In my first blog about India I explained how I neatly got sent home and never quite made it into this beautiful country, but I am happy to report that I eventually did enter India! Before anyone considers making the journey to India, they need to consider the following statement carefully: You will either love India or hate her, there is no grey area – none! Now me: I LOVE INDIA!
Arriving at the airport, every one of your senses are assalted. The colassal amount of bodies pushing and jostling.The smells of humidity, people, perfumes, spices. The noise of hundreds of voices calling you to take their taxi, book into their hotel, let them carry your luggage, and the even asking for money. The feel of the heat and humidity which hits you like a wall the moment you leave the aircraft. And in your mouth you can taste India – everything you smell, see and hear seems to leave its essence every time you breathe. And this is all happening in the wee hours of the morning! There are even common scams in India.
Mumbai – or Bombay as many of the residents still refer to of their much loved city (renamed 1996) – has opened her arms to me and I fall into them willingly. Why do so many people hate Bombay – India’s largest city and capital of the state? One word – Slums.
They are all over the city, they stretch for miles – shack upon shack, often as far as the eye can see. The poverty and poorness of the city not hidden from touristic eyes, but almost as if on display. Homes – where you will find generations living together – will be on the pavement infront of a brand store.
Your eyes tear, and your heartstrings pull, asking yourself what can I do to help? We need to get a Western charity organisation in immediately to help. How can they live like that? They must be so unhappy!
Then you take a closer look. You see the smiling faces, the happiness shining out of these “unhappy” people. You see the children playing alongside each other. You see neighbours helping one another. You see peace. You see love. You see kindness. You see the true face of India.
Now ask yourself again just because we are trained to believe material things bring happiness does that mean that somebody who has never possessed such things will miss it? Ask yourself with all your accumulated “wealth” who is the better off person?
Now if you are still willinging to journey further, take my hand and I will tell you my story of Bombay – The city that stole my heart.
To start off with; in any city you first need to see the “touristic attractions” – The things you will find in the guide books, as cliched as it might be!
The Gateway to India
Should your travels take you further into India, then this is the most appropriate first stop. Erected to commemorate the landing in India of their imperiall majesties King George V and Queen Mary on the second of December MCMXI (1911) (Quick lesson: M=1000. D=500. C=100. L=50. X=10. I=1. Any time a smaller number is in front of a larger one, subtract it from the larger one) It’s architectural styles is a combination of Hindu – the decorations and Muslim – the arch. The foundation stone was laid in March 1911 and construction was finished in 1924.
Victoria Train Station (now known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus)
One of the busiest railway stations in India and one of the largest historical buildings in Bombay. Building started in 1878 and opened for passengers in 1882, it is a beautiful example of Victorian Gothic architecture. Declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2004.
University of Mumbai
Founded in 1857, the university is modelled on those in Britain. The Rajabai Clock Tower, situated in the Fort Campus is one of Bombay’s landmarks and is modelled on Big Ben in London. The tower is named in memory of Premchand Raichand’s (contributed monetarily) mother – Rajabai.
Gandhi Museum (Mani Bhavan)
It is in this three-story home that Mahatma Gandhi lived from 1917 to 1934, whenever he was in Bombay. Housed is a library of approx 50,000 books and periodicals on Gandhi-related works. There are various Dioramas (scenes which capture a moment in time) depicting major events and turning points in Gandhi’s fight for his nation’s freedom.
These are just a few of the things you will be able to find using your guide book, next I would suggest you do a bit of exploring on your own and if that’s a bit too scary for you then paying a local tourguide to show you the true Bombay.
A few FYI’s:
- There are lots of children – they seem very cute and will do you no harm, BUT they will surround you and before you know it they will clean your pockets inside out. Be firm with them and say NO.
- Bakhshish – is the Hindi word for tip, you will hear this word spoken a lot as the beggars use it to beg for money
- You might be stopped and asked to star in a Bollywood movie – while at times this might be legit, it is best not to take the chance.
- Never pay the asked for price for anything you want to buy (except in restaurants etc), it is customary to always bargain down the first asked price. Decide on what you are willing to pay for something, don’t back down and keep your wits about you.
- Going in monsoon season is not necessarily a bad thing – yes you might have some rain, but prices and costs are generally cheaper than “in season”
One thought on “I Made it to India, Part One”
India… I spent 8 months there (1988-89, to be exact)…only southern India. I loved Bombay, for being a big city, after having spent much time in smaller cities and Calcutta, Madras, Bangalore, and others (8 states, Bengal, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Mahareshtra).
I did not want to go there… I traveled with a prayer ministry. I had a love/hate relationship with India.
what I wrote:
The Indian people wear their spirituality as visibly and as proudly as the Indian ladies don their colorful silk Kanchipuram saris or the men wear their homespun lungis or dhotis. The Ramayana and Mahabarashtra (tales of the Hindu gods and their consorts) are seen on television, in books, in the songs, at art museums, and in theatres. Every part of Indian cultural life is spiritual. Mostly, I experienced that the Indian people have a special reverence for God in everything they do.
Traveling in India is a challenge. Your every sense is assaulted night and day. Strange smells, weirder sights, noisy Indian music blasting your ear drums in the hot sun (we were there from April to November, part of the monsoon season and in the summertime). Going to the outdoor markets was an experience in Bangladesh and India. People would offer to sell me live chickens and as always the famous chai chai chai (tea) or cawfee cawfee cawfee sounds surrounded me. All become part of the background landscape of the place.
Spicy foods that you don’t know the name of that make your mouth burn so much you think that you are going to die until you eat a cool refreshing coconut or a yogurt drink. Everything contributes to the invasion and plays havoc with your American or European sensibilities.