My, Oh Mumbai – Guest Writer Elena

Asia has long been a place I have longed to go – but have never had the chance. In the past few months I have had a TON of requests for posts about Asia. Luckily, I stumbled across someone who was able to bridge the gap and provide my lovely readers with just what they have been craving – a post about Asia. As you will read below, Elena travelled to India and was gracious enough to share those details with us.

 

If you like what you see I encourage you to check out Elena’s Twitter page at twitter.com/dreamxrider or check out her blog at thefreedomtofall.wordpress.com

 

Here is a little bit about Elena!

Places she has lived: United States (Washington, Louisiana, California, Ohio, Alaska, and Texas)

Places she has travelled to: United States (all 50 states), Mexico, Canada, Scotland, London, Paris, northern Spain, Florence, and India

Places on the radar: New Zealand, Indonesia, Thailand, Switzerland, Ecuador, and Iceland

My, Oh Mumbai

Written by: Elena Coe

 

The summer after my freshman year of college, I signed up for a month-long study abroad in Mumbai, India. My primary experience with India before this trip came from exactly three places: 1) Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, 2) Slumdog Millionaire, and 3) Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Thankfully, I had an amazing Indian professor, and she assigned plenty of material prior to our departure that got me thinking a little more realistically about what to expect. But of course, no amount of reading or visiting Indian-immigrant neighborhoods could truly prepare me for the shock that was stepping off the plane in the Mumbai airport. If India happens to be the first non-western country you visit, I imagine the same will be true for you.

All the same, I have a few recommendations that I hope will enhance your experience with this beautiful and expansive city.

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Photo Credit: Elena Coe

 

1) Try to get a flight that arrives during the day.

You might even try to land in late afternoon so that you can sleep off the 17.5 hour flight from Europe. I offer this advice only because attempting to find my way in Mumbai after dark was possibly the most stressful thing I had ever done. I am usually great with maps and directions, but my skills were not useful on the winding, dark, unlabeled streets on which I found myself. I did, of course, get a taxi at the airport, but the language barrier made it quite challenging to verify that he knew where I wanted to go. I think if I had arrived before the sun went down, I would have been less anxious and perhaps gotten my bearings faster.

 

2) Take some real time.

If there is one thing I can say about India, it’s that it absolutely defies categorization. The ninth most populated city in the world, you will never get a full picture of what the city of Mumbai has to offer. I wasn’t able to process most of what I was experiencing until at least the third week, due in equal parts to culture shock and the bombarding nature of the place. I advise you to take real time in Mumbai because I know that my first impressions were vastly different than my feelings upon my departure.

 

3) You won’t learn the language.

India has over 150 languages. Mumbai alone considers 16 of them to be ‘major’ languages. When I was in Mumbai, I couldn’t tell whether the person I was hearing was speaking Hindi or Marathi or another dialect I’d never heard of. English is the most common denominator for many people in the city, and it’s probably your best shot for communicating.

 

4) Bring loose-fitting, modest clothing that dries quickly.

Mumbai gets very hot. And when it isn’t hot, it’s probably monsoon season. In other words, one way or another, your clothes will likely get wet. My hotel roommate and I were constantly moving our clothes around the bathroom towel racks, hoping they would dry out. You have been warned!

 

5) Know you’re going to be the center of attention.

Walking down the street, riding the train, in any street market, you will inevitably be stared at. Particularly if you are white, and even more so if you are a woman. A big reason for this is the sheer number of people in the city. Anywhere I went outside of my hotel, I felt claustrophobic with all the bodies around. Men stand in doorways and lean against buildings, children sit on the curbs or follow you down the street, and street vendors and cars fill any gaps. I rarely heard any cat-calls or felt threatened, but as a white woman, you do sometimes feel a bit like a doll on display. On more than one occasion, our professor or a male student in the class had to ask a man to stop filming and taking photos of us. I think the best thing to do is to simply be aware of your presence in public spaces and know what kind of attention you might be attracting.

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Photo Credit: Elena Coe

 

6) Bring granola bars to give beggars.

My professor offered this piece of advice, and I wholeheartedly endorse it here. With the sharp contrast of wealth so apparent in Mumbai, guilt can quickly become the prominent feeling of your trip. Part of what I found valuable about studying in Mumbai was this forced awareness of wealth disparity and human rights issues. But, there is so much else to experience in a country as vibrant as India that it’s important to give yourself some relief from those big questions. Having granola bars or other snacks on hand to give beggars is a great way to contribute something positive. Giving money often exacerbates the problem because so many children beggars are forced to collect for others’ gain. Handing them food gives them something they may be able to keep for themselves.

 

7) Go to the Taj Mahal.

Just do it. It’s not in Mumbai, but it’s worth it. You first have to get to New Delhi by overnight train, which is a worthwhile experience all by itself. From New Delhi, you’ll take another train about forty minutes south to Agra, which is where this beautiful wonder of the world is built. It truly is magnificent.

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Photo Credit: Elena Coe

 

8) Eat the street food.

People will tell you not to do this, but as long as you are careful, you should be fine. Obviously don’t eat the fruits and vegetables. But do have a samosa. They are cheap, and you’ll get a much better idea of what Indians really eat than you will eating in a restaurant. Before totally abandoning the topic of food, I also recommend lassi, naan, and biryani. If you have chai (which is just called chai, by the way, because chai means tea), it will certainly ruin you forever. In my experience, no tea in the U.S. has ever compared.

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Photo Credit: Elena Coe

 

9) Visit Leopold’s.

Leopold Cafe is an iconic bar, known for hosting its fair share of shady characters and corrupt dealings in the past. Now, it is frequented by tourists and locals alike. It feels like a grunge bar, but the menu is extensive. This place is a favorite, which is part of what makes it a good place to meet other travelers. Keep in mind the drinking age in Mumbai is 21, so they will check your ID. Though, sometimes they let you in anyway.

 

10) Walk the Queen’s Necklace at night.

Mumbai has a fascinating history, and nowhere does this seem quite as obvious to me as walking along the gorgeous, lamp-lined waterfront of Marine Drive. The beauty is enough to make this a must-see, but I also loved people-watching on this route. Couples sat on the concrete ledges, and friends took evening strolls hand in hand. I never felt quite as connected to Mumbai as I did in that damp, dark evening, and I hope you get to feel like that too.

If you’re planning a trip to India, just remember to keep an open heart and an open mind. I left India with a broadened sense of my own morality, culture, and sense of place in the world. The country asks a lot of questions, most of which I still haven’t answered. Enjoy your travels, and good luck!

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Photo Credit: Elena Coe

 

 

2 thoughts on “My, Oh Mumbai – Guest Writer Elena

  1. This is an amazing post. Mumbai is my hometown and I must say this has been written really well.. I know many people kind of get a cultural shock when they visit India but like Elena has written- you gotta keep an open mind and then everything makes sense 😊

    Like

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