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It’s 12.40am and right at the start of Saturday, and we are in Mumbai! Our room at The President is comfortable, only marred by the pounding baselines thumping through the hotel from the nightclub downstairs. Welcome to India!

Carol and I stayed at the Novatel at Auckland airport last night, and today (well, officially, yesterday) we flew Auckland to Singapore, walked directly to the next gate, then Singapore to Mumbai. The first leg was extremely comfortable, as Carol managed to score us an upgrade to premium economy. I feel like I’ve eaten countless meals and watched far too many bad movies (5 in total, including one at the hotel). And there’s been several beers …

Getting through Mumbai airport was a breeze, and a driver from the hotel was waiting to take us the 45 minutes through pretty relaxed late night traffic to The President, a pretty upmarket Mumbai hotel in the south of the city. I feel pretty good, though I do have a niggling cough brought on by air-conditioning.

Well, after 25 years, I’m back in India. Let’s see what the country has in store for me this time around …

We woke pretty refreshed about 8.30am, got ready, and went downstairs for a buffet breakfast that had a wide range of Western and Indian food. After a bit more preparation we headed out onto the streets of Mumbai. I immediately disgraced myself by getting us lost in a park next door; but since the street is full of fenced construction related to a new metro system, I guess it was understandable. Back on track, we walked about half an hour north to the Gateway of India, the 1924 archway that has become a symbol of both colonisation and independence. The area is fenced off and our bags had to go through a scanner (and in fact, our bags are scanned every time we enter our hotel).

At this point we needed to get some money and some water, so I found an ATM and solved both problems (10 rupee for a small bottle, 20 rupee for a large one). Then after some confusion in the streets around Regal Circle, a busy, complex roundabout, we found the entrance to the Chhatrapati Shiraji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, an impressive museum which – luckily for us – was featuring an exhibition of beautiful ancient sculpture (along with collections of Hindu and Buddhist sculpture and Indian miniature paintings). What a rare pleasure after the cultural drought we’ve endured in Nelson over the Covid years. It’s been so long since I saw world-class art and antiquities.

It was early afternoon and we were getting hungry, so we found a nearby restaurant called The Copper Chimney (apparently a 50 year old institution), and I had a delicious Chicken Tak-a-Tak curry – probably, no definitely, the tastiest meal I’ve had in years.

(Note: As I was putting this online, I discovered I’d eaten at a Copper Chimney restaurant in Jaipur back in 1997!)

Afterwards we walked all the way back south to the hotel, on the way briefly bothered by some smart-arse kids whom I scared off with a sudden turn-around and foot stomp! The only other hassling incident was some guy near the museum who tried to tell me I had something on my face and started to walk towards me; but in general Mumbai seems far more laid-back and easy-going than I expected.

Back at the hotel, pretty weary and hot after our first day of exploration, we relaxed for a while, researching the best app that would allow us to take high contrast B&W photos on your iPhones. For the first time, we’re both using them for our photo taking rather than dedicated cameras; something we’re both a little nervous about.

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