The Culture Shock Of Mumbai
I’ve travelled a fair bit in my time and I’ve often heard the term ‘Culture Shock’ but it’s not something I’ve ever experienced or really understood what it meant to be honest. That is of course until I arrived in Mumbai.
Mumbai is not for the faint hearted or anyone who enjoys the typical package holiday, the place is all kinds of crazy. It’s an adventure seekers paradise and within an hour of arriving, I felt I was in my element. Everything is different, everything functions exactly the opposite to life as we know it in the west. I can understand how this could be hell to anyone looking for a relaxing holiday. For anyone looking to really travel, broaden horizons, seek new experiences, understand how another world works, then Mumbai is a thrill seeker’s heaven.
Just getting from the airport is a rollercoaster ride.
I used the auto-rickshaws to get around as they are cheaper, navigate traffic better and totally typical of Mumbai. Forget seatbelts, I mean, what are they? Every time I sat in a
“rick” (as the locals call it) was an adrenaline rush. The zipping in and out of insane traffic, constant horn-beeping and no doors or windows to even offer a fake sense of security. Traffic is and will always be my most vivid image of Mumbai. There are lanes on the road, but sure, why use them? There are also traffic lights but I’m not sure any driver knows what they stand for. All this chaos and energy crammed into one city only fueled the excitement in me, I loved the madness.
What I loved, even more, is the food. Mumbai is a masala (blend or mix) of the whole continent of India so your taste buds can never be bored. I ate so much food that I was
worried I might have to book two seats on the plane home just to fit myself. Street food is a huge part of the culture in India. So it’s vital that you indulge, you’d be missing a huge part of your experience if you didn’t. I ate so many Vada Pav, the famous Mumbai vegetarian street food burger. At one stage there was quite a real possibility I may have turned in to one!
My other addiction was the south Indian, dosa. Which is similar to a crepe only thinner and crispier. It’s high in protein because it’s made from lentil flour and filled with a range of fillings from mild to spicy. Personally, I always opted for spicy, I adore spicy food and when in Rome and all that jazz.
I can’t express with words how in love the with Indian people I am. Sincerely, even as I write this I fill up with fondness and emotion for their openness, caring friendliness, respect and gentleness. There was no end to invitations to their homes for dinner. All the locals wanted was to show us a good time in their city and ensure we had an authentic experience. Even the poorest people who live in the slums invited me to their home for
dinner, which we humbly accepted. I sat on the floor of their one room in which a family of four live.
I’ve been at umpteen dinner parties in the most glamorous of locations yet never felt as comfortable, wanted and welcomed as I did in that loving home in the slums. Food was so tasty and the typical Indian mother kept topping up our plate as if we hadn’t eaten in months. They offered us an endless supply of food, hugs and smiles. It’s very poignant to experience how people with so little money can give so much and be so rich in every other way but financially. All the neighbours called in to say hello and meet the token white foreigner (which they so fondly called me).
Indian weddings are so beautiful, extravagant, colourful and jam-packed with everyone and anyone who has ever met the bride or the groom. Even if you know a friend of a friend there’s a chance that you can get an invitation to the wedding too. It’s a great way to experience Indian culture first hand if you ask me. I was actively seeking an invitation to a Mumbai wedding the whole time I was there.
Yoga in Mumbai
I spent a month at The Yoga Institute in Santa Cruz East
on the teacher training course. Possibly one of the best and smartest decisions of my travelling life. A) Because I got to practice yoga
every day. B) Because I went to India alone and on my very first day there I had instantly made 34 new friends. There were 35 of us on the course, mainly locals and about 8-10 other foreigners from all across the globe. I was the only Paddy (Irish person), of course.
I had great craic showing them my Leprechaun teddy (which comes everywhere with me for good luck) and telling them that there really are Leprechauns in Ireland and if they find one they’ll get to keep the pot of gold.
The irony of my stay at The Yoga Institute is that it’s right beside both the domestic and international airports so planes landed and took off every 3 mins 24 hours per day. Each time they did the noise was so loud the walls rattled. The first week
I thought the universe was playing a joke on me. Essentially I was trying to find my zen and inner peace on an airport runway in the middle of the busiest city in the world. However, yoga theory and philosophy teach you to be in a balanced state of mind in any and all circumstances. Therefore, I figure if I can meditate under these conditions Dublin should be a doddle!
Every day after yoga studies I explored the huge city. A great way to get around taking the
trains, they are so cheap and an experience in itself. Mumbai and trains are like Bonnie and Clyde or peas and carrots. They are so ingrained into the daily life of the locals. You might find yourself crammed into a carriage like sardines into a can. Also, they only stop at the station for around two mins so you have to be really fast to jump on and off. If you’re not fast, you’re last!
Where to Explore
Some of my favourite places to hang out are Colaba in south Mumbai. This is a really trendy and touristy part of town where you can shop till you drop. It has the best range and bargains of accessories you’ve ever seen in your life. And a visit to The Gateway To India monument is obligatory, but street sellers and photographers can be slightly annoying so you have to be polite but firm.
Watching the sunset on Juhu Beach is a must. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a stunningly blood orange ball of light that looked like it was so close I could reach out and grab it.
Bare in mind beaches in Bombay aren’t like those anywhere else. They are so busy there won’t be room to lie down and sprawl out. Juhu beach is an area to hang out with friends, eat some delicious street food and watch the local entertainers perform tricks with monkeys, horses and the likes.
If shopping is your thing then a trip to Crawford Market will be right up your street. It’s a typical bustling Asian market with everything and anything you could possibly ever consider ever buying. Don’t be shy to haggle for a better price, it’s just culture so it’s more or less expected that you’ll not accept the first price they tell you. You’d be quite the idiot if you did.
For a day out it’s nice to head across the water to the Elephant Caves, you just jump on a ferry at The Gateway To India monument and it’ll take you across to the tiny island broken off from the mainland where you can spend hours exploring the caves and the scenery. In fairness though, my favourite part of this trip was the actual ferry ride itself. It’s so pretty looking back at the mainland and watch the thousands of people getting smaller and smaller. This is a moment to breathe in some coveted fresh air and enjoy some silence which is a rarity in a firecracker of a city like Mumbai.
Facts And Tips
When eating street food, stick to the pure veg joints (which are very plentiful). This helps to avoid the dreaded Delhi
Belly as the most dangerous food to risk is dodgy meat. So if you stay veggie you have a better chance of staying healthy.
Only buy from the stands where you see them cook in front of you. Heat kills potential nasty germs so again reducing the chance of stomach upsets.
If you plan travelling long distances on trains then make sure you book in advance as much as possible. There are only a certain number of seats reserved for non-Indian and there are often waiting lists.
Accommodation in Mumbai is pretty expensive so don’t expect bang for your buck on hotel rooms. Most are less than basic and air con is a huge luxury. However, if you are spending that much time in your hotel room, I would say you are wasting the adventure that is Mumbai.
I recommend you make an effort to cover up. The city is quite conservative so skimpy clothes will get you more attention than you asked for. Also, PDA’s (public displays of affection) are frowned upon so, keep the touchy-feely stuff to the hotel room.
All in all, Mumbai is a pretty safe city. Of course like anywhere else in the world there are parts where it’s best to keep your wits about you. But in general, I felt safe roaming around the streets alone. Aside from the odd rickshaw driver attempting not to put on the meter in order to do you out of a few extra rupees. Just give them a tap on the shoulder and point to the meter – they’ll get your drift!