I figured starting at the beginning would be best, so let's go to Mumbai!
After one bus ride, two plane rides (shout out to Turkish airlines) and approximately 24 hours of traveling, we arrived in Mumbai! We easily met up with my girlfriend Anu and then set about finding a taxi to get us to the rest of the group--word to the wise, hold onto your luggage in the taxi...they don't quite believe in actually tying things down to the roof.
We were able to see a beautiful sunrise during our drive to the hotel and started getting our bearings for the layout of the city or at least a portion of the city--Mumbai has a population of over 13 million people and beyond the "downtown," the city sprawl is larger than what we could have even attempted to cover. In many ways, Mumbai is like a subtle assault on all of your senses--a mix of delicious street food smells, bright colors, trash, chaos on the roads, spices, the sea air...you really have to just take a deep breath and absorb it all.
I could probably write for days about every sight and sound we experienced, but hopefully the highlights can create a least a snapshot of our few days there. Our hotel was in a perfect location in the Colaba neighborhood of Mumbai--right down the street from the infamous Taj Hotel and Gateway to India, both impressive structures in their own right. There we got our first dose of being very noticeable American tourists and were approached over and over again to have our pictures taken with the locals. Probably the closest we'll ever get to feeling like celebrities!
Despite Mumbai being very urban, there are a few options for getting some fresh air and escaping the crowds (kind of) which led us to go check out Malabar Hill. This is a really beautiful neighborhood and has an amazing view of the city, plus a beautiful garden that we spent some time exploring. I love being in big cities, but having the ability to strike a balance between the concrete jungle and green space is ideal. Sidenote--apparently this garden is also a hot spot for young Indian couples to sneak off and spend some time with their significant others (PG rated...lots of hand holding) and we certainly saw some cozy couples. Apparently, no matter where you are in the world, teenagers are looking to get away from their parents ;)
Moving on to a place where there was definitely no teenage romances in sight, we visited a local temple, called Shree Siddhivinayak Ganapati dedicated to Ganesha. Surrounding the temple, there were many vendors selling flowers and sweets to bring in as offerings to Ganesha. As we approached, the crowds were already lining up to make their offering for the day. Barefoot, very aware that we were the only "tourists" there, we waited in line for our own opportunity to walk through the temple. I wish I could say that going into the temple was a peaceful, meditative moment; however, it was more like the crowd spotted a celebrity and we were whooshed into the main area of the temple, elderly Indian women pushing us along and we quickly gave a nod to the statue of Ganesha and we were whisked right out. Definitely a different experience than going to church at home, but fascinating to be a part of, even if only for a few minutes.
Last highlight I will share (for now) was our trip to the Chor Bazaar aka the "Thief Market"--one of the largest flea markets in India. Most of our cab or rickshaw rides throughout the trip were intense, but the ride over to the Bazaar seemed especially long and full of "close calls", so by the time we reached the neighborhood, I was not feeling particularly adventurous. Luckily, after a few moments of soaking it all in and realizing we were just getting the same stares we always were subjected to, everyone was ready to explore and try our hand at a bit of bargaining. There was shop after shop down each street--everything from old Bollywood movie posters to antique cameras to appliance parts. The market itself felt a bit like an antique, not appearing to have drastically changed over the past few decades.
Traveling lesson: TRAVEL=TRUST
Trust your fellow travelers, trust yourself, trust your cabbie, trust your stomach won't freak out, trust that throwing yourself into the belly of what might be a ridiculously uncomfortable situation might just make for one of the best times of your life!
Gateway to India
delicious pav bhaji
sunset at the Arabian Sea
view from Malabar Hill
There are dozens of other stories and fun facts I could throw your way, but hey it's one of the first few days where the sun is shining and it actually feels like spring...so I'll let you off the hook and you can get outside to soak it all in!
Hotel- Sea Palace Hotel in Colaba, Mumbai
Sights- Malabar Hill, Chor Bazaar, Gateway to India, Shree Siddhivinayak Ganapati temple
Food/Drinks- Chowpatty night vendors, Cafe Mondagar, Leopold Cafe, Taj Hotel, Aer Bar