I was in Mumbai (formerly Bombay, the name I find hard to discontinue using since I knew it as such for most of my life) during the month of November, on a vacation to visit family and friends. During this time, we visited our favourite haunts including the majestic Taj Hotel where we lunched at the Golden Dragon restaurant. I distinctly remember how impressed I was by the rich decor, classical ambiance and spaciousness of this century old structure. A few things were different I sensed, compared to my last visit seven years ago. There were more people for sure – milling in the lobby and at the entrance, with hundreds more just outside the periphery of the Taj, a spill over from the squeeze of visitors to the Gateway of India. Just outside the lobby, at the foot of the gleaming marble stairs, was a solitary narrow metal detector that visitors had to pass through before entering the hotel. It looked ugly, out of place in these surroundings, and hardly seemed effective. Once inside the hotel lobby, we tried to capture some video footage on our camcorder of the enormous room with the stunning chandelier and artefacts, but were politely asked to refrain from doing so, as we would be “offending guests”. (Had the staff been instructed to curb people from filming the interiors for security reasons, or was it truly because we might offend the sensibilities of guests and intrude their privacy, albeit in a fairly public place?)
A few days later, we were enjoying an exquisite Indian buffet spread at a restaurant in another 5-star hotel a few kilometres away at an area popularly know as the Juhu beach. There was an outdoor wedding reception taking place on the beachfront. We saw headlines flash by on the restaurants big screen TV – there had been shootings at the main railway station in Mumbai, then at the Metro cinema in South Bombay. Within minutes, the channel was showing raw footage of the aftermath of gun attacks at Leopold’s Cafe. We thought it might be gang-related, but Leopold’s was hardly the kind of venue for assassinations of this sort. It was essentially a tourist hangout, and its clients didn’t didn’t seem to be sort who might be involved in trouble of this nature. Within few minutes we heard that the Taj was under attack, Continue reading
[This travel article was published in the November 2007 issue of the Qatar-based feature magazine ‘New Era’.]
It is late afternoon, and I’m writing this article on a muggy, fall day in New York City’s Central Park. I’m seated on patchy grass after finding myself a hotspot (thanks to free wi-fi in the park), catching up on e-mail and news. I arrived here on the comfortable Acela train from Boston, three and a half hours of super-smooth travel that skirted the Eastern seaboard with barely a whisper. Since my arrival, I’ve been drawn into a gritty, urban state of mind, while savouring the ability to keep walking for hours, being simultaneously assaulted and lulled by the sights and sounds of Manhattan. In contrast, the park is an anticlimax – a green cocoon of quiet; free of exhaust and the taut energy that wraps the avenues outside. The purpose of my visit? None really. I have no appointments to keep, no deadlines to meet. I’m staying at the New Yorker Hotel, in midtown Manhattan. Built in the art deco style of the jazz swing era, it was one of NYC’s premier hotels and hosted famous big bands such as those led by Benny Goodman and Woody Herman during its heyday. Unfortunately it stands in various states of disrepair today, but its location is hard to beat, offering an almost instant access to several key tourist spots and vistas in the city core. Situated a few blocks north is Times Square and Central Park, and to the South, Lower Manhattan and the Village with its interesting, funky neighbourhoods such as SoHo, Chelsea, Little Italy and Chinatown. Continue reading
[This article was published in the August 2007 issue of the Qatar-based feature magazine ‘New Era’.]
Attending the Montréal Jazz Festival in Canada has been a musical pilgrimage of sorts for me since emigrating to the West in 1994. A musical marathon, this festival spans eleven days and nights in the summer, turning the Western hemisphere’s largest French-speaking capital into an entertainment mecca for everyone from aficionados of pure jazz to its musical offshoots. By providing entertainment and plenty of other distractions to approximately two and a half million people, this festival overshadows both Canada Day and the Fourth of July, two big holidays in North America, with the European ambience strong enough to make one forget about anxieties south of the border such as war and terrorism.