Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Grand Tour: Mumbai aka the End

Luckily our flight up from Kerala to Mumbai was considerably less traumatic than our flight down there from Delhi.  IndiGo was a serious upgrade from Air India.  Brand new plane, cute flight attendants and a delicious samosa en route.

Upon landing it was straight in a cab to the Taj.  Or rather, not so straight.  The traffic is just as epic as everyone says.  But we did make it eventually.

Hot and rather tired, we dragged ourselves into the lobby

and were met immediately by a lovely woman who whisked us off to a cool, dark lounge where we sank into a leather chesterfield sofa, enjoyed some sweet lime juice (it would become my favorite juice ever) and let the myriad staff members do the work of checking us in.

We ascended under the rotunda,

up through the palace,

to our room where our baggage met us.

And then our butler stopped by.  He seemed rather confused that Paul wanted an iron, to do his own ironing, but obliged nonetheless.

After checking out our incredible view,

luxuriating in the incredible shower, the incredible bed, and the incredibly quick internet (we had been dealing with something akin to dial up to that point), it was time for dinner.  Our criteria was fairly simple:  it had to be within two blocks of the hotel.

First we headed down to the lounge to take advantage of the free canapes and drinks.

And then it was off to Indigo, where we are apparently very important (or at least Paul is).

We had the loveliest meal in the most refined, relaxing setting.  Indian influenced food rather than Indian food.  It was exactly what we were in the mood for.

We came back to this

and after a few gleeful bites (there is something so indulgent about eating from a whole cake with a fork rather than from a slice) we stuck it in the mini fridge and fell into our favorite bed of all time.

We awoke the next morning fully refreshed, and yet not wanting to leave our perfect cocoon of a room.

But upon looking out the window,

I couldn't help but be drawn outside.  High on my list that morning was shopping.  Paul opted out and stayed in bed with his laptop catching up on news, gossip and the like.  So after we ate breakfast overlooking the ocean (I love a good buffet),

off I went down the street to Bungalow 8.  Contrary to what the name implies, it is not, in fact, some far flung outpost of Amy Sacco's.  No, it is actually THE BEST STORE EVER.  And named after the owner's childhood address.

Four floors of chic home items, jewelry and clothing, I yearned for nearly every item there.  Had I had room in my suitcase I definitely would have brought home a few giant urns, but as space was limited I ended up with a vase and a bunch of salad tongs.  What can I saw, in the face of such abundance I panicked.  I mean really, salad tongs?!!  What was I thinking?  I am waiting with bated breath for the day that their website goes live and I can order things from my apartment in New York.

I wandered around a bit more, but really none of the stores could compare, and as I was anxious to get out and see the rest of the city I headed back to the hotel to pick Paul up.  On the recommendation of a friend we went to Leopold's, a tourist trap/neighborhood institution for lunch.

But we enjoyed our food, and I particularly enjoyed my mango juice.

And then we just set off wandering.  Unlike Delhi, Mumbai is a very walkable city, which we were surprised by given its reputation as a heaving mess of humanity.  But the streets and sidewalks are wide,

 the trees are abundant

the architecture is beautiful

and the street life is vibrant.

And as was the case in the rest of India, the people were absolutely lovely.  We were even stopped by a man who simply wanted to point out a beautiful flowering tree that is apparently the symbol of Mumbai. 

We stopped by an art gallery, walked around some gardens and ducked into a clothing store that has been around since Victorian times, and which supposedly was the first stop of all of the memsahibs back in colonial times.  Paul bought a few shirts, and I bought a few caftan type things that I've been using as loungewear ever since I got back.

It was late afternoon and we were eager to take advantage of the beautiful hotel pool.  So we headed back to our room to change, where we were greeted with this.

Aren't the Taj staff members such romantics?

Down by the pool we lounged in a cabana

and then retired to our room to rest up before dinner.  We were off to meet our friend Vijay in Bandra, which we were told was the cooler part of town.  It also happened to be the other end of town, so we opted for the commuter rail rather than braving the traffic in a cab.

We asked for some advice on train routing down in our favorite lounge (with free drinks and canapes) and the hotel staff were somewhat horrified that we would brave the train.  "Oh no sir, not for you, please let us get you a cab."  "No, really, its fine, we're from New York."  "No, it is very very very crowded."  "Really, we'll be OK."  And we were.

We got a first class ticket.

And rode in comfort the half hour out to Bandra.

I have to say I like that Indian trains only kind of slow down at the station but don't come to a total halt.  The doors are just left open and people jump off an on as need be.  Keeps the delays down.  Hello MTA?  Take note.

One rickshaw ride later,

We were at Vijay's offices.  It was at this moment I truly felt that India will overtake American in no time.  On a Friday night at 8:30, the office was buzzing.  People were working, hanging out, sharing the odd beer, and just generally seeming to like their jobs.  The vibe was simply electric.  

After watching the most charming bit of documentary of Mumford & Sons traveling around Rajasthan, it was off to Todo's.

Where there is half a Volkswagen Bug nailed to the wall and the bartenders wear mechanic's overalls.  Manesh and Bobby were in charge of ordering the beers, and they did very well indeed.

And the girls drank whiskey.

Then it was off to dinner, a meal which would rival that in Delhi for best Indian food ever.

We had the mezzanine of a hole in the wall restaurant to ourselves, and Bobby took care of the ordering.  We discovered the man is an ordering genius.

And we indulged.  Oh did we indulge!  Black daal (stunningly good), weird yogurt drinks, curries, biryanis, the list goes on.  By early morning we were stuffed to the brim.

The girls went back to work (!) and Paul and I said our goodbyes to our amazing hosts and hopped in a cab back to our palace by the sea.

And arrived to find this.

After marveling at how one could create a swan out of a towel, we pondered how best to move them so as not to destroy all of the hard work and so as not to strew rose petals around.  Finally, after a careful relocation, we dove into our infamous bed.  Tragically, it would be our last night in said bed.

And the last night of our amazing view.

Our last night of Mumbai!  We loved the city and were devastated to have to leave so soon.  The people, the scenery, the food, the energy...it was all just too good.  We vowed to return.

We awoke the next morning, heads fuzzy, and after a quick stop for some croissants from the lounge of free food and drink, headed outside to get in our cab to the airport.  We would endure a crazed drunkard on our flight to London, meet a lovely college student on that same flight, enjoy some traditional English fare at Heathrow of surprisingly high quality, and then come back to our beloved apartment, happy to be in New York, excited to be married, but missing Mumbai terribly (and our bed and butler at the Taj).  Real life would take some getting used to.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Grand Tour: Plantation on a Hill

After our night on the water, it was time for a few nights on a hilltop.  After disembarking from our houseboat, another nice clean cool car took us for a drive along the water, and then up through the lush green hills to Malabar House at Kanam Estate.

The lovely retreat, an old plantation house, is located on a hill and surrounded by loads of rubber trees.  We got out of our car, took a deep breath of the cool, clear air and grinned at each other.  We were in the middle of nowhere!  A beautiful nowhere!  With nothing to do!

We were greeted by the loveliest woman, who immediately offered us fresh fruit juice (I settled on watermelon, but would go on to try all of the myriad options over the next three days).  We lounged in the relaxing front room as she checked us in, taking in the peace and quiet.

In no time I was in the pool (that's me at the end).

Paul was feeling a little under the weather, so I took my lunch at a table in the back garden while he rested.

Vegetarian thali was my choice that day, and it was a wonderful introduction to the food that I would enjoy for the rest of our stay.  It consisted of many small dishes of light, flavorful and vividly colored foods, from beets to coconut to curry.  Sitting under a market umbrella with a crisp linen napkin, a beautiful plate of food and the most perfectly helpful yet unobtrusive server, I felt classier than I had in quite some time.

I spent the next few hours sprawled out on the outdoor bed on our private veranda reading Wolf Hall.

Paul and I each had an ayurvedic massage in the little hut just beyond the veranda.  I found myself slathered in the most viscous oil I've ever come across and manhandled by a woman half my size.  I was in heaven.  And my skin felt amazing, even after soaping everything off in the shower just after the rubdown.

Post manhandling, we decided to adopt the ways of the retired folk and ate early, this time in the library.  And then, after we closed the (seemingly) thousands of wooden shutters in our room, we snuggled up in our bed, surrounded by the soft sounds of nature on the plantation.

We awoke the next morning excited to ride the resident elephant.  After breakfast in the garden, and some indulgent lazing around, we ambled over to meet Lakshmi.

We fed her some bananas, which she at as if they were nothing more than peanuts.

Then it was time to ride.  Paul climbed up first.

And found the experience petrifying.  It was too high up (he is afraid of heights), the elephant's movement too much and the prospect of going down a hill on the beast unsettling.  So after a spin around the hotel, I hopped up.

Not to toot my own horn, but I really was a natural (although granted, it took some getting used to...an elephant's shoulders rock back and forth more than you might expect!).

We strolled along for a while, me on the elephant, her two handlers and Paul walking along beside me.  We passed homes, children playing, parents socializing...I cannot tell you how white I felt riding around on an elephant as if I was surveying my domain.

But it was loads of fun nonetheless.

Presently we came to a stream, and it was bath time for Lakshmi.

It was stunning how quickly she cooled off after.  The amount of heat she put off was truly amazing!

On the way back the boys picked up a snack for her...

...which she ate like corn on the cob and once she was down to the stalk simply discarded.

Before long we were back home.

And it was time for more rest and relaxation.

Tea on the veranda in a rainstorm became my favorite afternoon activity at Malabar House.

Or perhaps favorite only after my afternoon ayurvedic treatment.  Paul and I both had oil poured on our third eye for an hour, which was surprisingly relaxing.  I also ended up with a deep conditioning hair treatment out of the whole thing.

Our last night at Malabar House we had Indian scented pasta (curry leaves and tomatoes) for dinner (again the library), and were watched over by this little guy.

It would soon come time to leave, as we were headed to the heaving, pulsating metropolis that is Mumbai.

We said goodbye to the welcoming, gracious home,

goodbye to the amazing staff,

and headed off in the hotel's Land Rover through the jungle to the airport.
Blog Widget by LinkWithin