Tuesday, 25 June 2013 10:42

Arriving to India & Mumbai

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View of Mumbai from the suburb of Bandra View of Mumbai from the suburb of Bandra

Before heading off to my work in Hyderabad I had a brief orientation in Mumbai, which I chose to augment by arriving a week early and touring the city of 23 million people. My first few days in Mumbai were about soaking in my environment, trying not to get ripped off and staying alive.

Mount Mar ChurchOn my first day I stuck to Bandra, the suburb where I was staying about 30 minutes north of Mumbai central by train. I strolled down the promenade which faces the ocean, I visited Mount Mary Church, a beautiful structure.  It was here that I first experienced the phenomenon of people wanting to take pictures with you just because you are white. This family didn’t ask so it took me by surprise, children started sitting next to me on both sides and I thought they wanted talk, then they put a baby on my lap and their father took a few pictures. Seeing this, two groups of teenagers who had been eyeing me came over and seized the opportunity for a photo as well. By the end of the day I had been in photos with around 8 different groups of people, and I could tell many just didn’t dare to ask.

 

I explored the ruins of the Castella de Aguada, also known as the Bandra fort, which was built by the Portuguese in 1690. Unfortunately barely anything remains, but the location strategic for its position at the tip of Bandra, guarding the waterway with Mumbai on the other side and a correspondingly splendid view, has become a very popular lover’s point for couples to enjoy some relative privacy away from their families.

 

Next I wandered the neighborhood, paying attention to big roads to get an idea of how to navigate them. As you may know, crossing the road in India is chaos. Pedestrians cross the road at any point and at any time. Since there is so much traffic and cars largely ignore any rules, waiting for the vehicles to stop is pretty futile. Subsequently people are forced to walk in front of fast moving cars and rickshaws which proceed to nimbly weave around the vulnerable pedestrians. The first few times you do this you are convinced it might be your last, you deeply suspect that each street corner suffers a few casualties each day and that the hapless inexperienced American is next. Yet within a few days it really becomes easy. Riding in rickshaws and witnessing their incredible maneuvering abilities also inspires confidence that they can in fact hurtle around you as they fly down the road and you inch across.

When I wanted a break from the hustle and bustle of the main streets I began exploring the small market streets that lie behind them. Predictably the markets are a wonderful sight full of color, exotic fruits and tons of food that looks great but you know you probably shouldn’t eat. The smell would probably be great if it wasn’t Mumbai were the omnipresent odor of garbage tends to overpower the aroma of spices and grills. In the market I soon discovered the flip-side of the photo with a white guy experience, many Indians just want a foreigner to take a photo of them. Thirty minutes in to my stroll a boy came up to me and requested in fragmented English that I photograph him with his dog. I was looking for good photographic opportunities and was happy to oblige. I was instantly surprised at the size of the dog he was pulling out of a dark cage. I wondered how much food this pet consumed. As it emerged and he hugged it I saw that it was in fact a goat.

 

I concluded my evening by having a drink with the boy’s mother. She offered water which I kindly declined. I requested a soda instead, because I knew it would be sealed and safe. She then recommended a ginger soda. I thought I remembered enjoying ginger beer, a drink similar to root beer, so I agreed. She brought the drink and I opened it and took a big gulp. It was sweeter than I expected and then it hit me in the face. The ginger was extremely strong and gave the soda a shocking spicy heat to it. I did not see that coming, I had never tried or heard of a soda with a spicy hot kick to it. It wasn’t bad, it was just a monumental surprise. In any case I was thirsty so I savored the drink, thanked the family and strolled home, taking a few last pictures along the way.

 

 
 
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