Mumbai – Sensory Overload in India’s “Maximum City”

Mumbai (Bombay) Gateway of India

Mumbai (Bombay) Gateway of India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m now in Mumbai for a little while. I enjoy coming here. Mumbai is different, it has a buzz, and energy all of it’s own. It reminds me of Hong Kong which also seems to run on some indefinable electricity.
People are here from all over India creating a melting pot of many different cultures. The Hindi is different, mixing Marathi, English and Gujarati words together with Mumbaiker slang. You can speak to everyone in English, they will understand, however you may not understand the reply as it will often come back in their native tongue. I have had long conversations with people in this way, me speaking English and them replying in Hindi. Hand gestures filling the gaps in comprehension.
Food is available from all over the world as well as the famous Mumbai street food. Vada Pao, a spicy potato fritter sandwiched between two slices of Pao, an unsweetened bun, being my favourite. ( see here for a recipe )
I will never forget the first time I came to India. I flew into Mumbai or Bombay as it was then (and still is to many) late at night. I remember stepping out of the plane into the thick humid warm air filled with an amazing array of different smells. People everywhere even late at night.
On the drive from the airport in the dim light I could see numerous mounds on the footpaths and the central road divider. It was only after about 20 mins that I realized these were people sleeping, in front of shops, under flyovers and in the patches of earth that separate the road lanes. People who come in their droves from the interiors of India to seek fame and fortune in this huge city already bursting at it’s seams. Leaving their villages and sometimes their families behind they come in their hundreds of thousands in the search for a better life and maybe catch a glimpse of the god like figure that is their favourite Bollywood star. Some succeed, there are many rags to riches stories, but most don’t, and end up living on footpaths and in the ever expanding slums.
Early the next morning upon leaving the house, I wandered into a living Merchant Ivory film set. Colours and activity everywhere. The whole city seemed to be on the move, women in beautifully coloured saris flitted across the street like multi coloured butterflies. Mustachioed men in suit pants and long shirts, dhotis and kurtas, lungis and vests. Conveyances of all descriptions filling the roads, horns blaring, arms gesticulating out the windows. The footpaths obstructed by street vendors, selling fish, fruits and vegetables in carefully stacked pyramids, or sharpening knives and cleaning ears with sticks.
It was like nothing I had ever experienced before, a massed assault on all my senses, so many things to look at; a multitude of sounds attacking my eardrums, exotic smells filling my lungs with every breath. For someone used to the quiet streets of New Zealand it was overwhelming but at the same time fascinating.
The constant buzz, activity and sensory stimulation has now become an addiction and when I return back to visit New Zealand, before long I get withdrawal symptoms as my senses demand another fix!

Road Trip Day 1 – Bangalore to Byndoor 472kms

(After 4 days of struggling with poor internet connection I have finally got a decent connection and can catch up on my posts!)

Made it through the first day. After an 11hr 472km journey we arrived at our destination, the Sai Vishram Resort in Byndoor. Tired but happy to get the first major leg out of the way.

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Our day started at 5am so we could miss any traffic leaving Bangalore and we made good progress early on. The first section was made up of dual carriageway toll roads and with no traffic we covered a lot of ground only stopping to pay tolls at the myriad toll booths along the way. The toll booths also provide an opportunity to pick up the morning paper in the language of your choice from the vendors standing by the booth as well as buy strings of jasmine flowers to adorn the god or goddess who normally takes pride of place on the dashboard of most cars in India. The lovely fragrance of the jasmine soon fills up the car providing a welcome relief from the bad breath and other foul early morning bodily emissions from my passengers.
We reached our scheduled breakfast stop well ahead of time, in fact 45 mins before they opened so we had to carry on. This was a disappointment as reliably clean and tasty food joints are often hard to come by in the rural areas so when you find one you tend to stick to it every journey. This philosophy was reinforced by the terrible food at the place we did end up stopping at. We abandoned our plates and breakfasted on banana cake (the breakfast of champions) in the car as we continued.
Our route took us through the infamous Shiradi Ghat, the road notorious for dissolving every monsoon at the slightest appearance of rain ( I think they build it out of aspirin). This is probably the most expensive road in the world as the Government spends millions of rupees every year in repairs, with much of the money instead finding it’s way into Swiss bank accounts .
It is a very picturesque route though, lined with jungle and during the monsoons has plenty of waterfalls beside the road and even elephants have been sighted on this road. We stopped a couple of times just to soak in the fresh air and the sounds of the birds and insects in the jungle.
Once we reached the outskirts of Mangalore traffic congestion built up considerably and remained that way for the remaining journey up the West Coast. We got our first glimpse of the sea about 30 kms from Byndoor and the road then wound its way along the coastline crossing many beautiful inlets and backwaters lined with Coconut palms.

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So far I had relied upon my new toy, the GPS but the resort was not showing on the map so once reaching Byndoor I had to go old school and ask humans for directions for the final 2 kms to the resort. In India it doesn’t matter where you are there will always be someone you can ask for directions, unlike in New Zealand where in some areas it could be an hour before you see another person, the only other option being sheep but their sense of direction is terrible!
One thing that always amazes me in India is that whenever I am in a village and whatever the local language, people will answer me in Hindi if they don’t speak English. I so obviously don’t look like an Indian from any angle but people just seem to automatically assume that I will speak Hindi like it’s a normal thing. I think perhaps that they think that anyone who is not from their area will speak the national language and to them, non-locals must encompass the rest of the world. Somehow though it does make me feel accepted. India over the years has become a second home to me and when I am included in the language I feel less of an outsider which than if they spoke to me in English.
The journey wasn’t too hair-raising and there weren’t too many moments when I felt I needed a change of underwear, however I doubt you could say the same for this guy:

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The reward at the end of a long days drive? A glass of fresh pineapple juice and a sunset stroll on the beach with my two new friends.

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