Obama in Mumbai (and more about Mumbai)…

Breaking-down wedding scenery, the day after. Taj Mahal Hotel in background. April '08

= May 2011 Update:  I’ve put up a new Photo Gallery, Images of India.  Also, a Mumbai photo of mine (featured below) was picked by the Illinois Institute of Technology for use in a poster promoting an upcoming “study abroad” trip to India.  Please see/click on this link:  “India Immersion.”  =

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U.S. President Barack Obama will make his first visit to India, and the city of Mumbai, this weekend (November 6, 7, 2010).  While in Mumbai, India’s financial capital, he will meet with business leaders there.  He will also stay at the Taj Mahal hotel, one of the places which, two years ago this month, terrorists from Pakistan attacked and burned and where they killed dozens of innocents.

The Taj Mahal Hotel & Tower. April 2008.

Note:  all photos and videos featured here taken by Richard Newton. Please contact me if you would like to re-use any of them.

Mumbai — formerly “Bombay” — is an energetic, crowded, verdant, upbeat (and sometimes odiferous)  city.  Mumbai offers its residents and visitors both modern restaurants and side street food kiosks, lingering colonial trappings and 21st Century Indian pride, bustling intersections and quiet parks, Hindu Temples, Mosques, Churches and Parsi Agiaries (fire temples for the now-dwindling population of Zoroastrians).  Situated on the Southwest coast of India, looking out on the Arabian Sea, it’s home to almost 14 million people.  Since 2006 I’ve been fortunate to have visited Mumbai four times, though I haven’t been there since 2008.  I’ve stayed at the Taj Mahal hotel.  It was built in 1903 and is the crown jewel of the extremely unique architectural style known as “Bombay Gothic,” a mixture of late-Victorian, early Edwardian, Rajastani forms, and even some Hindu Temple cues.  One story, perhaps apocryphal, goes that its builder, Jamsetji Tata, was denied entrance into “whites only” British hotels of the day, so he just up and decided to build his own, a more beautiful and luxurious “palace” than any in old Bombay.  Note: please see my first Mumbai/India post here at LetsJapan.Wordpress, from July 2009.

A few micro-vids I made in Mumbai:

In front of the Taj Mahal hotel (just to the left) on a Sunday in April 2007


Along the right side of the Taj, with the Gateway just behind, walking towards the Colaba Causeway

Along the Colaba Causeway.  Leopold Cafe sign just visible down the street on the right.



Mumbai's Financial District. February 2007.

The Gateway of India

Directly across from the Taj Mahal hotel is the Gateway of India, constructed (beginning in 1915, completed in 1924) to welcome British royalty and other dignitaries into the Jewel in the British Colonial Crown, India.  Ironically, it was in front of the Gateway in 1947 that the final ceremony ending British rule was held and through the Gateway that the final British soldiers passed to board the dinghies that would take them to the ships that would take them home to Great Britain.  The Gateway is a basalt amalgam of Euro-British “Triumphal Arch” architecture, medieval Gujarati design and form, and various Hindu temple embellishments.  When I was last in Mumbai (in April 2008) the Gateway of India was being renovated and repaired.

Standing in front of the Taj, facing the Gateway of India. April 2008.

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While on business in Mumbai in April 2008 I stayed at the Radio Club.  More about the Radio Club later.  It’s just a few minute walk from the Taj, and from the Gateway of India.  Below is the view from just in front of my Radio Club room, looking towards the Gateway of India.  Just past the pool you can see where preparations are just beginning (on the long, stone and concrete pier) for a wedding reception to be held later in the week.

View from Radio Club 3rd Floor. Gateway of India in background.

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Indian family enjoying a day off. April 2008.

The Radio Club

The Radio Club (officially:  the Bombay Presidency Radio Club) is a members-only social/sports club, situated at the end of the same street that runs in between the Taj Hotel and the Gateway of India, PJ Ramchandani Marg.  I heard that the main building, with indoor and outdoor dining, meeting rooms, and the like, was built by the British back in the 1920’s as a military listening post, but that may be apocryphal or I may not have heard right.  Many of Old Bombay’s well-heeled business tycoons, and their progeny, are members, but it’s not exactly a luxurious collection of buildings.  Nevertheless, owing to a previous meeting with one of the Radio Club’s long-time past presidents in 2007, I was honored and humbled to be invited to stay in one of its rather austere guest rooms, for a very reasonable per night price, when I was back in Mumbai on business in 2008.  The people there, though titans of Mumbai Industry, are informal, kind and seen as — or more — often with their families as they are looking dour and businessy.  In fact, no one I saw there ever looked dour or businessy.  I was also fortunate to have a beautiful view of the harbor, looking out towards the Gateway of India (see photo above) and the several islands off shore, one of which was the famed Elephanta Islandupon, and in which, you’ll find the ancient Elephanta Caves.  There’s another, smaller island just off shore from the Radio Club, I’m not quite sure where, that according to one of the happiest men I’ve ever met — at the Radio Club or anywhere — is owned by his “beautiful billionaire wife.”  So he said while laughing the laugh of sublime satisfaction and appreciation of his superlative good fortune, as we sat over steaming cups of masala chai one morning on the Radio Club patio.  I don’t think it would be proper to name names in this blog post.  Practical note:  the masala chai at the Taj Hotel is pretty awful, just shockingly overpriced hot English tea with some milk and a few spices thrown in.  The street vendors just a few steps away from the front entrance make the real stuff, from scratch, with pride and keen attention to age-old family recipes, and sell their cups for just a few Rupees each.

Outside of my room at the Radio Club, Mumbai. April 2008.

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View out the window of the Taj Hotel's "Business Center." April 2008.

Note regarding photo above: all the masonry is from the plaza surrounding the Gateway of India, being torn up and replaced.

Closer view of the Taj Hotel's roofline. April 2008.

&etc. . .

Mumbai Youngsters. April 2008.

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Cooks taking a break and taking a stroll through the wedding reception paradise workmen finished constructing earlier that afternoon. Soon the wedding party and guests will arrive. Radio Club pier, April 2008.

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Harbor at sunset. Looking out my Radio Club room window. April 2008.

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Posted Fri Morning, Nov 5, 2010.  Please check for updates over the next 24 hours.

    • Mark Brafford
    • November 5th, 2010

    I enjoyed reading this write up. Like the significance of our president staying at a former terrorist target, has a bit of American Cowboy feel to it. I know there is a better way to say it, but I’ve been up for 19 hours, off to futon.

      • letsjapan
      • November 5th, 2010

      Agreed. That hotel is just stiff with history, too. The Beatles stayed there, y’know. My last time in Mumbai, in late April 2008, saw me staying at “The Radio Club,” a whole strange (but very good) story in and of itself. I’ll mention it more in updates to this. Anyway, it’s just a 5 minute walk from the Taj and the Gateway of India, so I did all my business meetings, and did my emailing in the Taj’s restaurants and hotel “business center.”

    • Anil
    • November 5th, 2010

    Nice post and a glad to read you like the city and the Taj hotel. Read your other post too and your “fly in the ointment” phrase is very true.

    Keep the posts coming! And maybe one day travel to other parts of India as well!

      • letsjapan
      • November 5th, 2010

      Anil,

      Thank you for your kind input. All the way from Karnataka!

      I laugh at myself, though: which of my posts or stories contained the “fly in the ointment” phrase?
      It’s certainly one I have a propensity to use!

      All kind things to you,

      R.
      P.S. – re other parts of India that I’ve not traveled to, yet. You’re so right. I haven’t been to Rajasthan, Kerala, Kolkata, Hyderabad, and a 100, a 1,000, other places, yet. I have been to Bangalore, Mysore, Thanjavur, Pattadakal, Aurangabad, Pondicherry (just passing through, would love to stay for a long time!), Mamallapuram, Chennai, New Delhi . . . that sounds like quite a list to those not acquainted with how much more there is in India!

        • letsjapan
        • November 5th, 2010

        P.S. – and Hampi. Hampi was very cool.

    • Joli
    • June 1st, 2011

    Really lovely photographs, Richard! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed your trips to India, and this post is a great introduction to Mumbai! I, too, stayed at the Taj hotel when I was a little girl back in 1976; what a fairy-tale come true it seemed to me back then! But my favorite was eating in one of its restaurants and having my first taste of Indo-Chinese food: it was simply awesome and something I now always look forward to when I go back to visit :))

      • letsjapan
      • June 1st, 2011

      Heh, heh . . . it’s called “Chindian” food there. I’ve had a lot of it a good ol’ Cafe Leopold, the first place in India I went to for food and drink, moments after checking-in at the YWCA, the first place I ever stayed in India/Mumbai. Yes, we’ve walked the same roads and back streets in Mumbai, it seems — 30 years apart (my first visit was in 2006.

      Anyway, thanks so much for visiting and sharing your memories.

      R.

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