Gina writes:

Our friends Chris and Jackie were here to visit us for about 10 days. We arranged a trip for them that showed them the various sides of India -- urban and rural, rich and poor, bustling and relaxing.

The visit started with a 4-day stay in Mumbai. We thought the 2nd largest city in the world, with 14-20 million people (depending on the source) would be a crazy, but true introduction to India.

We met them at the airport a little after midnight, in true Indian fashion.

Then we zipped off to the Traveller's Inn, a simple but fantastic place that was in a great location; we'd highly recommend it to other budget-minded travellers (Rs. 1,400 or USD 31 for an a/c room!).

During our first morning in Mumbai, we walked to the Gateway of India. The destination wasn't as important as allowing Chris and Jackie to experience the sights and sounds of India for the first time, and giving Corey and me a chance to get the feel for a new city.

I was expecting Mumbai to feel a lot like Delhi, old and dirty and loud, with very little (on the streets at least) that could be called peaceful or beautiful. But the Fort area of Mumbai where we were walking was exactly that, filled with huge, gorgeous buildings, wide streets that were relatively clean, and lots of trees and greenery.

I don't know anything about architecture, but the style of the buildings really amazed me. It felt more like a well-preserved European city than an Indian metropolis.

We only walked for about 30 minutes before reaching the Gateway of India, a monument built to welcome British dignitaries in the early 20th century. The Taj Mahal Palace hotel is here too, a cool building to see. We took a short half-hour cruise to see these structures and more from the harbour. A good introduction to Mumbai!

In the evening, we walked to Victoria Terminus, the main railway station in Mumbai. It's a UNESCO World Heritage site, so the building itself is neat, but it also sees 2 million people pass through it every day, so was interesting to visit, especially since we didn't have a train to find!

The heat and the jetlag were a lot for our guests to handle, so we didn't plan much else for the first day. That was okay, since we really wanted to just hang out and catch up after not seeing each other for 17 months! Corey was especially happy to have some drinking buddies!

On day 2, we spent the morning on a "slum tour" run by a company called Reality Gives. The tours in Dharavi, a large slum on the outskirts of Mumbai, limit tour groups to 4 or 5 people, prohibit cameras and hand-outs, and focus on the slum's huge, thriving industries. Dharavi is home to 10,000 small (unregulated) factories, on which the estimated 1 million people make their living. Businesses manufacture everything from pottery to leather goods and generate an estimated $665 million a year in revenue.

It was interesting to see the industries and the complexity of the slum. We saw the plastics and cardboard recycling area, where companies around the world get their plastic pellets. We saw woodworking, soap, and biscuit factories. We walked through dark, tight alleys with tiny rooms, some of them pictures of the squalor that you'd expect, some of them with satellite dishes and bright tile floors and refrigerators. It was still a sobering sight that made my stomach flip a few times, but it was nice to see the hope behind the hovels.

There's a popular discussion in development about the pros and cons of slum tourism. You can decide for yourself what you think by reading this article.

As part of the tour, we also took a quick look at Dhobi Ghat, a huge, open-air laundry with about 700 washing platform where 200 washer-men wash a clothes for hotels and residences all over the city. It's a chaotic and amazing sight.

After the tour, we had lunch at Rajdhani, a place known for it's huge thalis. A thali is found in many Indian restaurants, a platter with small dishes giving a sample of many different curries, breads, and other items. This thali was the biggest I've ever had, 4 kinds of bread, 6 or so curries, sauces, dessert, buttermilk. Delicious!

Then we visited Crawford Market, a big fruit and vegetable market that's housed in a cool-looking building.

Outside of the market building was a very typical street market, busy and filled with all kinds of shops, loosely organized by item (so you have the underwear shops all together, the elecric shops together, etc.).

We tried to find another market area, but ended up getting lost and walking in the wrong direction before finally admitting defeat and hailing a cab. I'd guess that we walked about 8 or 9 miles that day!

On day 3, we had a smattering of spiritual and other tourist sites on our itinerary. Again we were walking the whole day, getting a feel for yet another part of Mumbai. It felt extra-hot, but it wasn't until we read the newspaper the next day did we find out that it was the hottest March day in 55 years. 41.6 degree Celsius - 107 degrees Fahrenheit!

Banganga tank is a devotional place for Hindus. The tank is fed by a spring, so the water is clean and fresh. While hiding in the shade for a bit, we watched the birds and the big schools of fish and a man performing a Hindu purification ritual .

A stroll through the Hanging Gardens was only marginally enjoyable, since there was virtually no tree cover and we were there in the hottest part of the day. However, "experience confirms that friends who meet and walk regularly in the garden have remained healthy and fit for the day!"

Chowpatty Beach and Marine Drive are great places to stroll along during dusk.

We watched the sunset here, listening to the waves break, the cacophony of rush hour in the background, a cool breeze brushing across our faces.

We ended our Mumbai adventure with food at a nice restaurant that didn't have ANY Indian food on the menu! Lasagna and a steak burger were dinner for me and for Corey. Chris and Jackie might not have been tired of Indian food yet, but it was our vacation too, and we needed to indulge in the variety of food that only the big cities can offer. Cheese...steak...yum...

Early the next morning, we were off to the airport to fly across the country to show Chris and Jackie our home in Koraput. Check back next week for stories about that part of the trip!