Culture shock does not begin to describe the overwhelming feeling that encompasses you immediately upon stepping off the plane in Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai, India. At the amazingly generous invitation of friends, I travelled to Mumbai for what would become the cultural experience of a lifetime. If this densely populated metropolis was a movie, the sights, sounds and smells would be the stars of the show.
Mumbai (formerly Bombay) is the largest city in India and is also famous for being the heart of the Bollywood film industry. My adventures began with, of all things, a trip to the local outdoor market. I firmly believe food is the greatest storyteller of a region’s history and character, and this trek through the city market did not disappoint. The streets were lined with vendors selling every kind of produce imaginable, and we loaded up on fresh fruits and veggies that would serve as our meal for the evening. Eventually, we made our way to an open-faced storefront filled with live chickens…you don’t want to know what happened next, but let’s just say, I’ve never had such fresh poultry in my life! My favorite culinary experience of the trip was hands down the bhindi masala which is comprised of okra, onions, tomatoes, ginger, amchur and other spices. Do yourself a huge favor…google this recipe and make it at home!
The bold colors that surround you while making your way through Mumbai are nothing short of awe inspiring. Beautiful brown skinned women cloaked in traditional sarees in vibrant maroons, greens and golds create a breathtaking menagerie…moving walls of color as far as the eye can see. Streets filled to capacity with people, loudly honking tuk tuk taxis and cows (yes cows!) make getting from place to place daunting at times, but there is an ebb and flow of organized chaos amidst all the action. We braved the challenge and made it to the central attraction of the city located at Mumbai Harbor, the iconic Gateway of India stone arch. The arch was built by the British Raj in 1924 to commemorate the landing of King-Emperor George V, the first British monarch to visit India. Other must see attractions include the Elephanta Caves, the grand rail station (but hold on to your travel buddy because this place is crazy!) and if you’re really adventurous, you can do the famous Dharavi Slum tour. Yes, as seen in the movie…I opted out of this one!
One cannot travel all the way to India and not visit the Taj Mahal. Regarded by many as one of the few remaining World Wonders, the Taj, located in Agra, India, is simply the most beautiful thing I have ever seen with my own two eyes. It is difficult to believe that this incredible feat of architecture is a tomb; however, the love story that inspired it is one for the ages. Full transparency, Mumbai and Agra are filthy, no offense intended. There is just no other way to say it. But upon entering the gates of the Taj, it is truly a whole new world. The grounds are immaculate. The building is hand cleaned annually. All the designs within the marble are precious stones…emeralds and rubies. If you have never cared or even thought about going to India, I give you my word, seeing this marvelous structure and hearing the story of how it came to be told by a native, is worth every single penny. One final note…I do not recommend these two areas for solo female travelers as they are not the safest destinations for women; so, grab a buddy and check it out!
Until next time, venture boldly to new sights and new heights!