Mumbai Meanderings

We’re going to take a break from our usual form of blog this week by doing a photo-journal with commentary. We recently returned from a one-week excursion to the city of Mumbai, and we have a bunch of wonderful photos documenting the entire trip. Let’s get started!



Day 1 – traveling to Mumbai


The trip to Mumbai was an adventure in itself! Our morning started with a walk to the bus stop, followed by a 40 minute bus ride into Navsari. Once in Navsari we took a rickshaw across town to the train station shown in this photo.


Travelling becomes exponentially less fun when done on a an empty stomach, so we stocked up on some delicious street food before boarding our 4-hour train. $2.50 for a huge breakfast!


When I boarded the train, a young man approached me and said “Your name is Austin.”… I was pretty freaked out by the presence of a real psychic, and had a look around my luggage for anything that may have given away my name. Finally I asked “How did you know?” The man proceeded to pull out an official looking passenger log and said, “a friend gave this to me.” The nice man’s name turned out to be Sandip, and he kept me company most of the train ride. He had spent the past 30 hours on the train from Punjab, so I’m sure he had plenty of time to study that train itinerary!


On Indian trains, all of the doors are either kept open or can be opened easily by passengers. This let me get some incredible pictures from our train compartment.



A view from our train as we arrived into Mumbai. Many of the city’s slums are built on government property, which tends to have a lot of train lines. This might explain why 3500 people die every year on or around the local train 😦


We had planned to ride a taxi to our hotel when we initially arrived in Mumbai, but my new friend Sandip was headed to the area of our hotel and offered to show us the ropes on the local train system. I read a little about the local train before coming to Mumbai, and one of my favorite quotes was, “Get a running start and be ready to shove your way into the train.” This is a picture of a train that has just started to roll out of a station… the train is packed completely full, and those passengers will continue to hang off the sides during transit.


Mumbai is a gigantic city, and the local train system is it’s circulatory system. The city has a population of 12 million, and the train transports over 6 million passengers each day! Here is a glimpse of a standard station during evening rush our.


The doors on the Mumbai local never close (unless it’s raining), and that leads to passengers hanging out to catch a nice breeze. After watching one passenger hang on with only one foot and a few fingers, I had to get a taste of the action 😛


We arrived to our accommodations, a room inside a luxury fitness/country club called Chembur Gymkhana, where we were greeted by this sign. Energy and water conservation seems to be a pretty strong cultural principle in India. Our friends back home know that among Americans, Wende and I are pretty conscious of our resource usage. Well, my lack of true sustainability was put in perspective when we recently received our energy bill at the hospital. Wende and I had been trying to use very little energy, yet our neighbor’s bill was a THIRD of ours… 😦 We have a long way to go!


We were invited on this trip to Mumbai, so that we could act as representatives for Wash U when recruiting at Indian High-schools. For that reason, Wash U paid for our hotel 😀 The room was extremely nice – way nicer than we would have gotten for ourselves. We got to take our first “regular” hot shower since arriving in India. Sweet!


The bedding was luxurious! We felt like royalty sleeping in down bedding under an air conditioner, and even though it was only for a few days, it was some of the best sleep we’ve had in a while. And don’t forget about the sweet bed mood lighting ;D


Everything is space efficient in Mumbai, including the elevators. This was the elevator in our hotel, and it was very full with just Wende and I as passengers. This particular elevator also did not have a motion sensor, so Austin’s arm was crushed multiple times in the making of this photo.


As we walked around the neighborhood our hotel was in, we were impressed by how nice some of the apartment buildings were. Turns out we were in a swanky part of town and just didn’t know it yet.



We caught site of this temple decked out with neon lights on our way to dinner. I think christian churches could learn a little something about decorating ;D


There were many “skywalks” in India that were like pedestrian freeways. While on one we were given this view of the street we were about to go down to. Rush hour!


Oooooooo… cool leaves. I wish vegetable displays in America were this beautiful! Small business owner pride.


At a nearby restaurant for dinner we had the privilege to order cheese fondue as an appetizer then share a veggie burger & gnocchi pasta as entrees. The food here was so good and made us feel like we were at a locally owned restaurant in America. Best dining experience so far!


The manager said his favorite dessert (of their list of almost 20) was their chocolate gooey – basically a heated up brownie with ice cream. It was so good, we ended up ordering a second one before we left!   #Gluttony

Day 2 – Site Seeing




This is their local train station! Puts a subway station to shame any day.


There was so much beautiful architecture! Obligatory selfie.



There were too many wonderful restaurants to choose from in Mumbai – what a great problem to have. This morning we went to a little cafe that had eggs Florentine and bread pudding! Yum.


So many things are divided by sex in India (sometimes for seemingly no reason). Here’s one example where we were separated for security entrance into a monument.


This magnificent structure is called the Gateway of India. It is meant to be a symbol of welcome to everyone who arrives to Mumbai by boat. It was constructed in 1915, and is the most popular tourist attraction in Mumbai.



After this photo, Wende and I were approached to take a photo with an Indian toursit. We soon became our own tourist attraction with a line of people waiting to take photos with us! We eventually had to apologize and run away from the crowd of waiting photographers. #UndeservedCelebrityStatus


It’s hard to see in this photo, but the red bowl contains one of those toy weasels attached to a mechanical ball that rolls around. See this hilarious website:     I’m pretty sure those aren’t supposed to be used in water, but that didn’t stop a crowd from gathering just to watch its crazy water rolling antics.


Our next stop was the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), formerly Prince of Wales Museum.


Apparently in India, touching the sculptures is not frowned upon. This family is practically using this ancient statue as an arm rest.


The bottom square is a mirror looking up at the cool roof of this shrine.


This god called Ganpati is represented often with the head of an elephant. This photo is for you Caity Oswald!


A picture like this gives you no idea of the scale of this amazingly intricate carving.


This is a larger shot of the above wooden box, which won a carving competition. So much detail in such a small space!


Ancient texts were originally printed on Banana leaves – this case displays a couple well preserved leaves from the 12th century!


Man look at those silly people. Who would ever wear a hat like that?


I mean, look at those awesome hats! Who wouldn’t want to wear one ;D


We got an English audio tour of the museum, and it made the whole experience much more engaging. From it, we learned that the banisters and wooden columns in this atrium were all reclaimed from original mansions/palaces in the city.



We took a one hour break from our tour of the museum to take a nap in this hallway (on the benches). We got some funny looks, but it was totally worth the rest without returning to our hotel.



This piece of art is completely made out of metal and precious stones. What a cool 3D wall-piece!


Winding down from our visit on the top floor. Wende looking Beautiful 🙂


I had never seen anything like this before. It is an ornamental wooden bench, but inlaid into it are large pieces of stone like marble and quartz. I bet that thing was not fun to carry to the top floor!


The bottom sword’s edge is entirely serrated… Not that I would ever want a sword jammed into any part of my body, but I imagine that one would be particularly unpleasant.


Giant terrifying spiked mace – enough said.




This really interesting display shows the history of the Indian currency Rupee. It shows every iteration of the coin or note since its inception. The descriptive paragraph says – “Rupiya (Sanskrit – Rupyska) meaning piece of silver. The currency of Rupiya or what we call the Rupee was introduced by Sher Shah Suri in 1540 A.D. He standardized the weight at 11.6 grams and gave it the name of the Rupiya. The Mughai kings continued with the currency of Rupiya along with the lower demonination of the Paisa. It then became the standard currency for the whole of India and was introduced in other colonial countries during British rule. The silver content of the rupee gradually decreased to such an extent that today it has no silver content at all. The present rupee is made of nickel.”


It’s so cool to see a physical copy of the same currency that was used 500 years earlier!



It’s very difficult to read in the picture, but this case displays metal coins that were being used in 600 BC! With how much the world has changed in only the last 200 years, it’s incredible to think of something like the metal coin being so consistent that it was used in ancient times.


A beautiful classic building reinstated as the police headquarters. I can’t think of any police headquarters this magnificent in America, if you know of one – please share it in a comment!


This giant green space had at least 20 games of cricket going on when we passed through – Indian people love cricket! There were only two entrances to the field, so many people were seen hopping over like this fellow.



We went for an evening stroll on the Chowpatty beach. There was a bit more trash than we would have preferred, but it was still nice to get our feet wet. Caught it just in time for sundown, but it was a bit too smoggy for an actual sunset :/


What do you think this building is? A hotel? A casino? Well that was what we thought until we asked someone. Would you believe it’s actually a hospital?? Our desire to visit the building steeply declined with that news.


Day 3 – WUSTL Recruiting Begins


The whole reason we visited Mumbai was to help represent Wash U as students during informational sessions at high schools. Today was our first visit, and we met our extremely nice driver. We didn’t get to talk much because english was limited, but Wende and I always tried to go out of our way to treat him with respect (and we bought him goodies when we went to eat) :]


We forgot to take any photos at our first school visit, but suffice to say the building was at least as nice as this swanky restaurant. The restaurant is called Le Pain Quotidien (or LPQ) and there are multiple locations around the world. Definitely outside our price range, but our host Rajeev insisted.


Our first school visit went well, but it was only attended by 2 students. As a stroke of luck, the male student was interested in business and the female was interested in Feminism! Quite a perfect match for Wende and I; we were able to answer questions they couldn’t get anywhere else. We’ll talk more about the school visits later.


After the school visit, we headed to check out IIT Bombay the partner university of Wash U. It’s hard to tell in this photo, but we are power walking up a very steep hill 😛


I was a little taken aback when I arrived at the campus and had to pass a security check point just to enter. I ended up having to call one of our contacts in Mumbai and then wait 20 minutes just to get through! People seemed surprised that I wasn’t expecting security at the entrance, but I had no reason to suspect since security on US Undergrad campuses is so relaxed.


In Indian culture (at least from our experience), it is uncommon to smile in photos. This sample photo by Wende gives you a general idea of the photos we’ve seen since arriving. This is most surprising  when we see wedding photos where everyone is staring down the camera!




What a beautiful view! The university campus wrapped around a lake, where this sunset is a daily gift.


This is the art or design studio on campus. It was the most colorful building we saw during our visit, so it’s rainbow of course deserved a photo.


At the IIT campus, all of the students and staff live on premises. The students live in dorms which they call hostels, and the staff live in apartment style housing. This affordable housing is just one of the perks of working at the University (similar to our affordable housing at the hospital).


This seemingly never-ending covered thoroughfare on campus connects to all of the main buildings. It is a godsend during monsoon season when students must trudge across campus every day in the rain.



Some casual cows roaming across campus. This couple of black bovine tweens were out for a midnight stroll – probably headed to a frat party  😉



This pair of kind souls were our tour guides at the IIT campus. We got connected with them because the daughter, Anupama, is interested in attending Wash U. During our visit to IIT campus, we were able to ask them questions about IIT and they were able to ask us about Wash U. We wish her all of the best in application and have offered to help in any way we can 🙂



We thought we would mix up our site seeing by visiting a super mega mall! This place was incredibly elaborate, with 4 floors, multiple food courts, an arcade, a movie theatre, and way too many stores! We successfully visited without buying anything other than food.



The TGI Fridays menu still had the traditional Indian green dot symbol for vegetarian menu items! Jeeze I wish this standard would be adopted in America.


What?? A rainforest cafe in the middle of Mumbai! We didn’t eat there, but it would have been interesting to go in and see the ways it was similar and different from in America. I have to imagine that a rainforest themed restaurant is a bit less appealing when tigers, lions, monkeys, and monsoons are fairly common in your country.



I loved this game machine! It’s only potential prizes – a “snack” size Mars Bar or a Philips DVD player. Needless to say, I didn’t see many people lining up to play this game.

Before dinner we made a pit-stop at the arcade where Wende and I played the equivalent of dance dance revolution. What’s better than two random white people in an Indian mall? Two random white people making a fool of themselves on a dancing machine. We worked up a sweat and by the time we finished we had drawn a small crowd to watch our extremely mediocre gameplay.



This fun zoo/jungle cake deserved its own picture. I always have a hard time believing a cake can still taste good when it looks like this…


Indian food court! Though some of the stalls were things like pizza or subs, most of the stalls were some form of traditional Indian food. It was great to walk around and look at all of the unfamiliar options.



Haha – 100% Paneer Passion. We felt obliged to try out a McDonalds in India, and the experience was surprisingly positive. The fries tasted just the same as america, and over half of their sandwiches were vegetarian! Sorry Uncle Morgan :/



The menu for McDonald’s India – so many yummy vegetarian options! I wish I could convince them to import some of these delicious masala vegetarian sandwiches to America. They would have at least one more customer in the states.



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This crazy attraction is called “Kidzania.” It is a real-life role-play for children taken to a whole new level. The entrance looks like an actual airport terminal, and it takes up most of the 4th floor! Kidzania has its own currency, stores, and each child can try out jobs like lab technician or construction worker. You can’t look inside without actually purchasing entrance tickets, but I made sure to get a map. One of the locations listed was a “Parents Spa” – get a massage while your little one lives a day in the “real world!”


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We stopped at a Dunkin Donuts for 4th meal and found quite a surprise. In India, Dunkin Donuts is way more than just a donut shop, it’s a burger joint too! One burger was advertised as “It’s gonna get messy”, and they were totally right. I underestimated the sheer giganticness of the DD burger, but I was slightly disappointed that it didn’t come on glazed donuts instead of a bun. #skinnyfatkid



“Classic Glaze” was surprisingly underrepresented when we visited. We’ll never know whether that’s because someone had already bought them all or if Indians have some glazed bias.


Wende was interested in trying all of the donuts… but only a bite. She said, “This is totally the best way to eat donuts.” My response, “You know they make donut holes right?”











Day 4 – Monkeys Everywhere!


More school visits! The second day went well, and the session was attended by close to 20 parents. This high school has an awesome track record and has sent students to many of the top US universities.


Sadly not an actual bus you can ride, but a fantastic piece of art nonetheless. Our driver was kind enough to slow down for me to get this picture 🙂





We spent our day visiting the Sanjay Ghandi national park near Mumbai. Monkeys were everywhere around the park! When we first entered, there was one just sitting on the sidewalk. I tried to approach it, but it wasn’t interested in me.

Later on, I figured out the trick and bought some sliced fruit to give them. My mistake was trying to feed a group of monkeys all at the same time… I kept trying to feed a baby monkey, but the mom continued to snatch it out of my hand with increasing aggression. I decided to walk away from the group of agitated monkeys before it got out of hand. The lesson is: If you don’t bring enough food to share with everyone, don’t bring food at all.



A majestic tree that we accidentally got duplicate photos of – great minds think alike!




Giant wooden rickety structure covered in rusty nails? Yes please! It’s hard to resist a big jungle gym like this. I got pretty dirty squeezing myself between a couple of the beams, but I had a blast monkeying around. If only one of the little monkeys would have joined me in my climb.




The park had a safari you could purchase that toured through lion and tiger enclosures. It was nice because all of the enclosures were very large, so you didn’t feel as bad for the animals. I know sometimes it can be a bit depressing to see the king of a jungle in a 100×100 box at the zoo.



That’s a lot of light switches.


We took a multi kilometer stroll through the park after our safari, and we saw some really beautiful scenery (including this tree).


This was a bit strange. Since this was a national park, we didn’t expect to see any housing inside. However, we saw multiple shanty communities like this one. Our theory is that the employees of the park might live within these communities.





Also within this national park was an attraction called the Kanheri Caves. These Buddhist caves were carved between the 1st and 9th century and consist of 109 different caves. Most of the caves are simple and were used for housing in this sacred place, but the larger spaces were used for congregation and have some incredible carvings. Here are a series of photos from our visit.



A lot of the Indian sculptures portray the women with extreme busts (often perfectly round). This fact is so prominent in the art that it was even commented upon during our audio tour of the Chhatrapati Shivaji museum.




All of the stair hand railing were made of stone as well! However, I have the impression that they were made out of cement and added later.

One of the caves we encountered had these thin woods sticks tied across the entrance as some weak form of “caution tape”. I have a feeling that those twigs aren’t keeping out a nation of people who don’t pay attention to lines on the road. To give them credit, they did keep me from poking my nose around inside.






Some crazy monkey antics: One of the tourists gave a sandwich to a whole pack of monkeys. The monkeys fought over it and then two monkeys went up on the mountain to enjoy their feast. It was ridiculous seeing the monkeys take giant bites out of white sliced bread.


The monkey sitting on the fence was impressively human-like in posture, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if he were holding his favorite novel.







I wish we had the chance to see this monkey scamper up onto his poll. He has the best view of the park!




Just a few of the incredible carvings and sculptures that have lasted through the centuries. It’s always amazing how things like this can be preserved through time.



On our shared car ride back through the park, there were at least 11 people in the small van (but I think there were actually around 13). Now that’s space efficiency!


We saw this contraption in a playground on the way to dinner. There were multiple children running inside, and right when we got there one of the children took a tumble onto her face 😦  If there hadn’t been so many children around, you can be sure we would have gotten our turn on the human hamster wheel 😀


That night we had dinner at our friend Rashna’s house. We got very lost on our way there, asked at least 4 different people for directions, and finally we were led there in person by a nice man who was headed in the same direction. Street signs and addresses in general just aren’t as clear in Mumbai, and often an address is given in conjunction with a landmark so you have a better idea of where to go.

We felt pretty bad for being 20 minutes late (we thought we were going to be 20 minutes early when leaving), but our final dinner guest Ratna Magotra was even more lost than we were. Our hosts had about 10 back-and-forth phone calls with Ratna over the period of an hour trying to direct her to the right place. In the end, we all made it there!

The dinner was wonderful, and it was very nice to see Rashna again. She was the woman who met up with us on our first day and helped us around the city so graciously. We plan to definitely see her again before leaving India 🙂


Day 5 – Last Day of Recruiting






Now I would like to take a moment to talk about our school visits a bit more. When we agreed to come to Mumbai for “school visits”, we weren’t really sure what that was going to entail. All we knew was that Wash U was going to pay for us to come, and we were going to be visiting a couple schools for some reason – good enough for me! Well, we slowly realized that we were acting as Wash U representatives during informational sessions at “International (High) Schools”. If you are like us, before reading this blog you had never heard of an international school.

An international school is a school that emphasizes a curriculum that prepares you for IB examinations. IB stands for International Baccalaureate and it is a form of college entrance exam just like the ACT or SAT, however this test is specifically for children who would like to attend college in another country. IB schools can be found all around the world, and if you are interested in finding one in your area visit:

IB schools vary dramatically in their attendance/enrollment requirements. In Mumbai, one of the schools required all of the students to take an entrance exam into their IB program so that only the most intelligent could continue. Another school required students to have already lived outside the country for a minimum of 1-year (verified by visas/stamps in their passport). One more school had an annual tuition of $40,000 US dollars… a massive amount of money by American standards, and a completely absurd amount by Indian standards. But this school had no problem filling its slots each year, and indeed every school we visited seemed to be thriving. By finding these IB schools, we had stumbled upon a hidden upper-class subculture of India that specializes in exporting its children to places like America.

When you hear about tuition amounts like those listed above, it is easier to understand why a school may look like the one in these photos. When I walked in, I felt like I was entering a spa or 5-star hotel. Everything smelled good, everything was covered in marble, and you felt slightly afraid of breaking anything. The picture on the couch was taken in their “cafeteria”/cafe where two of the walls are entirely made of glass. Heck, their school buses even look fancy!

When we were leaving the school, apparently a rumor had circulated that I was taking pictures during my visit (something forbidden). I was stopped by security and asked to delete all of the photos I had taken. Of course, I argued with security and wanted to know a reason for this limitation. They expressed that it was for the safety of the students, and it was implied that this was because of fear of abduction if one of the children were to be recognized in a photo. When people like our driver make the equivalent of $2,000 US dollars a year, I’m sure it makes the idea of holding a child hostage for their tuition money a lot more appealing…… 😦

In the end, the security guard and I compromised by deleting all of the photos that contained people. I am also purposely refraining from using the name of the school, for the safety of the students as well.





On our previous brief first visit to Mumbai, when we landed in India, we caught a glimpse of this structure sitting out in the middle of the ocean. I was fascinated by it and later came to find out that it is the Haji Ali Dargah, a mosque constructed in 1431 which contains the remains of the muslim saint Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. We visited on the eve of a Muslim holiday, and the place was packed with muslim visitors. We are unaware of religious practices when visiting temples/shrines/mosques/pretty-much-any-religious-site, so we were a little flustered when Wende and I were separated by our gender and then yelled at to leave our shoes outside the temple.

I was relieved to find Wende afterwards, and we made a B-line down the sea walk to make it to our next school visit in time. I’m glad we visited the mosque (because I got these great pictures!), but the number of people made leisurely enjoyment a bit difficult.


There are street vendors all over the place in Mumbai. We loved the street food because it was always delicious and fresh. Obviously some stalls looked more sanitary than others, but in general they all seemed like classy hard-working operations. This particular vendor was selling some type of flat pancake bread the size of my torso!


This was another common type of street salesmen we saw in Mumbai. In the city, few people actually own a scale of their own, so to check their weight they will stop and pay a small fee to a man like this. Sometimes it would turn into a game of sorts when a group of friends would stop and all try to guess each others’ weights. We saw three of these scale “vendors” just in our short walk back from the mosque!


There are primarily two types of taxi in Mumbai. Either modern in the style of something like a hyundai accent, or classic like this sweet “speed” ride. I loved seeing these cars all around town – maybe we’ll get to ride in one on our return trip to the airport 😀


Some of the gigantic buildboard we saw along the Mumbai freeway. It’s weird to see such commercialism (for things like waterparks and jewelry) after spending so much time in a rural village devoid of retail chains.


While walking around, we saw this trio of dogs chilling on and around this mini van


– of course we pet them on our way by. One of our favorite things about visiting Mumbai was how friendly the animals were. In our village of Kharel all of the dogs are terrified of people, but in the city we definitely got our fill of animal loving ❤


This is a night shot of Mumbai and the the Worli Sea Link – a highway over the sea that dramatically cuts driving time through Mumbai. Our last night in town, we met up with our friend Sandip. He’s married to our supervisor at Gram Seva but works in Mumbai. Before going to dinner, he gave us a brief tour of some cool sites in his neighborhood. We saw several churches, packed streets filled with shops (one road seemed entirely dedicated to shoes!), and this amazing view of the Worli.


Our last dinner in Mumbai – good food and company. Many Gujaratis end their meal with rice, and they often order it after the main meal like dessert. This night we were all stuffed, but Sandip kept trying to get us to order rice just so he could eat “a bite.” Sorry Sandip, my human garbage disposal capacity had been reached.


The restaurant was really cool – it had three walls and a roof, but was still open to outside. One of the walls had a partial partition made out of stacked pottery threaded through poles.


This shows why we don’t drink bottled water – while in Mumbai we didn’t generally have access to places to refill our reusable bottles and ended up drinking quite a lot of bottled water. Most of the bottles are a liter!

Day 6 – Return to Kharel


We enjoyed the restaurant we went to our first night in town so much, we returned for their breakfast before (barely) catching out train. When we arrived at the train station and asked for our platform number, the worker urgently pointed and said “three, three, three!”



Back in Kharel, we were excited to put a gift we received from Sandip on display. This statue greets us every morning and wishes us good luck. Austin has named her Amber 🙂


For those of you that have made it all the way to the end of this blog, CONGRATULATIONS! You are dedicated.

When I decided to do a photo blog, I thought it might be easier than a traditional style. However, one unforeseen complication was that I could only add captions to the photos when I had access to strong internet (and didn’t have other work for GST). For that reason this blog has taken us a few weeks to finish up. It probably would have helped if I cut down the number of photos… but they just all had their own story to tell! Thank you for your patience. The next blog should be coming much sooner! Until our next adventure 😀