Tea at the Taj

On Christmas Eve we attended High Tea at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, on the waterfront in South Mumbai. Built in 1903, even before the adjacent Gateway of India, the Taj is the original home and flagship hotel of the Taj group, which now has luxury hotels around the world. We were joined by our friend Kirti, recent Dartmouth grad and Mumbai resident, for this lovely meal. It was worthwhile visiting for tea just to explore the grandness of its lobby and interior architecture, though as non-guests we were able to visit only a portion of the hotel. We passed a display of photos highlighting famous visitors to the Taj, over the century, including queens and rock stars and cricket players, and most recently, Barack Obama.  In the display is a guestbook open to the page on which Obama signed a note. I have a few photos in my Mumbai album.

High Tea at the Taj Palace Hotel, with Kirti

High Tea is served late every afternoon, in the informal and peaceful Sea Lounge overlooking the harbor. While a pianist played Christmas tunes, we explored the buffet and its delicious range of savory and sweet snacks. The waiter brought petit fours, scones, tiny sandwiches, and other tea-time standards. My favorite were the flights of chaat… my favorite was the sev puri but I loved the bhel puri and liked the dahi puri. The kids were entranced by the chocolate fountain, quite literally a chocolate fondue waterfall in which they could dip fruit sticks. And, of course, each of us received a pot of tea selected from over a dozen varieties. Magnificent!

We arrived just before sunset, allowing a fine opportunity for a family photo in front of the Gateway of India.

Sunset at the Gateway of India

The top tourist attraction in town, this arch was built in 1911 to commemorate the visit of King George and Queen Mary. Hundreds of other people were visiting, all passing through metal detectors and bag checks before being allowed into the plaza. The arch and its plaza are beautiful, though marred by the ugly police fences strung around the perimeter.  The security is necessary, given the 2008 attacks; I just hope a more permanent (and more attractive and effective) perimeter fence is in the works.

Visiting the Gateway, the Taj hotel, CST station, and staying at the Trident, it’s impossible to forget the sad November day in 2008 when Pakistani terrorists attacked Mumbai. Known since as 26/11, these attacks began as my parents landed in Delhi for their tour of India, and while we were living in Bangalore. A terrible tragedy with 164 killed and over 300 injured, this incident shook India deeply. I wrote about it in my blog a few days afterward.  Four years later, Indo-Pakistani relations are still strained. Indeed, as I write today, Christmas Day, the Pakistani cricket team is visiting India for the first time since 26/11, playing the Indian cricket team at a match in Bangalore. Let’s hope this is the beginning of an ongoing peaceful relationship.

Merry Christmas and a best wishes for a peaceful New Year.

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South Mumbai

I’ve posted photos from our first three days in Mumbai. Sunday was a quiet day so we took a walk around South Mumbai.  Heading north from our hotel we walked past the Oval Maidan – a large park with at least a dozen concurrent cricket matches underway – snapped photos of the High Court and Mumbai University buildings, and down MG Road to the Prince of Wales Museum.  This part of the city is full of grand Victorian-era buildings that blend European, Islamic, and Hindu architecture.  Pam shopped at another FabIndia outlet, and we stopped to look at many street-side vendors.  CST, the central railway station, formerly known as Victoria Terminal, is a grand site to see.  Over 3 million passengers pass through daily.

Mara, John, and Andy awaiting lunch at Mahesh Lunch Home.

Perhaps a highlight of the day was our lunch at Mahesh Lunch Home, one of the most famous seafood restaurants in the city.  Located incongruously on a dirty and dingy back street, the restaurant is sharply decorated in a modern style.  We were seated next to the fish tank, and enjoyed delicacies like prawn gassi and tandoori crab.

Mumbai

Finally!  Three and a half years after our family left India – we spent a year living in Bangalore back in 2008-09 – we returned to India and our first stop is Mumbai. Although I have visited India four times since then, this is the first time that Pam and the kids have been able to make the trip.  I think it’s really important to cement those old memories of life in Bangalore, and travels in India, with another visit now that they are older.  We’ll be in Bangalore next week, but for now, we finally get to see the sprawling city of Mumbai.

Bayside view
A view from Nariman point to the north with the bayshore sweeping to the left. Trident hotel is at upper right.

We visited Mumbai ever so briefly back in January 2009, but I only saw IIT and the others saw nothing but the airport.  This time, we are fortunate to be able to visit two local friends – Varsha, who is a CS professor at IIT Bombay, and Kirti, who recently graduated from the Dartmouth MEM program and who was our FFP student last year.

We arrived at the Trident hotel around 2am yesterday, after a 25-hour journey from home. We slept a few hours and awoke to find out just how spectacular a location we have selected.  We are located right on the edge of the bay, along the famous Marine Drive promenade, with a spectacular view across the bay.  Unfortunately, the view is hampered by persistent smog, this time of year.

We spent our first day wandering the streets in the area.  For a weekday, I was surprised at how few people and how little traffic there is in South Bombay!  I’m used to the chaos of Bangalore streets but here they are wider, less congested, and better organized. We found a movie theater two blocks from our hotel, and decided to watch Life of Pi (in 3D) later in the afternoon.  (See it! great movie.)

Today we hired a driver and went up to the northern suburbs for breakfast with the family of Varsha and Jitendre, two colleagues from my days as a grad student at Duke. They took us over to IIT Bombay, which is in the midst of a four-day arts festival and competition.  We enjoyed the display of sculptures, watched contestants in the classical dance competition, and watched some of the Bollywood dance competition.  fun!

We then went to visit Kirti and her family for a home-cooked lunch. Wow, what a treat! chicken curry and fried fish, out of this world.

On the way back we shopped at FabIndia, stopped to see the Haji Ali Durgah and to eat some wonderful fruit creams – that is, chopped fruits covered with a cold sweet cream sauce, a bit like half-melted ice cream.

Today was a long day – we were out for 11 hours, and we’re too stuffed to go out for dinner. We flipped on the TV to watch the England vs. India cricket match, happening live at the stadium just a few blocks down the street.

So much for the tedious chronological summary.  Impressions so far?  It seems a wonderful city with great people and a deep history.  South Bombay is full of grand buildings from the Victorian era. The infrastructure, though clearly not keeping up with the booming population, has done so far better than Bangalore and thus the traffic moves along and things seem to work smoothly.  I look forward to exploring more tomorrow.

Hiking the A.T. in fall color

Gosh, what a beautiful fall it has been.  Although it has been rainy at time, the temperatures have been warm and the leaves bright!  After our overnight hike along the Appalachian Trail of early summer, John and I have determined to hike every weekend in the fall and to complete the full section of trail from Hanover to Moosilauke.  We’ve been on the A.T. for the past three weekends:

  • October 7-8, Mount Smarts and Mount Cube [pix]
  • October 13, Grant Brook and Reservoir Road [pix]
  • October 20, Holts Ledge. [pix]
Bright yellow leaves in sunshine
Fall colors shine gold in the sun

Lyme Hill

On Saturday we took a gentle hike close to home – indeed, we finished the hike at home.  The Upper Valley Land Trust has conserved large sections of Lyme Hill [map], which is the long ridgeline behind our house and overlooking the river.  We parked at their new lot on Route 10, the other side of the hill, and followed the nice new trail system [map] to the 1050′ “summit” of Lyme Hill. The kids were grumpy (“why do we have to go hiking!?”) but on the downhill side the moods cleared and we had a great time visiting Gilbert Cemetery, at the base of the trail where it meets River Road. This cemetery is the final resting place of the first settlers in Lyme, and we found gravestones from 1777 to 1784.  I posted a few more photos in the gallery.

Andy inspects gravestone at Gilbert Cemetary
Andy inspects gravestone at Gilbert Cemetary

Franconia Ridge

Greenleaf Hut and Mount Lafayette

John and I took advantage of beautiful September weather to hike a classic loop in the Franconia Range of the White Mountains (NH).  This 8.8-mile loop climbs from Franconia Notch up the Old Bridle Path to Greenleaf Hut, run by the AMC, then to Mount Lafayette.  The day was warm and the breeze friendly, with just a few puffy clouds brushing the summits as they passed through New Hampshire.  Check the photo gallery.

Although our original goal was simply to summit Lafayette and return, we reached the summit by 12:30 and the southbound ridgeline beckoned to us.

Southbound along Franconia Ridge

We popped south along the ridge, over an unnamed bump and then Mount Lincoln, reaching Little Haystack mountain by about 1:45pm.  We then fell down the Falling Waters trail to our starting point at Lafayette Place.  I’ve always wanted to hike the Falling Waters trail; aptly named, it passes five or ten gorgeous waterfalls in its lower reaches.   However, I learned one painful lesson: one should always hike this steep trail uphill, never downhill!  [My knees were screaming this lesson to me all the way down, and throughout the next day.]

John and David pause at a waterfall

As it was a gorgeous day on a Sunday in early September, there were many other people out on the trail.  I estimate that we passed about 60 other people, most doing the same loop in one direction or another. On the summit of Lafayette we watched one youthful group repeatedly pose for a group photo, pants dropped and butts bared, the photographer using a self-timer so he could join the picture.  Ah, I remember those days 😉