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Life in Mumbai India

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We woke up around 7am and had breakfast on the 20th floor of the Taj. The restaurant overlooked the Gateway of India and the Arabian Sea. We got up there just in time to watch the sun slowly rise for the day. I couldn't help but drool out the milk from my cereal because it was just so lovely, despite the haziness. You felt like you were on top of the world, so high above everything else (typical American thought process). And the food options were equally as amazing.

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Today we were going to see the Dharavi Slum and Dhobi Ghat with Reality Tours, who took us on the bike tour yesterday as well. Our call time was 8:30am at their corporate office down the street from our hotel so we walked there, arriving ten minutes early (just the way I like it). But no one was there. Okay, give it time. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes go by and no one shows up. No guides from Reality Tours and no other tourists. Are we in the right place? It says we are and we feel we are but where is everyone? I gave it until 8:50am then used a nice gentleman's phone to call the woman I had been corresponding with. The language barrier is always hard in general but I feel like when you talk to someone on the phone it adds a whole new challenge. Maybe because you can't see their lips moving? Who knows. Either way, I got the gist of what she was saying but I sure didn't like it. Apparently she took the initiative to book us on the 2pm tour versus the 8:30am tour I requested, confirmed and paid for a week prior. Ummmm how does that happen? I was so annoyed. Inefficiency is one of my biggest pet peeves and her making this minor mistake made my morning very inefficient. Oh well, we are in Mumbai, stop whining and go make the most of it I told myself. Which is exactly what we did.

After I let the steam blow out of my ears, we hopped in an Uber and made our way to Gandhi's house. Yeah, no big deal. He invited us over for some biscuits and tea. Sorry your invitation got lost in the mail. I'm just kidding, Gandhi didn't really invite us. I'm sure if he was still alive he totally would have loved to kick it but unfortunately, he left this world in 1948.

Mani Bhavan, a modest two-story building on Laburnum Road in a comparatively quiet area called Gamdevi, was Gandhi's residence in Bombay from 1917-1934 and has since been turned into a museum memorial in his honor. It was in this house that he launched Satyagraha (nonviolent protest) in 1919 and the Civil Disobedience campaign in 1932. It was pretty rewarding to step foot in the same place he laid his head at night. The street that the house lived on was unique in itself. Trees upon trees upon trees, well maintained buildings, a slower pace of life and a peaceful break from the hectic city.

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For those of you who aren't too familiar with who Gandhi is and what he stands for, I will provide a very brief snapshot into the challenges he overcame and the accomplishments he achieved. Born in 1869 as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, he later became knowns as Mahatma, which means "great soul". He was a prominent Indian political leader who led India to independence against the British rule. He was arrested many times, organized many marches and undertook long fasts as a means of both self-purification and social protest. Gandhi's actions inspired future human rights movements around the globe, including those of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States and Nelson Mandela in South Africa. In the late afternoon of January 30, 1948, the 78-year-old was tragically assassinated by a Hindu extremist who was upset at Gandhi's tolerance of Muslims. This was posted on one of the walls: "January 30th will be known as the blackest day in India's history; but, for Mahatma Gandhi, it was a supreme moment. He was the victorious one in death as in life. He had said "If I am to die by the bullet of a mad man, I must do so smiling. There must be no anger within me. God must be in my heart and on my lips." Years have gone by. A thousand more may go, and yet he will continue to live in mankind." To believe in something so strongly you are willing to die for it is beyond inspiring.

In 1931, the colors of the National Indian Flag were changed at Gandhi's request. Saffron standing for courage and sacrifice, white for truth and peace, green for faith and strength and the spinning wheel represented the hope of the masses.

There were three floors and various rooms that told the history of Gandhi's life and legacy including photos, letters, biographies, dioramas, artifacts, etc. On the second floor, the room where Gandhi lived and worked is preserved in its original setting. Talk about being a minimalist.

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Here are letters he wrote to Hitler and President Roosevelt.

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In 1888, Gandhi's mother consented to his going to England for further studies only after he took a vow not to touch wine, women and meat. Good for him.

On January 31, 1948, Gandhi's body was laid on a sandalwood pyre at Rajghat, Delhi. From the prye comes the message. "Lead me from the Unreal to the Real, from darkness to light, from death to immortality." I liked this scene because it showcases a variety of national flags in the background, not just Indian or Britain. The world came together to celebrate a pertinent figure who stood for strength, determination and courage.

One quote that sums up Gandhi's non-violent approach is "I do not want my Country's happiness at the sacrifice of any other Country's happiness". If only other leaders would think this way we would be living in a much safer world.

It was lunch time, and you know we don't ever miss an excuse to eat, so we headed to Leopold's Cafe, which was established in 1871. In the book Shantaram, it was the local hangout for Linbaba and all of his friends. To put it in modern terms, Leopold's was to Shantaram as Peach Pit was to 90210, The Max was to Saved By The Bell, Central Perk was to Friends and Cheers was well, to Cheers. Sadly, Leopold's was one of the six locations targeted on 11/26/08 and there are still bullet holes in the walls today. Kind of eerie.

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2pm was quickly approaching and that meant it was time to head back to the meeting place for our tour. Thankfully, our guide and driver were both there waiting, with a much appreciated air-conditioned car. Our first stop was the Dhobi Ghat, which is the largest outdoor laundry area in the world. Over 10,000 pieces are washed and dried each day while over 5,000 people work here. Besides the old-fashioned method of washing, the Ghat is also equipped with automatic laundry machinery which remains on the sidelines because the dhobis in their wash pens are the real stars of the show. They scrub, slap, soak, dry, drape and deliver every article of clothing in their vicinity with remarkable competence and calmness and somehow, get them back to their owners by evening. The dhobis are part of a caste system (around 200 dhobi families work together here), making only three hundred rupees a month, living in a ten square feet space with ten other people. Hotels, hospitals, schools and many other insitiatuions all send their laundry here. What an incredible sight to see. So many colors were brightly displayed, hanging from a rope, eagerly waiting for the sun to works its magic.

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Next up was the Dharavi Slum, the largest slum in Asia and one of the largest slums in the world. You may already be familiar with it from the movie Slumdog Millionaire, because this was the exact slum that Jamal (the main character) grew up in and many of the scenes were shot here. About one million people live within one square mile, making it the most densely populated area on planet earth. It is it's own community consisting of post offices, hospitals, primary and secondary schools, restaurants, police stations, retail markets, community halls, libraries, fire stations, and numerous factories. The Dharavi residents are some of the hardest working individuals I have ever come in contact with. The conditions aren't anywhere near ideal either - it's hot, dirty and everyone is on top of everyone. Each year, the slum produces over $65 million USD through various small-scale industries such as pottery, snacks, leather goods, rubber and plastic recycling units, scrap, electronic waste, handicraft, garments, embroidery, papads, foundries, restaurants, sweet-making, soap and detergent factories, bakeries, kite making, export oriented units, printing press, suitcase, umbrella manufacturing, etc. It is beyond saddening how they only make, on average, $1-2 USD per day, yet they contribute to a business that generates millions if not billions. How is that fair? And with all of these factories, the noise level is almost unbearable from an outsiders perspective. The crackling of fried food, the shredding of plastic at the recycling units, the honking of cars, the whirring of sewing machines, the tinkering of pots, the burning of metal. Every inch of the slum is one ear drum away from being blown. Regarding the residential area, there is a Muslim sector and a Hindu sector. And although multiple families sleep under one roof, we did see a good amount of TV's. The alleys that you had to walk through to get around were extremely narrow with tight turns at every corner. There is only one toilet for every 1,500 people. Yes, you read that correctly. 1,500 people. We lived in a three bedroom one bathroom house and Vinny wished he had a second bathroom to himself. Puts things into perspective a little, huh?

Despite all the hardship a foreigner might pinpoint since it is so unfamiliar to our first world eyes, the local people of Dharavi truly seem to love living there. All of the kids were so happy, so playful and so excited to see us. They would all say hello, ask how we were and wonder what our name was. Despite how little they had, they were richer than rich in love. And after much convincing, I played a few games of badminton with some adorable young girls whose laughter sure was contagious. Unfortunately, out of respect to the residents of Dharavi Slum, we were asked to not take photos so I don't have any of my own to share. However, if you just Google Dharavi Slum, you will get an abundance of images that will help paint the picture as to what this community is all about.

Today was a very powerful day in terms of seeing how life in Mumbai is lived for most. It was certainly an eye opening, heart breaking, reality check kind of experience.

The next morning was our last full day in this magnificent city as well as our last full day in this incredible country. We had breakfast in the Sea Lounge of the Taj Mahal Palace and felt like royalty. It exudes old colonial charm accompanied by enchanting live piano music and spectacular sea views. And then we revisited a few places that we saw on our bike tour because we were eager to see them mid-day with the hustle and bustle of real life versus before sunrise when it was quiet and uneventful. Both times offer something different so we wanted to it all. So greedy of us.

Here are a few images of Crawford Market...

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Here are few images of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) - this time we went inside as well and wow is all that comes to my mind...

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This pretty much captures the train commute in India...

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Later in the afternoon we took a cab to Malabar Hill, located across the bay from Marine Drive, and known to be one of the richest areas in India. It was very apparent too as houses were much larger, flowers were much brighter and cars were much nicer (Mercedes, Porsche and Audi). We just strolled along the streets, enjoying the beautiful weather, soaking in every minute we had left in India.

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There was a very random, really big shoe hanging out in the park...

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Great views of Mumbai from across the bay...

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A man sleeping in what seemed like a very uncomfortable position...

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A bright, colorful almost Rastafarian looking bus...

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And the most expensive house in the WORLD, valued at over a billion dollars and consisting of twenty seven levels, six hundred staff, three helipads, six floors of car parking, rising gardens, a theatre and a ballroom. It is referred to as Antilia and was built for India's richest man, Mukesh Ambani - ranked by Forbes as the ninth wealthiest person in the world with a fortune of $27 billion. Crazy how one day we can see one of the poorest areas in the world (Dharavi Slum) and then the next day, see one of the richest houses in the world, located only a handful of kilometers apart. Isn't it ironic? Don't you think? A little too ironic? Yeah I really do think (Alanis Morissette). But in my opinion, it is appears to be an ostentatious display of wealth in a country where most people live on less than $2 a day. A little tacky.

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For our last supper, we went to Khyber, which was ranked 3rd of 13,186 on TripAdvisor. We got there around 7:15pm but I guess it didn't open until 7:30pm so we anxiously wanted outside twiddling our thumbs like losers until they would let us in.

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To end our night, we headed to Marine Drive and enjoyed a pleasant walk along the strip. The city was brightly shining with lights, which were graciously reflecting on the water. There were young couples making out, active individuals going for a run and others just enjoying the perfect weather on this perfect evening. I couldn't have asked for a better way to say goodbye to a country that has treated us so well and taught us so much.

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It is with great sadness that we must say goodbye to India tomorrow morning. We certainly had our highs and lows, ups and downs, happy times and sad times but it was more than worth the struggles to enjoy the triumphs. We learned, we lived and we loved every minute of this chapter. We realized how lucky we are to have we what have yet at the same time, how happy others are with very little. It's all relative. In the end, love the life you live because it's the only one you've got.