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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

India - First days

We arrived in Mumbai at 4.30 am. The temperature was 25 degrees and it was still night... Our first thought was "How will it be when the sun rises?...) After doing all the normal stuff when you arrive in a international airport, we headed on to our taxi. A Sikh welcomed us in our first race - believe me when I write race; the streets of Mumbai are quite competitive! - through the streets of Mumbai. We found out later that this was actually a really relaxing drive...although I thought we were going to crash at least a dozen times!

We woke up our CouchSurfing host at 6 am. Said hello and laid down in the leaving room for a few hours. We had hardly slept the night before and needed a break before starting to explore the city.

After getting up and after getting all the info on how to get to the city from Nidhi (thank you once again for all your help), we headed on to Andheri station to take the sub-urban train to the city center. Travelling by train second class (and even first class during rush hour) is quite an experience in Mumbai. First we had to avoid the people jumping off the train, then we had to fight to get into the train and finally we were crushed between stressed Indians like fishes in a can... When we finally got a sitting place I just thought to myself "this was why Prassad told me never to take a train in Mumbai." But what can you ask for a 8 Rupees trip? 45 min later we arrived to Churchgate and began exploring the city!

First objective: have lunch! We checked the guide and decided to start with one of its recommendations. We chose the cheapest - cafe Olympia. But getting there was an adventure! First step, learning how to cross a street in Mumbai. We tried the careful way, but that just doesn't work. The best way is just to follow the locals. Second adventure, finding streets names. Third adventure, avoid the people, the trash, the shit, the dogs and anything that might cross your way! But we made it, we recharged our batteries and moved on.


Mumbai (former Bombay) is the financial capital of India. With over 16 million people it's where the richest people in India live, but its also home to the biggest slumb in Asia. You can find poverty everywhere, people are constantly begging on the streets, houses are generally old and appear to be falling apart. The traffic is chaotic. There's a permanent movement of taxis and auto rickshaws, honking their horns (no one seems to listen to them), the air is full with particles - dust and pollution - and it is quite warm during daytime. Anyway, people are very nice and are always whiling to help even when they can't understand what you ask them. Communication is actually harder than I thought. English is one of the official languages - together with Indi - but most don't speak it or read it!

In the first day in Mumbai we focused on the southern part - Colaba - and walked around the Gateway of India, we saw the beautiful Taj Mahal Palace and Hotel (the one where the terrorist attacks took place a couple of months ago). We then passed by the Prince of Wales museum and watched people playing cricket (the national sport) at the Oval Maidan. The walk along Marine Drive was quite pleasant and a nice way to end the first day.

After a crazy adventure to buy a Vodafone SIM card (I'll get back to that in another post) our first day in India was over. The first impression was quite good. Much better then I expected, although it may seem, from what I wrote that I was living a nightmare. It's just a cultural shock that fortunately I was prepared to, and so it was not so hard to get over it. I now understand why in the Rough Guide to "First Time Around The World" the author wrote "Never start a trip like this in India". I understand that most people would probably think about quitting the day after they arrive to Mumbai. I just felt like understanding better this culture. And then, if I'm able to survive India I will survive everything else along the trip.

More about Mumbai, Aurangabad and perhaps Pune will soon come.


CHV said...

Brilliant description!
Ever since you spoke about the idea of making this trip, I knew I'd have loved to join...
This is the first real post about the real experience and I'm absolutely sure that I would enjoy it as much has you're enjoying...
Keep'em coming!

Cátia Oliveira said...

Aquilo que se sente ao ler o teu post é emoção, aventura, realidade, descoberta...os teus sentidos todos a funcionar...que imagem excelente!!!


Filha do Vento said...

Fantástica viagem... que vou seguir atentamente!
De facto começaste pela cereja no topo do bolo em vários aspectos. Também percebo o comentário no Rough Guide... mas é que para além do óbvio choque cultural, não vais encontrar absolutamente mais nada que se compare à Índia.

Boa viagem!