When you travel to India as a western yogi, you’ve probably heard and read a lot about this fascinating country already. However much you think you know though – it will still surprise you. My boyfriend David and me landed in Mumbai and stayed there for the first three days and that wasn’t our best idea as it turned out.
Diving into a city of 13 million people
After arriving at the airport and filling out yet another visa sheet (Indians are very bureaucratic and love their forms) we took a taxi to our airbnb place we had booked in advance. It was July, monsoon season, and the air was as humid and warm as expected when we exited the airport. The first thing you notice while driving through Mumbai is that it’s like taking part in a honking fest, friggin’ 24 hours a day. It seems like everybody is honking just for the sake of it, not realizing, that it takes the whole point of honking ad absurdum. Indians just like their honks it seems and they encourage each other to use them with bumper stickers on their cars, no kidding.
We booked an airbnb place to stay at and when we got there our host was very welcoming and helpful. The first night we ate at Urban Tadka upon the recommendation of our host and the food was really delicious! We sticked with all kinds of veggie dishes and some daal and the food was being served quite quickly despite the fact that the restaurant was very busy with mostly locals. Also it was rather noisy (from both the people and the music playing) and there was only one waiter who knew English. Still it felt like a good place to start diving into Indian food and culture.
Doing the tourist-thing
The second day we went full tourist mode to see the Gateway of India (of course). It’s a nice arch, but honestly nothing too spectacular. Funnily enough, this was the only day in our whole 3 weeks in India when we got relatively strong monsoon rain. Then we just went on to stroll through the inner city, did a little shopping (got custom tailor made shirts) and finished off with a nice dinner at a bar called #Social. The music was very loud, but the waiters were all exceptionally friendly and spoke really good English.
The worst part
The last day before we headed on to Pune, we wanted to explore the market district. That was a disastrous disappointment. We started out at the famous Crawford Market which looks nice from outside but besides some fruit and veggies you simply had a lot of supermarket-like stalls with packaged shower gels, washing powder and the likes. We wandered further and found another market, which had mobile phone shop stalls lined up one after the other for at least 50 meters. Then came the “highlight”: we somehow managed to stumble into the livestock market area where the stench of shit, urin and blood hung in the air. All this with many many people everywhere. At last we ended up in a fabric and clothing stall area but by then I was too full with impressions, too exhausted from navigating through staring Indians that I couldn’t even look for a sari, which I had actually planned on.
We jumped on a tuk tuk and left the area as quickly as possible, went for a calming walk next to the ocean towards the Hanging Gardens, close to the mysterious Tower of Silence. As we strolled along the coast the hasty feeling of the market slowly subsided and we found a nice beach with super tasty food stalls.
The Hanging Gardens are a nice and surprisingly calm park. Nothing is really hanging there, but taking a walk (or a sit) there it is a good way to clear the mind after the market craziness. Of course we tried to sneak a peek onto the Tower of Silence, but it is all too well hidden by trees. (The Zoroastrians lay out their dead on this tower to be eaten by the vultures which is their way of a funeral.)
We came back to Mumbai almost six weeks later for two nights, before our plane back to Vienna left. I have to admit we found an airbnb which suited our wishes a little more, so there was hardly any honking or litter in that area. Despite that, when you walked one or two blocks further, all the busyness and honking started again.
Here is my short list of Mumbai’s pros
- very good vegetarian and vegan food in most places, both restaurant and street food stalls
- a lot of fresh coconut vendors on the streets so you can live on coconut water if you want
- unexpected quiet oases can be found, such as the Hanging Gardens or the promenade by the arabic sea
My cons for Mumbai
- extremely busy both by foot, metro or taxi/tuk-tuk – prepare to be exhausted just by trying to get from one place to the other
- very loud (honking 24/7)
- some places are heavily littered
- many stray dogs
- even more beggars
My tips when visiting Mumbai in July/August
- Despite monsoon season, it rained very rarely, carrying a little umbrella will do – you do not need a waterproof equipment
- Prepare to get stared at all-the-time, by both men and women
- Plan ahead where you want to go and schedule some quiet time in between in a café to avoid getting irritated
- Avoid public transport: getting tickets is a real hassle as a westerner and a tuk-tuk is still cheap enough
- Book train tickets to leave the city in advance if you can
- It’s okay to walk around with a tank top
- People will want to take pictures with you (just because you are obviously foreign) and once you agree to one person they will start queuing up, just tell them politely you have to leave when it’s too much
Thank you for reading this post, I just hope it will be helpful for other first-timers in Mumbai!
Stay tuned for my next post on our stay at the Osho Ashram in Pune 🙂