An intrepid writer travels to Southeast Asia and the Middle East in a time of great upheaval but in grand fashion, part 3

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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Somewhere in the Gulf of Oman | Having survived Cochin’s roads of death, as I described in my last dispatch, I continued on my adventure to Mangalore, India (read about the origins of my trip in my first dispatch). Here is all you need to know about Mangalore. It is about an hour or two away from Bangalore, India’s Silicon Valley. I, unfortunately, didn’t have enough time to make it there.

Mumbai – a city of stark extremes

After Mangalore, I arrived in Mumbai. Now, Mumbai is quite something. The city is home to both the most expensive private residence in the world (costing at least $1 billion and rising 27 stories) and to mind-boggling wretched slums. Interspersed between these extremes were examples of gothic architecture that were as good or better, in my completely architecturally-inept opinion, than what one finds in London. (See below Victoria train station, a Mumbai slum, and the world’s most expensive residence, which is the modern grey building pictured.)

Throughout Mumbai, children can be found playing cricket. In the slums or in back alleys, it is the country’s pastime. Indians are quite proud to tell you that they just won the world championship earlier in April. I don’t understand the game, but I am fairly certain it is at least equally as boring as America’s pasttime.

No visit to Mumbai would be complete without visiting the Dhobi Ghat, the city’s famed outdoor laundromat. For a nominal fee, Mumbai residents can have their laundry done in this outside venue, where their cloths are washed by being repeatedly whipped against a stone. The drying colorful clothing create a beautiful site:

Mumbai is unlike any city I have ever been to – and it is certainly a place I will return.

The young man and the sea

After Mumbai, we set sail for Oman, which meant another two days at sea. Like most days at sea during this trip, I spent the day eating, eating, eating, and occasionally reading and working out. But mainly eating.

Well, this is not entirely accurate. I have also spent much time joking about a potential pirate attack, which, while certainly unlikely, was not entirely inconceivable considering the waters I was traveling in. The ship is even covered in barbed wire, though I don’t know how much good that would do.

The day before arriving in Oman, while having a drink at the Sky Bar on the top of the ship, a fellow traveler mentioned that it felt like we were experiencing a calm before a storm. Almost on cue, a loud boom resonated. A jet – some said an F-16  or an F-15 – zoomed passed the ship. Then it buzzed the ship again. And then again.

It was a bit unnerving, considering the ship was close to the coast of Iran at that point and the jet had no markings. I would have much preferred to see the good old stars and stripes. I ruled out the possibility that the Somali pirates had upgraded their methods, reasoning that no matter how well business has been, it seemed unlikely it had been good enough to purchase an air force. The fact that I am writing this demonstrates that nothing much came of the incident.

Muscat, Oman – it still exists

When my trip began, it was not entirely certain that Oman would still exist by the time I reached it. Like much of the Middle East, it has been rocked by protests, though Oman’s protests have been much less severe than the protests in other countries. Indeed, upon arriving in Muscat, I was informed by my guide that while there were some Omanis that were protesting for better pay, all of them had a deep affection for Sultan Qaboos, the country’s ruler, in the depths of their heart. Though I have doubts that this poetic sentiment is entirely accurate, of all the many dictators in the Middle East, Sultan Qaboos is certainly considered one of the better ones.

But he is still a dictator and like most dictators, his image was omnipresent:

And like many dictators, discussing Qaboos’ private life is forbidden in Oman. I was told you can’t discuss what he does privately or especially who will succeed him (he has no children). Yet, though speculation about Qaboos’ private life is verboten, one can safely assume he has had some good times on his enormous private yacht parked in Muscat’s harbor for all the country’s residents to see:

There aren’t an overwhelming number of sites to see in Muscat, but one site I saw in passing caught my attention. It was the National Bank of Oman. Styled in 1980s dictator chic with giant gaudy gold doors, it very well may be the template for the White House’s renovation to the Trump House should The Donald actually run and be hired by the American people in 2012:

Oman’s grand mosque, named after Sultan Qaboos like almost everything in the country, can supposedly accommodate 20,000 worshippers. Despite my street cred within the Muslim world, I wasn’t permitted entry since it was Friday. Instead, I took this picture outside of it, which depicts me pointing at the structure for no apparent reason:

One last leg of the trip to go. Check back next week as I conclude my journey with a stop in Dubai.