"Mumbai is filthy. You will not like it here."
Such was my introduction to India last night by the driver sent by my hotel to collect me from the airport. During the 45 minute long drive he regaled me with tales of how filthy this teeming city is, how poor the residents, how miserable his life, and how hopeless his prospects. By the time we arrived at the hotel I was contemplating suicide myself. Fortunately, walking into the new Westin Garden City brightened my mood considerably, and I quickly forgot thoughts of hurling myself into Mumbai traffic.
The Westin is a gorgeous hotel. Full disclosure here - I'm a loyal Starwood member, and always try to stay at a Westin, Sheraton, Le Meridien, etc. My platinum status usually gets me upgrades, which makes me love them even more. My affections are easily bought.
The staff at the Westin are gracious and accommodating. The hotel is only 3 moths old, and the facilities are outstanding. It's on the outskirts of town, in the IT center, and perfect for business travelers.
Breakfast at the Westin is on the 18th floor, and the view is, well, slums and traffic, but from a grand perspective!
After breakfast I set off with my Indian colleague, Joy, for a day of meetings. Mumbai traffic is appalling, but you've got to admire a city of lunatic drivers who seem to have collectively agreed to ignore pesky things like traffic lights and street lanes. After two meetings and endless hours in the car my colleague and I decided to break for lunch - playing our own little game of Frogger in traffic had worked up an appetite. Joy recommended a restaurant in the Hotel Tunga Paradise that turned out to be terrific.
The restaurant, "Destiny Dining Bar", was air conditioned (a big plus in 95 degree heat) and offered a traditional Indian buffet. I must confess that Indian food is not my favorite, but this was quite good, and the spicy prawn soup actually delicious (even though it was spicy enough to make my nose run continuously for 30 minutes, a dignified first impression for my Indian associate. I aim to impress.)
The rest of the day was spent in traffic (by my estimation the average Mumbai resident must spend a good 8-10 hours a day in traffic) or in meetings. We finished late, and I was too beat to go out to dinner, so have returned to the Westin and ordered room service while posting this blog.
Tomorrow starts early - up at 4:30 to catch the 3-hour train ride to Pune. When Joy, my colleague, first told me of this I feared I'd actually uttered "kill me now" out loud, but it turned the look on his face was simply a response to all the blood draining from mine while my nostrils flared menacingly.
It's too early to pronounce my driver right in how I'll react to Mumbai. But so far he's not wrong.