Soon we had our luggage and were clear of customs and the dozen or so passport checks that followed. It was time to discuss the hotel situation. At this point I believe both dad and I were panicked. Tired and overwhelmed we now had to find a place in this sprawling crawling city to rest ourselves. Dad had reviewed our guide book and highlighted a few good candidates. All of them, the guide suggested, “should be booked well in advance.” After dodging scam number one of the evening, we made our way to a “pay phone” and called the first hotel. You can imagine my shock when they told us that they had a vacancy for us.
Nearly ecstatic, we climbed into the most rickety A/C cab in Mumbai and headed to our evenings destiny. As the cab picked its way through pedestrians, rickshaws, buses, and animals, we were confronted with the slums and their chaotic thrum. I noted two things on this drive. First, even in the poorest neighborhoods that we passed through, people by and large seemed to take great pride in their clothing. Bright colored saris and crisp khurtan adorned many barefoot revelers. The second thing I noticed was that the vast majority of people (at least those who captured my attention) were smiling, or playfully tussling with their companions. This observation returned my spirit to a state of calm which almost could have survived the upcoming introduction to our night’s lodging.
It would not be unfair to compare the foyer of the Château Windsor to a bombed out WWII ruin. True, you could see that it was once a place where people stayed, and perhaps even rested in great luxury. Now it was a shambles. It was also getting dark. And we were in a strange neighborhood. One that didn’t look at all familiar or strictly speaking safe. And we were tired. Dead tired. Dad and I exchanged a look that said at once, “I am very worried” and “This is what we signed up for” and decided we had nothing to lose.
We entered the foyer through an almost impenetrable cloud of fine granite dust. Two guys were grinding away at the steps, ostensibly drawing out their future glory. We were met at the elevator by the first of a series of impeccably courteous and good natured staff members. The porter helped us to load our bags into the minuscule elevator and we all crammed in for the 5 floor lift. Stepping out of the lift did nothing to reassure us that we had chosen a winner. More work was being done on almost every floor and landing, and the construction noise drowned out all but the most determined conversation. I approached the desk and asked to see a room.
I was led down to the 4th floor, through more bustling construction, areas closed off by canvas sheets, and odd smells, to a rather elegant looking door. When the door was opened I had to stifle a gasp. The room was immaculate, well decorated and vast. I gave the porter a huge smile and thumbs up and we proceeded upstairs to secure our room.