"My Second Home" Top 5 Page for this destination Mumbai by Donna_in_India
Mumbai Travel Guide: 2,011 reviews and 4,035 photos
It's easy enough to read about Mumbai's history, geography, etc. from another source. My connection with the city is different than most. Mumbai - its bad and its good - will always have a special place in my heart. Here is my story....
It is not an understatement for me to say that Mumbai is the city that changed my life. It was over 12 years ago that the company I worked for starting working with a group in Mumbai - yes, outsourcing data processing work. During the first 6 months, between the time difference and communication issues, I became very frustrated. My boss thought it might be a good idea for me to go to India, meet with the "guys" and train them. She prefaced it by saying she knew how much I enjoyed photography and this would be a great place to go. India? Spicy food? Heat? Was she kidding? Although I'd always been the first one to be packed and off on an adventure, India wasn't even on my wishlist.
A few weeks later, after getting my visa, shots and malaria meds, I was on my way. I remember flying into the airport. I could actually smell the city! We landed, the aircraft doors opened, and whoosh, I was smacked in the face by the heat - and this was in the middle of the night! Off the plane, through immigration, picked up my luggage, went through customs and out....into a swarm of people. I don't think I'd ever seen so many people at 2 a.m. before! Somehow my colleagues managed to find me and escorted me to a car. Out of the airport and onto the road....dozens of cars honking like mad, people hanging out on the street, rickshaws like little bugs dodging in and out of the traffic. And then I saw it.... the clichéd cow in the street. My eyes literally could not take in everything I was seeing.
My colleagues (and still my dear friends, Jitu and Nilesh) took me to my hotel - the poshest in Juhu - JW Marriott. It was seriously a little (okay, a lot) too 5 star for me but I guess they figured that's where I'd be most comfortable. (It actually is a gorgeous hotel.) Over the next couple of days, I'd get a ride to the office and we'd spend the day working. I easily and readily slipped into life at the office - having idlis and wadas with coconut chutney served wrapped in a banana leaf and wonderful masala chai made by the office "boy" - and still one of the sweetest people I know, Sandesh. (I admit one of the things that I had - and still have - a very, very difficult time with is the culture of peons, servants, and the caste system. It is just not how I was brought up - and those labels really bother me.) In the late afternoons we'd have a snack of some odd grilled veg sandwich from a street vendor. It still is one of my favorites!
For lunch we'd hop in Jitu's car and head to some local place for something yummy. During our outings, a guy named Sandeep used to come with us. He was the network administrator and I had not had any contact with him prior to my arrival in India. He was very nice and sweet - always taking care that my food was not too spicy and making sure I had some chocolate whenever possible. :-) My first weekend in Mumbai Jitu, Sandeep, and I went sightseeing in the city. We had a lot of fun, I did some shopping, and I was settling in. When they would drop me off at the hotel at night, I would venture out on my own. I used to love to go to the local markets and check out the fruits, veggies, clothes, bangles, etc.
By the next week, I was taking the rickshaw to work on my own. One night we were at work and Jitu and Sandeep hustled me out of the office and back to my hotel. I wondered what the rush was and Sandeep casually told me that a bomb had gone off by the office. I was quite shocked since nothing like that had happened it my world! They seemed to take in stride.
That weekend I traveled on my own to the south of India. One of the places I visited was a zoo. I was not prepared for the reactions I would get. People wanted to take my picture, have their picture taken with me, and touch my blond highlighted hair. I looked like a ghost standing next to them and many people seemed to have never seen a westerner before. It was quite an odd - and a little overwhelming - experience. The next weekend I traveled on my own again to Nagarhole National Park. I flew into Bangalore and had my first experience of a very long drive by taxi - 5 hours for a price less than I pay to get to my local airport. :-) I stayed in a small cabin on the the bank of the river and went on safaris to see elephants (magnificent), birds, monkeys, and wonderful wildlife. (Tigers eluded me on that trip.)
Back in Mumbai, it was my last week at the office. I had fallen into a nice routine and gotten along well with my colleagues. I had survived the heat, the spicy food, and travel on my own within India. On my last afternoon there my colleagues took me out to lunch. We talked and laughed and they gave me a beautiful carved elephant that today sits on the mantle in my living room. With promises of a return visit, I sadly said goodbye to everyone.
I love reading my journal from that first trip. I was absolutely enchanted by everything(!!) - the people, the sounds, the smells, the crazy things you only see in India, the colors - so many colors. I had fallen in love with India.
Back home, a couple of weeks after I left Mumbai, Sandeep caught me on IM. We started to chat and chat and chat...and chat. By the time I was planning my next trip back to India some 9 months later, I think we both knew our relationship would change - without knowing how that would or could work. Back in Mumbai, I stayed at what would become our sentimental favorite hotel in Juhu - the Sun 'n Sand.
Sandeep(Sandy) and I spent a lot of time together. We zipped in and out of the crazy Mumbai traffic on a motorcycle. He took me on local transportation - the top of the double-decker bus and on the famous Mumbai trains. I thought he was kidding when he told me I had to ride in the women's compartment! We took the motorcycle on a rickety barely sea-worthy ferry to the beach. We ate chicken frankies, another favorite street food. We drank and laughed at a bar called The 80's and watched a big, elaborate Indian wedding reception at the Sun 'n Sand. And by the end of my trip there we knew I'd be moving to Mumbai. This time when I left India, I had fallen in love with Sandy.
I went home with the crazy task of selling my home and most of what I owned and putting the rest in storage. My friends and family thought I was nuts. I probably was. Sandy had the crazy task of getting an apartment for us. I did not know at the time how things worked - or didn't work! - in India. No MLS (multiple listing service), brokers who didn't show up for appointments, brokers who couldn't get the key to the place....etc. Insanity! He looked at so many places none of which he liked for us(really, me). And then he found THE place. A beautiful furnished one bedroom - sea facing apartment (in Seven Bungalows, Versova). We had wonderful times there and it would become my sanctuary as my life turned upside down!
There was so much that was SO different. I rarely saw any other foreigners where I lived and there was no friendly expat group (yet). I missed my friends and my family. The time difference made phone calls difficult. I missed MY holidays. I missed MY food. Internet was spotty. And it was damn HOT! (By the way this is about the time I found VT!) Major grocery stores had not yet arrived. I had to constantly ask Sandy where do I buy hangers, where do I get safety pins. I even had to change the way I dressed. And somehow in all of that - at that time - I felt like I lost a lot of myself.
And the stares...the stares were starting to unnerve me. I took solace in the people in my immediate neighborhood - the security guards and the elevator man at our building, the shop owner and delivery guys from the little grocer on the block, etc. I hated the stares and I hated the comments. I hated going to the bank and having people lean over me or be so close they were breathing on my neck. I hated that everything that needed to be done - paying a bill, getting a money order, etc. - took about 4 times long as it should!! I hated the pollution. I hated the traffic.
Somewhere along the way things started to change or maybe I did. :-) We traveled more both domestically and internationally, we spent a couple of seasons running a restaurant in Goa (where I had my fill of small talk with foreigners!), I tried not to let all the things that got under my skin annoy me so much, I turned up the AC, we hired a cook who made me wonderful pasta, an expat group formed and I had some new friends (who understood!), department-type grocery stores opened and imported food was available, and most of all I just ignored the stares and the comments.
There were many things I loved about Mumbai - the familiarity of seeing the same people doing the same thing day in and day out, early mornings with children on their way to school and the guy on the bicycle delivering packets of milk, holidays and festivals, Bollywood movies, stray dogs, street food(!!), that first apartment, our wedding reception at the Sun 'n Sand and the memories we made, the simplicity of so many lives, and the undeniable spirit of Mumbaikers who never give up no matter what comes their way.
After almost 7 years in Mumbai, when our daughter was almost a year old, it was time to leave and go back to the U.S. I look back now on my time in Mumbai and I am able to look back with more kindness, remembering more of the good. No one is more surprised than I am to find that I miss living in Mumbai and that I look forward to our trips back. Going back is like going home again. Thank you Mumbai. You changed my life.
- Pros:Spirit of the people, great street food, Bollywood!
- Cons:Traffic and pollution.
- In a nutshell:India's cultural and economic capital. Underrated and sometimes overlooked city. Spend a holiday here - Mumbaikers know how to party!
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