After 28 hours by train we arrive at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Station, commonly called Victoria Station, which is also a World Heritage Site. A taxi took us to our new home, near the Gateway of India.
After a few minutes of being in Mumbai, the financial capital of India, I already felt totally lost. In a paper, I had written down the address of my hotel and the only thing I thought about was how I would get to that place. I felt so lost that for a few minutes I thought that after so much walking I would find the Roman Colosseum in front of me.
My lodging was in the center of Mumbai and if it is already crazy, imagine how old it is! When I leave the lodge I find dozens of auto rickshaws. Seeing me as a tourist they approach offering me transfers through the city. As I stop to listen to the offers in a few seconds more autorickshaw drivers arrive and more and more! Leaving behind the auto rickshaw I cross the street market.
On the first night in Mumbai, I was lucky enough to witness the Janmashtami festival that celebrates the birth of Krishna. People get ready in the streets for the celebration and also in the temples. The Janmashtami here in Mumbai is popularly known as Dahi Handi.
The act shows the childhood pranks of Krishna, who is said to have a special affinity for milk and butter. The food was hung on the beams of the houses, to keep them out of the reach of children and animals. Krishna, along with his friends formed human pyramids, to steal milk and butter from the houses of the village.
The ceremony consists of a pot filled with milk, cottage cheese, butter, honey, and fruits. It was suspended on a rope at a height of about 12 meters. A group of young people, men, and boys, form a human pyramid, climbing on the shoulders on top of each other until they can break the Handi.
Next to the Handi, was placed some money as a reward, to the human pyramid, which manages to reach the goal. Youth groups, called Govinda, travel by truck, trying to break as many handis as possible during the day. A large number of people living in India makes their streets a total madness. The sun began to set and the old Bombay stood in the cool blue light of tungsten and the warm lights of the bonfires.
After being lost for about 3 hours between the markets and the streets, I finally reached my destination. In the evening precisely in the ISKCON temple, I went to observe this religious festival of Janmashtami. I walked through several narrow streets full of markets where merchants sold brightly colored fabrics and petals of flowers. Finally, I was able to get to the center of the ceremony.
I had to take off my shoes and go barefoot while people had their arms in the air waving them from one side to the other. I could hear a person saying a kind of prayer. Devotees started playing musical instruments while people kept waving their arms.
Being inside the temple people were kneeling and resting their foreheads on the ground. Then they raised their heads and then they touched the ground with their foreheads again. Some people started to look at me with a curious face. So I knelt on the floor and started to do exactly the same as they did.
To go out at night through the small streets of Mumbai is to go out into the unknown and the wild. The motorcycles and rickshaws pass by honking their horns trying to break through all that madness. People cook and sell the Pav Bhaji along the narrow streets. I walk to a restaurant that was near my hotel.
Walking a few steps also transformed into an entire experience. In every trip I've made I've met people with really incredible stories and Mumbai was no exception. During my night walk, I met a sadhu, who was accompanied by his disciple. I was walking and the sadhu raises his arm holding a piece of wood as if it were a scepter.
He shouts, hey you the one with the camera, come here. As I approached him, all those around him began to make room for me and I sit next to the sadhu. While this sadhu asked me a thousand questions, his assistant was preparing a chillum with marijuana for his master. They all started smoking and at the same time, the conversation became more interesting.
Night falls and I walk towards the hotel, although first I stopped at a restaurant on Marine Drive. I ordered the lassi and I loved it. Arriving at the hostel I eat dinner.
I had breakfast early and had a city tour of the area with buildings with colonial architecture. I gave myself the time to visit some of the tourist places that the city has. There are tourist places full of history and with incredible architecture. The first visit was to one of the most emblematic tourist places of the city, the so-called Gateway of India. The taxi ride was intense. My impression of the city was that Bombay is half urban, half forest and a city.
The smells immediately invaded us. A smell that is hard to define. There is something sweet mixed with the aroma of spices, cow dung, incense, and moist earth. The monsoon had emptied heavily and the caverns of the road had become large lagoons in the middle of the city. Crows also roared and squawked freely.
But the most surprising thing was the loud noise, the traffic chaos, and the sounds of the horns everywhere. Everyone played the horns at once, short but fast sounds. Hundreds of sounds per second invaded my senses. I liked a road sign that said something like respect the lanes. What lanes?
All the vehicles flooded the only existing lane. There are striking taxis and trucks, motorcycles, bicycles that disarmed along the way, clueless cows, scrawny dogs, fierce pedestrians, and colorful three-wheeled auto rickshaws.
Everyone wanted to be preferential and pass first. There are hardly any traffic lights. Only traffic guards who from a pedestal try the impossible mission to bring order to the chaos based on whistles. Our taxi driver, a skillful driver, weighed amazingly and masterfully all the obstacles that stood in our way.
Immediately I realized that despite the gray day, Bombay shone with a special light and full of color. And for the first time and after the long journey, I felt awake and very alive. In the watercolor of black and white that expanded before my eyes, I discovered the multitude of color palettes that the city offered.
There are the colorful shops and posters of small shops. There are the prints of the beautiful silk and cotton saree shops of the women. There are the bright ranges of colorful flowers in the street corners. There are the pigmented mandalas painted on the sidewalks. There are the little ones and also the flashy temples on our path.
Mumbai seemed chaotic and anarchic, but within that chaos, everything seemed to flow and function. As we moved south, the auto rickshaw disappeared. We were already entering the rich part of the city. Our access is prohibited. It was then that I caught a glimpse of the silhouette I was looking for.
The Gateway of India is located on the waterfront of the Port of Bombay opposite the Arabian Sea. It is a triumphal arch of basalt measuring 26 meters high, built in an Indo-Saracenic style. The monument was erected to celebrate the visit of the British King George V, and his wife Queen Mary in 1911. Since then, it was used as a ceremonial symbol of entry to India by viceroys and governors.
Paradoxically (and although this does not tell much about the story), it was also the exit door for the British when India finally reached its independence. On February 28, 1948, the Light Infantry's troops paraded for the last time in front of it.
The area, known as the Colaba, is very popular with tourists because it is close to the luxurious the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and for being the starting point for the excursion to the famous caves of Elephanta Island. The place was also full of souvenir shops, taxi drivers, horse carriages, trinkets vendors, and tour guides. And the icing on a stimulating day was nothing better than walking along the coast of Mumbai.
We take a final walk along Marine Drive, while our gaze is lost in the orange sunset that surrounds the Haji Ali Dargah. It is a monumental complex of Indian and Arab influences erected by the Sultanate of Gujarat in the fifteenth century and dotted in the middle of the Arabian Sea.
In the evening I was invited to a ceremony in a Sikh temple, another one of the many religions in India. This temple was giant and the people made long lines to enter. People were lining up to wash their feet. So I stood in line and wait my turn to wash my feet. After that, I left the main temple and went to walk around where a Sikh began to speak to me in his language.
I did not understand anything but try to put my best face in front of him. After a few minutes, I went to wash my feet again to a large pool that is in the temple. After that, we continued walking. I asked for a photo and he agreed without any problem. After coming out, I went to the Crawford Market (a traditional market for meat, fruit and fish), near the Victoria station, to finalize our shopping in the streets full of shops. I dine at Leopold Cafe, a meeting place for backpackers.
Mumbai is a compendium of stimuli in the form of bizarre sounds, exotic smells, and strange sensations that assaulted me in an uncontrolled way. They are a thousand stimuli per second that saturate the senses, and I have to learn to digest in small sips. It has been a wonderful journey, where we have discovered different cultures.
Here the humblest people have given us a lesson about the value of life. Because traveling to Bollywood is more than just that.