ON THE ROAD WITH SHLOIME ZIONCE // On the Streets of India

Ever since I can remember I’ve had a desire to see the world. When I first started traveling ten years ago, I thought I might eventually grow out of it, but my desire to travel has only intensified. 

Beginning this week, I will be writing a regular column focused on my escapades and adventures. Join me as we discover new people and places together.

Running breathlessly to catch a flight is something I do pretty much every time I fly. It’s not a habit that I’m proud of, but it’s a habit I’ve had for a long time. Working to change my habit, I arrived at Newark airport for my flight to India with plenty of time to spare, and for the first time in years, I calmly walked onto a plane.

My trip to Mumbai was part of an exciting new project I’m working on with Nachi Gordon and his Meaningful Minute organization. We will be launching the first-ever frum travel show, with a goal of shining a spotlight on interesting Jewish communities around the globe. (We hope to release the first episode in January.) The 14-and-a-half-hour flight was full, not an empty seat on board. The airline told me in advance that there would be no kosher meal; those are now only available on flights from the United States to Israel and the UK, due to COVID. Apparently, COVID only spreads by serving kosher meals to passengers flying to destinations other than London and Tel Aviv. 

Upon arriving in India, I took an Uber to the Taj Mahal Tower Hotel, adjacent to and managed by the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. The Taj, as it is known locally, was the first five-star hotel in India and has hosted celebrities, US presidents and even British royalty. Unfortunately the hotel is most famous for having been one of the locations attacked by Pakistani terrorists on November 26, 2008. 

Security at the hotel is very tight, and as I exited my Uber, camera in hand, I was immediately reprimanded by a security guard who instructed me to stop filming. At check-in, I was pleasantly surprised to have been upgraded to a room offering spectacular views of the Arabian Sea and the Gateway of India, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was through this monumental arch that the British left the country after handing India its independence in 1948.

I spent the majority of my 72 hours in India filming for my show, but one afternoon I made my way around the city for an excursion. I started off on the Colaba Causeway, a long, busy street near the Taj hotel and the Chabad House. It was much quieter than I remembered from my last trip here, when I visited in 2019 for an Ami article about the famous Chabad House in Mumbai. Tourism has been on pause in India since the onset of COVID, and this has really had an effect on the area.

“You have very nice hair,” a voice said as I walked near the Gateway of India. The voice was coming from a short, elderly Indian woman wearing a green sari. She introduced herself as Silah, and she was referring to my peiyos, which she said were uncommon in India.

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