Saturday, September 25, 2010

Monsoon ebbs, heat resumes.

Mumbai is an interesting city with even its climate forming an important aspect of day to day discussions of the Mumbaikar. If you want to learn more about the monsoon that graced the city this year, just go back a few posts on my blog and read all about it. This post, though, is about the heat and sweat that follow on the heels of a refreshing rainy season. Currently, I am reading the book shown alongside. Suketu Mehta is not your average Mumbaikar. He is one of the privileged ones who got to go abroad and stay in the US of A for several years. Educating himself in Mumbai and also abroad, Suketu has retained his ties with his parent city, and, through his infinite patience and sensitivity, has managed to get stories out of the most secretive souls of the city. When he talks about the riots that ravaged Mumbai in the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri Mosque, he writes about real people who participated in these riots, including people who actually killed fellow-humans in the frenzy of the moment. If you can, you should try and get your hands on this book and read it. Suketu writes charmingly and with wit.

Going back to my favourite topic, the monsoon has almost disappeared, with the city staying dry since almost a week; in its place, the high humidity of over 80% has made comfort non-existent, and people are seen walking down the roads with lassitude and torpor.Even with the A/C on at 25 degrees, the rooms don't feel cool. Outside, it is a torture to walk. One can just about bear the heat if one is astride a two-wheeler or inside an air-conditioned car. The heat has come on almost suddenly over the last few days, and now, everyone is talking about how it is becoming more and more difficult to venture outside the house. The heat also cuts productivity and creativity. This is the main problem with the heat.

For those readers who wish to travel to Mumbai sometime, I strongly recommend the Lonely Planet Mumbai Guide. I have, for my India specific travels, always relied on the India tourist guide of the same publisher, and it has never failed me once. I used it to travel to Hyderabad, Jaipur, Bangalore/Mysore/Ooty, Chennai/Mamalapuram/Kodaikanal, Jammu and Kashmir, and even smaller places like Mahableshwar. It is one of the best resources for travel. Of course, now, with the internet making many more sources available, people are getting their info online, and even using these resources to print out illegally downloaded guides, such as the Egypt guide I downloaded a few months ago (see my Egypt tour post in an earlier blog here). Despite this, however, the LP guides are really satisfying and entertaining.

Ravi, who has commented on this entry, has suggested that I read the book shown  alongside ...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Rains in Mumbai this year

It has been an eye-opener. This year, it poured torrentially in Mumbai. It took just a month for half of the entire season's average rainfall to fall upon the city. By now, we have had more rainfall than what we have had in the last over 35 years! By the end of August, all the seven lakes that supply water to this metropolis were full to the brim, or at least over the levels reached in the past several years. The water cuts imposed on the city last year were removed by the civic committees that look at the problem officially. Everyone seemed to be happy at this decision.

However, there is a flip side to this situation too. The heavy rains caused several accidents: tree branches that fell on unsuspecting citizens and either killing or maiming them, walls that fell on to sleeping dwellers and killing them there and then, landslides at construction sites, flooding, and above all, a very high incidence of malaria, typhoid, jaundice and other tropical diseases that filled up all the  beds in the various public as well as private hospitals. 

As I write this, I am filled with sadness at the various tragic occurrences, but, also, I am happy, for the busy season brought me a lot of professional satisfaction, and money too. I am happier, even, for the fact that no one in my own family - nuclear, joint, or extended, had any of the problems I listed above. For this, I can only thank the merciful and bountiful Allah, who continues to bless us.

It would be interesting to learn from you, dear reader, about your experiences with extremes of climate - whether rains, or heat, or cold. I know from Anna that she had to face extremes of cold where she lives. A comment by you would be welcome if you are reading this, my friend.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hurt talk

I have always worried that someone listening to me or conversing with me will get hurt inadvertently. The reason for this is my unusually acerbic tongue that cannot resist taking a jab at someone's weakness or problem. I always seem to forget that when you point a finger at someone else, four of your own other fingers are pointing back at you. However, this post is not about knowingly taking a jab at someone; it is about not being sensitive about others while making normal conversation. The other day, for example, when I pointed out to someone his obvious faux pas, he merely smiled and let it go.  But, in reality, he did not. He commented about this to my daughter when they were away from me, and my daughter told me about this later on. In fact, she, too, is a bit like me, and often talks acidly to her acquaintances. Hence, she understood the import of what had happened in a flash, and related the thing to me. I felt very bad, but, as they say, words shot off the mouth are like arrows that are released from a tight-strung bow; once they are gone, they will hit the target they are meant to, and the damage is near-permanent, for even if you apologise, the hurt will remain, and there is a real chance that it will sour relations for ever.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Trip to Egypt -2 ... Day 1

Thanks to the readers who took out time from their busy schedules to read my first instalment on the above subject. Those who did not read it, may click HERE.

Let me continue.

The itinerary was planned by Medha, my travel agent from Creative Holidays. Her charges included most of the fees and moneys for all the locations that we were to visit while in Egypt. It also included a daily breakfast, 3 days' dinner in an Indian restaurant while in Cairo, 3 days' dinner on the Nile cruise, and dinner while in the desert. It included visa fees too. It did not include entry to the Mummies' room in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and it did not include out of pocket expenses and any upgrades if we took them. (We did not take any upgrades, and the single biggest out of pocket expenditure was the tips that we had to give to our local tour guides, waiters and stewards at the various hotels we stayed and on the Nile cruise, as well as tips to the porter who looked after us on the train from Cairo to Aswan ... but I am getting a bit ahead of things ... so please be patient while I carry on.)

Day 1 (6th June): Leave Mumbai for Cairo, arriving at the latter at about 3 in the afternoon. We travelled by Egypt Air, and the memory I will carry back with me is the beautiful but dour air hostess who looked after our catering and other needs on the flight. Also, I must say that the sights of the various artificial islands that we saw ... obviously the "palms" that Dubai is famous for ... were breath-taking.

While the Cairo Int. Airport is located far to the east of the Nile river , which, by the way, neatly bisects the metropolitan city of Cairo, our hotel, the Hotel Horizon Pyramids, is located far west of the same river at Giza, and is more than 25 miles from the airport. Looking at this problem, our local tourist agency, M/S Sunny Travels, represented at the airport by an ebullient, chain-smoking, innocent-faced Mostapha Hamdy, decided to take us to neighbouring areas of Coptic Cairo, part of  Old Cairo - before taking us to the hotel later in the evening. This is what then occurred: we took our bags from the airport carousel, went out, got into a spacious Honda SUV, and drove to Old Cairo.

While their official itinerary was to show us a Jewish synagogue and take us to two or three churches, I asked them to also take us to visit a few of the holy shrines where we could offer prayers. These included the shrines of Hazrat Iman Husein, Syeda Nafisa, Syeda Rukaiya, and a few more. There was a protest from them, as these places were not on the official agenda, but we negotiated a price for this, which they agreed upon - a sum of 90 U.S. greenbacks. While we visited the shrines of Syeda Nafisa, Syeda Aisha and Syeda Zainab, we did not find where the shrine of Syeda Rukaiya was, so we skipped it. The photos alongside show the shrines of Syeda Zainab, Syeda Nafisa and Syeda Aisha. 

We would see the shrine of Imam Husein at a later time, when we visited the Khan-el-Khalili market (see future blog posts).

To the non-Muslims, the above places are shrines of holy Muslims who were either prophets or other biggies of the religion. As per tradition, Bohras as well as other Muslims visit the graves of these people and pray there for salvation and other more earthly desires to be fulfilled.

However, before we visited these shrines, we took a trip into the heart of Old Cairo, where we were shown an old, very old Jewish synagogue (cameras not allowed), and a few churches, of which the Hanging Church was clearly the best. This church is built over the old course of the Nile river, which once flowed 40 feet below the church. The inside has a marvellous central podium with 13 pillars, each representing one of the apostles of the Christ, while the 13th represents the Christ Himself. Here are some pictures of this podium, as well as some more enchanting sights of this church:

 This church is supposed to have sheltered Jesus Christ when He was a small child, and the courtyard has a couple of date trees under which He is supposed to have played. The pictures show our family on the steps to the church, a view of the special podium (or pulpit), and a few stained glass windows.

It is obvious that this church is one of the prized heritages of this otherwise Islamic country. We did see some other churches, and we were also taken to St. Barpara Church  and  the Ben Azra synagogue, but we could not take any pictures, since cameras were not allowed inside. 

After the visits to the shrines, we were driven into the heart of commercial Cairo, where we were taken to the Bukhara Restaurant, the only Indian-food serving restaurant in this amazing city. The owner was a soft-spoken Muslim, who served us a-la-carte. We chose to have a chicken makhani, dal fry, special Egyptian "chapatis" and rice. A salad with large red and green chillis was also served, and we would see different versions of this salad at many places over the next week and a half that we spent in this country.

While the children and I took food heartily, Nishrin felt under the best of condition, and had a headache coming on, and so, did not eat anything. After dinner, which was quite nice, we drove to Giza, and checked in at the Hotel Horizon Pyramids at about 8.00 p.m. This is a good hotel, and from the upper floors, we are supposed to be able to see the Great Pyramids, but tonight, we were allotted rooms on the first floor, albeit adjoining ones, and we settled in for the night, eager to explore the country the next day.