of it's most famous previous guests include Mick Jagger, Prince Charles, The Beatles, Bill Clinton and Jacqueline Onassis.  It's an amazing hotel...but also a very expensive one...rooms start at $500USD/night.  I didn't get to spend too much time at the Gateway or the Taj hotel as my driver was yelling at me that we really needed to leave by 3PM in order to miss the traffic back towards the hotel.  I was tired and agreed...but on the way back we stopped to take a few more pictures of the Mumbai train stations and some of the most famous (read: large) slums in the city

Saturday and Sunday were spent all day working and interviewing candidates.  It was actually fun...but after the 20th person on both days I was getting a bit tired of asking the same questions over and over.  So I started to get a little creative and I think I caught a few candidates off guard.  Lunch on both days was at the hotel buffet which was really amazing...I definitely gained some weight and scarfed down some great "western-style" foods including prime rib, salads, pastas, etc.  Saturday night we hung out at the hotel bar which was just ok...nothing special.  Sunday night I got into a cab and went to the Velvet Lounge which was a bit better...still nothing worth writing much about.

Monday morning the rest of the recruiting team catch early flights back to Hyderabad...but I decide to stick around one more day and night to relax and see some more sites around the city.  I get up late, go workout, get a massage at the hotel and finally around 3PM call my driver Ali and catch a ride down to southern tip of the city.  I walk around the Gateway again where I stand out as the only white guy with a camera.  Some of the local tourists want me to take their picture so I oblige.  For some reason big balloons are popular tourist items down here and I'm harassed but no less than 8 guys selling balloons.  As it's getting close to sunset, I went to Leopolds and grabbed a couple beers to go and head over to Nariman point which really is the tip of the peninsula.  Nariman point has the distinction of having one of the highest commercial real estate rental space in the world over $450 USD$ per sq ft in 2006.  Anyway...I sit back, drink my beers and enjoy the sunset with a great view of Marine Drive and a beautiful sunset.  Marine Drive by the way is the main "waterfront" road that borders the water and is nicknamed the "Queens Necklace" by how it appears to be lined by glowing pearls when the street lights are lit up at night.  My pictures won't do it justice...but it's nice.  As it's now after 6PM, traffic back north to the hotel is in full rush-hour swing and the drive takes 2 hours to go maybe 20 miles...that's one part of Mumbai I won't miss.

Anyway...it was a great weekend getaway and I hope to have several more to report on soon.

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