The Gateway of India, Mumbai
I spent this Christmas (2017) in India. It was my first time visiting this country, and it was a more intensely life-altering and challenging experience than I ever imagined it could be. Since coming home last week, I am finding that I am re-evaluating everything and looking at my life completely differently; I am seeing with new eyes what is truly important to me, considering myself extremely lucky in areas that I previously had ignored, questioning my automatic reactions to my ‘stressful’ problems, and disregarding the attitudes of others to things that have no real value to me. Before my trip I had lost sight of the importance and truth of what I have. Things like my nice, warm home, fast WiFi which connects me directly to everyone I love, the freedom of doing a job that I have chosen because it is work that I love, feeling safe and the luxuries of going food shopping or having a vast choice of different restaurants to go to. In India, I saw life without any of these privileges, people forced into jobs in toxic conditions, tiny children trying their best to pickpocket and people working so hard everyday just to make some small amount of money to live by.
But more than all of this, I met a richness of culture that I really han’t fully anticipated. The sights and smells, the people and how they communicate, the food and the overarching beauty of the country swept me away and have very much stayed at the forefront of my thoughts and dreams this past week. I wanted to take you through my experiences with this blog post, so I hope you find it interesting and feel encouraged to explore this country that has so much to offer one’s soul!
Smiling at some cheeky children on the beach at Marine Drive, Mumbai. I found this city to be full of a disparity between the rich and poor; you would see run down, ramshackle buildings right next to modern and luxurious sky-scrapers. But on this piece of beach, at sunset, we met all kinds of people, just enjoying themselves, with a real sense of community and ‘togetherness’.
Markets or Bazaars
The infamous Fashion Street – a street full of vendors all trying their hardest to direct you towards their stall by thrusting some pair of ‘Levis’ in your face. Before we went to Fashion Street, I had read that one must absolutely haggle and bargain to the fullest but actually experiencing this type of selling was CRAZY. We quickly learned the trick of walking away, and once we started putting this in practice we found that the so-called ‘fixed price’ of any garment suddenly dropped to a quarter of the price!
Here, the fabric markets. The colours of India definitely jumped out at me straight away when I first got there. They are so exotic and bold, somehow reminding me of birds of paradise. The women’s saris, or sarees, are absolutely beautiful and are largely made by hand from different fabrics that are bought here (if you are more well-off you might prefer to get your sari custom-made at a fancy shop).
In India, all kinds of animals freely wander through the city streets, and particularly through the bazaars, where they possibly have the greatest chance of nicking something to eat! There were goats, chickens, stray dogs and cats, monkeys and, of course, the holy cow.
The Chor Bazaar, or Thieves Market. I would say that walking through the streets of the Chor Bazaar was one of the more challenging experiences we had. Firstly, the smells really hit you, and are constantly changing – we found each smell would last for approximately half a second! – and while some of them are welcomed, like the smell of sugar cane juice being made or masala chai tea, some also have the power to make you feel ill (you can imagine what these were). In the Chor we also faced watching the butchering of chickens, and although this may sound ‘white’ or ‘naive’ of me to say, it was pretty shocking. The chickens were kept in a cage, directly on top of which they were slaughtered and butchered. The fresh meat was then placed in a bucket, and left to sit there for hours in the sweltering 33 degree heat of the day, surrounded by flies and rats. We needed no convincing to stay vegetarian for the rest of our trip.
I would also say that something I really hadn’t expected was that Mumbai was not touristy at all – somehow I thought we would see lots of tour groups at this time of year, but we really didn’t. In fact, we found that we absolutely stuck out a mile because of our pale skin colour, and this made us into real targets when we walked through the markets. White people, and I understand why, are thought of as being incredibly rich and sellers really start to harass you, which is OK for a while but really does start to get to you. I think I also found, more than Logan, that I particularly received a lot of attention, from both males and females, perhaps for what I was wearing (western-style summer clothes), perhaps for my skin colour, perhaps just for being a girl (of which we did not see many out and about, mostly men and boys worked at the markets)… I’m not sure. But the constant staring also became waring.
A typical sight in the Chor Bazaar, and one which really struck us – heaps and heaps of scrap metal and car parts.
Football and, especially, cricket games are going on all the time in the green spaces of the city!
Some sweet schoolgirls, followed by beautiful women, whom I wanted to capture. I found it very interesting how divided Mumbai was between its Muslim and Hindi populations, and this was another aspect that I hadn’t known about before being there. It is very striking how differently the women of these two religions present themselves, and amazing how each can coexist in this city peacefully.
Elephanta Island and Caves
A ferry ride of about an hour takes you from the Gateway of India to Elephanta Island. They pack the boats up pretty full, and it definitely feels really nice to get out of the hectic city for a bit.
Trying out some new spicy flavours of crisps on the ferry! The seagulls have learned to follow these passenger boats and after a while everybody was feeding them crisps by hand!
Once you dock at the island, you have the option to take a cute little train up to the caves. We walked it ourselves – it is not a difficult hike, and is formed of stairs with market stalls lining the path. There are also a few places to eat on the way up to the caves (although we ate on the way back down) and even if they don’t look very promising, I can attest to the fact that I had a really tasty Biryani and didn’t get sick 🙂
Exploring the old 5th century caves and ancient carved rocks and temples inside. It is absolutely stunning; each cave is different and magical, showing the Hindu God, Shiva, as well as other Hindu mythologies and ideas. The island also feels so peaceful and has some gorgeous views too. In total I would say the trip took about 4 to 5 hours.
There are loads of pesky monkeys on Elephanta Island and you definitely have to watch out for them – they will try to steal anything edible. One monkey took a new unopened bottle of Pepsi directly from Logan’s hand! And once they’ve got it, you just have to let them have it – you can’t fight them (just look at his teeth…).
The main train station in Mumbai, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus. It really is a sight to behold, with its stunning gothic architecture, and it is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also one of India’s busiest railway stations.
We had a lot of fun scouring through all of these narrow alleyways and side streets, trying to scout out the best spice shops!
I feel strange including a photo like this, and I really don’t want to be offensive in any way to anyone, but I wanted to be as real as I could and show the city for what it really was, as I experienced it. For some, the street is home and so they make the best of it that they can. Apparently, they are known as the ‘pavement dwellers’. It was pretty heartbreaking for us to see, especially when we were walking home at night and these people, most often with young children, were either cooking their dinner on camp stoves or going to bed.
Now here is a puzzle that we really can’t figure out. During our whole trip, not one day went by when one of us was not asked to take a selfie with someone. Can anyone explain why this could be?!
Visiting the Kanheri caves was probably one of my favourite things that we did in Mumbai, and we managed to hit them right at golden hour, so they just looked so gorgeous. Like Elephanta, these caves also contain rock carvings, but these ones are Buddhist and date back to the 1st century BCE. The caves are located in the Gandhi park, towards the north of the city, and I would say that if you are traveling with a family, this would be a fantastic activity, as there are loads of other things to do in the park too. The caves themselves are a 7km hike from the entrance of the park, and as we got there pretty late in the day (it was a last-minute decision) we got a cheap taxi, albeit one of the most harrowing taxi rides of my life, up to the caves. Once we were up there we had a lot of fun exploring all the secret spots and got a great view too, although that smoke haze in the picture is real, and we are still recovering from the effects of that.
By the way, the red trousers I am wearing here were a very proud and cheap purchase of mine from Fashion Street!
Some final lasting memories
Such a fun tuk tuk ride in Delhi! We were only in Delhi for a day or so, and I really didn’t take any pictures, except for this one, and what a memory it is!
This last picture is my favourite. I love it because, to me, it sums up so much of what I experienced in India; so much going on, so many busy people working away and doing different things, bright colours, animals climbing up walls, always so much to look at and see, such a high energy.