Sunday, March 22, 2015

Mar 18 – At Sea

We are approaching Mumbai, India, formerly known as Bombay.  Like so many cities and countries, Mumbai has reverted to its traditional name, forsaking the one given to it by the British. 

It was a typical sea day with Trivia and reading plus a 2 hour nap.  Travel is exhausting even when one does nothing.  We did go to the show after dinner for a change.  Tonight’s production was by the ship’s singers and dancers and while it was better than many we have seen, it was still just fair.  The sound system was better than any we have seen in a long time, though, and the band did not drown out the singing.

The gastro-intestinal problems on the ship have not abated.  The captain made an impassioned plea today for anyone suffering any kind of GI upset to go to the medical suite with the assurance that there would be no charge for the visit or any medications dispensed.  The ship has been in and out of “code red” for two weeks now and the captain said that new cases are being reported every day.  Obviously, some passengers who are having symptoms are not cooperating and continue to spread the illness throughout the ship.  There is added pressure to put a stop to the problem because higher-ups from the Seattle office are due on board when we reach Haifa.  In the meanwhile, most of us are washing our hands constantly and using the Purel stations located throughout the ship.  So far, the only result has been the deterioration of women’s finger nails.

TOMORROW – Day 1 in Mumbai

Mar 19 – Mumbai Madness

We are still in India but in a different state than we were in Kochi [Cochin].  For reasons we do not understand, we had to do the Dance of the Passports again today, going face-to-face with Immigration officials.  They looked at our passports, the copies of the passports we received from the ship and the entry cards we filled out before Kochi.  Once everything was stamped, we turned our passports back to the ship’s staff and kept the copies and the entry cards in case we wanted to leave the ship.

We had no plans for today.  Originally, we had signed up for two HAL tours, the first we can recall since 2006; we started arranging our own in 208.  Once we were aboard, Ma realized that the two tours had about an 80% overlap, so we canceled the first day’s excursion in favor of the second one.  While other passengers went on tour or hired taxis to navigate Mumbai, we were content to stay on board the ship and enjoy the peace and quiet.

We did venture forth for about 5 minutes.  Once the crowds had left, we walked off the ship, through the inspection of our documents and into the deserted terminal.  There were no stores, no services and no wi-fi, so we turned around and went back to the ship.  After that, we spent the day reading.  Temperatures were predicted to be in the upper 90s today and it was hot by the Lido pool, even in the shade, so after eating in the air-conditioned dining area, we went to the cabin to read some more. 

Afternoon and Pub Trivia rounded out the day as we prepared to brave the heat and smog on tomorrow’s tour.

TOMORROW – Our Second Day in Mumbai Even Though It Is Our First

Mar 20 – Great Expectations

Mumbai was not exactly what we had expected.  After hearing horror stories about living conditions, abject poverty and filth, we were surprised to see very little of any of that.  Perhaps we missed the downside of Mumbai because of our tour itinerary.  What we saw was a sprawling metropolis with modern high-rise buildings, Colonial architecture and street markets. To be sure, the side streets were crowded and dirty, but they are in most large cities.  “Our” Mumbai was no worse than any of the other SE Asian cities we have seen.

In previous ports, we were inundated with Buddhist temples.  The few Hindu temples we saw were intricately carved and colorfully painted both inside and out.  The temples we saw today were not.

Our tour today was a ship’s tour, our only one on this cruise and the first one in many years.  Our guide attempted to explain the different Hindu gods but concentrated on the three major deities – Vishnu, Brahma, and Siva.  After a while, however, they all blended together.

The approach to the first temple involved walking through an alley past food stalls and flower sellers.  It became an uphill climb with a few small shrines along the way.  We stopped at an elevator for the final ascent although we could have walked up an endless flight of steps; tourists from the Pacific Princess climbed the stairs instead of waiting for the lift.  Once we exited the left, we removed out shoes but were allowed to keep our socks on.

We were in a small courtyard in front of the temple.  We were able to see some statues and carved pillars, but, for the most part, the buildings were unadorned.  Because they were marble, they were not painted.  We were forbidden to take photographs in the sanctuary itself, but there wasn’t much to see.  Outside the inner sanctum was a carved elephant and worshippers would ring bells hung near it and then douse it with water much as we had done to Buddhas at Shwe Dagon Pagoda.  As a consequence, the floor was wet and we and others declined the opportunity to climb a few more steps to peek inside where a monk was blessing worshippers.

We took a few minutes to look at the carved pillars and other displays outside the sanctuary.  The displays looked like department store windows with Hindu gods behind glass.  We trooped from here across the courtyard to retrieve our shoes and then descend in the elevator.

Although the next temple was described as “across the street” by the guide, we took the bus around the corner to get to it.  This temple was a Krishna temple and was quite unadorned.  We climbed to the second floor where we saw women plaiting flowers for worshippers to leave as offerings.  Beyond them was a large open room with a colorful diorama at the far end.  There was a monk praying and performing his duties at the diorama.

Around the walls were paintings of the Hindu gods, but there was nothing in the middle of the room except bare floor with two large inlaid circular designs.  Close to the ceiling were what appeared to be inward-facing parapets which we were told were balconies that women once used.  We saw and spoke to several monks in saffron robes.  Their English was good and they answered questions from our group.

The highlight of this stop, though, was the school field trip which brought 40 – 50 bubbly kindergarten children to the temple.  Their teachers had a difficult job keeping them in check and we laughed at the children’s energy.  If nothing else, their visit showed that kids are kids regardless of their differences.

We never made it to the third temple on the itinerary.  The guide and some of the other passengers made it, but 5 of us refused to climb another 50 steep stairs in bare feet.  We came to this impasse after going through another alleyway, up steps and then down even more.  At that point, we were in another alley lined with tchotchke stalls and flower sellers [The worshippers are very particular about the source of their flowers and will not by them from another temple’s supplier]. 

When we saw the stairs, we balked.  The guide said there just a dozen or so, but we could see them in front of us and knew how to count.  One member of the group had already decided not to go down that last flight of steps, and the guide ran to and fro to see if the ship’s escort was with her and then back to us and then insisted on walking with us to be sure we did not get lost, all the while keeping the other 8 people standing around waiting. 

We climbed the stairs and met the woman who was smarter than we.  While we waited, D went back down to the street and bought something for the Table of Boxes and a small mask for The Wall.  Total purchase, $1.25.When everyone was back from this third temple, we schlepped back to the bus.

We also visited a house where Gandhi lived from around 1917 until 1934.  It was here that he was arrested by the British and there is a plaque in the backyard indicating the spot.  The house contained his extensive library as well as posters of his sayings and photographs from his life.  We were intrigued by the physical changes in Gandhi over the years.  Trained as a lawyer in Britain, he did not really like the practice of law.  Still, there was a picture of him in 1917 dressed in a suit and tie like all the other lawyers.  Nearby was another photo taken 17 years later in which he is depicted as we usually picture him, emaciated and wearing only a white sheet.

Our final stop was at Dhobi Ghat, the famous outdoor laundry of Mumbai.  The guide told us that the workers all belong to a caste whose life mission is to be cleaners; some are janitors, some are barbers, but whatever they do has some connection to cleaning.  Rather than thinking of themselves as downtrodden, they feel that they are fulfilling their destinies. [Many of their children, however, have taken advantage of India’s educational opportunities and are moving into other fields]

Just as the washers have their own work area, so, too, do they have their own territories.  The trade is highly organized and unionized and every address in Mubai is assigned to a specific laundry.  There is no poaching of customers and no way to change laundrymen.  The guide said she would sooner fight with her husband than with the laundry person; she can always find another husband.

The washers specialize in flat items such as sheets, bedspreads and scarves.  Everyday items – shirts, pants, etc. – are done at home.  Most of the laundry’s customers are hotels, restaurants and hospitals.  Laundry marks peculiar to each washer guarantee that everyone gets the right finished product.  D took pictures of the guide and the Flat Grandchildren here and bought a decorative elephant from a hawker with the guide’s assistance; she made the hawkers come to the bus and deal with her for fear that we would be robbed reaching for our wallets.  D negotiated with one hawker over an elephant tapestry but he would not lower his price enough although he did continue to shout through the bus window before we pulled away.

On our travels today, we passed a number of other landmarks including the train station which is modeled after [copied from?] the St. Pancras station in London; the main Post Office; and Marine Drive and Chowpatty Beach.

We returned to a ship decked out for war.  There was razor wire strung below the railings on Deck 3, the walk-around deck, and fire hoses positioned to repel boarders.  We are approaching pirate territory and are preparing “just in case.”  There will be a crew drill tomorrow so everyone knows what to do.  Passengers were instructed to vacate their rooms and sit in the hallways, but we think we will be safer in our inside cabin than in the hall.  Since we have no window, we have no fear of flying glass.  Better safe than sorry.

TOMORROW – On the way to Dubai

Mar 21 – Flying to Dubai

The captain has once again put the pedal to the floor and we are flying across the Arabian Gulf heading for Dubai.  He thinks we will dock about an hour earlier than anticipated but that will not interfere with our tour on Monday.

The crew drill went off without a hitch at 9:30 and several passengers said their cabin stewards made them leave their rooms and wait in the hall for the all-clear.  That may have been a bit excessive, but the captain is taking this all very seriously.

Today was just another sea day, and there was nothing else which was out of the ordinary.

TOMORROW – Closer and closer to Dubai

Mar 22 – Letters from the Captain

The big news today was that the captain is going to stay in Dubai later than originally scheduled and then dash to Muscat, Oman, at twice the planned speed, 18 knots instead of 9 knots.  We will arrive in Muscat at about the same time but will be a less-inviting target for pirates if we are traveling at high speed.  One wonders why this wasn’t built into the schedule a year or more ago.  No passenger ship has been taken by the Somali pirates and Captain Mercer does not want to be the first.  His letter this morning was reassuring and the new schedule was met with cheers since the mammoth Dubai Mall, the world’s largest, stays open until midnight and the ship will be providing a shuttle to and from it.

The second letter dealt with the gastrointestinal [GIS] virus which has been plaguing the ship.  Tomorrow, whilst we are in port, the staff is going to perform what he termed a “super-sanitization” of the staterooms.  In order to facilitate this, we have to clear all of the flat surfaces in the cabin and hide electronics so they will not be sprayed [and fried] during the cleansing.  This gave us the opportunity to dispose of all the extraneous papers which had accumulated.  Once we were done, the room looked naked – the desk and night tables are empty; the grandchildren’s pictures are off the walls; the tour materials have been taken down; and all of the chargers have been hidden out of range of spray sanitizer.

There is not much left that the staff can do.  We are told repeatedly to wash our hands and to use the Purel dispensers.  MA has used the Purel so much that her nails are cracking.  Even so, there are people like the fool on our Mumbai tour who argued that he didn’t have to use the Purel offered by the escort because he had used some earlier.  He finally relented when we all yelled at him.  And there are passengers whose spouses or companions have been quarantined until their symptoms disappear but who continue to go about their business as if they could not possibly carry the virus.  One such idiot was on Ken’s tour in Cochin.  We don’t know why the roommates are not isolated, too, or put into empty cabins to prevent the further spread.

Today was pay-out day in Team Trivia and we think we placed second to a team which claimed to have scored more points than mathematically possible.  We may love our Grand Dollars, but we are not that desperate.

Formal night tonight is also Sari Night but we forgot to pack ours, so we went in our regular party clothes.

TOMORROW – Day 1/2 in Dubai








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