|Bombay in the AM|
A friend of mine asked about culture shock – I cannot deny that I always have a case of it when I first arrive to a new country after being home in the US for a while. I feel nervous, excited, vulnerable and a bit fearful. India’s big cities are quite intense as well. When I stepped off the plane from NYC to Bombay, I no longer had a working iPhone (which I forget how much I rely on), can speak to just anyone as not everybody knows English, have friends or family close by to reach out to. I am alone, trusting that my couch surfing host would show up to pick me up late on a Monday night.
I asked a few strangers if I can borrow their phone to contact my host to let him know I’ve arrived safely. They direct me to a telephone stand a blind gentleman operates. I’m able to get in touch with my host Dr. Sidharth and his driver arrives 30 minutes later. His driver, Baabloo, speaks some English and we chat a bit before picking up Dr. Sidharth to take me to his clinic. The whole time though I’m thinking of The White Tiger. Is Baabloo treated well? Does he wish he could be with his family this late at night? Those who read it will know what I mean.
My host is very welcoming and made me feel at ease. He even introduced me to his friend, Dr. Vishkar, who is taking his mother and sister-in-law out that night to experience Bombay night life. I join along to Juhu beach. We dip are feet in the Arabian sea and oh does the sea breeze feel amazing on that sticky night. They treat me to my first Indian street food and Kalfi for dessert. I’m stuffed! I swear they’re trying to fatten me up! A good first night in Bombay.
All in all during my stay in 3 different parts of Bombay with 3 different CS hosts:
- · Juhu – Dr. Sidharth’s extra room in his clinic
- · Bandra West – Mudit’s flat
- · Chembur West – Navneet & Nikhil’s flat
Unfortunately my 2nd host, Mudit, is under the weather the whole time I stay with him, but we still were able to have some great conversations. I had other couch surfer’s offer to show me around, so I take Amrit up on that for my 2nd day. He’s very generous and shows me some true gems in Bombay.
|Laundry central near Mahalaxmi station. If you send for laundry to be done, more than likely it will come here.|
|Cricket is played everywhere!|
India is known for its many festivals. Lonely planet has 4 pages dedicated to month by month breakdown of the top festivals. I had the chance to be in India during Holi. Holi is one of North India’s most ecstatic festivals. Hindus celebrate the beginning of spring according to the lunar calendar, by throwing colored water and gulal (powder) at anyone within range. On the night before Holi, bonfires symbolize the demise of the evil demoness Holika.
For any whom I’d chatted with before my trip heard about my excitement about celebrating Holi. I think I created a bit too much hype and expectations for the experience. Don’t get me wrong it was fun just different than what I’d expected. I’d assumed it was some massive outdoor celebration where much of the city participates; similar to St. Patrick’s day in San Francisco. I quickly came to find out that playing Holi is a bigger party up North (if only I read my lonely planet) and that it’s celebrated with close friends/families. So you really want to be able to attend a private party with a friend and all their friends/family members. At this point in my trip I’d just met a few people, Amrit and I opted to check out a party in Juhu beach. We played Holi, danced to Bollywood music and as soon I was starting to feel all crusty from the colors the rain dance started! I think that was my favorite part, everybody was jumping up and down getting drenched in the water. I walked away with some really fun memories and a couple new pink highlights in my hair haha.
|Amrit and I on our way to Juhu Hotel. Like my go go gadget arm?|
|Holi celebration at Juhu Hotel.|
Before heading to see the Ellora and Ajanta caves, I spent the day with Navneet. He was patient enough to run me around on his motorbike to do errands. Biggest success of all was getting a phone here. So if you’d like my Indian number hit me up! If I know you that is J We also checked out the Great wall of Mumbai. The many rickshaw and taxi drivers Navi asked when trying to find it had heard of it, even though lonely planet had a paragraph on it. I don’t think street art is appreciated as it’s getting a bit rundown but I still enjoyed the art and the beauty of it all. Next time I’d love to walk the whole stretch.
|Bandra Bandstand where many Bollywood stars live|
|Bandra Market - You can get shoes & clothes for around $2|
My last day in Bombay was by far my favorite. Good company is what has always made my travels. At this point, I’d returned from a one night trip to Aurangabad (detailed in a later post) and brought along two new Swiss Friends, Eliane & Joelle. All three of us girls were welcomed to Nikhil & Navneet’s flat in West Chembur. These boys have such good energy together; you can tell they’ve been friends for nearly a decade. That day I laughed more than I have in weeks. The 5 of us meandered all around Bombay and ended the day with a night motorbike ride to Bandra bandstand. It’s a nice area on the sea where many Bollywood stars live. I still need to see a Bollywood movie in India, I guess I have 4 more weeks to check that one off.
|A bit delirious after our overnight train ride.|
|Sweet shot from my GoPro|
|The silliness begins!|
|This is what happens when I showed them a scarf that I didn't know what to do with....Myself, Nikhil, Joelle and Navneet.|
|Local train time.|
|I'm convinced now....for sure.|
|Sugar cane juice mm mm|
|Eliane, Navneet, Nikhil, Joelle and Me at the Gateway of India.|
|These grilled cheese were bomb!! If you're in bombay find this stall!|
Random observations about Bombay Life
I was surprised that a city of 19 million has yet to open an underground subway system. The above ground local train still definitely works and is very cheap (10 rupees or 20 cents a ride), but the underground that is expected next year will hopefully be a bit of a relief. I did have the luck to experience the local train at peak hour – ladies compartment was better than this though. Nuts, right?
Locals make things as easy as possible, jay walking is everywhere even when sky walkways have been built; it’s so much easier to just cross lanes of traffic and hold out your hand for cars, motorbikes & rickshaws to stop for you. Nobody stops for Ambulances. Somebody could be having a heart attack and die because of a traffic jam. Culturally it has not been taught to pull over when you see or hear an ambulance. There is definitely a lot of madness going on in those streets, but it’s beautiful. My favorite memories of Bombay are riding around on the back of Navneet & Nikhil’s motorbikes. It allows such a different perspective of all the life around me from the back of the bike.
|I loved these old school cabs.|
Something that absolutely blew my mind was that every couch surfer I met had a maid and cook that came twice a day. Navneet had first mentioned it when we were chatting before I arrived, I was floored, thinking wow he has a cook?!?! That is such a rarity in the US. Nobody has a cook and I knew a few who have cleaners come twice a month - what a luxury to have somebody cook and clean for you! I had to know more, how could they all afford this….Well first, a lot of it has to do with the massive over population and women that are from surrounding countries who can’t get a work permit. Also, all in all to have somebody do your laundry, cook and clean for you twice a day is only $100 USD a month. Living the high life in Bombay :-)
Thank you so much to all my new friends who made my Bombay experience incredible. We’ll be seeing each other again. Reunion on the golden gate bridge?