India is not only the smells, the people and the craze. India is the adventure, the chaos, and the beauty! I could not wait to get down of the plane … but I was also nervous about my encounter with one of the most enigmatic countries in the world. I arrived in Mumbai really early in the morning, and my trip began with the airline losing my baggage. OH NO! I ran around the entire airport, trying to find someone to help me, and it turned out no one knew anything, or the staff didn’t have enough English to help me out. I finally found a really nice lady from SpiceJet that helped me out, and my bags finally appeared.
I flew from New York to Mumbai on Kuwait airways. To be honest, I have no complaints. The planes were a little old (they still had ashtrays in every armrest in the seat 😀 ), and the website for online check-in is ANCIENT… But customer service is incredible. The crew in the plane goes the absolute extra mile to make you feel good in every step, and the trip gets easier that way. A special mention about Kuwait Airways: the food is AMAZING! I never really had much respect for airplane food, but KA changed my mind. The food was REALLY warm, it was plenty, and it was balanced and delicious.
I did my trip entirely based on Couchsurfing and other apps, so I was more than ready to get the “local experience”… Or at least I thought so. Nothing could prepare me for that first day. Leaving the airport, I only had the adress of the guy whose apartment I was going to crash, and I had no idea how to get there, so I had to take one of those SUPER overprices airport cabs.
I arrived in India in the morning, so I got the whole #EverydayIndia vibe, and my first impression was chaos. The way they drive in India is completely insane! It is both fast and slow, both reckless and cautious, both dangerous and unexpected… When we finally closed in on my area, Mahim, the driver did not know where it was, and since communication was an issue too. we drove around for a good 15 minutes until he got so frustrated that he just dropped me off in the street, telling me that I was “very close”.
That was my first touch of real India.
When I stepped out of the car, the first thing I remember was the smell. I had heard many things about the smells in India (mostly negative), but I had a different luck. It smelled like some plant/food/stew I could not define at first, but it was delicious! Spending time in India, I discovered the smell I had found so good was that of the Pani Poori stalls that can be found everywhere in Mumbai.
My host and the amazing Indian hospitality
After rolling around for a good one hour, I finally found the apartment. When I entered the apartment, it was a dream: Really posh, really neat and also smelled like delicious home-cooked food.
My amazing host was waiting for me with a sleepy face (I had given him a hard time because I was super late from the airport and he didn’t sleep well), but a wide smile. He made me feel at home right away, and made sure I had everything I needed to start off well, although what I really wanted was to sleep. He left for work and I passed out, the trip and the jetlag were killing me.
Throughout the days, I realized my host was not only nice, but intelligent, captivating and sweet. He was well educated and ambitious, and he was a man I could really talk to about everything and anything (especially politics, we are both junkies for political news and the mud that moves between them), and mostly, he became a good friend.
He had a cook that didn’t speak a word of English, so when my host was gone, communicating became not only a challenge, but a verbal quarrel between people that were trying to understand each other. We never gave up, and we came up with an online translator that we could talk to, and it would translate.
A night out in Mumbai
As a get together activity, my host told me he would take me out dancing and I was super excited. What would it be like? I honestly only had Bollywood movies to look up to; I assumed everyone would have a choreography for a song or something.
It turns out, I was DEAD wrong.
We went to a fancy bar/club in Marine Drive, and it could have been a club anywhere. I was suprised to see women were wearing close to NOTHING! Mini skirts, short-short dresses and a whole lot of makeup. Dancing was just as crazy, just as sexy and just as wild! I am a huge dancer, so I had an amazing time. And my host… Well, he was not much of a dancer, but after his friends, him and I took a few shots, we were OWNING the dancefloor!
We partied almost until dawn, and by the time we got home, I was exhausted. And that’s when I realized I hadn’t really left the house to discover India.
On my second day I was hungover, hungry and not jetlagged anymore. My host was FAR from waking up, and when I saw what there was for breakfast, I decided I wasn’t ready to bomb my stomach with some clearly spicy food after alcohol and not really any desire for extreme spices.
I got ready and left the house, and when it finally hit me that I was in India, I though: HOW THE HELL DID I GET HERE?!
I started walking down the street, getting stared up and down by men and women, fixating on my red lipstick and confused face. Nobody seemed too interested in talking to me, but they certainly were in looking at me.
The second challenge: Hindi. What the hell…? I came completely unprepared. Not a single word in hindi, and I still did it. Alone. I walked around and found restaurants, all with menus written in Hindi, not a hint of English.
I finally found Café Trófima in Dadar/Shivaji Park, a life saver with AMAZING FOOD, great prices, incredibly attentive staff and a really comfortable feel inside the establishment. My palate became addicted in no time.
It became my go-to place when I had to meet someone or wanted to get something good at any time of the day.
Traffic & street crossing
Now, I’m no newbie to traffic, I’ve been to New York and Mexico City. But the dynamics of trafic in India can leave ANYONE speechless! I was waiting for the pedestrian light to turn green, and when it did… It was like nothing happened! People still steered their wheels and bikes everywhere, and men and women ran from one side to the other. Yeah, you had to cross the street like a crazy person who wanted to commit suicide! For the first 15 minutes, I tried. I really tried. I had to tag along with an old lady so I can finally cross.
When I came back home, my host had a laugh at my first day adventures! I told him “Attempting to cross the streets in Mumbai is like abandoning your will to live”.
Have you ever lived something like this? Your comments and opinions are incredibly appreciated!