India and Singapore 1997


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Note: This travelog describes our trip around the world in 1997. The first half is not particularly upbeat or favorable to India, so you may want to skip it. This travelog was written in 2010, so many details have long been forgotten since we took the trip. Now, let's begin.

Sunday, July 13, 1997: We left on Friday, driving from Indy to Cincinnati, then flying to Frankfurt, Germany, then to Mumbai, India, arriving at 11:55 PM Saturday night. We were met at the airport and driven to the Holiday Inn Juhu Beach. It was dark out, so we hadn't gotten a real taste of India yet, but we had passed cows and homeless people sleeping on the sidewalks. We were looking forward to staying at the Holiday Inn, after seeing very carefully cropped photos of it on their (now-defunct) website. This photo was taken from another traveler's website since we never took any photos of it.

When we woke up the next morning, we looked out of our room to find that the hotel was next to an empty lot, ...
... but it was hardly empty. It was home to many people and animals, ...
... including these goats rummaging through the hotel's trash pile, several suckling pigs just down the block, ...
... and the families shown here.
We were in India because Debbie was managing an offshore development project in Mumbai (Bombai). Her Indian colleague, Sajai Paul, was our guide for the day. We had lunch in the hotel restaurant, then walked out to the pool courtyard. As soon as we looked over the hotel wall in the pool courtyard, beggars and snake charmers ran up to us, so we never stepped foot on Juhu Beach.
Our driver for the week, Arpee, drove a small car with a statue of Ganesha on the dashboard and without seatbelts. We drove south toward downtown Mumbai and passed the Haji Ali Dargah, a mosque and tomb in the Mahim Bay that is only accessible during low tide.
We drove past Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus, formerly known as Victoria Terminus.
It is a very busy train station, not far from the Prince of Wales Museum, our next destination. Unfortunately, we didn't take a single photo. It was extremely hot and humid in the museum and postcard vendors accosted us on the way in and out. We eventually bought some postcards and mailed them from the hotel, but none of the postcards made it to their destinations.
We visited the Gateway of India, where we were immediately set upon by child beggars who took our hands and spoke English to us. We didn't get any photos of the many beggars because we were absolutely miserable and hated to take out our camera.
We took a couple of photos on our way back to our hotel. Among the sights we saw during the week but didn't capture on film: public urination and defecation, "Keep Mumbai Clean" signs, street beggars missing arms and legs, block after block of makeshift cardboard homes on the sidewalks, entire families balanced on a single scooter, getting mobbed by beggars every time our car stopped, and the scariest traffic we've ever encountered.
We passed many billboards for Bollywood movies, ...
... a McDonald's Family Restaurant, ...
... and a goat. That evening, we had a welcome dinner at Govind and Marin's home, where we met some of the development staff that Debbie would be working with. Govind's house staff cooked chicken tandoori style for us. Again, no photos, but we got some later in the week. We were presented with several gifts over the course of the week, including two tin figurines, a set of coasters, a dress shirt for Tom, and an embroidered scarf for Debbie.
Back in our humid but air-conditioned hotel room, we enjoyed the movie "Hoosiers" with Hindi subtitles. The room was so humid that the hard cover of Tom's book warped during our stay, but went back to its normal shape when we got to Singapore.
Monday, July 14, 1997: Our driver, Arpee, picked up Debbie and Tom to go to the office. Tom read a book while Debbie worked. The office was in a high-rise building on the 5th floor, and was beautifully decorated with custom-carved glass, dark wood, and recessed lighting. Debbie worked in the conference room with a private bathroom. During the week, there were several brief power outages, which was common in Mumbai.
Despite the luxury in the office, this was the view from the conference room window looking out toward the Arabian Sea, ...
... and this is the view looking straight down. The contrast between wealthy and poor is shocking and sad.
We went to lunch at the restaurant at the Otter's Club. The food was delicious, but we were already starting to feel the gastrointestinal side effects India offers.
The Otter's Club is a beautiful sports club on the ocean front. The ocean front itself was covered with hundreds of brightly colored plastic bags that had washed up and gotten attached to the rocky shoreline, but again, no photos so as not to offend our hosts.
Here is Paul on the left and Govind on the right at the Otter's Club. We also drove down famed Marine Drive and visited one of the upscale hotels there. Tom remarked when we got out of the car, "This place smells like the monkey exhibit at the zoo," and he was right. Thank goodness for air-conditioned interiors that don't smell like monkeys.
Tuesday, July 15, 1997: On Tuesday evening, we were guests in Govind and Marin's home again. From left to right are Cedric, Tom, Debbie, Govind, and Marin. Govind and Marin told us about their daughter's recent wedding and showed us photos. When Debbie expressed interest in the mehndi that is traditionally applied to a bride and her wedding party, Marin arranged for it to happen.
Thursday, July 17, 1997: After work on Thursday, two women came to our hotel to apply mehndi to Debbie's hands and feet.
It look several hours to apply because it is such detailed work.
This is the mehndi after it has been applied. The mehndi is a dark powder that feels like crusted dirt as it dries. The longer it stays on the skin, the darker the end result will be. Debbie slept with plastic bags on her hands and feet that evening.
Friday, July 18, 1997: Here's Debbie in our hotel room. Not shown: the box of chocolates containing candy that had been handled by many previous guests, the bowl of fruit that slowly rotted as the week went on, and the growing numbers of vases of flowers brought by the housekeeper who was grateful for the tips we left her. It was pretty gross by the end of the week, but the view out our window reminded us how very lucky we were.
The mehndi had set well during the night. The color is absorbed most heavily on palms and arches of feet and is lighter on legs and arms.
Here's a closer view. The mehndi lasted for several weeks. The last areas to fade were the palms.
This was our last day in the office, so Tom joined Debbie again. Tuesday through Thursday, Tom had stayed in the hotel, getting mobbed by children when he ventured out to buy a Diet Coke from a local kiosk, so he preferred killing time in the office. Here is the development staff Debbie worked with.
We left the office for the last time and were finally brave enough to shoot a photo of one of the dozens of free-roaming cows we saw on the street. Arpee drove us to Govind and Malin's home for one final dinner, served by their excellent cooks with each dish labeled with its name. By this time, Tom was so sick that he still can't eat curry to this day. Then we went to the Mumbai airport, where our luggage was taken from us by someone hustling for tips, Tom was detained by security, and we encountered the foulest bathrooms we've ever seen. Our flight for Singapore departed at 10:35 PM, and our flight attendant handed us a hot, scented towel as we said goodbye forever to India.
Saturday, July 19, 1997: We arrived in Singapore bright and early, checked our bags at the front desk at Le Meridien Singapore on Orchard Road, and had some breakfast at the hotel cafe. Next, we went out to kill a few hours. Our first stop was a pharmacy where we explained that we had just arrived from India and were experiencing some intestinal distress. The pharmacist knew exactly what we were looking for and gave us some Lomotil. We also did a little shopping, then checked into our hotel and slept a good long time, followed by a late room service dinner. We never took a photo of the hotel, so here's a scan of a postcard of the beautiful interior.
Sunday, July 20, 1997: We booked two half-day tours to see as much as we could during our short visit. We started with a morning tour to Malaysia. Here is the causeway separating the tiny country of Singapore to the Malaysian mainland, ...
... and this photo is the welcome sign at the Malaysian customs and immigration station as we crossed into the city of Johor Bahru, Malaysia.
Our first stop was a batik factory where we saw fabrics being decorated with this local art.
We did a little shopping here.
Our next stop was the Sultan Abu Bakar Mosque.
From the beautiful grounds, we could look across the water to Singapore.
We passed some beautiful cemeteries on our way to our next stop, ...
... Galeri Seni, an art gallery in an old colonial style building containing Malay art. We didn't get a picture of the building but we did get a picture of this mimosa plant that retracts when touched.
We got back to Singapore just in time to take our afternoon tour. On our drive to our destination, we admired the architecture. We don't know the name of this building (let us know if you do), ...
... but this building, the Pan Pacific Hotel, was conveniently labeled for us.
More buildings, ...
... and still more. Singapore is such a tiny country that nearly every inch of it is covered in highrises, ...
... with a few mosques, too.
En route to Mt. Faber, we looked back to see the impressive Singapore skyline.
At Mt. Faber, we embarked a cable car to take us to our final destination of ...
... beautiful Sentosa Island.
On Sentosa Island, we were greeted by this dragon fountain representing Lung Yan Men (Dragon Teeth Gate), the ancient name for present-day Keppel Harbour.
Our first stop was Underwater World, one of several attractions on Sentosa.
Underwater World is a fantastic aquarium, featuring a touch pool, ...
... and the very first aquarium tube (with moving walkway) we had ever seen. Back in 1997, these were pretty new.
It was the first time we had ever seen the underside of a manta ray too.
After visiting Underwater World, we visited a museum of Singapore history, then had time to wander around the island admiring the scenery. Here's the view looking back toward the cable cars and Mt. Faber, ...
... and here's Tom with the magnificent Merlion statue. The merlion -- half-fish, half-lion -- is a symbol of Singapore.
Here it is in its entirety. To get a sense of the scale of this thing, those are people's heads in the Merlion's mouth. Dusk was falling at this time, so the lights in the merlion's scales, tail, eyes, and mouth were on.
There are lovely gardens all around Sentosa Island. Debbie was quite taken with this plant, and had these in her garden many years later.
We had to get a photo of the mileage markers showing how far away from home we were. We'd done some traveling at this point, but had never been this far before. Note the mehndi on Debbie's ankles.
Near dark, the dancing waters show began.
When it was time to meet our tour group and leave, we got one last photo of the Merlion in the darkness. On the tour bus, our tour guide sold some souvenirs, so we bought a merlion lighter that we still cherish many years later. We had some room service dinner and called it a night.
Monday, July 21, 1997: It was time to leave Singapore, so we embarked Singapore Airlines, one of the greatest airlines we've ever flown. It was the first airline we had flown with interactive games and movies in the seatbacks.
We had a layover in Tokyo, the first of several Japan layovers we had before finally visiting it in 2008.
We couldn't believe we were really in Japan, so we changed some money, bought some souvenirs, and got a photo to prove it.
The last leg of our trip around the world was from Los Angeles to Cincinnati, arriving home the same day that we departed.

** THE END **


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