Moxie in Mumbai
Mumbai has left me a little speechless. I knew what to expect: extreme poverty and exceptional wealth, an assault on the senses, juxtapositions at every turn. But it is the way that the city and all its extremes are not divided but entwined together that got me. It's vibrant, overwhelming, humbling, sometimes frustrating, and always teaming with infectious energy.
Formerly known as Bombay, Mumbai is the largest city in India and is quite honestly full to the brim. It is home to Bollywood, India's busiest port, and some 20 million people. I am not going to sugar coat it for you, it is dirty.
I mean I have never seen so much trash in all my life and it is everywhere, but somehow throughout all the dirt and dust there is an abundance of color. The saris are vivd, bright, and sparkling, buildings are painted in whimsy, and the atmosphere is sunny and joyful!
Originally Mumbai was made up of seven islands that overtime became joined by reclaiming the land. Factoid- the Portuguese actually named the city Bombay, they were there from 1534 until they gave the city to the Brits as part of a marriage dowry in 1661. Affluent Bandra, the Beverly Hills of Mumbai, is the residence of many Bollywood stars, and perhaps the best place to see the Portuguese influence as it remained an enclave until the late 18th century- catholic churches are doted throughout.
Tayah's Tip: The relatively new Indian e-tourist visa is the way to go, no more taking your passport to the embassy, yipeeeeeee. Simply fill out your information online, scan a passport pic of yourself, and pay a fee. A form with 'access granted' is emailed for you to print out and at immigration they will put the visa in your passport. Now please bear in mind, this saves you a lot of hassle prior to your trip but the process at immigration takes a little longer due to fingerprints etc, (frustratingly so)!
Auto-rickshaws are a hoot and a great way to actually experience the city though they are not allowed in South Mumbai due to congestion.
A taxi, or private car is comfortable but you will spend a long, long time in the car if traveling longer distances. The traffic is simply horrendous. To quote Clueless: “everywhere in LA takes 20 minutes”, and that's true, if there is no traffic, which would be at 2am. In Mumbai "everywhere takes 45 minutes", when in reality it takes 2hrs, so do not stay in the suburbs!
Personally I much prefer being in the thick of it and if you do too then take the trains! There are 3 railway lines that will bring you into the city centre. 2nd class tickets are dirt cheap, a return from Andheri to Churchgate cost me 20rupee (29¢..say what....) or if you want to avoid the pushing get a 1st class ticket for 210rupee ($3). I would suggest this particularly if getting on at a very busy station or with more than 1 or 2 people, it gets crowded and trust me, people will fight you to get on.
Tayah's Tip: I went 2nd class because as a woman traveling on my own, I sat in the Ladies Carriage. There are signs on the platform indicating which carriage and an image of a woman on the outside of the carriage itself, women do the same!
Most trains announce what the next station is and at the station, the final destination is actually indicated by its first letter only, as in C for Churchgate. People are very friendly though and will direct you to the right platform if you are unsure. Oh and there are so many official languages in India, 22 to be exact, but fear not, all signs are in Hindi and English!
A Wander Round South Mumbai
Many of the sights not to be missed are here, so bring a map and get exploring on foot!
The Gateway of India is perhaps Mumbai's most famous landmark as it was indeed India's gateway for sea-bound travelers. Built for British royals, ironically it was the last point the British soldiers touched when India gained its Independence in 1947. Then pop into Mumbai's most luxurious hotel to be a little nosy. The Taj Mahal Palace overlooks the gateway and is truly one of Asia's most opulent places to stay.
Afterwards walk by Wellington Fountain to get to Kala Ghoda. This area is considered the cultural hub and has prime examples of Victorian and Art Deco architecture. I mean seriously with some of the buildings if you take away the tropicana and the heat of course, you would think you were in the UK! Some to look out for include: The Prince of Wales Museum, Bombay University, High Court, Rajabal Clock Tower, David Samson library, and there are many art galleries to discover too! Head north up Mahtma Gandhi Road to come to the intersection of three major streets to find Flora Fountain.
From the fountain, walk up Dr Ddabhai Naoroji to Victoria Terminus which is the most stunning example of Victorian architecture, the headquarters for all of India's central railway, and an UNESCO World Heritage Site; a very busy station indeed. Head inside to try and recreate the Bollywood dance scene at the end of Slumdog Millionaire!
Afterwards cross the street but continue on the same road (it splits as I learned the hard way) to head to Crawford Market. Wander through the stalls of fresh produce, nuts, birds, chickens, and puppies :(. The building itself was under construction when I went so I missed seeing the Clocktower and Moorish architecture. If you cross the street to the west of the market you will find antiques, jewelry, and knick knack shops and stands. Be careful when crossing the road though, there are no crosswalks or traffic lights for the matter, and I had to psych myself up before risking my life!
I love Indian food, and am so excited to try new spices, and hot curries, and mango lassis, oh my! Check out Chetnaa in Kala Ghoda, it has a completely veggie menu (a lot of India is vegetarian) and you get lots of individual dishes to taste! Also the sharing dishes I had at Samrat near Churchgate were absolutely delicious!
From the Gateway you can take an hour long ferry ride to the island to see the caves dedicated to Shiva. They were built around the 6th century and have wonderfully preserved sculptures chiseled into the rock. Now don't get your hopes up, there are no elephants on the island. At one point in time, a giant stone elephant stood there (it has of course been moved to a museum, at least one in Mumbai: Bhau Dani Lad Museum). There are however cute yet thieving monkeys roaming around-beware!
Although you don't need a guide to explore the caves, we employed a local one at a steal for 300rupee per person. He was wonderful, and I so enjoyed getting the history of the island and furthering my Hindu knowledge.
Tayah's Tip: Time your ferry ride back to watch the sunset over Mumbai!
Tayah's Take: There is begging and like anywhere this is can be a difficult and upsetting situation to handle. For me I needed to give but from seeing people actually destroy 500rupee by ripping it apart, I thought of some alternatives. Why not purchase: color pencils and paper, toys, and snacks to give to children instead? To see the excitement on their faces will make your trip, I promise.
Mumbai, my introduction to India has changed me. I have a feeling in my bones, a need to experience life so different from my own. For me traveling brings meaning and clarity to my own little world and this city with all its movement, and color, and people did just that. It is their wonderfully cheerful faces no matter the circumstances that I will take with me. I have a lot to learn.
Intrigued and excited by India? Me too, more posts to come!
What do you think of Mumbai? Please comment below!