As your plane reaches about 100 ft, you begin to smell sulfur. You have not even touched the ground and already you are greeted by pollution. As you touch down, petroleum kind of smell also joins in the welcome. Being a chemical-sensitive person, I truly thought that I might just be living my last day on earth and would not last more than a few hours. Fortunately the gasoline used by cars must be the same kind as in Europe because it was mostly free of additives that cause me harm. I could walk all day in the street without getting symptoms of intoxication, although it was not really good for the lungs which felt coated after 2-3 days and also was more demanding for the heart.
One thing that is good to have in India is a cell-phone with data-access and an India-based number. This is a bit tricky however and seems as hard as getting a passport. You cannot just walk up to a store and get a phone. You have to get a SIM card first in your name. For that you need 2 passport-format photos, one proof of residency or hotel address signed by the manager with a phone number to reach that hotel manager, and your passport. Of course I didn’t bring with me prints of passport-format photos so I had to go to a store that had a photograph doing passport-style photos. Only the most expensive hotels agreed to make a special signed document attesting your stay at the hotel. Then you can go get your SIM card. Do not buy a SIM card at the corner store, it needs to be activated and to get this done right and under 24h, only Vodafone stores provide this service. You specifically need to ask for a SIM card and fill up the correct form (which was in a vertical box on one of the wall). If you just ask them for a phone, they will refuse selling you one without much explaining. Others stores also provides SIM cards but it will take at least a week to activate and if it doesn’t work I guess you are kind of screwed. This is just to get the SIM card. You also need a phone that accepts Indian SIM cards. For the phone you can go to a cheap store. Vodafones does sell phones, but they are a bit overpriced. The best is to bring an international unlocked phone with you and get a local SIM card at a Vodafone store in India. The whole process took me about 4 hours. Expect to spend at least 2 hours at the Vodafone store, there is a lot of people.
There are many large neighbourhoods in Mumbai. You can transit between them by cab or by train. If you search a specific address… well there are no addresses ! It is all names. Buildings have names and if there is multiple doors on the building, these doors will have number starting at one. So if you get an address that says 5 West Flower Villa, Tree tops road, Green neighbourhood, Mumbai, it does not mean that the address is 5, but that the door number on the West Flower Villa building is 5. You just need to find the West Flower Villa by asking or with google map.
Mumbai is on the border of the ocean. A long beach runs on the west side where you can walk for hours without end. To me it was the best side-walk to get from one spot to another when I stayed in Juhu neighbourhood. For more pictures check the full post about The beach of Mumbai.
There are a few tourists neighbourhood that you can check but I don’t recommend staying there at all time as it will not give you an accurate vision of the town. The two places are the hotel neighbourhood in Juhu and complete south Mumbai near the ocean which looks like a rich downtown area. It might be good a great place to stay or work for locals, but for the native culture it is pretty dry. Those are the only places I saw other “white” people. In other neighbourhood I could walk all day and not see any westerners.
The are a few bakeries here and there in the town. They might look small however per our western standard. They are often just a stand on the street or a little store with a single tiny counter.For 50 roupees (1$) you can get enough for breakfast and keep some for later. You can add a good chai masala for 15 rupees that you get at other places on the street. This pastry owner was really proud of his shop and to be taken in picture.
I made the mistake like everybody to say Chai Tea, which is an oxymoron since Chai means tea so you are basically saying Tea tea. The proper term is Chai Masala : Spiced tea. The same thing as Bancha tea Which also translate as Tea tea. So much for grammar, the tea is amazing. I have tried recreating it for 2 months after coming back home and I have only came a little close once. You really need a cotton-cloth to filter it out. Coffee filter are two tight and all the spices and cinnamon will clog the filter and you will only get a few drops. Also take ungrounded spices and ground them on the spot – especially nutmeg which only taste good when fresh-grounded.
Hum… I didn’t try the fish in Mumbai. I waited until I was in Goa where the ocean is cleaner. Your call.
What is surprising is that food sold on the street is less expensive and sometime tastier than in restaurants. I loved various sauces and different spice blends used. I have been to Indian restaurant in Canada and it is different. You have to try it there to see. On the street you can also drink cane sugar juice – freshly pressed from the cane ! In the picture, the sugar canes are imported from a place 100km south of Mumbai.
The three pictures below were taken almost on the same street, 5 minutes walking distance apart. You walk out of a train station, see a rich neighbourhood with nice cars, then go into an alley and see a cattle farm, and at the end you reach a 4 story-high commercial building. If you keep on walking just a little you will cross an open-air aqueduc and large residential buildings. From there, with a 15 minute walk there is the domestic airport on the right and an university on the left-side.
People take risks. They put their life on the line, everyday. There are no doors on some trains, you just hang in there holding the metal bar. This is impressive when you go on an elevated railroad, 50 ft across the ground and see someone on the edge just holding with a single hand.
Crossing the street on red light is also a favorite daredevil task that would probably get you killed here in Canada. In this picture on the right there is a bunch of people crossing on the red light, and waiting in a thin line in the middle of the lanes as car passes on both or their sides. I was so surprised to see this I had to immortalize the moment.
Driving is also really different. There are no turn signals used. If you want to change lane, you drive in front of the other guy. Basically the idea is that where you are is your spot and no one will crash into you, even if you are in the middle of the road on a red light making a u-turn. The space ahead of you is not yours. If someone jumps in that space, you just brake and it is the end of story. People generally driver slower in the city than in Canada. In Canada you see people driving up to 60-70 km/h where in Mumbai you will rarely see someone go above 40 km/h. It is the same for car vs pedestrian. There are no line of predicted course. Usually in Canada when you are walking at a constant speed, you know where you will be in 2 seconds and car will leave that space ahead for you as predicted by your walking speed. In Mumbai, as you cross the street, you can find a car that just rolls few inches in front of your feet and you have to stop to not crash into the car.