We arrived in Mumbai (formerly called Bombay) at 11:30 pm on Oct 21, 2005. Just before we landed, the pilot gave us the current weather as being about 78 degrees and smokey! Smokey!! Sure enough, when I looked out the window on our descent, instead of the usual white fluffy clouds, there were clouds of black smoke! I have no idea where it came from, but there it was. I have been told that it could be from the fires that people set to keep warm. Apparently, many people burn cow dung for this purpose.
The first thing that I noticed on disembarking from the plane was a very distinct smell. I can't say that it was a very pleasant smell, in fact quite the opposite. It reminded me of the smell of a Viking village that was reproduced at a display in the Jorvik Centre in York, England. The smell followed us throughout our trip and I am quite sure now that it was the smell of rotting garbage and open sewage mixed with smoke and car exhaust. They say that breathing the air in India is like smoking two packs a day! I believe it!
The airport was quite a bit nicer than I had expected, although it was still a bit antiquated when compared with North American or European airports. Getting our luggage was a real experience. The electronic belt didn't have a ledge, so it was easy for the bags to fall off and get jammed. People were swarming all around it at least 3 or 4 deep, and in order to have any chance of getting close to it you had to have really good elbows. Gary was right in there, and someone commented to him that he must have been here in Delhi before. While we were waiting for the luggage to arrive, I felt the urge to go to the bathroom. I was a little nervous about this because I wasn't sure if they had toilets there or not. I had heard that in some places all they have is a hole in the ground. Fortunately they did, but one thing I wasn't counting on was the washroom attendants who hand you a paper towel to dry off your hands, then hold out their hand for a tip afterwards. Gary had all the rupees with him, so I didn't know quite what to do when one of the ladies held out her hand. I indicated that I had no money (in sign language), to which she replied that American money would be fine ("American", she said). I said I only have Canadian, and gave her all that I had, which was a $5 bill. She and her friend looked at it strangely and continued to examine it for a few minutes after I left. She seemed happy enough, and well she should have been! The usual tip for something like that is about 10 rupees (about 30 cents CD).
At the airport, thankfully we were greeted by a driver from the hotel, who helped us get to the van. There were literally throngs of people waiting outside the airport doors. The driver had to guard our luggage quite carefully to make sure no one grabbed any of it. We had to turn down several requests for taxi service as well.
The ride to the hotel was quite an experience of first impressions! Even though it was late, after midnight, there were still people everywhere. We drove through some really poor areas where the homes were made out of what looked like cardboard, and there were people sleeping all over the sidewalks. One thing that I noticed was that I didn't see very many women, mostly men. I'm not sure whether there are more men than women in India (I've been told that this is the case), or if the women were all indoors. The women I did see were dressed in lovely, colourful saris.
The road didn't seem to have any lanes and the cars just honk their horns when someone gets in the way. They drive on the left side of the road (like in England), and there are many motorcycles, which I think would be really scary under those rules. I will comment more on the traffic later, but suffice it to say that it was like nothing I had ever seen before. And no one wears helmets!
The ride from the airport to the hotel took about 45 minutes. We were greeted at the door by a guy dressed in some kind of traditional Indian outfit. That was cool. The Taj Mahal hotel is a 5 star hotel by any standard, and is quite an impressive building. It overlooks the Indian ocean and was built in 1903 by a guy named Jamshtiji Nusserwanji Tata who is a famous rich guy in India. The grand staircase in the old part is stunning, and our room had a beautiful view of the swimming pool below. We quickly settled into bed for a good night's sleep, which was much needed after 24 hours of travelling!