India – Third Time Around

The Milieu of Mumbai

A Mumbai Street MarketOne doesn’t just walk the streets of Mumbai….we find ourselves weaving through the masses, bumping shoulders with locals, besieged with vendors calling, “just take a look”, are dazzled with street-shop colour, enticed by whirling wheels to sample juice from ubiquitous sugar cane grinders; the scorching air wafts with tantalizing food scents and incense, then sudden whiffs of garbage – swirling stimuli bombards our senses.

Avoid Ox CartsAnd then we have reason to cross a street…one can stand at the curb forever not daring to step out…or like we quickly learn to do, shimmy up next to locals and do as they do…dash, twist, stop, dash, turn, stop, and dart – between a few dozen vehicles and motorcycles who consider lanes meaningless – the incessant horn blowing are alerts for vehicles squeezing past each other. In the mix are bicycles, oxen hitched to wagons, hand-pulled delivery carts, and the odd cow. Upon reaching the other side, we inevitably look at each other and in unison utter, “Whew!” – considering it an accomplishment in this chaotic movement of traffic and people that incredulously has a symbiotic flow.

It’s good to be back! There’s nothing quite like it!

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Arabian Sea from Marine DriveHaving been to Mumbai twice before and previously having seen many of its fine sites, we are content to seek out restaurants for delicious Indian fare (especially butter chicken, paneer masala, chicken biryani) and to gaze at the many regal edifices from the British Raj. Evenings are perfect to stroll down the wide promenade by the Arabian Sea – relishing cooler breezes after the day’s sweltering heat and seeing a hazy orange sun melt into the steel-blue water.

Hindu WeddingIn keeping with our “never a dull moment’ impression of Mumbai, one day on our way to Chowpatty Beach we happen upon several wedding processions. In Hindu style, the dashing groom approaches the ceremony site riding a white horse. Drums and horns blare amid the hoopla of friends singing, calling out good wishes, and dancing up a storm in his honour. Alas, we do not have access to the inner festive area where a bride attired in great finery is surrounded by friends and family, awaiting her husband-to-be.

Chhatrapati TerminusAfter a few weeks of soaking up the Mumbai atmosphere, we make our way to the main train station, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (still referred to as Victoria Terminus or VT by locals, another left-over from British times). Our intent is to purchase tickets to Goa, as on past visits. Opps! -only 2rd class left for the 13-hour journey on our desired date. So we opt instead for a 1-hour flight, then taxi from the Goa airport to Colva Beach.

Catching Colva Rays (Goa India)

Colva Beach GoaAhhh… miles of cream-coloured sand, bright blue sea, brilliant sun, swaying palms….we remember it well. We follow our Colva intent as if it were law – for two weeks to do as little as possible, our major concerns being where to dine, whether morning or evening beach time (or both), or yet another dip in our resort pool, and other such good things.

A difference since our last Colva visit five years ago is it’s prominence as a Russian vacation haven… “da, da” – the signs on shops have added their names in Cyrillic , and locals have learned to speak Russian to increase their chances of sales to this influx.

Outdoor MassOur only exception to being beach bums is a day-trip to Old Goa, being that our visit this year coincides with a major Goan event. Every 10 years the mortal remains of Saint Francis Xavier are brought up from the mausoleum of the Jesuit Church, Basilica of Bom Jesus, and carried in procession through Old Goa to SE Cathedral where his saintly relics are in exposition. The current exposition began on November 22, 2014 and will continue until January 4, 2015. During the last exposition in 2004, 2.5 million pilgrims visited Goa. (Post-January 4, 2015 the number of pilgrims reported for this year’s exposition is 50Lakh or 5 million.)

SE CathedralOn our 40-minute taxi ride into Old Goa, the capital during Portuguese colonial times, my mind swirls with this saint’s fascinating story.

Frances Xavier was born in Spain in 1506. He came to Goa India as a missionary in 1542, where he garnered many followers. On his way to China in 1552, he fell ill on the ship and was taken to the small nearby Chinese island of Shangchuan (Sancian) where he died. He was quickly buried in a coffin full of lime to aide in the decomposition – so his bones could be picked up when the ship was enroute back to the Portuguese colony of Malacca (now Malaysia).

But when dug up 2 ½ months later the body is said to have been as fresh as the day it was buried. In Malacca physicians could find no explanation for the body’s state, and of course this news spread rapidly. Finally the body was shipped back to Goa, a last request of Xavier. His coffin underwent periodic openings, and for years no deterioration was indicated by physicians, until at one point his skin was reported desiccating and darkening.

Xavier was canonized as a saint in 1622, for his tireless work with the poor, sick, and imprisoned. His remains are respected for his life-long good works and the fact that his body somehow escaped being reduced to dust (termed “incorrupt”). The first exposition of the body was in 1782.

Long QueWe leave our taxi driver in the parking area, and follow like-minded people down the road, past the Basilica Bom Jesus with a large outside canopied area where a mass is underway, then into the lengthy queue outside SE Cathedral. Security is high, checks at various points, armed military around, hundreds of volunteers to steer the masses in the right direction.

The inside of SE is cavernous, the lofty inner arches are stark white; the sides sporadically splayed with vividly coloured icons in gleaming gold framings. We shuffle along with the crowd, another security check and eventually are within sight of the silver casket…and then are filing past!

Poster of St Francis  Xavier (Photos are not allowed inside the church. This is a poster outside.)

I stare into the glass top and sides. From his richly clad form the feet, one hand (the other was sent to Rome long ago) and head remain exposed – his extremities in dark brown solidity uncannily have finger and toe nails, and scalp hair and mummified facial features still remain somewhat visible. A miracle or oddity of nature – or are both the same when science defies its usual course of action. It is intoxicating to be in the mix of so many coming to view these saintly remains and also spine-chilling to look upon human remains still intact after 462 years!

AHHHH Colva BeachIt is back to the Christmas festive bustle of Colva Beach for a few more days, then overnight Christmas Eve in Vasco de Gama (a town 10 min from the airport) and on Christmas Day we take the short flight to Chennai, which only being a little over an hour in duration – we are settled in our new setting by 10:00 a.m.!

Chasing our memories in Chennai (Tamil Nadu, India)

Irene with SantaOn our previous Chennai and area visit we took in major churches, ancient Hindu temples and also Pondicherry (Click here for more Chennai and area on our site). Our plans this time round are to revisit a few favourite city sites, but FIRST we spend a wonderful Christmas in an atmosphere of carols being sung, Santa appearances, glittery decked trees, and many calls to our kids and grandkids back in Canada (at odd hours with the time difference). Our 5-star Raintree Hotel stay is a time to wallow in luxury with dips in the infinity pool, grand-scale breakfasts, and motor-rickshaw trips to upscale malls for lunch, then room service for supper with a movie or two.

Chennai is undergoing upheaval in the construction of a Metro Rail line across the city, involving the major thoroughfare our hotel is on – Anna Salai. When walking anywhere, we are always keen to get past the barriers that edge the roadway and the heaps of rubble associated with this project, making it a harrowing and not-so-pleasant walk…. until we reach the tree-lined side-streets – and on the way back to the hotel we would try to hurry along the narrow pathways cordoned off for pedestrians (two and four legged).

Pondy BazaarOne such walk is to Pondy Bazaar (in the T. Nagar area) on the afternoon of December 31st. It is a blast of colour and hype with people lined up outside temples carrying flowers or garlands (the garlands are conveniently sold across the street). Further along the streets are thick with people feverishly purchasing gold jewelry, new frocks and a variety of foodstuffs to ring in the New Year, stopping for energizing snacks at the many road-side vendors, and then charging on for more purchases while dodging horn-honking vehicles and motorbikes.

Back in our cozy room we haul up our stash of New Year’s Eve treats – wine, chocolate, munchies to add to our room-service feast and movie-fest and watch a spectacular firework display out our window!

Gandhi MemorialOn New Year’s Day we bargain with a motor-rickshaw driver, “go to the Gandhi statue at Marina Beach” and speed away. The driver pulls up beside a fenced off area and points down the street before taking off at break-neck speed. Hmm, we find ourselves instead at the Gandhi Memorial. Not sure how our explanation of our desired destination and his nods and “yes, yes, I know, I know” morphed into this, but it turned out to be a worthy site to visit, especially after watching the Gandhi movie on TV last night.

DSC02127-2But no sweat (well, actually lots of sweat with the +34C temp). We hop into another motor-rickshaw and arrive at the Gandhi statue at Marina Beach. The aftermath of New Year’s Eve revelry is apparent in the amount of litter. Only a smattering of people stand around and even less take a dip in the aqua sea. “Where are the crowds, food vendors, performing acrobats and the kids whirling on hand-cranked Ferris Wheels like the last time we were here?” I say as we walk to the water’s edge. Within a flash we become the prime focus of families who ask to have photos taken with us and no doubt we were added to their Facebook pages. In less than an hour we head back in yet another motor-rickshaw to our luxury niche for a leisurely supper of delectable traditional cuisine, with a masala chai chaser to sip while planning our next sojourn.

With no schedule or agenda for “where in the world to go next”, we once again pull up a Google map and staring us in the face is Sri Lanka….why not!

Easy on-line visas later – Sri Lanka here we come!

Our soft spot for India – the varied landscapes, the history, the rich culture, especially the warm and welcoming locals have left us satiated once more.

Rick, my tireless finance minister, sharpens his pencil and does his best at an Indian head-bob (that always looks like it can either indicate a “yes” or “no” – making it necessary to wait and see if the accompanying comment will be positive or negative). He says with great flourish and a grin (okay, that’s good), “Our costs for India, three flights (to get to Mumbai from Athens, then our splurge of two domestic flights, Mumbai to Goa and Goa to Chennai), accommodations in 4 and 5-star hotels, food, entertainment….comes to $204CDN a day!

More Info –

Tourism India Official Site

Click here for more of India on our site

Suggested Accommodations:
Mumbai,India – Hotel Residency Fort
Colva Beach, Goa, India – Soul Vacation Resort
Chennai, India – Raintree Hotel Anna Salai

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