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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

City of Stark Contrasts (Part 1)

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Related post: Where's Walski?


As some of Walski's personal friends already know, Walski's in Mumbai. As for the melodrama about where he was headed, well... that's Walski for ya. This post is the first part in Walski's chronicle of his first ever visit to the Indian sub-continent. Bombay... the City of Stark Contrasts. This post is more of a teaser, really, since time doesn't permit Walski to do a proper one right now, as he sits in the hotel lobby killing time, while waiting to get to the airport for his flight home to KL.

Image hosting by PhotobucketArriving in Mumbai... Walski's first trip to the Indian sub-continent

So anyway, Walski arrived at Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport on Sunday evening, around 2330 hrs local time. The flight itself was on time - early even - but we had to hold for about 40 minutes over Mumbai airspace. Number 22 on the waiting list. Apparently this is normal for Mumbai - its airspace is extremely congested, not to mention quite hazardous due to the bird population. Fortunately, no avian wild life got in the way, and after circling for over half an hour, we landed without incident.

The airport is currently undergoing massive renovations, as is much of Mumbai - but more on that later. In fact, many airports around Asia, especially those 15 - 20 years or older are doing some level of renovation or other. Such has been the boom in air travel to Asia in the last couple of decades.

Image hosting by PhotobucketMissing some digits... an airport due for refurbishment

Walski didn't see much of the airport, truth be told. Suffice it to say that it is functional, but only functional - much of the areas Walski walked passed had been cordoned off with those ceiling high "Renovation in Progress" partitions. Being an old airport, the equipment you see, like the baggage pickup area flight indicators, are functional, but barely. To be fair, Walski also doesn't know whether this is true of the entire airport, but certainly true of Terminal 2C where MAS operates out of. Looking at the Wikipedia entry for Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport it is currently in the early phases of a master plan for change.

In any case, it was thru Immigration, then baggage, then pretty much straight out. Perhaps on the way back there might be more time to wander around. In fact, Walski's writing this at the hotel where he was staying, waiting for 2000 hrs when he leaves for the airport to return home to KL. Fortunately, the hotel's about 5 minutes away from the airport, probably 10 minutes taking traffic into account. Those who've been here will understand the chaos that is Mumbai traffic - but more on that in due time.

Mumbai is the official new name for Bombay. But the locals still call it by its old name. The car driver that took Walski to his hotel, when asked, said that he prefers calling it Bombay. Somebody must have gotten a huge contract to change all the signs...

Walski came here on a business trip with his boss, having one meeting on Monday (yesterday), and we probably could've left the same day, but we were simply giving ourselves a little buffer, in case we had to entertain our prospect that night. A little buffer became a whole day of buffer, inadvertently. Don't tell anybody, but Walski's boss is not exactly the most fun person to travel with...

So, after the meeting, and after lunch with the prospect, we headed out of the Sahar area where we were staying and headed in a hire car for the center of Bombay, some 25 km away. The trip downtown is an adventure which Walski will relate in detail, in Part 2.

Some observations about Bombay. If you're a KL-ite, and you think KL traffic sucks, wait till you experience Bombay. The roads are not very well maintained, and the concept of lanes is totally non-existent. If you've heard any Mumbai traffic horror stories - well, they're most likely true, as exaggerated as you may think they sound.
(world class traffic jams, and more, in the full post)

Image hosting by PhotobucketIf you thought KL was bad... think again.

Second observation - Bombay, or Mumbai if you prefer, is a city in the middle of a strange metamorphosis. It's not surprising to find modernity smack in the middle of decaying buildings. Walski has pictures that he will post in Part 2. But suffice it to say, everywhere you go, there's some form of construction ongoing. Walski was told that Bombay has set Shanghai as their benchmark of what the city aspires to be. It's a pretty lofty target, Walski thinks, but one that is probably achievable in perhaps another 10 - 15 years. The amount of construction you can see is perhaps testament to that.

Another observation - the stark contrast between the well-to-do and the don't-have-crap... in Bombay you can see the extreme oppulence and the decrepit poverty, all rolled up in one major city. Perhaps similar to what you'd find in Jakarta and Manila - it's just that here it's not isolated to any particular area. You see less fortunate people living on the sidewalks (literally) all over the city, or at least the parts that Walski travelled through.

Okay, Walski's gotta head out to the airport soon, and so this first part of the travel account comes to an end... until the next part, once Walski arrives back in KL sometime tomorrow morning.