The day started off fiery with a spicy breakfast. I tucked into a rice and chickpea dish provided by the hostel. This was washed down with a sweet chai tea. Fed and watered, I decided to set off for the day. Time to explore Mumbai.
Speaking to others over breakfast I concluded that I must experience Mumbai like a local.
With this in mind, I slowly strolled through the manic streets to the train station. This was a 15 minute walk. Following directions the hostel host gave me, I walked down the main boulevard crossing a few busy streets – a tricky task I must admit. Cars, tuk tuks, taxis, buses and many other vehicles which I can’t name whizzed down the street. At some intersections there are traffic light systems in Mumbai. However, even when there is a green man the cars relentlessly continue to pass. All you can do is wait for a gap and leg it across. At times the pavement stops or is blocked by stalls. When this occurs you must confidently walk on the road in a single file. I just followed the locals who knew what they were doing.
I was relieved to see the train station. But this feeling of joy was soon filled with sadness. Beggars sat outside. A small baby was rocked in a makeshift hammock. A skinny mother had turned her scarf into a cot that she rocked. Meanwhile she patted a toddler wrapped around her neck. The heat was intense.
Inside I found the ticket office and bought a return to Church Gate Station. Walking up the stairs, swarms on people walked past.
I was advised what platform to go to and jumped on the train.
Standing looking out of the open door carriage, I was invited to sit down. I joined a family who were very keen to take pictures with me. ‘Selfie, selfie?’ the young daughter and then son asked me. ‘Of course’, I replied.
Looking through the fenced carriage window, I could see slums along the railway line. Dusty tarpaulin was stretched across metal structures. Clothes hung from any window frame available or on roof tops or wooden posts.
After a while the family I was sat with departed and I was left pondering what it must be like to live in Mumbai – by far the busiest city I have ever visited.
I hopped off the train into another swarm of people. I had no idea where I was going. I think I wanted to reach the gateway of India but which way it was I did not know. Getting my chunky guide book out in the crowd was not something I wanted to do.
The heat was getting stronger. I walked up the main road full of people and spied a coffee shop, which looked like it had air con. Result! I ordered an iced coffee and sat down opening my guide book.
When the waiter came over I asked where I should go. He seemed not to know. Instead a lovely lady sitting next to me helped. We had a coffee together and she told me all about her home City, Mumbai. She told me about many places I could visit. We chatted for a while about her studies, my job and India in general.
Once we had finished, she insisted on walking me to the tourist office where they proceeded to give me pamphlet after pamphlet. It was opposite Church Gate Station and very useful. The lady walked me out and bought me a sugar cane juice, which was so kind of her. She wouldn’t let me pay.
The street vendor, a man of about 40, had an entire crate full of sugar canes. He blended them on his truck making a unique juice. He added lemon and ginger before serving the concoction. Its sweet taste had undertones of gentle flavour. It was the perfect energy kick I needed for the rest of the day.
I parted from my new friend before roaming around the area. I manovered my way through the hectic streets, avoiding eye contact and dodging oncoming vehicles, people and cattle. Shops and stalls sold colourful clothes, shiny jewelry and fragrant food and drinks.
I wondered into a free art gallery to cool down in their air-conditioned rooms. Next, I admired the architecture in Mumbai. Grand buildings jutted into the sky next to run down newer blocks.
Since I have arrived I wanted to buy an Indian outfit. But, of course, it’s never a good idea to buy the first one you see. I tried one on costing 1,000 rupees about 10 pounds. Rather dear I thought.
As the sun began to set, I made my way over to the marina (sea harbour). I could see a fantastic cityscape. The minute I sat down a couple asked me for a selfie.
Getting on the train back to the hostel I happened to jump into the women only carriage. This carriage was slightly less crowded but still packed. I just about managed to get a seat (one of the perks of being a girl, you also get cheaper tickets and can skip queues). When an older lady squeezed on the end I offered her my seat as there was more room where I was. Her and everyone around said ‘no no no, you sit’. I felt bad. Everyone is so hospitable in Mumbai.
Being the only white person, I do stick out. But not in a negative way you understand. I am getting looks but they are curious stares. People want to take pictures with me, be kind and help me where they can.
Of course, in every country there are unsavory people. We only hear about them on the news and not the good-hearted folk. With India’s population over 1 billion there will be a higher number of people who are not kind. This said, the vast majority couldn’t be nicer if they tried. so we have to get things in perspective.
Numerous times, I have asked for directions and people have jumped at the chance to give me a hand.
On getting off the train, I found myself at the wrong exit on the east side of town. Not recognising where I was, tuc tucs zoomed past, people rushed by and the narrow road seemed unfamiliar. Commuters appeared to be rushing home.
I headed back to the station asked a security guard for directions and was on my way again. Getting lost shows you another area, which you may not have discovered otherwise.
I was rewarded with an ice cold shower in the hostel. My feet had become black from the dust. I must say it felt unimaginably divine to be clean and wearing new clothes.
The day was finished off by grabbing street food and Chai tea while having fascinating conversations about Indian life – the caste system, family expectations, religion and much more besides.