When we finally got to the hotel after more than an hour of driving, my eyes were just a little wider and I almost wanted to do it all again, but I was also hungry and tired and needed to land. I was somewhat relieved to find the hotel I had booked was much nicer than I had anticipated, other than the lack of a window, and the Indian porters had far too much fun showing me the ins and outs of the room. I'm beginning to realise that Indians love to chat with you for any reason, all reasons, its just their nature to be intrigued like this, and you will get the best results from being open and friendly as much as possible, despite all the stares or looks of interest. I also managed to connect with Mansi, a friend fro Edinburgh who is living in Mumbai, who was incredibly welcoming and offered to put me up at hers for a couple of days while I land here, which has been a huge boon in terms of figuring out the ins and outs of this crazy city.
My first day in Bombay, I got up and got out to find out where and what this crazy city is all about, only to realise that I could barely scratch the surface and had absolutely no idea where to begin. So guidebook in hand, I spent the day walking and exploring South Mumbai, absorbing all the bustling life going on around me – the myriad of stalls selling all kinds of things everywhere, the people going about their normal days in a hive of activity – I couldn't figure out what everyone is actually doing here, but clearly everyone is very busy. The absolutely constant honking of horns from taxis, motorbikes, buses, everyone. All the ornate Victorian buldings, so many that look on the point of dereliction, but still retain their old world charm, and the alleyways that snake off, full of people, dogs and cows, that as a newbie traveller I dare not even get too close to looking down. After a few hours of this I really couldn't decide whether I wanted to explore more or just to runaway and hide, find somewhere quiet that isn't full of people.
] Fortunately, I had arranged to meet up with Mansi that evening and intrepidly caught a taxi into what felt like the unknown. I have to say that taxi rides here are more fun than anything I've done in ages. For 100 rupees (about £1.50) you get a hair raising driver who will cut all corners and take every short-cut to get you to your destination. Flying through neighbourhoods with shining buildings on one side and shanty towns on the other, really begins to give a perspective on what a melting pot of life India really is.
I met up with Mansi at her cool clean air-conditioned office (such a contrast to what was just outside the window) and she took me back up to Bandra, where she lives. Apparently this is the “hip” part of town, where all the Bollywood stars live. However rather than feel pretentious, as it still is full of all walks of life, it is just a little bit more chilled out, with more cafes and bars, and a bit more of an affluent scene. I spent yesterday wandering around Bandra and then met up with a friend of Mansi's, and english guy named Tom, who is a freelance software developer and has lived out here for 4 years. As he puts it, where else could you find somewhere with so much going on all the time. Once you're hooked, boing back to Britain is kinda dull really. Mansi had sorted us out tickets to go see Talvin Singh, who was playing at one of Bombay's top music venues, which was another eye opener. After two days of trying to acclimatise to the “reality” of life in Bombay, to go to a club that feels much more elite and ostentatious than anything I've been to in the UK, and drinks beforehand in the huge glittering, absolutely immaculate shopping centre just across the way felt almost too surreal. Still, it was a good gig and amazing to hear UK asian music in Mumbai, and see the response it receives here. There is no way I would have expected to be doing this two days after arriving.
So tomorrow we are heading off to the beaches south of Mumbai for the weekend, and then on Monday I have a train booked to Goa. It really feels like I have landed on my feet here so far and I am so glad to have had a connection and a base here to help me acclimatise. Mansi has been an absolute star and I can't thank her enough for that, not to mention Anna-Lou who is looking out for me from afar, and who I can't wait to meet up with n a few weeks time. So yeah, first sights, sounds and experiences, on what I am only now truly beginning to realise is going to be an enormous adventure, and I can't believe it is only just beginning!!!
So I arrived into Mumbai on Tuesday evening after a fairly long but easy trip over from London,still not knowing or even having a clue what to expect. John had dropped me off at the airport - many thanks - after a great weekend catching up with so many friends and receiving many words of wisdom, and I still didn't really feel ready to be here, but here I most definitely was. Fortunately getting a taxi to the hotel was straightforward enough, but the ride into Mumbai was simply mindblowing. To see the incredible buzz of activity on every corner, down every lane, the mix of colour, poverty, and towering skyscrapers behind them was something I have never experienced before in such close proximity.