First things first, this is not our photo
So, here we are finally in Mumbai, all of the nerves about putting our 'normal' lives on hold seem to have gone and we're hyped about getting out here and seeing parts of the world that we have only dreamed of.
We had an amazing flight over, we managed to watch 15 minutes of a film before thankfully we both managed to get a few hours sleep.
As we approached Mumbai airport and when the clouds parted for a few seconds, we could see swathes of skyscrapers amid lush parks or green belt and a large river meandering through the city and it looked idyllic. As the plane flew lower and the detail became sharper, we caught our first glimpse of one of the slums. A vast area, and I mean a VAST area of rickety shacks many topped with bright blue tarpaulin to keep out the monsoon rains. We both suddenly felt very under prepared. Immigration and customs was a breeze, no questions, no interest.
We were met at the airport by a driver from the hotel, we tried asking a few times but he didn't give his name (just a pleasant smile and a head wobble) despite his quiet and calm demeanour, he, just like everyone else drove like a madman. Organised chaos is the only way! We've seen these scenes dozens of times in films, of tightly packed cars lurching forward into any (perceived) gap in the traffic. People, bikes, cycles, vans, animals and cars all have right of way, seven columns of vehicles on a four lane road. It's mental.
Car horns honked constantly and we're still not sure if it's for any other reason than to give the car drivers something to do while stuck in the gridlock.
It was a crazy car journey to hotel. families of 4 on the back of one moped, while the mum calmly texts with one hand and holds onto the kids with the other. There was also a festival going on (we found out later it was called Janmashtami, where teams of men form huge human towers by standing on each others shoulders then send up a small child who then tries to smash a dahi handi (a pot) that hangs some meters in the air - those crazy Indians, what's wrong with simply chasing a cheese down a hill??), so there were also trucks and vans of all sizes carrying the 'climbing' teams and their supporters, all dressed in orange or white or yellow.
All of them were smiling and dancing and looking like they were having an amazing day.
Flashes of the poverty that lies within the walls of the shanty towns occasionally shows itself with a miserable beauty. Two immaculately dressed little girls aged no more than 3 or 4 happily playing barefooted in the rubble by their makeshift shelter under the overpass. The piles of rubbish and waste that line the street are everywhere but never prevent anyone going to where they need to go. There are repairmen along the roadside, fixing sandals or umbrellas or belts or small mechanical things, which back home would be thrown out and considered by our culture as useless. These are meticulously repaired and continue to do what they were made for. It's humbling and beautiful to see.
Mumbai seems mostly to be in a state of disrepair, many of the buildings we've passed were crumbling down and had moss or damp flourishing on the outside walls, but on the inside, through the iron railing clad windows you can see spotless rooms with beautiful curtains and lovingly tended plants.
We dropped our bags off at our room , (the hotel is spotlessly clean and the staff are friendly and helpful) freshened up before heading out on foot to explore our local area, we wandered round for just about 45 mins. It was hot, muggy and we were too exhausted to do much more. The local area (Churchgate) has many ministerial buildings and we're a 5 minute walk from the port and less than a 10 minute walk to Mumbai CST (which on the outside is an incredibly beautiful building). Shops or stalls are set up in every available space and it is impossible for us to classify what types of shop they are, a printers/banana shop or a cigarette/sandal shop? Whatever they are the proprietors seem largely disinterested in us.
Despite our proximity to the train station, this does not seem to be a touristy area (I'm the only white person in the village), there are a few restaurants dotted about but most of the locals seem to be eating elsewhere.
Day two and we too are just walking out in the organised chaos. We went on a dry run to the train station, through the streets that are heaving with people (99%are men). At one point we are forced to walk in the road where a small part of the pavement has been taken up by a semi permanent shelter for a homeless woman. Poverty is everywhere and it is heartbreaking to see, this is what I think will be the hardest thing to deal with. Occasionally, the skies burst open and the rains come down like a warm shower, we've not had anything too heavy and there is something very wonderful about not having to take cover in the downpour.
We don't want to jump to too many conclusions or form too strong an opinion of this huge city of which we've not seen enough of, so for now we're looking forward to moving on to Pune tomorrow where things start to slow down and we can take in the culture on a smaller scale.
We're just about to go for dinner, we found an amazing smelling Indian/Iranian restaurant just down the road from the hotel so fingers crossed it tastes as good as it smells.