Let’s all be honest here: I like cities. I like nature, too, and there was much I loved about living at JV — the birdsong every morning at sunrise, the flitting butterflies, the delicious fresh mangoes, the clean air, the lush greenery.
But on the requisite “What Did You Learn” list from this summer’s adventure, “I am definitely a city person” is near the top. I could lie and tell you that when I got to Mumbai, I was bothered by the hustle and bustle and honking and hawking and the one million insane drivers all attempting to kill you every time you crossed the street.
But I’d be lying.
I loved Mumbai. I loved that it was bustling. I loved the hustle. I loved that there were restaurants everywhere, from cheap Indian cafeterias to Lebanese eateries to a shiny doughnut bakery. I loved Colaba, the tourist end of town, packed with vendors selling fruits, jewelry, glasses, key chains, etc. etc. etc. I loved going to the beach. I loved that there was a lot to see, do, eat, explore. I loved that you could walk along Marine Drive for hours buying snacks and watching Indians hold hands, walk dogs, scold children. I loved how easy it was to meet other foreigners.
And, yes, I loved that it was clean (relatively), that there was electricity (continuously), and that I could go to a cafe and drink a beer and eat chocolate cake.
If this makes a hopeless expat, then sue me.
And besides, I did go to a Bollywood movie while I was there.
An overview in photos:
The enormous Taj Mahal hotel, one of the fanciest (and most expensive) hotels in India. Ever since the Mumbai bombings a few years ago, security here (and frankly throughout Mumbai) is tight is a drum.
The sewers dumping into a river behind Mumbai’s Dharavi slum — the largest slum in Asia, occupied by about 1 million people. In spite of the fact that Slumdog Millionaire was partly filed here, Dharavi was actually defied a lot of slum stereotypes. It was filled, for example, with small micro-factories — Dharavi has a GDP of something like $650 million. It was very interesting.
Mumbai’s Victoria Terminal — its enormous central train station, a frosted Victorian era wedding cake of a building. Many buildings in central Mumbai look like they were cut and pasted into the subtropical surroundings straight from London. …mostly because they more or less were.
Banganga Tank, an artificial lake/holy bathing pool ringed by temples and filled with koi and ducks. A beautiful oasis of calm in the middle of Mumbai’s posh Malabar Hill.
One of my new Swiss friends, Denise, and I outside the movie theater where we saw Bhaag Milkha Bhaag — an experience that proved you don’t have to know the language to follow the plot of most movies.
A view of the Taj hotel alongside the overwrought Gateway to India, also built during the British Raj.
Our guide at Elephanta Island, about an hour’s boat ride away from Mumbai, where we saw a cave full of Shiva carvings dating from 800 AD.
A Mumbai fruit vendor at night. There were some very good selections. I ate my first custard apple in Mumbai. Really delicious. Sweet, soft, melts in your mouth.
The infamous Leopold’s. I know you’re supposed to hate Leopold’s, but I loved that place too. You can order draft beer by the pitcher and have French chocolate cake that could actually be French. Plus it was a great place to meet other foreigners. (For those of you who read about Leopold’s in Shantaram, they were actually selling copies of Shantram there. I heard a rumor the author himself stops in on weekends occasionally, when he’s in the country.)
Mumbai at night. Shiny, tropical, humid, busy. All elements of the spell Mumbai cast over me.