During booking, I requested the veg meal, and I’m impressed by what all it included! A mini veggie burger, pini masala (a chickpea dish), a bottle of water, a lemon soda, fried potato sticks to put on my meal, and a coconut thing I didn’t try, because I couldn’t figure out whether it’s vegan. Also, they came around with ice cream and tea/coffee later. All of this happened in less than 1h 40min. Very impressive.
From the Nizamuddin train station in southern Delhi, I needed to get to the airport. There’s an airport express train that runs from the main New Delhi Rail Station, so I started bartering with tuktuk drivers for a ride. They were quoting RIDICULOUS prices, and some nice Indian businessman asked me where I was going, so he could tell me what a fair price would be. When he realized that I only wanted to get to the other train station for the airport express, he told me that the airport express connects through another station, as well, and that’s where he was going, so I could ride in the Uber car he’d just requested, and we could go together. This was either a really nice gesture or a well-planned scheme. I couldn’t sort out which I thought was happening, so I kept a hand and eye on my stuff while getting in the car with him.
We drove through the city, talked about India, and then rode the airport train together. The guy turned out to be super nice and gave me his business card, for any time I come through New Delhi again. I got off at the airport, and he rode on to the end of the line. Great guy, and he saved me about 100 rupees ($1.50) for a tuktuk ride out of the way, instead of this more direct path he was taking.
From the New Delhi airport, I flew to Bombay and arrived at 1am. I hired a prepaid taxi, had to wake up the driver I was assigned, and nervously watched him struggling to keep his eyes open during the drive. Incredible.
At my hostel, there was a metal gate closed & locked over the door, and I had to bang on it to wake someone up to let me in. This is the weirdest place I’ve ever stayed. It’s literally just a big, open room with bunk beds. There’s no front room, no common space, nothing. Just beds right inside the door. When I knocked, I woke up half of the guests, because the beds are immediately inside the door. Super weird. It’s also a terrible place to stay, because everyone is super rude. I’d heard a rumor that Indian men at hostels are awful, and I can confirm this rumor. They have 0 concept of other people. I woke up every night and every morning to people watching TV after midnight, people banging around at all hours, and just people generally not caring about anyone else in the dorm room. This includes the employees, so how can you try to complain to get anything fixed?
The first day, I spent a lot of time just walking through the city and getting lost in the area near my hostel, which is in Andheri, one of the suburbs to the north of the old city. I also learned that, while the government has officially changed the name to Mumbai, the people who live here still call it Bombay.
On day 2, after more walking through the city, I met up with my friend, S, who had been working in the US but is back in Bombay now. We stopped for some street food lessons and then a semi-fancy dinner at Tea Villa, which has an impressive variety in its menu.
Bombay is in the middle of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival, which is a 10-day festival for the Hindu god everyone knows with the elephant head. People are crazy during this festival. Each neighborhood sets up displays, including this 2-story, multi-room structure made from plaster of Paris. It will be torn down at the end of the festival, and they’ll do something bigger next year.
This was one of the tamest episodes outside my hostel. Numerous other occasions included DJs using so much bass that the building was shaking.
On day 3, I used Uber to get up to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. I wanted to visit the Kanheri Caves, which I found to be very interesting. When I arrived, of course many touts were trying to sell me various tours (for 1000 rupees), but I just wanted to see the caves and took the shuttle bus to get there for 44 rupees.
There’s also a great view back toward the city from the top of the caves complex.
After paying 44 rupees to enter the park, 44 for the bus, 200 to get into the caves, and 44 back on the shuttle bus, I was in a bind. Since I’d used Uber to get up there, I hadn’t thought to make sure I had cash when leaving the hostel, and I now had about 32 rupees in my pocket to get back into the city. I had a bunch of cash in my locker at the hostel, but this wasn’t enough for a taxi to get me there. I’d heard that the train system in the city was hectic but cheap, so I walked to the nearest station. 10 rupees is definitely cheap for a train ride. I rode leaning out the door like the local guys do.
After following some crazy walking directions on my phone that took me past a cow farmer and through a slum, I got back to the hostel, filled up on cash, and ate some lunch. I requested another Uber ride, because I wanted to go to the center part of Bombay and wanted to go across the Bandra-Worli Sea Link to get there.
After crossing the bridge (impressive!), we went through a really rice neighborhood before ending at the Haji Ali Mosque. The walkway to get out there (it’s built on an island in the bay) is half of the adventure.
From the Haji Ali mosque, I walked further down the coast, past this “long-term parking” situation, to the Mahalaxmi Hindu temple. Within the temple area and the streets leading to it, there were thousands of “strictly no photography” signs. Bummer.
I walked over to the nearest train station to get back up to my hostel and paid another 10 rupees for the ride. While waiting on the platform, I saw this “fresh juice” place and ordered a pineapple juice. I was instantly suspicious, when the glass was in my hand 2 seconds after ordering, and it was awful. Clearly from a box mix, despite the fact there were fresh pineapples sitting around. Well played, guy.
I started losing track of how many vegetarian restaurants I was stumbling across during this trip. They’re everywhere, and I love it.
On day 4, I went into the older part of Bombay via train, with the first stop being the Laxmi Nawas hotel. It’s supposed to be impressive. My thought was, “This is it?” I walked away without even taking any pictures of the hotel.
I got a taxi from there to the Gateway of India arch, and the ride was quite interesting, including people playing cricket in the park.
My experience at the Gateway of India was awful. AWFUL. I was harassed beyond harassed by guys trying to touch my tattoos, taking pictures of me, asking to take selfies with me, etc. I just wanted to take pictures of the sights and be left alone. I threatened one guy with bodily harm and threatened to smash another guy’s phone, just to get them to stop touching me. It’s incredible. I know these people’s mothers didn’t raise them like this. Sure, people look at me in other parts of India, but I think their English knowledge makes the guys in Bombay more bold in talking to strangers, and it really started ruining the city for me.
From the Gateway and the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, I got a taxi to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (colloquially “CST”) train station, which is the main station in Bombay and where some of the local lines end, also. Formerly “Victoria Terminus,” the architecture here is amazing.
This building across the street houses the administrative offices for the train company.
I had some time to kill, so I went to a coffee shop and asked for an iced coffee. I got this hot coffee with ice cubes in it. I can’t make this stuff up!
From here, I got a taxi over to Shiv Sagar/Churchgate area to meet S for lunch, and the views from the taxi window were awesome.
After more of the “Bro, you’ve gotta let me take a picture of your tattoos” / “No, I don’t ‘gotta’ do anything” while waiting for S, we had a great lunch at Shiv Sagar vegetarian restaurant and then headed into the oldest parts of Bombay.
Being a Sunday, lots of shops were closed, so we caught a ride down the seaside and over to this “no one knows how it got here—must be from the gods!” pool called Banganga.
From here, we went up to Bandra, which is a market/hang out in the evenings area. I really liked it. The drive there took us past the most expensive house in the world (this is 1 house!)
Christianity in Bombay came with Portuguese immigrants, and the St. Andrew’s Church is one of the oldest in India—dating back 500 years. All of the graves outside have Portuguese names, and the older ones also include Portuguese inscriptions.
On day 5, I walked around some more and needed to accomplish some errands. I also noticed a lot of decorations for the far-right party currently ruling the local and state government. Tell me if their position sounds familiar: “Too many immigrants have come here from other parts of India and are stealing the jobs that belong to those of us who were born here and are ethnically Mumbaikers/Marathis!”
Given that Uber is so cheap in India, and given that most of the “free wifi” spots in the country require getting a text message with a code, I decided to get a prepaid SIM card for my phone. The process to get one was incredible! First, I needed my passport and a copy of my e-visa. I also had to go get a passport photo. After I had all of this, the phone shop needed my home address, the address where I’m staying here, S’s phone number and address as my guarantor, and then I was told that she’d get a call saying my SIM card is ready to activate…sometime “today.” After that, I can put in the SIM card and set it up. Incredible! What if I hadn’t known anyone here?
That night, we met up for coffee before saying goodbye. I didn’t sleep well, because I had to wake up so early for going to the airport, and I kept waking up thinking I’d overslept. I hate that. At 3am, I was out the door and off to the airport. Bombay was crazy in good and bad ways, and I saw, did, and learned a lot. I also saw things I never expected, like a guy riding with his goat in a tuktuk.
Off to Udaipur and the state of Rajasthan!