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A 6-week waking dream in North and South India.

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A 6-week waking dream in North and South India.

Old Jul 17th, 2016, 01:11 PM
  #201  
rje
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Udaipur

Photos are here:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/129067...57668192834183
They show more if you make them large!


Raj drove us as close as possible to our hotel, the Jagat Niwas Palace, and we said our farewells. He was a safe driver and a good companion. And throughout the trip, everything Nikhil had promised was delivered, so we'd recommend TGS highly.

The Jagat Niwas is a big old haveli converted to a hotel, with a perfect location. It kinda rambles eccentrically around a central courtyard, and offers many different kinds of rooms, many of them with low prices. To give you an idea, our Pichola Suite was by far the most expensive type of room there, at $116 US per night, including all taxes and fees.

Since it is very popular, I'd written many months before to reserve one on the ground floor, to help C. Those type of rooms have a large jharokha sticking out over the lake, which we found very pleasant. We enjoyed having breakfasts and some dinners sitting on the padded floor of that enclosed balcony, light streaming in from several tall windows, with diaphanous curtains wafting in the breeze. The entire floor of the jharokha was a kind of mattress, with an Indian print cloth cover and many comfy cushions. The bay windows gave us a wonderful view of the lake, which we loved seeing in all its moods. So many sights right outside our window. Fishermen throwing their nets from small boats to the left of us, women washing clothes at the Gangaur Ghats to the right of us, and cormorants plunging into the deep blue water under our window, diving for their own meals of small silvery fish. And oddly, we were the sight once when some tourists snapped photos of us sitting in that jharokha as they passed in their private tour boat!

Since Lake Pichola would figure so prominently in our visit, I checked Indian newspaper websites several times during the months before our trip for news about the monsoon. I wanted to make sure it was a healthy rain that year, so that we would arrive to see a lovely lake, and not smelly mud flats!

Speaking of the monsoon, I should mention and recommend a book called 'Chasing the Monsoon' by Alexander Frater.
The author grew up in the New Hebrides where his missionary father told him about one of the rainiest spots on Earth, Cherrapunji, India, which during the monsoon season can get as much as 75 feet of rain. Years later, after a series of events, the author decides to follow the monsoon through India, and the results are humorous and unexpected.

We went up on the roof to enjoy the sunset, which was right in front of us, across the lake. The view is sensational up there, with City Palace to the left and Lake Palace right out in front of us. As the sun sank low, a troop of langur Monkeys appeared on some rooftops near us, and with several babies, put on quite a show, leaping from rooftop to rooftop and humorously cavorting. Much more entertaining to us than to local residents, though.
http://www.vice.com/read/monkeys-are-taking-over-india

I wake the next morning and know today is Valentine's Day. So while C is taking a shower, I sneak out to the front desk and arrange for a special dinner to be served in our room. I also bring back some candles for mood! That night the moon may not have been full, but it was still big enough to bathe the lake and the two of us in its silvery glow. The candles provided the counterpoint of a warm glow, and dinner was very romantic, sitting in our cozy jharokha.

We enjoyed Udaipur, and the lake was prettier than expected. When C needed a break from walking, she could relax with that wonderful view at our hotel while I roamed the ghats and little residential streets. One walk took me to a section of the lake where I could see a good view toward the palace, and I discovered that the hotel there contained the well-known restaurant Ambrai. I made a mental note to have us return there for dinner.

I am grateful that we never found out what exactly the many signs we saw in Udaipur advertising "Octopussy Shows" were promising.

I'd thought that with all the availability of western food in Udaipur, that by this late into the trip we'd be craving such dishes, but for the most part we were still happy eating almost all Indian dishes. One exception, though, were snacks of apple crumble pie from the German bakery a couple of blocks from our hotel! Walking back to our room with a couple of slices, I heard someone yell my name. Not expecting that to be for me, I kept walking, but heard "Rick" shouted out a second time. So I turned, and who do I see but Robert and Peter, yet again! Small world! We stand talking on the narrow street as tuk-tuks whiz by, missing us by inches, so I suggest that C would like to say hello, and we all go to chat at our hotel. The guys have just come from Dungarpur, where I'd been seriously thinking of going as a day trip from Udaipur. I was very interested in seeing the Juna Mahal. But Udaipur kept us so content that we stayed.

I had some trepidation about visiting City Palace, with its many stairs, but we decided to give it a shot. I asked a guide outside if the elevator I'd heard about actually existed, and due to C's disability he was able to make special arrangements for us to use it, which made the whole thing doable. We were so delighted that we procured his services as a guide, and we ended up being so glad we'd come. Some really striking ornamentation! Perhaps the loveliest part is the Mor Chowk or Peacock square, covered in elaborate relief mosaics. They glisten in the sun, being made of thousands of pieces of colored glass of green, blue gold and silver.

That elevator, by the way was built for the Maharana of Udaipur, who had become paralyzed from the waist down at the age of 20. He ruled his state of Mewar as a reformer for the next 20 years, and his title grew to be Major-General H.H. Maharajadhiraja Maharana Shri Sir Bhopal Singh Bahadur, Maharana of Udaipur!

That night we had our dinner at Ambrai. We arrived at sunset, and in spite of having made our reservation just 15 minutes before, we were lucky enough to snag a table at lakeside, facing the palace. Now there is a saying about restaurants that the better the view (or the bigger the pepper mill), the worse the food, so by that measure the food should have been inedible. But it was actually pretty good. Still, the restaurant was more about view and ambiance. I was amused to notice we could see our hotel room from our table by the water's edge! Afterwards, a particularly madcap tuk-tuk ride across the narrow bridge and back to our hotel through dark crowded streets left me amazed that no calamity had resulted! Even for India, that had been excessive.

We settled the bill that night, as we were going to get up hideously early for our flight to Mumbai. I listened to the sound of waves gently lapping outside our window, sure I wouldn't fall asleep for hours, and the next thing I knew our wakeup alarm was going off in the predawn darkness.

(coming up next, Mumbai)
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Old Jul 17th, 2016, 01:19 PM
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Sounds lovely! I went to Jaisalmer instead, but maybe next time...
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Old Jul 17th, 2016, 01:44 PM
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Udaipur sounds and looks magical with the lake setting. You're really convincing me that I need to make the journey to India.
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Old Jul 17th, 2016, 01:44 PM
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lovely indeed.

keep it coming, Rick!
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Old Jul 17th, 2016, 04:28 PM
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I'm glad you enjoyed Udiapur as much as we did. We also stayed at the Jagat Niwas Palace which we thought was lovely. The food at the rooftop restaurant was delicious, we thought even better than Ambria. Looking forward to your thoughts on Mumbai.
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Old Jul 18th, 2016, 04:39 PM
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rje: so far Rick, your in-depth research and planning for this trip has lived up to the title of your TR..........Photos, as always are expressive of what you have experienced and felt to do with C.........just like a story book and a "romance novel". NICE! Looking forward to the last leg of your journey before heading home to reality......Thank you...........
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Old Jul 18th, 2016, 07:26 PM
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Hmm...I'm going to have to get Mr. Crosscheck to read this - I want my special Valentines dinner, preferably in Udaipur!

Ambrai could be the most popular tourist restaurant in India - I don't know anyone who has been to India who hasn't been there. For that reason, I thought it would be too gringoized, but I agree that the food was fine, though didn't live up to the ambience.

And Udaipur wins the popularity contest for everyone's favorite Indian city...probably not just because of the lake and the palace, but because it's walkable and has a tad more western-style infrastructure than the others.

Why didn't we read Chasing the Monsoon on our trip?
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Old Jul 19th, 2016, 06:25 AM
  #208  
rje
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thursdaysd,
Were you saying you didn't get to Udaipur? Or Bundi?
Anyway, Jaisalmer was great too, so I can't fault your choice!

tripplanner001.
The lake does make for a nice ambiance. Especially as a change after the rest of parched Rajasthan! And very romantic, particularly with the all the sparkling reflections at night.

annhig,
Thanks, I will , but sadly our trip is nearly over!

dgunbug ,
Glad you enjoyed Niwas Palace too. And yes, the food at their rooftop restaurant was surprisingly good based on that formula about view quality VS food quality!

dragon88 ,
Regarding planning, sometimes I look at Youtube videos as a way to get a better sense of a place before deciding if I want to go there. Looking at photos can be misleading because they might be altered to make a location look better than it really is. Sometimes they're even cropped to leave the viewer unaware that right next to that beautiful hotel is something like a garbage dump!
But luckily, most people don't have the resources to alter video. Also, most people make poor quality videos, so that I know it will probably look better than what I'm seeing!

crosscheck,
I think you're right, Udaipur was probably the most "tourist-friendly" city we saw in Rajasthan (Just ask Roger Moore!)
Regarding the monsoons, I was stuck by how much many Indian people love that season, but understandable considering the temperatures that immediately precede it, coupled with the economic importance of the water.
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Old Jul 19th, 2016, 11:18 AM
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Thanks for your most welcomed tip Rick on using Youtube videos for further research and verification. You are right about altered photos as there has been more than several occasions I've been surprised at the difference between the photos and the actual place...............("Buyer Beware"!).

Your Udaipur photos and written experience was enticing. We skipped Udaipur in January due to time constraints. Chose to go to Nagaur instead and got as far as Jodhpur. Also, the talk of James Bond, etc was always the reason others said to go, but we thought the commercialism was not what we wanted. But, your photos show a different side. Next visit............

Looking forward to reading about the end of your "waking dream journey".....................
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Old Jul 20th, 2016, 10:05 AM
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rje,
I continue to enjoy your trip report and photos and am transported back to my visit to Udaipur in 2013 (was it really so long ago?!). We also loved Udaipur and we, too, stayed in Jagat Niwas in a lovely room overlooking the lake but not, alas, the elegant Pichola suite that you so gloriously depicted in your photographs. The shots of sunset that you took are breathtakingly beautiful -- and remind me of my own visit; I have very fond memories of watching the sunset from the window seat of our room.

We ate at the hotel and on your view/food ratio, I'd say it is very good to excellent. We both felt that the food for tourists were generally toned down a lot, and this was the case for the restaurant as well. But the view is outstanding.

We had a guide on one of the days, Uma, that was a bit of a character. He told us more about his life (fascinating!) than about the sites, but his stories were wonderful. And he also took us to a restaurant that served only a vegetarian thali, and most of the people there were local businessmen. The food was great and the experience was very local - it was one of our favorite meals!
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Old Jul 22nd, 2016, 06:45 AM
  #211  
rje
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dragon88,
This may sound obvious to some, but Google Earth can also be a helpful resource when information is desired about the relative location of destinations and the geography. In addition, the ground level panoramas can provide useful information. (Again, like if there is that garbage dump located next to a hotel!).

But a big caveat is the driving times that Google Maps offers are pretty useless in a place with roads like India!

progol,
I'd forgotten that you wrote about staying at Jagat Niwas! I agree, it is a great place to stay in Udaipur! And I think any room there would be good, because as nice as having those lake views we enjoyed, one can get inexpensive rates for a non-lake view room and still enjoy the same fantastic views from 2 levels of public access areas, both also having their restaurant.

Your thali experience with the locals sounds like a lot of fun. I really do enjoy a good thali! The place we ate at in Madurai sounds like a similar kind of place.
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Old Jul 24th, 2016, 08:08 AM
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Mumbai

Photos are here:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/129067...57668336787984
They show more if you make them large!



We found that when the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai really needs to apologize to a guest, they give you a bouquet of roses. Well, I'm sorry to report that we were given quite a few roses! More on that a little later, but first, it was time to leave Udaipur…

♫ "It's quarter to three, there's no one in the place except you and me." ♩♪

Yes, long before our wake-up alarm went off, I actually woke up at that ungodly hour, my inner alarm clock going off seriously early. And yes, when I saw the time, that song did pop into my head. We didn't actually need to wake up until the slightly less ungodly hour of 4:15am. So I looked out the window at the lake 'til then, letting C sleep.

We'd booked a taxi from the little travel agent office right outside Jagat Niwas, and the driver picked us up punctually at 5am to take us to the airport. Driving through the streets of Udaipur in the dark chilly morning I was surprised that the city streets were so deserted. Only occasionally would we see figures coming out of the thin morning mist, like ghosts. This drive really did seem like a waking dream, made more so by the fuzziness of my sleep-deprived brain!

At the Udaipur airport, one of the guys at security decided to go shopping in my carry-on bag and confiscated a small lock from my carry-on bag that I'd previously carried with no problem on flights in India (as well as all over the world). <sigh>. This is not the first time this sort of thing has happened. In Panama, a security guy tried to take my toothbrush! Sometimes I think these guys see passenger's bags as their own self-serve shopping center. "Security risk" he declared when I asked him why he was taking my lock. Hope he's enjoying it…

Many of the short flights in India are on prop planes, but being cautious, I'd searched for and found one of the few jets flying our Udaipur-Mumbai route. After the short Jet Airways flight landed, the sun began to rise, and we went off to find our driver to the Taj hotel in Mumbai. To make things easier for C I'd decided to spend a little more and get a Taj hotel driver to meet us at the airport. Not my style of traveling in the past, but I have to admit it was very nice, if a little over-the-top. Thet actually sent three Taj representatives to meet and greet us at the airport! They took our bags and showed us to our car, calling ahead presumably to alert the hotel to shine the gold fittings, because the famous RJE and C were on their way! The driver was wearing white gloves. As I said, a little over-the-top! But it was nice not to have to deal with the airport so early in the morning, and the driver was really excellent at smoothing out the stops and starts as he drove. And as per the cliché, you could have eaten off the floor of that car.

Upon arriving at the Taj Mahal Palace and going through some serious hotel security, a representative greeted us in the lobby with the good (and surprising) news that out request for a very early check-in had been fulfilled, so we followed gratefully as he showed us up to our room.

The Taj Mahal Palace has two separate buildings - the original historic Victorian building (the Palace Wing) as well as a newer more modern tower. Having had a fondness for the original building (in spite of never actually having visited) I splurged for an ocean view room in the that original building, which has a fun Victorian/Indian exterior and interior architecture. I justified the expense as thinking this would make a memorable last stop for our trip. I'd reserved for 3 nights, but at the time I booked, the hotel only had our class of room available for 2 nights, so we arrived thinking we'd have to move rooms on our last night. But surprisingly, the rep now was telling us that there would be no need to move after all! Another nice surprise. He asked if we would like a tray of complimentary tea sent up, and smiled when C asked if masala chai was possible. "Of course", he said, and it materialized a few minutes later, along with a plate of little cookies. Breakfast!

The room was very comfortable, with a view of the ocean over the popular promenade and the iconic Gateway of India. In the water were many moored boats as well as countless seagulls.

We went down to their outdoor restaurant, located in a covered columned arcade next to the swimming pool. We sat in oversized herringbone weave wicker chairs in this civilized and relaxing oasis, surrounded by many tropical plants and flowers, while right over the walls was the teeming chaos of Mumbai! The food and coffee, however were both disappointing and expensive. We had expected expensive, but not bad. After lunch we went for a walk outside the hotel in the Colaba area, and then headed for the pool, as we were tired from our very early start.

For dinner, we decided to give the Taj food another chance at their Middle Eastern restaurant, Souk. I thought that Middle Eastern food was close enough to Indian food to give us a shot at being served a good dinner. Things started badly with a big music festival going on right below us at the Gateway of India, and the amplified bass was so loud that it thumped loudly against the windows of the restaurant making them shudder . And since we were seeking a relaxing dinner, we shuddered too! Then constant bright flashes of light began shooting in the window from their light show, making us feeling like we were being ambushed by paparazzi with flashbulbs.

Trying to ignore the cacophony, I ordered a lamb tajine and C ordered a prawn tajine, along with appetizers. As usual in India, I asked for the food to be spicy, but not hot, and explained what I meant by this. The appetizers were fine, as expected, because after all, how difficult is it to make things like humous? Then the 2 tajines were brought to our table in traditional clay tajine pots, although I was pretty sure they had not been prepared traditionally, which would have meant burying them in the ground with hot coals for the entire day! But that's OK, I don't bury my tajines in New York City, either, and they still turn out very good, if I do say so myself!

Our waiter opened the clay pots with a theatrical flourish and served us. And after that buildup, the tajines were almost tasteless. The texture was fine, as was the appearance of the food. But sadly, they had almost no flavor. I felt reluctant to have to mention this, as who wants unpleasantness when dining out? But we were being charged a lot for this poor meal, so when the waiter asked how it was, I was tactfully honest and told him, and asked if the chef could do anything at this point to increase the flavor. He left and came back with the chef. Now I am cringing, but the chef seemed genuine in his desire to improve the dish, so I thought maybe he felt constrained by management telling him to dumb it down for tourist palettes. So we discussed what might make it better, and I mentioned the spices I use when cooking my own Moroccan tajine - things like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, garlic, anise, etc.. I was really trying to be nice, and not sound like a jerk, and tried to be respectful to the chef.

Then the waiter takes our food away, and the chef announces that he will make new tajines for us from scratch. I ask if that will be too much trouble, as I hate to put him through all that. But he smiles and says it will be his pleasure. Very impressive.

So that makes it all the worse when the new dishes arrive still with little flavor, but instead with what we'd asked not to have - much more mouth-burning heat. It was as if all he did was just add hot chiles to what he had already made.

So now we don't know what to do. And I see the chef is walking toward us with a big smile to get our reaction. I cringe but feel it is better to be honest. He is a professional, and these are prices that should bring quality. So I gingerly remind the chef and waiter that we'd asked that he not use hot chiles. But now our chile-heavy meals have too much heat for us to eat. And they still have almost no flavor. He now seems disinterested, and rather abruptly says "OK" and walks off. Maybe he is angry. I don't know how we could have handled the situation better, so if anyone has any thoughts, do let me know. We only have a few bites and tell the waiter we can't eat it because it is now too hot, and ask for the bill. The bill arrives and we are charged for the full amount. We leave the flashing lights and thumping bass and return to our room to find flashing lights and thumping bass there, too. <sigh>. It ends a bit after 10pm, which is a relief, so we are able to enjoy a comfortable night's sleep in the very fine bed.

In the morning we are told we can't be admitted yet to the breakfast buffet, as it is too crowded, and the hostess asks us to stand outside and wait for about 15 minutes. I ask if there is chair where C can sit while we wait, as she is disabled. C is standing right in front of the hostess, leaning on a cane, so I'd have hoped she would have seen that and understood on her own, but maybe she is frazzled. There is no chair available, so we ask them to call us in our room when they have an table for us. As soon as we enter our room, the phone rings and we are called back down. When we arrive, a senior representative apologizes.

When we get back to our room and shower, we find the drain is clogged, so that we are standing in non-draining water, so I call to have it fixed while we are out. Also, since I'm already calling, I mention a couple of other small items, like a burned out light bulb and a closet door that keeps popping open, so that the automatic light inside shines all night in our eyes. A supervisor calls back to offer his sincere apology.

The breakfast is pretty good, and has a great deal of variety, as is often the case in these kinds of hotel restaurants.

On the way back to our room I notice many framed photos of famous people who have stayed in the hotel over the years. Some of them are autographed. I am touched to see one of John Lennon with Yoko, standing barefoot on the hotel carpet, and take a photo of that photo.

We decide to use one of the hotel cars instead of a cab for a little architectural tour, as it costs only a little more, and will be more comfortable. I show a list of buildings I've written down that I hope to see and are told it will be easy. So we drive around to see many of the famous old buildings, as well as an art deco area I'd found out about during research, as C is a big fan of the style. We hop in and out of the car whenever we want, while the driver waits for us. It is all fun and easy, and we even have the driver stop at a pharmacy for us to get a refill of Rifaximin to keep for our next Asian trip.

We ask our driver to drop us at a restaurant called Britannia & Company in the Fort area. The owner is a charming Persian man named Rashid Kohinoor who comes around to each table to greet every customer, even though he is over 90 years old! The restaurant has been in his family since they opened it in1923 and his son is now the chef. We look at the menu, but are here specifically for a Parsi dish called berry pulav. It is so flavorful! Yum!

The place is a hoot. There are many signs indicating the House Rules, but in contradiction it is a relaxed and friendly place. Mr. Kohinoor takes our order and then asks "What country are you from, England?". When we tell him the US, he holds up a "Ready For Hillary" bumper sticker! He then tells me that he is a big fan of Hillary, and shows us a letter he received from a man who worked in the US State Department. The man had an opportunity to tell then Secretary Clinton about Mr. Kohinoor, and she was delighted and asked that he be sent her warmest greetings and her photo. I ask if I can take Mr. Kohinoor's photo and he poses. I also take photos of the letter and the restaurant, as I am smitten with the quirky place.

Here's a story about him and Britannia that I just found.
http://travel.cnn.com/mumbai/eat/bri...g-food-489758/

When we return to our hotel, a hotel employee wearing a uniform is standing on our floor outside the elevator and holds the door for us as we come out. Unnecessary, but seemingly thoughtful. Then he gestures toward C's cane, and then toward his mouth and makes a few sounds, indicating that he too is handicapped and cannot speak. Then he points to C's handbag, and holds out his hand for us to give him money. This is really odd, and I call the desk to ask if he really works here or is he a beggar who has gotten past security into the hotel. We are assured he does work for the hotel and receive an apology.

For dinner we go to a place I've been hearing about for years, called Trishna. Very well-known and well-reviewed Indian seafood, and close to the hotel, which is a plus, what with the traffic in Mumbai. We order their enormous crabs, and our waiter ties appropriately humongous bibs around our necks. The crabs come in a butter and garlic sauce, and eating them is a hugely messy affair. The waiter returns several times to replace our napkins and even the utensils, as they all become soaked in butter and garlic! They even bring several changes of fresh finger bowls! Not an especially Indian choice of dishes, but great fun and very good!

Shortly after we sit down, a middle-aged French couple arrives and sits in a booth to our left. The husband or boyfriend or sugar-daddy proceeds to obsessively photo-document every single second of their meal. Throughout their dinner, neither displays any joy or smiles at all. It is apparently to them a deadly serious business. He photographs the napkins being placed, the water being poured, the waiter bringing the menus. He asks in French for one of the live crabs to be brought to their table, and when the poor behemoth arrives, squirming with claws opening and closing, he tells his wife or girlfriend or mistress to stand and hold the giant crab, which she does, posing mirthlessly for more photos. They even manage to take photos while eating, their hands coated in melted butter (as presumably is his camera). I hope they enjoyed their dinner, as they never smiled and hardly even talked. Just chewed and took photos!

We cab it back to the hotel and return to our room to find big copper pots sitting on the floor, filled with roses. There is a note from housekeeping explaining these are for foot soaks, and that there are also bath salts, and that we should call to have hot water brought to fill them. We really have no interest, so I call and thank housekeeping, but ask that they come get the pots. The woman sounds amazed and disappointed that we are not interested. Then she apologizes profusely. I assure her there is no need to apologize, and thank her again for the thoughtful offer.

The next morning at breakfast, C asks if there are any more of the little ceramic pots of baked yogurt she'd enjoyed the morning before, and a very nice young woman comes to our table to apologize that they have run out. C tells her how good they were and the woman offers us the recipe, to make it at home. I tell her that C was so disappointed that they'd run out that she has been weeping, and the woman understanding that I am kidding smiles and replies sweetly to her "Can I get you a tissue?"

As we are leaving the restaurant, the hostess apologizes again for yesterday morning, and presents C with more roses.

We swim at the pool and then we have lunch at a restaurant just a few minute walk away from the hotel called Indigo. It has very good international-style food, is beautiful, and is both considerably less expensive than the Taj restaurants and much, much better.

Later, I leave C comfortably ensconced on a lounge chair by the pool. My destination is the famous Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station (also known as Victoria Terminus). During our self-created architectural tour I'd photographed the outside, but now I want to photograph the inside of the station.

Unfortunately the inside doesn't quite match the beauty of the outside anymore, having lost many of its original details. Also, the skylights that I'd imagined would let beams of light stream down had been painted over or were so covered in dirt to be almost opaque. So it is a dark place. But it is still very interesting, and I walked around photographing it. I had to restrain myself from yielding to the urge to just jump on one of the trains sitting with doors open and seeing where it would take me. Probably only to jail, as I had no ticket! I noticed the pictures of a woman's face painted on the women-only cars, which unfortunately still seem to be needed in India. It was getting to be rush hour, and I didn't want to leave C waiting any longer, so I headed back to the hotel.

As I approach our room, I see a man and woman standing by our door, both wearing suits. As I get closer, the woman smiles and introduces herself as the Executive in charge of housekeeping. She apologizes for the man who had begged for money by the elevator the day before. She explains that he is in a special apprentice program, and that he had been talked to so that he'll never do that again. Then she hands me another bouquet of roses! I thank her for taking care of the matter. And for the roses!

C looked up with surprise as I entered the room with the roses. A lessor man might have given her the roses and taken the credit, but I have the strength of ten men because my heart is pure, so I told her the truth. Besides, this newest chapter in the Rose Saga was too good a story not to tell her!

But I hoped we wouldn't get any more apologies, as our room was beginning to look like a florist shop. I had to keep asking for more vases as the bouquets accumulated!

We went to dinner at another Indian seafood restaurant I've been wanting to try for years. Equally famous as Trishna, Mahesh Lunch Home has been around forever, and is also fairly close to our hotel (I think there is more than one location). We stare at the menu, lost with all the choices, and after asking questions of the friendly waiter, decide on sharing several dishes. We get the fillet of Pomfret (a kind of fish) prepared as Pomfret Gassi. Not an appealing name, but the fish prepared in a coconut red sauce is absolutely scrumptious! We also have equally delicious prawns (huge) in a curry leaf sauce (different than a curry sauce), a dish of assorted vegetables, cooling vegetable raita, and of course paratha. This is one of the best dinners we have had in India! And quite inexpensive for the quality of the dishes, and for Mumbai. We leave two very happy people!

Near the hotel we see large silver horse carts sitting waiting to give people rides. They are covered with flashing lights! Now I know I never saw these carts before, and it turns out they had to leave temporarily during the height of that music festival, which is finally just ending now. On our last night! Luckily, the music was only loud on our first night, when a giant wall of speakers aimed at our hotel was playing Indian hip-hop. Since then the program had been Indian classical and folk music, which didn't rattle our windows!

The day before we were to leave, I stopped by the reception desk and asked for as late a check out as was possible, as we didn't want to arrive at the airport before 6pm for our 9:20pm flight to Abu Dhabi. The woman at reception said she was terribly sorry, but our room had other guests coming, so we'd have to leave at 12 noon, the normal check out time. I said that we didn't need to stay in our room, and if there was some other room that we could use for even a little while longer that I'd be very appreciative. She looked at her computer and told me sadly that every room in the hotel was booked. I said "Really, every room?". She said "Yes, every room ".

I'm not normally a suspicious person. but something about her manner made me believe she was lying. Again, this is not like me, but I went online and found many rooms available for tomorrow at the hotel! Just to be sure, I called the international number for Taj and asked if any rooms were available for tomorrow. "Yes sir, we have a number of room categories available. May I help you select one now?"

So now I am really annoyed. Why did she lie to me? So I told C I was considering talking to the manager and asked her if she thought it was advisable. She told me she wouldn't have the nerve to do that, but I said I wanted to, so off I went to the lobby.

I went to an area away from the reception desk and asked to speak to a manager. Within moments a man introduced himself as a manager and asked me how he could help. I asked if we could sit down somewhere and talk for a minute. He replied very seriously that we could sit in some nearby chairs in the lobby.

I told him what happened with my request for a late check out and that I was very surprised to have an employee of such a fine hotel actually… well… lie to me. I then told him there had been a number of other disappointing events during our stay, and mentioned some of them briefly, also saying that in most cases management had apologized. But I told him we were leaving in the morning and that I didn't want our last memory of the hotel to be such a bad one. He asked me to give him a minute, and went to the desk to check a computer. When he soon returned, he said that of course we could have our late check out. "In our same room?", I asked. "Of course.", he answered. "With wifi?" "Yes, no problem." But he clearly didn't want to mention the subject of my being lied to again, so I thanked him and went up to our room to tell C.

The next day we took it easy, and swam in the pool. After our swim we decided to give the restaurant in the colonnade one more chance. We ordered 2 dishes that should have been easy for the kitchen. For C a simple mixed green salad with grilled chicken breast and for me the ubiquitous and easy to make chicken tikka. Her so-called mixed salad was just a partly wilted chunk of iceberg lettuce with some soggy tasteless chicken slices sitting naked and unloved on top. My chicken tikka was made with similarly poorly cooked chicken, the only flavor coming from what I could have sworn was Kraft BBQ sauce! What a shame the expensive food is so bad, because the setting is so pleasant.

Back in our room we heard Indian drums and music coming from the street, and being curious, I went down to find…you guessed it… yet another Indian wedding celebration! So much fun! This one was headed for inside the Taj, so it was necessary for me to join the festively dressed wedding crowd to get back inside!

Before we left for the airport, a big hawk landed on the window sill of our room. What a sight! Perhaps he arrived on behalf of all the other wonderful birds we'd seen and photographed in India and had come to wish us a safe flight home. And if anyone would know a bit about flying, he would.

At the designated time, our complimentary car from Etihad picked us up in the lobby. So off we went to the Mumbai airport, where we headed for the new premium lounge. It has a lovely wall of live ferns and good food, so we had a light dinner. Our first of two Etihad flights was in business class to Abu Dhabi. After landing we snacked again in their extremely nice lounge, staying as long as possible before leaving to go through US customs … still in Abu Dhabi! The customs agent said "Welcome home", and we then went to the small post-customs lounge, located, in theory, in the United States.

Our second flight, from Abu Dhabi to New York City left at 3:25am. Business class on the Etihad A380 is located on the top floor of the aircraft, and oddly we found it to be almost as comfortable as the Apartment we'd taken to India. It may have lacked some of the wow factor and the incredible amount of personal space, but the food and entertainment were just as good, and the lie-flat seat (as a bed) was actually more comfortable. I snacked and then went right to sleep. Woke up about 5 hours later and had dinner for breakfast! Watched the beautiful sunrise, with an odd crisscross of illuminated contrails from other jets as we neared JFK. Another complimentary Etihad car was waiting for us at the airport. Love that perk! And even though it was 9am, there was no NYC traffic on the ride home, as I'd booked our return flight to arrive on Saturday morning, to avoid the weekday rush hour. As we zipped along, I noticed how smooth these American roads were! Then we got home, and brushed our teeth, using tap water. Welcome home, indeed!
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Old Jul 24th, 2016, 08:29 AM
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Sounds like a really good visit to Mumbai, aside from the hotel. I got some really badly prepared food at the Taj Gateway in Mangalore, and actually got sick off the food at the Taj Gateway in Coonoor. I would have thought the flagship Taj hotels would do better, but seems not.
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Old Jul 24th, 2016, 10:41 AM
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I can't believe we are at the end of your trip -- I'm heartbroken that it's over! What an amazing trip, which was both wonderful to read and to see.

The "apology roses" from the Taj Mahal Palace are a hoot -- I can only imagine your room, overflowing with vases of roses, and spilling out everywhere -- one wonders if they are actually trying to improve or just figure a couple of bouquets on a daily basis will make a not so good situation okay. But some of the situations you describe really are disheartening for a place that wants to cater to their guests -- lying about the room availability? Really? I'm glad you followed through on that and spoke with the manager; that's no way to treat a guest.

"Welcome back", though I know it's been months now, and thank you for sharing your fabulous trip with us. I've enjoyed reading about places I've been to (so glad you loved Bundi!) and can't wait to get to some of the places in S. India, hopefully sooner than later, but it's at the top of the list.

I may even just have to go back and re-read this, so I don't have serious withdrawals!
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Old Jul 24th, 2016, 12:48 PM
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When we tell him the US, he holds up a "Ready For Hillary" bumper sticker! He then tells me that he is a big fan of Hillary, and shows us a letter he received from a man who worked in the US State Department. The man had an opportunity to tell then Secretary Clinton about Mr. Kohinoor, and she was delighted and asked that he be sent her warmest greetings and her photo>>

do you think he has so thing similar for those who say they support Trump?

thank you for telling us about your less than stellar experiences at the Taj - I can't believe [though of course I do] that they were so stupid as to lie to you about something that could be so easily checked on the internet. what a shame that their standards of service are so hit and miss.

I too have loved being on the journey with you - thank you for all the wonderful photos and descriptions of your experiences. I will undoubtedly be back to read it all again if I ever manage to organise a trip to India as I would so like to do.
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Old Jul 24th, 2016, 02:19 PM
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I too am saddened that this journey has ended and thank you for your beautifully worded report and evocative pictures that have inspired me to return to India some day. Sorry to hear of your disappointing experience at the Taj and the poor food. Our stay at the Taj President, not far away, was lovely for about 1/3 the price, although the staff there were unhelpful for tourists. The restaurants though, were excellent.

So...where will your next journey take you? We are completing our India book, preparing for Japan and planning our second trip to China. Can't wait to follow along in the future.
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Old Jul 24th, 2016, 02:38 PM
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THANK YOU RICK, for a great reading journey. I appreciate your effort to report back to all of us all your experiences. You have provided many useful insights and tips. I am glad your are "obsessed" with your planning. It will help me make better plans when I return........... Happy N.Y. summer..............
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Old Jul 24th, 2016, 02:48 PM
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rje
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thursdaysd,
Yes, we really like Mumbai.
So between your bad food experiences at the Taj in Mangalore and the Taj in Coonoor, and our bad food experiences at the Taj in Madurai and the Taj in Mumbai, maybe one can stay at the hotels, but eat elsewhere!

progol,
Our experiences at two Taj properties were similar - wild swings between great service and embarrassingly bad service. I'd still stay at a Taj again, but with expectations reduced. And as for the food, well...

And I'm so glad you enjoyed reading this! Or even that you finished it, as it was so long, and there were so many photos!

annhig,
Mr. Kohinoor only knew that we were from America, and couldn't know our political preferences, so when he pulled out his Hillary paraphernalia, I have no doubt that it was genuine!

I do hope you get to India, as it is a wonderful country, but do plan carefully, as it is a place that rewards the planner!

dgunbug,
Sounds like we had an inverse experience from yours at the Taj in Colaba - stellar service for the most part (well, until periodically it wasn't!). But you were lucky that you liked the food, because we had bad food at both the Taj hotels we stayed at during this trip.

After the last few trips, our next trips are deliberately involving less flights and shorter flights! So we're off to California and the Vancouver/Canadian Rockies soon, and then a few months later to a gorgeous and unspoiled section of Jamaica that we've been visiting for many years.
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Old Jul 24th, 2016, 02:52 PM
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Hi dragon88!
You surprised me by posting while I was writing my responses above! And thanks for all the kind words! If you find anything useful in the TR, I'm very glad! Happy summer to you!
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Old Jul 24th, 2016, 06:28 PM
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Rick - Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies are spectacular. If you are going to Victoria during the summer time, try making it to Bouchard Gardens on a Saturday. Get there early enough to see the gardens late in the day and then at night with the wonderful light display. Afterward, stay for one of the best Disneylike firework display which are only on Saturday evenings. (At least years ago when we were there). It's a great world out there. So many wonderful things to see. Enjoy
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