No show this evening but I'll try to set down a few impressions of my first night in Mumbai while it's still fresh. Nothing could have prepared me for this. I'd mentioned in an earlier posting that the Dubai airport was teaming. Well that was merely a coming attraction for Mumbai, a city of 20,000,000+ people. The baggage carousel was shoulder to shoulder, outside trying to get to our cars was shoulder shoulder, the people in the streets and the cars on the road....all shoulder to shoulder. The ride from the airport to our hotel is one that I'll not soon forget. The drivers are continually pushing and they have to or else nobody would let them in. The tactic is that of dodge 'em car, horn honking and some serious flashing of your brights on and off, racing ahead then slamming on the brakes. It's a city of seeming chaos yet not aggressive, but the poverty is heart breaking. So many people, families living on the sides of the road, dogs roaming, thousands of tiny broken store front shops selling everything from jewelry and crafts to cigarettes, food, mobile phones, coffins and who knows what else, that double as residence as well. People driving motorcycles with no helmets, riding two and three on a bike, long flowing dresses just waiting to be caught up in the spokes of a wheel or the cogs of a gear. An overload of sight, sounds and smells. My circuit board was fairly well blown in the 40 minutes it took to reach our hotel from the airport.
When we walked through the door into the lobby we were met by women in beautiful red costumes who greeted us with India's equivalent of Hawaii's lei, fresh flowers stung on silver threads, followed by the traditional smudge of red on the forehead. "This is a special ceremony for you." A group of young girls all dressed in matching red costume began dancing a program that had obviously been planned and well rehearsed to music. It was very moving to us all. Overload achieved. When they'd finished we thanked them, were led to the lift and taken to our floor where a uniformed host was waiting in front of each of our rooms with the door open, all holding trays bearing a glass of fresh watermelon juice and another of citrus-y sweet iced tea. Once in my room, I closed the door, sipped my watermelon juice and tried to make sense of what had taken place over the last hour and a half.
As difficult as it has been to describe all of this, what was to follow defies putting words to. Mercifully we had about an hour to collect ourselves before we all met for the finest Indian dinner I've had in my life. Not maybe, not great, but hold-all-calls-we-have-a-winner, the best. I'll not waste my time or yours trying to describe how it looked, tasted and smelled but some of what we had was tandoori salmon, tandoori chicken, sag, dal. lamb shank curry, prawn curry, a variety of Indian breads including a naan with green onions and cheese in it, rice pudding with a leaf of silver paper, apricot pudding and still more, all washed down with cold Kingfisher beers, one of the local brews. There's very little that will get this band to shut up, but tonight's meal put an end to the talk, a real testimony to the chef. If you are ever in Mumbai you must stop at the Masala Bay restaurant.