Rather than jumping into India head first, we thought easing into it at a slower pace would be best, so we arranged another local host
. Yet again, we were very fortunate to stay with an excellent host, this time an Indian woman name Nidhi. With her home as our base, we purchased the India guidebook and began to plan our rough route through the country. More importantly, we also used the time on hand to begin our Indian food adventure. India is so diverse that many of the street foods change from state to state. The foods specific to Mumbai were so tasty and unforgettable that they topped the list. Our favorite is the Mumbai (veggie) burger: a sweet, spicy, and buttery snack, served to hot to hold. We can only guess its ingredients...so we don't think we could ever recreate this masterpiece! Bhelpuri (thin fried rounds of dough with rice, lentil, lemon juice, onion, herbs and chutney) is also excellent and it's available all over the city. Nidhi shared with us her typical home cooked vegetarian Indian food. Pickled food is common here and she had us try pickled mangoes, lemon, and garlic. Pretty intense flavors but we'll try just about anything twice...and we were not disappointed we tried these! The street stalls are crowded and excited places to hang out and meet people while experiencing a little Mumbai culture. Another such place to experience Mumbai culture are the public trains. Alon can touch on these!
Overcrowded doesn't even begin to explain the train lines in Mumbai. During rush hour (which seems like every hour) 4 or 5 young men can be seen hanging on with one arm from each overfull 2nd class car
. Keep in mind that Mumbai is hot and humid, and one can begin to imagine the insides of such a carriage. It is not uncommon for people to fall from the cars and be injured or even killed. Fortunately for Jenny, there are 'Ladies Only' cars, which are much less crowded. This however did not help my situation!! At each stop, the men inside the cars shifted to make their exit, this was not an easy task due to the fact we were jammed inside with little room to breath. Now in position, just as the train reaches the platform, with a guttural cheer...uhhhhhhoooohhh, going from quiet to loud, the pack begins to disembark, like fish from a bursting sardine can. Jumping from the car long before it slows to a safe speed, locals are splitting into the crowd trying not to fall or hurt anyone. Seemingly simultaneously, those on the platform begin to run. If they want to make the train, they will have to fight for their spot, and they do! Men are boarding long before the train stops and for the brief moment it is at rest, the game is on. How many Indians can fit into a single rail car, without hurting anyone? At least not too seriously... Seemingly in a blur, the train disembarks the station with men still pushing in. The unfortunate are left watching the train roll on without them, men dangling out the doors as they are whisked away. They won't wait long, with the massive number of people that need to be moved, the next train will roll up shortly offering a chance to repeat the spectacle, as well as win a space for the necessary journey. It was a great experience to ride these trains and hopefully we will have more patience stuck in traffic, in our air-conditioned cars while listening to our choice of music.
As we flew east towards Mumbai over the large expanse of the Arabian Sea, I was contemplating just what a country with approx. 1.2 billion people actually looked and felt liked?! Where do you put all those people? Where do they live? What do they eat? ...Where do 1.2 billion people go to the bathroom??? As we descended into Mumbai, a city of 19 million, we began to catch some glimpses of the answers to these questions. Staring out of the airplane window, we were amazed to see that nearly half of the city was composed of shantytowns. Quite a shocking site. 20 million people in the city, half of these are living in such areas. From this moment, until we flew out of the country, the irony that is India would be staring Alon and I in the face.