Preface: You can take this with a grain of salt since I have only started travelling more over the past year, but I have now been to five continents, and India is by far the craziest place I’ve been… and I’ve only been here for four days. What makes it so crazy, insane, sad and wonderful is that you see every face of humanity every time you walk outside: The beauty and kindness of the people, the intense poverty, the extravagant economic growth, the wealth, the food, the music, the traffic, the adventure. I can’t even put into words, nor will my pictures ever do justice, to the experience of being in India. But I will try to give you a glimpse of my experiences and let you draw your own observations and conclusions. I have just finished my first day of wandering around New Delhi, so I need to write about my few days in Mumbai before my memory fails me yet again. I could literally write 10 pages on my 4 days in Mumbai but I don’t want to bore my thousands of readers so here it goes:
I arrive in Mumbai after a 15 hour flight which was surprisingly not bad. This could be because I can sleep literally anywhere. I probably slept for 12 hours… most sleep I’ve had in months. It was glorious. Upon arrival, I get picked up by my hotel, which was quite the nice gesture, and head back with a U.S. Army engineer who was staying at the same hotel. We make it back to the hotel but it’s about 11 at night so we chat for a bit and head to sleep.
I awake and decide I am going to leave my suburban hostel and head to downtown Mumbai to get a more central location for the next few days. I speak to Raj, the generous hotel owner, and he points me in the right direction towards the train heading south. I take a rickshaw for the first time, which was awesome and simultaneously scary as hell. I head to the train station, purchase my ticket, and hop on. All is calm. A few people in the corner reading the paper, others just hanging out, getting ready for their day of work. A stop or two goes by and everything stays the same. “This is going to be pretty calm,” I concluded. Then all of a sudden…BAM. We pull up at one stop and the train car completely fills up. I am on top of 30 other people, all of us breathing, leaning and sweating on each other. It stays like this for 30 more minutes. Throughout the ride, I learn the magnificent art of crowds getting on and off of the train. At a busy stop, all of the riders on the train that need to get off pile in front of the door in a battering ram position. As soon as the train comes to a crawl, the entire bunch shoots off of the train. At the same time, there is an identical group of people waiting on the platform trying to get onto the train. They do the exact same thing… form a bunch and all charge the train entrance! You can see how this goes… it’s just mayhem. With both groups being pretty large, it gets quite violent. But the one thing that permeates through all of the pushing, elbows, and shoves is wide smiles on both sides. The commuters actually enjoy doing this. And I must say, once I got into the mix, it was pretty damn fun.
I finally make it down to a hotel and they have an open room, which is a welcome relief, as I am pretty hot, and sweating like a banshee (great word). The hotel is nothing special but the location is great and the staff is really nice so I agree to stay there. I spent most of the day walking around and seeing the sites of the Fort and Colaba districts.
One thing that I found really interesting was the amount of Indians that wanted to take pictures with me. Luckily, this time they didn’t think I was ugly soccer start Wayne Rooney, just your standard westerner. I took pictures with a bunch of Indian teenagers who asked me random questions about this and that. In the evening, I took a walk up to the bazaars to do some shopping. Being that this is the monsoon season in Mumbai and most of India, I knew it was only a matter of time before the heavens opened…and boy did they ever. Most thunderstorms in NY are pretty intense but usually only last for a half hour or so. This storm was similar in intensity but lasted about 4 hours. I got stuck in the rain and ended up back at the hotel smelling and looking like a wet dog.
I awake to a downpour once again. I had originally planned to wake up around 7am to go check out the city but a steady rain deters this plan until around noon. I head back down to the gateway of India, which is a main tourist area, and hire a guide to show me all of the sites in India. He takes me to an area of Mumbai which is designated for just washing clothes for businesses and commercial enterprises. Only these are done by hand by the entire community. Walking through this area was definitely an eye opening experience that really had the Indian work ethic on full display.
On the tour, we also went to see Gandhi’s house, which was pretty inspiring. It led me to start reading Gandhi’s autobiography “My Experiments with Truth”. Within the first 5 chapters, I learned that Gandhi got married at 13, disobeyed his parents and became a meat eater for a short period of time, and was trying to get laid the moment his father passed away. So I guess no one is perfect! But his life story is an inspiring one, and we can all use his story to aspire to change the world in our own little way.
I finished the tour around 3pm and decided to head to a local pub to grab the first beer of the trip. The local beer is called Kingfisher, a lager that doesn’t taste half bad. I took a sip, pulled out my Kindle, and settled in for a quick read. Upon scanning the room, I noticed a girl sitting across from me by herself. While I’m not the most outgoing person, I figured I didn’t have anything to lose by going to chat with her. I asked to join her for a drink, and she approved. A few hours later, Dipika and I had talked about life in the States, life in India, Mumbai, jobs, relationships and religion. It was really refreshing meeting a great person from India who was willing to share their city and culture with me for a few hours. We left the bar and headed out via rickshaw to a bunch of places in India that she thought I should see. It was getting late so we decided to part ways, but she agreed to show me some sites the next morning. I headed back to my hotel to get some sleep, my last night in Mumbai.
I awoke early in the morning, checked out of my hotel, and traveled about 45 minutes to meet Dipika at our agreed upon spot. I made the mistake on the way there to take a seat once I got on the train. When it came time for me to get off at my stop, it was literally impossible to fight through the dozens of bodies that had accumulated on the train. I got off a few stops later and backtracked to where we were supposed to meet. Thankfully, she hadn’t given up on me and was waiting for me at the train station. We jumped in a rickshaw and headed to a famous Hindu temple, where we recited the Hare Krishna and I learned more about Hinduism, which was really interesting. About 80% of India is Hindu, so you are confronted with it each day. One of the most attractive aspects of the religion is its openness to outsiders. I truly felt welcome every time I was in a Hindu place of worship.
Upon leaving the temple, we headed to Juhu beach, dipped our feet in the Arabian Sea, and then headed to Gloria Jean’s to get coffee, which reminded me of roaming the Staten Island Mall as a teenager. We got into a pretty long conversation, and before we knew it, my impending 17 hour train to New Delhi was fast approaching. At this point, my train was in two hours and we were about 45 minutes from my hotel, where I needed to pick up my bag, and another 60 minutes to the train station. This is where things got interesting. We jumped on the train and headed south. We finally made it back to my hotel, grabbed my bag, and jumped in a rickshaw to head back to the train station. We finally made it back to the area where my train was but we were really low on time. We frantically grabbed another rickshaw and headed to the train. At this point, I felt like I was in a Bollywood movie, weaving through the streets past cows, children, trucks, food stalls, outside bathrooms and other rickshaws. We almost died at least 5 times and crashed into about 20 people…. I can’t describe how fun this was. It was like being on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in DisneyWorld, except this was the real deal.
We pulled up at the train station with 10 minutes to spare. Our adventure had been a great success. I hugged Dipika goodbye and thanked her for all she had done for me to make my Mumbai experience a memorable one. As the door closed I settled into my 17 hour train ride to Delhi. There was only one problem: my seat had been double booked, which meant that I didn’t have a place to sleep that evening. At this point, I just hoped that the issue would work itself out before evening fell. In the seats next to me were three middle aged men wearing the traditional white Muslim garbs. They offered a seat to me and we started chatting. I was a bit thrown off guard when two of their first questions were about where I was from and what religion I practiced. I explained to them that I was raised a Catholic but didn’t practice much and that I was from NY. I’m embarrassed to admit this but negative thoughts did seep into my head based on political events dealing with Muslims in past and current situations throughout the world. What made me feel even guiltier about this momentary feeling as the trip progressed was the unwavering love and kindness of my Muslim friends. They had brought some delicious chicken curry that one of their wives had made them, and they literally stuffed me until I could not eat another bit. Besides the meal and the dessert that came after, they were constantly concerned about my sleeping situation, repeatedly pleading with the train manager to make sure I was given a place to sleep. Before I knew it, I had a great spot to sleep right across from them. The rest of the train ride went smoothly and upon our arrival to Delhi, I thanked them sincerely and bid them farewell. It’s likely I’ll never see them again but their treatment of me affected me and I hope to somehow pay it forward to a traveler in need sometime in the near future.
I hopped in a cab and headed to my hotel in New Delhi. In a few hours, I would be meeting my Australian friend Samantha and her friends to begin the next adventure of helping her complete a 222km race across the two highest motorable passes in the world (http://www.thehigh.in/The_High/index.html). I arrived at the hotel and checked into my room. So satisfied with the people I met and the amazing experiences of Mumbai, and thinking about the task of my friend Sam and her crew, I lay down, closed my eyes and smiled. Tomorrow, the Indian adventure begins anew.