Mumbai is a chaotic combination of people, cars, rickshaws, litter and cows. With a population of well over 20 million and only a small island to house all the people, it shouldn’t really have been a surprise to me that it was crazy and loud. And yet, despite all I had read, it took me by complete surprise!
People often talk of the culture shock one has when you go to one of India’s large cities for the first time. This was something i usually quietly disregarded. I become quite habitual wherever I am and with this I like to think I’m adaptable. Yet, for a lot of the time. Mumbai left me in a bizarre state of shell shock.
It is a noisy place with constant beeping, ringing and shouting, but that isn’t so hard to get used to. There is incredible poverty everywhere which repeatedly made me feel sad and in strange way guilty for coming to India. I’ve got the opportunity to come and visit these places but many of the children I saw will remain on the side of a busy street for the rest of their lives.
The main thing that put me on edge were the people staring at me. I’m a single white male traveller and whenever I looked up in a busy place at least one set of eyes was looking at me. This was the case wherever I was, but I found it to be a lot worse when I was wearing shorts – so do try to wear long trousers where possible. I spoke to a local and researched online, it’s not massively inappropriate to show your legs, but many people still cast confused and disapproving looks.
In spite of my experiences, I would still suggest you visit Mumbai if you are in India. Many of the things I have seen have been eye-opening. I have spoken to a few locals whilst I’ve been here and they have all been kind and interesting to talk to – even the ones who asked for money after our conversation! However cliched the thought has become in the west, the widespread poverty really does make you appreciate what you have and the opportunities available to you at home.
If you are in Mumbai for two/three days I suggest you book yourself a place to stay near Colaba or Churchgate. On your first morning head to the Gateway of India and then walk around the area for a while amongst the other historical buildings. Once you’ve finished taking in the architecture, head to Colaba Causeway and buy yourself self something nice. After this head to one of the museums or galleries in the Colaba area. Prepare yourself for high foreigner prices relative to locals entry charges.
Many people head for Elephanta Island as a day trip, but I decided against it and instead went to Gorai Island to see the huge Global Vispanna Pagoda and partake in a short guided meditation session. If you’re based in the South, it’s a long way, but you get to take an interesting train ride to Bovarli and then a rickshaw/ferry in order to get there. The pagoda is a bizarre place given the widespread pollution surrounding it and the water park next door to it. However, it is certainly a site to see and was very educational with regards to Buddhism and Siddhartha Gautama’s life.
I spent my early evenings getting lost walking around the south of Mumbai. Towards the end of the evening, I found myself heading to the Marine Drive gor fresh air and a stroll until the sun had set. Afterwards I would hunt around for a nice restaurant/popular street food stall.
I am not sad to leave Mumbai, but it was certainly a good experience to have. If you’re thinking of heading there yourself and its your first time to India, make sure you do as much as you can to take in its incredible atmosphere. However, I would suggest you book a well equip Western hotel/hostel to soften the city’s blow and give you time to recuperate.