Just a little culture shock

Mumbai Travel Blog

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Government taxi, Indian truck and a little idea of the traffic.
Well, Mumbai. Mumbai doesn't really grow on you, or strike you, basically it stands up and punches you twice in the face. Then kicks you in the backside for good measure. We had a choice for this trip between doing a sort of charter package deal straight to Goa from London, or doing it ourselves, and getting to Goa under our own steam. In the end we decided to fly into Mumbai, and then fly down to Goa and back, in an attempt to see a bit more of India than Goa. We had no time in India really, we were both taking unpaid time off and a week was all we were allowed. For somewhere as big as India, that's not really time to see anything.
Anyway, we arrived into Mumbai at the slightly odd time of 2am (no curfew there) and walked into absolute chaos.
Escaping... look to mid-left of the picture. Yep, that's the slums.
You can smell India as soon as the plane doors open, it's not bad, it's just different. But walking out of the door of the airport from the snow of London and Zurich in to 30+ degree heat at 2 in the morning and looking out at about 3000 people clammering for attention is just unbelievable.
We got ourselves into a government taxi for the hour long drive through Mumbai to the hotel. Government taxi's in Mumbai - and India I guess - are tiny little black (the colour is important) cars that have precisely one mirror, occasionally windows, and usually a functioning boot. The mirror is the rear-view mirror, there are no side mirrors. India driving involves the horn. Basically, if you want to go somewhere on the road you blow your horn and go. You don't look, so you don't need mirrors - they'd actually cause more problems than they solve considering how tight the traffic is.
Again, you can start to see the size of the slums.
At one point we were on what was marked as a four lane road, that somehow had been converted into 9, including buses and trucks. It's a system that works surprisingly well, somehow. There were any number of very expensive cars cruising about in traffic that would have your average Australian or British driver running away in fright, with not a scratch on them. Taxi drivers don't seem to feel the need for lights either - they only really turn them on to make sure they aren't driving over people lying on the road (more on that in a sec), and if they happen to pass another car they turn them off.
So there we are, a touch jet lagged, sweating from the heat, flying along in a black taxi in pitch darkness as there are no street lights, driven by a guy who looked like he was in a race with his car to be the first one to die and sounded like he had a raging case of tuberculosis, lights off almost continuously, one hand on the wheel, the other on the horn. Brakes seem to be an added optional to the average Indian roadworthy, but it doesn't matter anyway as they don't slow down. For those wondering, rickshaws aren't actually allowed into "downtown" Mumbai, it is slightly cheaper (a saving of around 50p in the end) to take a rickshaw as far as they will go, then change to a taxi, but really, what for? That's just being kind of silly.
The ride was pretty fun for a while, until we realised what was going on around us. Mumbai is a huge city, and a massive part of that city is it's slums. The slums of Calcutta are more (in)famous, but Mumbai's are much, much bigger. They extend out to, and around the airport. A little difficult to see when you're flying in at 2 in the morning, but eventually the shapes along the road start to resolve into people trying to sleep. These are basically the absolute poorest of the poor - they can't afford to live in the slums, so they live literally on the road since the slum extends right to the edge of the road. At night, they drag whatever they can onto the road to block one lane off, and lie down. This, as you might be able to imagine, is kind of confronting.
After a long, long drive through what I'd imagine the outskirts of hell might just look like, we arrived at the slightly nicer part of Mumbai - as in people lived in proper buildings - and found our hotel. India is a cheap place to be a tourist, so we were a little apprehensive about what awaited us at the hotel. It was a not-so-trusty Lonely Planet recommendation, and it turned out to be damn good. For anyone on their way to Mumbai, we can highly recommend Bentley's Hotel in Colaba (Bentley's with an s, there's also a Bentley). They're not ragingly cheap, but they're certainly affordable, and if you're flying in at 2 in the morning, the last thing you want is to be looking for a hotel, or turning up at an stinking flea pit in the middle of the slum. It was a little difficult to work out who ran the place, it seemed to be run by a transient population of about 15 different guys, who came and went. All very nice and helpful though.
The room was better than expected, and the extra 200 Rupees a night for the fan was a wise investment - dragged the bed immediately under the fan, lay down and went to sleep. So much for the first night in Mumbai.
We were meeting Ness's mum Margaret and Frank who were staying there as well, so in the morning we tracked them down, had a bit of toast for breakfast and decided to go out for a wonder around and see what Mumbai was like.
What was a little hazy and indistinct at night was brutally apparent in the harsh sun. Some people I think get used to it, there were a few contented looking white people (you can see the second Mumbai post for more on our fellow tourists) wondering around looking largely undisturbed by being harangued every inch of the way, but for us, particularly Ness who still harbours an ingrained fear of such situations following the offensive harassment in Turkey, it was pretty over the top. We managed to find some lunch, and some quieter backstreets to wonder around, but once again the size of Mumbai is a big issue - you just can't see very much of it without being driven around - unless you're prepared to face the bus network, and in the heat and with an untypical lack of preparation, we didn't know what to see and how much to pay for it - the second part of that is in a place like India a big problem. So in the end, we didn't see a whole lot, but a got a small feel for the place before heading back to the airport for the flight down to Goa.
To be entirely honest, Mumbai was basically horrible. We've never been in such a disturbing place, and we really had little desire to go back there. We didn't have a choice mind you, but a large part of our decisions about our final day were removed from us anyway. But first, to Goa.
Neonbluebutterfly says:
It's too bad you didn't enjoy your stay in Mumbai. It's unfortunate considering what a beautiful city Mumbai is.

I think your unpleasant experience could've been avoided had you opted for a nicer hotel and planned ahead. Wandering around (aimlessly, without having a real clue about the city) was bound to end up in trouble - foreigner or not. I'm not surprised that you were hassled, because in general, most Indians don't have too much contact with foreigners, therefore, they tend to act strange (either fascinated or they see you as an easy target). But I think you added to your own trouble by venturing out without the help of a tour guide or even a local.

Posted on: Jul 17, 2010
Vikram says:
Quite an interesting opinion of Mumbai. I personally love Mumbai but then again, I'm brown and so no one really harasses me. What I personally recommend to 'white' people visiting India is to always go with those luxury tours that stick to the touristy places rather than do the backpacking thing one would do in say, London or New Zealand.

The reason rickshaws are not allowed in the city centre is because rickshaw drivers are usually bad and that will increase the traffic congestion.

I notice you missed out the Elephanta/Arora caves. You'd have loved them. But again, you need a professional guide to have told you these things! :-)

Yes, the airport is AWFUL. I totally avoid it!
Posted on: Jun 04, 2006
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Government taxi, Indian truck and …
Government taxi, Indian truck and…
Escaping... look to mid-left of th…
Escaping... look to mid-left of t…
Again, you can start to see the si…
Again, you can start to see the s…
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