This whole thing is TL;DR, and is more for my sake than anything. Hopefully it will be found interesting to at least one other person, though. I can hope :)
THURSDAY-FRIDAY: Travel Days
Thursday was the travel day. I got my butt out of bed at 5:30am, in time for a 9am flight. Treated myself to breakfast at the airport, or rather allowed the corporate credit card to treat me. Flew 5 hours to Newark, including a few seconds of stark confusion ("what? we're over the ocean?") before realizing that I had taken my first-ever gander at the Great Lakes.
Arrived in Newark with time to spare, killed a couple hours, then boarded the huge and crowded 777 to Mumbai. Be it known that the Continental Airlines 777 comes with a fantastic in-flight entertainment system, and a 110V outlet that I only discovered shortly before landing. For those who love unnecessary details about other peoples' trips, I watched "Up in the Air" while up in the air, as well as Bollywood romantic comedy "Wake Up Sid" and a third viewing (yeah, yeah) of "How To Train Your Dragon".
The second flight was 15 hours, but due to the Newark-Mumbai time zone difference, I left at 8:30pm and arrived Friday at 9pm, having flown over Norway, Sweden, Moscow, and Afghanistan.
The flight got in quite late, and by the time I got through immigration (easy), customs (easy) and baggage claim (ugh) it was 11:00 at night. Sure enough, when exiting the airport, there was a nice gentleman with a sign reading "Google India - Jeff Brown". Oh well, close enough. He took my bag and escorted me to the parking structure.
I'll take a moment to note the weather in a Mumbai June. It makes me think of the water rides at Disneyland, for lack of a better comparison: At 80 degrees and high humidity, you find yourself warm, but not sweating; nonetheless, within about 10 minutes everything goes moist. The plants were tropical and huge and lush and green, but it's the kind of humid where you jump in the air and get stuck.
While standing there, two people came up to me. The first was a boy, who couldn't have been older than 5 or 6, staring at me and miming to his mouth that he wanted something to eat. I tried to tell him no, but he didn't respond, and eventually walked away after a couple minutes; within another few minutes a gentleman stood beside me and struck up a small-talk conversation. He explained that he was the parking attendant, and that everything was okay, he would accept Euros or any type of currency I had. As gullible as I usually am, I didn't fall for it, and got in the car.
When we arrived at the hotel (the Che Courtyard Marriott Andheri), we had to stop the car while guards inspected the engine, trunk, and inside--additional security in light of the Mumbai terrorist attacks. I checked in, lay down on the bed, and started cackling. I couldn't believe I was there. I still don't believe it.
SATURDAY: Mumbai Exploration
The hotel had a breakfast buffet, and I took good advantage of it, with a full British breakfast including roasted tomatoes and baked beans, with some delicious mango juice as well. By about 11:15, I was ready to sally forth into Andheri. (Andheri, by the way, is a northern suburb of Mumbai; I didn't get a chance to see the heart of the city, and will have to do so in another trip.)
I had wanted to see the "real" Mumbai: A version different from the PBS specials and Bollywood films and Kipling stereotypes I'd had before. The first thing: Where I was walking, at least, was an area of immense poverty. The homes, the streets, the smells, the trash, the flies, the stray dogs everywhere--it's different from any other experience I've ever had. Along any given block, you could find street vendors selling wheels and timber, bathroom fixtures, tshirts and hats emblazoned with "Hilfiger" and "Playboy", mobile phones, fruits and vegetables, and a wide range of just about everything else. American franchises like Domino's Pizza and Subway dotted the cluttered streets, next to street vendors selling cane juice and samosas. I got as far south as a McDonald's, and then didn't want to go farther for fear I'd forget how to get back to the hotel.
To my surprise, no one treated me as a tourist or foreigner; I didn't speak to anyone, or have any large camera or bag--and I kept walking as if I had somewhere important to be--so I suppose no one had any occasion to stop me or question me. At some points I went down residential alleyways, and felt a bit like a voyeur; the whole excursion was almost an out-of-body experience. By about 2:30pm, I had finished my seven-mile loop (and was entirely overheated). I returned to the hotel and mapped it all out on Google Maps (which is how I realized it was seven miles in the first place).
By about 4:30, I had cooled off, and decided that my next adventure would be to visit Infiniti Mall by autorickshaw. (Autorickshaws are 3-wheeled covered-but-open-walled carriages with the foreparts of a motorcycle and the suspension of a little red wagon.) I went to the mall, had Indian mall food, bought some books from a Borders-style chain shop (Landmark), saw lots of famous-brand stores (Levi's, Adidas, Van Heusen, Nike), and then caught another auto for upscale Juhu Beach. I took some pictures, walked along the beach, watched the lightning storm (high up enough that we couldn't hear the thunder), and then tried to find an autorickshaw home.
Right about then, three things happened. One, it started raining, while still 80 degrees and muggy. Two, I found out exactly how much of a language barrier there is between auto drivers and speakers of American English. And three, I found out that 90% of the rickshaw drivers in Mumbai have no idea what a Courtyard Marriott is, or where you might find one. And I didn't remember the address, or the names of any important streets.
Eventually I asked one for the local rail station (Andheri), and with the help of two passersby, I actually arrived there. Except, at that point, I had no idea where I was; nothing looked familiar. I wandered back and forth a little bit, considering my options, trying not to look like I had (what I now realize was) a lot of money [thanks Kriti], so I crossed up into the overhead rail platform and crossed back to the other side.
I've never been so happy to see a McDonald's in my entire life. Trying my damndest to remember the way back from the morning, I walked the mile back to the hotel, and slept very well.
SUNDAY: Travel to Delhi
Mostly uneventful. Had breakfast, went to the airport wearing a light windbreaker, got on the plane, got off the plane on the runway (for once, instead of the gate directly), and instantly regretted the windbreaker. It's 42 degrees centigrade (110 fahrenheit) and was simply BAKING.
The guest house is extraordinary. It's within this huge and elaborate building complex, and is elegantly laid out with its own caretaker. People have lived up to a couple of years at a time in the guest house, and after tasting the egg curry and cilantro dal that the chef prepared for me, I can see why. I'm getting spoiled rotten here.
Alas, though, I should sleep; I have work in the morning. I'll be posting pictures soon, though, and I'm certainly having fun and taking care of myself.