Day One of India: Mumbai Bus Tour – The Non-English Version
We landed in Mumbai at midnight Thursday night/Friday morning after 27 straight hours of airports, airplanes and layovers. We prepaid-paid for a taxi and found our hotel with no problems and hardly any traffic, which didn’t give us an adequate expectation of what to expect the next day.
We wake up after 4 hours of sleep, wide awake from jet lag. The breakfast at our hotel is good, and the rooftop view of our neighborhood gets us excited to explore the city. While checking emails in the lobby, an employee shows us a flyer for a city tour that leaves at 9:30am and hits all the main Mumbai attractions. We decide “why not?” and pay him 200 rupees each (about $2.50) and the bus picks us up an hour later.
The first thing we notice on this bus full of tourists is that we are the only foreigners. Sure enough, the tour starts and its not in English. (Hindi language maybe? I’m still fuzzy on all the languages and dialects here in Mumbai.) We drive around for an hour, making stops for unknown reasons and looking at buildings for reasons we can’t understand, and then we all get off at a horrible-smelling pier/boat launch area. After everyone is off, the tour guide explains to us in perfect English that we are are at a navy dockyard and we are taking a tourist ferry around the harbour. We follow the group, annoyed that he wasn’t translating at least a portion of the tour, especially since we were sitting in the front row.
We board the ferry and look at a bunch of islands, ships, and buildings for reasons that we still can’t understand, described by another tour guide speaking what seems to be another Indian language. I attempt to follow along with a wikipedia-type guide app on my iPhone, but mostly we just enjoy watching all the Indian tourists following his words and occasionally laughing and joking with the guide. We find ourselves pleasantly surprised by the ferry tour. Although we can’t really see the shore or skyline because of the smog, it is really cool to be so close to all these large cargo ships. We notice how much more relaxed Indian tourists seem than Chinese tourists, who we’ve spent a lot of time around lately. There’s no pushing or shoving, no yelling, no rushing to the best seat. Just relaxed people having a good time.
We get back on the bus around noon, just in time to really experience Mumbai traffic for the first time. Hectic doesn’t adequately describe it – constant horns for 5 seconds or more, people dodging cars and buses while the same cars and busses seem to speed up to try to hit them, ridiculous parking maneuvers, and motorbikes swerving around all of it. As crazy as it looks, there is a constant flow (or sometimes crawl) and we are never at a dead stop for very long. It’s like a combination of the swarms of cabs in New York, the crazy motorbikes of Hanoi, the brave pedestrians of Manilla, and the constant honking and brakes-slamming of Myanmar.
We make about 10 more stops including the Gateway to India, Prince of Wales Museum, Science Museum, Nariman Point, Mahalaaxmi Temple, Siddhaivinayak Temple. Without understanding much of the historical background thanks to no translator, we probably didn’t appreciate the significance of the sites as much as the rest of the group, but it was fun to people-watch tourists and those trying to make money from them. A highlight was our lunch in a canteen literally behind a construction site. The foreigner tour busses definitely don’t stop at such an authentic eatery. The bill for our meal was $1.50.
Another highlight was a late afternoon stop at a park (Kamala Nehru), where we watched groups of locals playing pickup cricket and soccer, playing with their kids, and just socializing. Its interesting how similar scenes like this are at parks around the world.
We take a nice walk around the park then board the bus around 5:30. At this point, jet lag has hit us like a ton of bricks and we are both struggling to keep our eyes open. We both fall asleep as the tour guide drones on in Hindi, and not even the constant honking can keep us awake. We open our eyes briefly when we slow down in front of the home of an Indian celebrity and the rest of the bus and crowds on the street start hooting and shouting. We then spend the next hour in Bollywood’s version of the Hollywood hills. Even though we have no idea whose house we are looking at, the excitement of the women on the bus at each stop is enough to keep us amused. Our last stop is Juhu Beach, where hawkers selling food, toys, henna painting, and flowers won’t leave us alone. We manage to find coffee, which is pretty ineffective in our exhaustion.
Even with our naps, we feel more oriented around South Mumbai and ready to explore it more over the next 5 days!