Mumbai, City Of My Childhood Dreams
It's after midnight when our plane arrives. The British Airways crew, jealous of our travel plans, gives us some last tips and off we go. Finally, the real start of our journey! We rush to the exit straight to the taxi stand. It's still hot outside and when we open the door of our cute black & yellow taxi, a swarm of mosquitos greets us. Welcome to Mumbai!
Arriving at night in a new and strange city often feels weird. Everything looks grittier and more unearthly than in daylight but we think nothing of it. Too tired. Our backpacks in the front seat next to the driver and with all the windows down we enter dark Mumbai.
Many locals are still out on the streets either working or sleeping on the sidewalk. The cool smoky air hits our faces along with a different smell in every corner as we race through the streets and on every speed bump, the bottom of our little old taxi cab scrapes the asphalt.
Half an hour later we arrive at our little hotel. We don't have the energy for a shower anymore and crash on the bed... fan at full speed...
Wandering around in Mumbai is a one of a kind experience
The next day I soon realize that this place takes me back to where my interest in seeing the world started. I remember watching movies like Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom and Octopussy, both situated in India. All I could think about back then was wanting to do what Indy did. Travel all over the world to bustling cities or remote locations with new cultures, habits and food (No monkey brains, though) to discover. Never knowing where to end up the next day...
Wandering around in the streets here makes me feel like we're in those movies. It's tiring and a lot of times frustrating because of the crowds and constant honking of cars, motorcycles and rickshaws. Oh my god, that honking, we'll probably be deaf soon.
But there's something about walking around here. It's the feeling of being in a city with history. A city with a mythical status. A city of workers, travelers and crooks. A city that speaks to you in ways no other city does. In good ways but definitely also bad.
We're staying in South Mumbai. The place to be for first timers because most of the important sights are close but to get somewhere on foot we have to be on edge at all times for cars and motorcycles. We have to be aware of the full 360° around us and that's still not enough most of the time. Traffic is insane.
We soon find out it's a lot easier when there's two of you. When we have to cross, we hold hands and use four eyes instead of two and that makes it easier to survive as a pedestrian. More than once one pulled back the other because of a car suddenly appearing out of nowhere.
When Mumbai slaps you in the face
We're still tired on our first day here so we decide to head for the most known place to chill and relax: Marine Drive and Chowpatty Beach. Now, we like to walk whenever possible but this time we decide to take a trusty old black & yellow taxi cab and half an hour later, at sunset, the driver drops us of at Marine Drive and it looks magical.
A golden glow covers the city in the most beautiful light. A photographer's dream. Sadly, it's the smog that makes that golden glow and not too far away, the skyline is already disappearing in the mist.
After a short stroll on Marine Drive, we sit down facing the Arabic sea to enjoy the view. Lots of locals come here to watch the sunset. Soon, a boy and a girl walk up to us. The boy sits on Joanna's side and the girl on my side. She starts to beg for money in a really pushy and aggressive manner, coming really close and making hand gestures in my face. The boy was more gentle.
Immediately, I'm thinking they're trying to steal something by distracting us from both sides so I tell her to get lost but she's persistent. We're trying to keep an eye on both the boy and the girl because now it's clear they're trying to distract us. For a final time I raise my voice and tell her to go away. It works but while getting up and walking away... she slaps me on my cheek... Wow!
Sunset at Chowpatty Beach
After this unfriendly encounter we decide to go to Chowpatty beach for the final minutes of the remaining sun. It's crowded with families and couples all wanting to see the sunset. On the beach, there are a few guys wandering around with big thermoses filled with chai. Oh, heavenly chai! We sit down, order a hot and spiced chai and do what we do best: people-watching. And while the sun sets we look back on our first day in India...
Some tips to survive Mumbai (or Bombay) for the first time
Mumbai is the most populous city in India. It's loud, hot and sometimes very dirty but it has such a rich history that it's a must visit. You'll be amazed by the colonial architecture, daily life and some of the best food in the world but it can shock your senses too... Here's a few tips for when it's your first time.
1. Stay in South Mumbai
All the important sights are close by and you can easily walk around to get a sense of Indian life in a big city. We stayed at Kum Kum Hotel. The location is good. The food in their restaurant is cheap and tasty and the rooms are clean. Around $25 for a night.
2. Use taxis
Often scary in a big city because most of them try to scam tourists out of their money. To our surprise all taxis used their meter without arguing. Around $1 per ride to most sights in the vicinity.
Make sure to take a moving taxi to avoid frustrating discussions. The ones waiting outside of touristic sights and areas will always try to scam you.
Don't want to get out on the street and hail a taxi? We tried Uber a few times and it worked perfectly. For short rides a little bit more expensive than a regular black & yellow.
4. Take it easy
Go to some of the calmer parts of the city on your first day. Marina Drive and Chowpatty beach are relaxing places with a nice view.
5. Want an Indian SIM card?
Try to get one on the day you arrive. It takes at least two days to activate. Ours didn't get activated at all but we already left the city so we couldn't go back to the store.