Saturday, May 8, 2010

More Mumbai, TBWA, Elephanta & a Train


Day two in Mumbai ended with a dinner at a pretty decent Indian restaurant near our hotel. We haven't felt particularly welcome in most of the places where we at in Mumbai, but I suppose that's the fate of travellers in big cities.

The next morning, our last in Mumbai, we had breakfast at Cafe Leopold. The food was not much better than our hotel but the coffee was great. We then went back to the hotel to pack up. We had two things planned that day. The first was to drop in on TBWA\Mumbai and the second was to take a trip to Elephant Island. I had tried to give TBWA a call to see if a visit was cool, but hadn't been successful in having a decent conversation over the phone. So we decided to just drop in.

We took a cab over to the district listed on the TBWA\ website, Worli. It was about a 40 minute drive and our driver, once in the district, clearly had no idea where he was going. We slowed down to ask for directions several times. Silly me, I was looking for the exterior of a building that, in my mind, should house a global ad agency. What we ended up at was what looked like a pretty run down factory area in a less than terrific part of Mumbai. I wasn't sure I was in the right place, but the building said "Paragon" on the outside, and that was all I had to go on.

It turned out we were in the right spot. Once inside it felt very much like an ad agency, with the polished concrete floors and open work space. I went in and announced myself, knowing full well that just dropping in on an agency is terribly inconvenient for all those trying to get through their day. But the folks at TBWA\Mumbai were wonderful and welcoming. Colleen was with me and, of course, we had to sit for a bit in the lobby. We were probably offered coffee and tea a half dozen times my their fabulous receptionist, Monica. Then a very pleasant women came by to give us the tour. She introduced me to their head of planning, who I had a great chat with. He knew a fair bit about the Indo-Canadian population of Vancouver, which surprised the hell out of me. And I met their senior planner, who apparently is a voracious traveller and was going to give me some advice on our trip. Then I spent some time with their Managing Director, Nirmalya Sen, who provided interesting insights on the Indian ad business and TBWA\'s role within it. He, and the others, were very generous with their time and I had a terrific visit.

Afterwards we climbed in a cab and headed back to our base neighborhood. We had lunch at a pretty touristy place then headed over to the Gate of India to catch a boat over to Elephanta Island, about an hour's ride across Mumbai Harbour. We booked our ticket and followed the crowds down the pier to climb on board a pretty dodgy looking craft. Colleen told me to hang onto her if the ship went down, 'cause we could see the three sad PFDs tied to the roof.


On the boat ride over I sparked up a conversation with the guy sitting next to me on the boat whom I'd heard speaking English on his mobile. It turned out that he was a Japanese guy, but had spent time in Boston and Texas, so he had a pretty interesting accent. We got to talking about our professions. He said that he was in the import business in Japan and, after further discussion, was in the missile import business. Not something I know anything about, but pretty interesting. Colleen was sitting next to me and thought the Japanese guy had said he was in the miso import business. Miso / Missile. A common mistake.

We hung out with Ugawa, the guy's name, for the rest of the trip to Elephanta Island. When we got there a tour guide approached us and let us know that he'd be showing us around the island. We asked how much. Rs 650. It was highway robbery in this country, but also not worth negotiating. We took him up on it and were given the history.

Elephanta Island has several caves carved into it dating back to the 5th Century. These caves were carved into the basalt, and the most impressive of them include Hindu statues and shrines. The biggest

and most important cave has eight shrines showing Shiva in different forms. To be honest, I find Hinduism very confusing and don't want to get into explanations, 'cause I'm sure I'd be wrong. But it was very interesting checking out the various iterations of the many gods including the aforementioned Shiva and Ganesh.


The island was discovered by Portugese explorers in the 17th century. Sadly, the did a pretty good job of messing up many of the shrines, and had tried to remove the pillars of the caves in hope that the whole thing would collapse. Apparently they also used Shiva for target practice. Our guide seemed pretty understanding, just saying that those were other times with different understandings. On the other hand, he also said that he'd only had one Portuguese visitor in his career.

After walking around the island we caught the boat back to Mumbai. We'd been going for about 5 minutes before our boat's problems became apparent - we weren't moving and there seemed to be a pretty good commotion coming from the engine room. Fortunately, we weren't sinking and we weren't on fire, but we were going nowhere fast. About half an hour later another ship returning from Elephanta tossed us a line and towed us back to Mumbai. The hour long return trip took well over two hours, but it was a nice enough day and we were fine.

After our return to Mumbai we grabbed dinner with Ogawa and then went our separate ways. We went back to our hotel and our stored bags, where the proprietor was kind enough to let us have a room to shower and clean up in. We then caught a cab to Victoria Station (CST), to catch the overnight train to Goa.

I've mentioned before the chaos of CST. Now we had to navigate it to catch our train. We kept our heads down, ignored most people talking to us, got directions from a rail cop, and found what we thought was our platform. We put our bags down to relax. Then, a few minutes later, we got up to find our way to our real platform.

It seems to take real skill to figure out the Indian train system. Part of the trick may be in following the other white folks, who are going to the same place. When the train came in it was amazing / terrifying to watch the locals cram onboard the still moving train. I wouldn't have wanted to be in that crowd. As it was, it was hard enough to find the car that we were supposed to be in, A1, the second class AC car. Very basic and very crowded, but our home for the night.

We were in a small space with a couple of Danes. Frankly, I was tired enough to just climb up on my bunk and pass out right after the train started. The sheets looked semi-clean (more semi than clean) and I was exhausted, still trying to get used to the time zone difference. It was a pretty sleepless night, but we made good time and didn't have to waste a day of our vacation travelling from one spot to the next.

Next stop - Madgaon, Goa.

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