Cycling into Mumbai during rush hour isn’t as bad as I had imagined. I’ve definitely become numb to India’s crazy traffic, now weaving in and out as opposed to using my brakes and that’s not just because my brakes are broken either! It’s a fine art, which I seem to have come accustomed to during my two months cycling here – yes it’s been a whole two months already!!
I instantly got a good feeling about Mumbai and despite the previous evening’s nightmare trying to find accommodation just outside of town, I felt relatively safe. This time I had organised a Couchsurfing host to eliminate any issues with accommodation and also, because I wanted to learn what it was like to live in an Indian cosmopolitan city like Mumbai.
After dropping our bags off we caught the train to Colaba, the southern tip of the city where most of the tourists stay. I was warned that the local trains would be manic and advised to go in the women’s only carriage. However, I’d like to think I can handle any uninvited groping so I stuck to Hugo’s side. It was one mad rush as the train chugged into the station and I couldn’t find any space in the carriages to squeeze on. All of a sudden the train started to leave and I caught a glimpse of “some” space so I ran up along side the moving train and jumped on. Hugo and I high fived each other and boasted about our good luck of finding what must have been the only half empty carriage on the train.
It was only then that we saw the picture of a crab and a sign saying “this carriage is reserved for the handicapped and cancer patients only“. Awkward. What did we do when we arrived in the centre of Mumbai? Head straight to McDonald’s! Hugo is such a bad influence I swear. Mumbai reminds me a little of London with its grand old buildings and cabs everywhere but unlike London, there is an abundance of street food stalls.
I felt like I should visit the Gateway of India as it is the only “touristy” sight I have heard of in Mumbai and we had some time to kill. I was stoked that the women’s queue through the security check point was half the size than the men’s but looks can be deceiving and Hugo was through way before me. I nearly keeled over and died of heat in that queue, a word of warning to those who may be visiting this time of year.
I’ve been to a couple of Couchsurfing meet-ups in Hong Kong and even organised my own in Osaka, Japan, so I wanted to take Hugo along to the one in Mumbai. We took a Ola Cab which is Mumbai’s cheaper alternative of Uber and worth downloading the app for. Unfortunately we forgot about city traffic and the fact that we both suffer from car sickness so it ended up being the worse hour and a half EVER. Get me back on that bike! Couchsurfing meet-ups are usually full of other travellers from all over the world, so I was surprised to find myself the only non-Indian and the only girl.
Let’s just say it was “interesting”. We were made to go round the circle and introduce ourselves and say our profession and qualifications (being judged by asked this is very normal here in India). It was a bit like how I imagine an AA (alcoholic anonymous) meeting to be like. Most people were interrupted being told rather abruptly that they should speak up or shut up. Hugo and I felt rather uncomfortable by this. It illustrated a huge difference in culture and made me realise how modest us Brits are. By 11pm I had lost the energy to socialise and I just wanted for food and bed. Our Couchsurfing host kindly offered us a lift home on his scooter, which perked me right up. Whizzing along the highway (imagine M25) in peak traffic (Saturday night in Mumbai) with two large men and me crammed on the back of a moped was exhilarating.
I desperately needed some “Me” time so the next morning I headed to the local coffee shop for a spot of blogging while Hugo walked around town. There was a bit of confusion as a friend of our Couchsurfing host wanted to take us for lunch, but Hugo and myself didn’t clock that he wanted to pay for us as guests. Even if that was made clear from the beginning we would of insisted that we pay our own way. To cut a long story short, my decline may have offended him due to our differences in cultural norms. Oops.
Talking of cultural norms, we went to see the latest Bollywood blockbuster. The cinema itself is an experience in India, with long three hour films and an interval in between. You are not allowed to take food or drink in with you and no one seems to snack on sweets or nachos like in the UK. The film was fantastic and really taught me a lot about Indian culture. However, it left us both a little scared and if I’m honest I just wanted to get out of the country.
Hugo and I weren’t aware that women are regularly raped, even if accompanied by a man. It also appears to be totally acceptable for a man to hit a woman. Couples are murdered if they fall in love with someone in a different cast and baby girls are thrown in pots of boiled milk because parents don’t want to pay dowry to the man’s family when she is married off. These things STILL happen every day in India. Maybe not in the places tourists usually visit but in the rural towns we will be cycling through, especially up north. As good as the film was it did make me worry about the six weeks I have left in India and that evening I excused myself early.
All in all, my time in Mumbai was great. It is very much how I imagined a big Indian city. A huge contrast between rich and poor with communities living beneath the flyovers and others in swanky high-rise apartments. It was nice to stay with our host Aaksh and enjoy many homemade meals cooked by his kind mother. Now on to the next leg of our cycle where we hope to ride the 800Km from Mumbai to Udapur in 9 days.
“Chalo Chalo” (let’s go)….