It’s always exciting to hop on a plane and go to a new place. You never know what you’re going to find, or who you’re going to meet.
In the past few years, most of my trips to new places have been work-related: Bogor, Indonesia, for a media workshop on biotechnology; Phuket, Thailand, for a speaking engagement on social media for advocacy; Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, Cambodia.
Whenever I travel to a new place, I’m usually alone, or traveling with a group of work acquaintances. I go with the flow and tag along when they go sight-seeing or shopping. I eat where they choose—unless they decide to eat at a fast food chain! But if there’s a chance to go off and wander on my own, to grab a drink or local street food, to try local transportation, or to explore something nobody else is interested in, I’ll take it.
(In Cambodia I saw two temples on my own, and wandered on foot around the palace at Phnom Penh. Every night we spent in Phnom Penh, we tried different kinds of local cuisine. In Indonesia it was far too rainy, and our resort too remote, for my fellow workshop participants and I to do anything but shop at the nearby mall. Still, I found local snacks in the grocery, and had a food adventure instead! In Vietnam, my office mate took me to the flea market, made me try real pho, and took my picture as I shrank in fear from the speeding scooters.)
This year, work brought me to India. As soon as I found out about the trip, I excitedly told family and friends. “Mommy, I’m going to Mumbai!” I said in an SMS. I looked up the weather, wondered what to pack, and fantasized about all the exotic foods, from the biryani and the raita to the lassi and the dhal!
And in the midst of all the travel preps, I found a little surprise: I was pregnant!
Because tickets had been booked, and I’d already promised my editor an article, and I already had a visa, it was too late to back out. Besides, who knew when I would have the chance again? I asked my doctor, and talked to my husband, and both told me, amidst warnings and precautions, go ahead, have fun!
So off I flew to Mumbai, India, with a tiny passenger in tow. And I couldn’t quite be my usual curious, lost self! I couldn’t eat everything in sight, for fear it would trigger the dreaded morning sickness or somehow be bad for me or my little carry-on. I couldn’t walk long distances just to see what was around the corner or on the next block, because suddenly I was so exhausted by the heat and the exertion. And I didn’t dare brave Mumbai’s chaotic traffic on my own!
But India was more than a list of things I couldn’t do. Though I didn’t see much, what I did see piqued my curiosity. And besides, it was my first trip with my little one!
We stayed in a large and spacious hotel called The Lalit Mumbai. It looked like something out of decades past. There was art everywhere: paintings on almost every wall, from the reception area to the halls, from my room to the dining area, offering a glimpse into the culture and people of a country I don’t really know. A large metal sculpture stood in the lobby. There were scenic elevators that looked like they were older than me, and small fountains. But my favorite part of the hotel was the large mosaic dominating the lobby.
As with most work trips, we had a fixed schedule, and that limited our opportunities for sight-seeing and leisure. Still, we managed to find time for a massage back at the hotel, and I swear it was one of the best massages of my life! I was a little worried when the masseuse started on my stomach (“Oh no, is that bad for the baby?”), but oh, how relaxed I was afterwards!
On our last day, we were supposed to visit some temples and flea markets, but traffic and transportation woes got in the way. We were able to visit one landmark though, called the Gateway of India.
You know how photographers at Luneta lazily call out to tourists, offering photos at the different landmarks? At the Gateway of India, there were hordes upon hordes of photographers. Where Luneta photographers are relaxed and indolent, Mumbai photographers are persistent and aggressive, almost combative! Repeatedly they offered to take our picture, thrusting their printouts in our faces, chanting the prices as if the mantra would convince us to do business with them. When we got together for a group picture taken by our host, the photographers took our picture too, and then promptly resumed their litany. Perhaps they thought that an actual photo of our group would be more persuasive? In their aggression they pushed each other, arguing and yelling even as they made their sales pitch again. It was both a curiosity and a sufferance.
In hindsight, I wonder how aggressive Indian market vendors are.
Nearby was the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, a monolith that made one think of the structures that make up the London cityscape, or great houses all over England. Built in 1903, it took over headlines in November 2008, when a terrorist group attacked the Taj and other nearby hotels. Though the hotel resumed operations in December of the same year, there had been damage to some sections. Restoration work cost 1.75 billion rupees, and the hotel reopened in August 2010. If we’d had time, it would have been interesting to take a peek inside.
We drove around the city and saw a vast variety of people and structures. Coastal communities and roads reminded me of Manila’s Roxas Boulevard area, from the low-rise but upscale residential buildings to shanties crowding together in a mess of makeshift roofing. Isolated busy corporate centers housed familiar BPOs and brands, amongst them glittering hotels. Women in colorful saris walked along streets navigated by dusty rickshaws and tiny sedans. In dense urban areas, beacons of imperious British architecture stood out amongst smaller establishments jostling for space. Tenement housing was made to appear more cheerful with bright and colorful artwork. Some streets were illuminated with colorful sculptures or mosaics. Here and there would be a church or a Catholic school. The hodgepodge of structures and styles was made even more confusing by what seemed to be a lack of city and street planning.
More distinct and dizzying than the sights were the scents, more intense than anything that had touched my nose before. One hotel where we stopped for lunch smelled strongly of danggit, from the moment our car doors opened in the driveway till we reached the poolside restaurant. Different groups of people smelled of spices and foods unfamiliar and exotic. I couldn’t be sure if the smells were truly intense, or it was an early effect of pregnancy! As I wrinkled my nose, I clutched my still-flat belly, hoping my little passenger wasn’t bothered.
It was a tiny glimpse of just one city, in a land of such diverse culture and history, and I wish I had the chance to see more. Perhaps someday, I can return with my little one, and hand in hand we can try all the food and see all the sights.
Just wait, Mumbai. We’ll be back.
About the 3pper: Regina Layug Rosero is a Communications Consultant for Puzzled Owl, a part time writer-editor-media relations officer, and a full time geek. She eats social media strategies for breakfast, and takes stabs at creative output during her free time. She’s a wife to Oneal and an expectant mom to Li’l Asskicker.