Well this post has become a bit of an essay. What can I say?! My first full day in Mumbai was exciting and a total sensory overload. I'm sure as the days progress I'll have a lot less to report, so enjoy while it lasts-
Jet lag aside, I actually started the day with a bit of trepidation to leave my room. It was hard to leave my comfortable oasis of luxury at the Hyatt Regency, and face the big bad city.
After all, if I were to believe what some people had told me, everyone here was out to rob or cheat me and steal all my possesions.
It didn't help to know that one of the places I was planning on visiting, Chor Bazaar (Thieves Market) was named so, not nostalgically but factually- apparently what you buy there may well have been yours to begin with; stolen from you minutes earlier. How a market of stolen goods is even allowed to exist is way beyond me, but Nikhil, the concierge, suggested there was strength in numbers and I should go in a pair.
So instead, I chose, 'Linking Road' in Bandra to begin my walkabout.
This shopping street is full of air conditioned boutiques (imagine a Levi's store with a doorman and guards!). No sooner had I walked by a mens' store selling £50 sweaters did I come across the contrast that is India's signature- a street corner with an entire family living on the sidewalk; a small child naked and playing in the dirt and all sorts. It was very sad but alas it's not the first or last such scene one can expect to see in India, and you can only make it through a vacation by not letting this poverty 'get to you'.
So I walked on, and I walked a lot- all the way to Juhu beach to be precise, a distance that Nikhil later told me was unheard of among locals.
Juhu beach- this place was CRAZY! (Oompah Loompah crazy, not shoot out in a mall crazy). I loved being there and people watching!!
Here's just a small selection of what I witnessed-
- a packed beach and no more than a handful of men even had shorts on, let alone their tops off. Indians are conservative when it comes to stripping off in public
- women in hijabs (full length black cloaks).
- monkeys! (on a leash)
-coconut water, roasted corn on the cob and bhel puris for sale
-hundreds of people playing cricket
-dozens of wild dogs sleeping in the sand
-children begging while well dressed families sitting on laid out newspapers enjoyed their picnics
-a kid peeing against a wall in front of thousands of beach-goers.
Now before you westerners dismiss any of this as gross, consider what I DIDN't see- excessive flesh, fat people, sunburned people, fights, anyone making out or drinking
All in all enough to write a small book called 'Beach culture India vs. the West'. I think it would be a fun read!
My highlight at the beach though, was when a group of 4 little boys, no more than 8 or 9 years old came up to me when they saw my camera and said, "Uncle! Uncle!! please take our photo!" so I did, and showed it to them and said in Hindi, "Oh! You guys want to be film stars, eh?" as they ran off to play!
I caught a scooter rickshaw back to the hotel- a truly amazing experience. No more AC cabs for me! I loved the wind on my face as we zipped in and out of cars, dodged other rickshaws, ran red lights and basically wizzed across town like being in a roller coaster without tracks for 25 minutes, all for 50 Rupees (about $1). You can't even buy a Coke at Alton Towers/ Magic Mountain for that much!
I loved it so much that my rickshaw driver Sanjeev is coming back to pick me up again tomorrow- we're going to do it again!
Food highlight- thanks to Anjali for her top tip- delicious Aloo Paranthas (potato stuffed and lightly fried chappatis) at "Just Paranthas" on Linking Road.
So another day, another adventure awaits!