After setting off from Illinois, Vince finally lands in India, via Zurich, to commence his adventures “On The Road”. Stay tuned to UTB, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter as he journeys around Asia. And big shout out to tours and travel specialists, Tucan Travel, who are supporting this trip!

I landed in Mumbai on a Sunday night (who the hell knows what day it was where I came from – time zones are lost on me by this point) and exited the airport to the open arms of my long-time friend Franklin. We hopped in a tuk-tuk to head to the area of Santa Cruz, where our friend’s mom owns an apartment that she generously lent us for as long we wanted to stay.

You have to possess Jedi powers to drive here.

Tuk-tuk rides are pretty terrifying. There seems to be a general lack of any sort of rhyme, reason, or regulation to the trout-stream of tuk-tuks, taxis, motorbikes, and buses in this city. The only constant is the honking.

Indian Rules of Honking

  1. Honk when turning left.
  2. Honk when turning right.
  3. Honk when entering a road.
  4. Honk when exiting a a road.
  5. Honk when beginning to move.
  6. Honk when coming to a stop.
  7. Honk when you see another vehicle.
  8. Honk when you see a potential passenger.
  9. Honk when you almost hit another vehicle (often).
  10. Honk when… Uhh.. nobody else has honked in the last 30 seconds.

We arrived unscathed at our little apartment after flagging down a decent English speaker to help us gain our bearings in our neighborhood. The apartment, by first-world standards, looks like there would definitely be some low-level drug production going on. But by Mumbai standards (…and budget traveler standards) it’s spacious, comfortable, and all we could ask for (especially for free!).

Didn’t give them proper credit for the “Food Affairs” pun.

We headed out to get some food, but being almost midnight our choices were slim. After another short brush with the grim reaper (tuk-tuk ride) we landed on a small bar/restaurant called “Love Birds” where a nice man in a suit welcomed us. Inside, Love Birds was a smallish, neon-lit bar with really loud music. There were a few people in the corner singing along, in a sort of a permanent karaoke set or something, but otherwise it was mostly empty, except for a few attractive girls standing in the middle and a couple of other people seated at tables like ours. We ordered a few beers and a little bit of food from the overly hospitable man in the suit and caught up.

Within a few minutes, from across the room, cash started flying in the air. Somebody was rapid-firing 20 rupee bills, just clouding the other side of the bar with flying money. In America we call this process “making it rain,” and, unfortunately, I think we can take credit for its existence. One of the girls in the middle started dancing around where the money was flying up. We were confused. Were we in a strip club? Hmmm… Everybody was fully dressed.

Stray dogs are everywhere in the city.

Finally Franklin flagged down our gracious host and asked him what was going on. He said that it was a dance club, and for some money the girls will dance, and for much more money they will leave here with you for a “night of fun”. Oh. I see. Love Birds. Right. Sort of a strip club? Sort of a brothel? It was interesting how discreet the whole thing was. I don’t consider ourselves to be particular naïve about that kind of thing, and we honestly had no idea when we walked it. But it definitely wasn’t our intention to patronize any such establishment further than two beers and paneer masala, so we paid our bill and headed home.

The next morning I could hardly sleep; I got up with everyone else in Zurich, only I was in India. I couldn’t sleep more, so I went out for a walk while my friend slept. Our apartment was in Santa Cruz, a section of Mumbai a dozen or so kilometers north of the city center. It was a buzz to walk around for two hours and not see another non-Indian person (…not to mention get stared at a lot).

The poverty here is pretty serious; there are people sleeping on the streets, trash in heaps, and the slums alongside the rail road tracks are an intense site. Of course, you hear of this before you come, but I don’t know if it’s possible to adequately understand until you are here (at which point you still don’t understand it per se, just witness it). It’s a curious thing, though, that in such an abject state, it doesn’t feel dangerous or imposing. I know that in an area as bad as this in Los Angeles (if there was one) I would feel afraid for my life; in America, and I think a lot of places, poverty often breeds crime and violence. I don’t know how different the crime rates are here, but I haven’t found anyone to be aggressive or intimidating. This is solely from my own observation, for whatever it’s worth. Maybe they just leave tourists alone.

The next day we checked out some of the “sites” of Mumbai, of which I would recommend the following attractions:

The Hanging Gardens: Somewhat deceptively named because they sit on tanks of water that hold upwards of 30 million gallons of water. Nonetheless they are a really pleasant gardens to walk around and get some good views of the city.

A nice breath of fresh air in a cramped city.

Marine Drive: A nice ocean-side thoroughfare to drive or walk down. I’m sort of an architecture geek and this is where Mumbai’s interesting collection of Art Deco buildings is concentrated.

Gateway to India: Actually not all that special, but it’s a nice place to see the famous Taj Mahal Hotel, the gateway arch, and get a good perspective of the bay that made Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) a historic colonial port and subsequent major hub on India.

Franklin and I in front of the Taj Mahal Hotel

Elephanta Island: A really pleasant hour-long boat ride in each direction, this island is a cool place to spend a few hours. It’s got a series of carved out caves that date, with much mystery, from somewhere between the 5th and 8th centuries AD. The sculptures and architecture of the caves is incredibly impressive and one can imagine that before more than a dozen centuries of wear and neglect it must have been an even more incredible site to see.

Caves on Elephanta Island

The next stop for Vince is Goa, so dial “UTB On The Road” for more Asian adventures (next post coming soon!). If you’ve got any tips or questions or encouragement for Vince, or just want to keep tabs, find him on Facebook and Twitter. Monkey photos guaranteed, or your money back!

8 thoughts on “Mumbai: Meals, Wheels & Colonial Appeal

  1. I guess it was a short trip to Mumbai tough you have missed many beautiful places, you could have also added Mumba Devi temple from where Mumbai got its name, Juhu beach could have an interesting site for you. The dancing bar doesn’t exist anymore in Mumbai unless they are working in illegal way. Being from Mumbai, India I hope you enjoy your stay here.

  2. I loved how the blog captures the essence of India’s financial capital. It was interesting to read about abject poverty in the city. Of course the small, yet informative descriptions of the places of interest made it an engaging read.

  3. Amazing, nicely crafted, we had a similar event last year, it was a great place though.
    But we happened to visit this place called Silvassa, I guess its a small town but beautiful, we stay there for 2 days, we also enjoyed the mud festival at treat resort, close to nature, no pollution. I will try to visit it once again

  4. Hello All ,

    This is about Artha Travel , Please be aware this is a fraud company i have had a very very bad experience .This company is a serious shit please dont fall for their advertisements online .

  5. CP Bharambe should not waste tax payers money
    Continuing with my story further it is harsh words but I must say after my experience with CP Bharambe I realized that IPS officer should not be coming and working in Metro town specially if they don’t belong to that town and if they are doing traffic as neither they know city nor they know local chemistry. CP Bharambe treated me with attitude and arrogance forgetting he is government servant and he is answerable to tax payers besides CP Bharambedo not have any traffic background which I realized after reading his profile it is clear that he is wasting tax payers money. Its been three months since I had meeting with him and Mumbai lost progressive step and we are lagging months behind as we Mumbaikar would have been way ahead in game. While Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal is struggling with traffic and trying to work solution for his city by using like even and odd number for cars it is real tragedy for Mumbaikar that they had an experience Mumbaikar who cares and has traffic as well as By Law experience but he is helpless because of inefficient and ignorant CP like Bharambe and it is serious because Mumbai is in dyer state of traffic and it can’t be seen and realized by these outsiders as they don’t care. I feel for Mumbai as I was grown up here and I would like to make my city like heaven that is my dream. Jai Hin

  6. Mumbai city need car pull and practically all rush hour time on major arteries minimum 4 people should travel. I found solution with my north American traffic expertise and I spend lots of time in Mumbai explaining this to people during my visit in Mumbai. Finally I reached CP Bharambe and my journey ended their with negative and arrogant attitude. As my solution for rush hour was tossed about car pull telling me how TATA GM will travel. Besides I was also requesting him that all transport truck should do deliveries in night and we need to create By law enforcement department of civilian who will support cops during rush hour but CP Bharambe was in no mood to listen as he is from Nagpur on deputation and who cares if people waste all their life in rush hour. I also told CP Bharambe that it is creating bad effect on environment and he said its not my issue. I tried telling that Mumbai has thousands of abandoned vehicles and if we have By Law department they will help in towing that will have great impact on rush hour. I was willing to stay with my own will and help Mumbai traffic Police to set up this and DCP Chavan Traffic Police North Zone was in favor but CP Bharambe thought me as an idiot.

  7. I read your blog. Glad that you explore Mumbai. But there is lot lot more to explore. The Chor Bazar(thief market), Javheri Bazar(Goldsmith market),
    Shivaji Park, Parsi colonies, Five Garden area, Bhaucha dhakka(popular Fish auctions).. Visit all this next time…thanks

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