It’s hard to nail down what makes Mumbai – formerly Bombay – such a likeable city. If you’ve ever read the brilliant book Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, you might get some inkling through his descriptive prose. ‘More dreams are realised and extinguished in Bombay than any other place in India,’ Roberts writes.

Mumbai is a city of two halves…

On the one side you have some of Asia’s largest slums. On the other, riches beyond the wildest of imaginations. And The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is a great example of the wealth that exudes above the underbelly of different classes; from the servants, to the dreamers, street kids, stray dogs and gangsters, all trying to make their way in India’s capital. It’s also the epicentre to a prolific film industry – Bollywood; home to budding starlets with big aspirations, and home to famous Indian celebrities. This was in plain view when on one street corner you’d see trendy cafés, bars and restaurants, but one wrong turn and you’d be face with the poorer side of the metropolis. I never felt unsafe, however, even when we were accosted by beggars and drug sellers.3383113835_476ff2e701_b
We arrived after a few hours on the train. The sting of the bag robbery had slowly begun to subside. I had already received a new bank card, and we had come to Mumbai to catch a flight, because we were planning to trek in Nepal. So I wasn’t really expecting much from our time here. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
We managed to find a large bright room in a hostel situated in the Colaba – the old British quarter in Mumbai. I think we were drawn to the white-washed buildings, old mansion buildings, colourful window shutters, and the fact that it was a district so close to the harbour.8370956852_2be453ba14_k

We spent a ridiculous amount of time at the British consulate – days in fact – getting our new passports and trying to organise an exit visa. The bureaucracy was slow and infuriating. We couldn’t actually fly out from Mumbai because we had entered India via New Delhi, and would need permission to do so. I spent a long time staring at the same four walls of the same waiting room.

But there was an upside. Every time we were done with the paperwork and waiting, we went out and explored. Colaba is a vibrant and colourful area and we didn’t really stray to far from its confines. Close by to where we were staying was a symbol of a bygone era and of the Raj, the Gateway to India stands majestically by the waterfront overlooking the Arabian Sea. Erected in 1911 on the spot where King George V and Queen Mary first landed on Indian soil, it’s Mumbai’s most iconic monument. From the Gateway on our final day, we jumped on a boat to tourist spot Elephanta Island, about 10km from the harbour, to go and marvel at the ‘city of caves’. Home to temples carved into the rock of the island, the artwork represents some of the most impressive art carvings in all of India. It was eerily still and cool wandering amongst the labyrinth of caves.

4475412330_98e73d148e_zThat evening, to celebrate finally receiving our exit visa, we decided to forget the budget and splash out on a fancy night in Colaba. First up, a drink in the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. We weren’t really sure if they’d let us in… Seeing as we didn’t have anything glamorous to wear. But as we shuffled through the doors nervously, no one even batted an eyelid when we sat down and ordered some expensive beers.

As we were enjoying our surroundings we couldn’t help noticing the loud chatter coming from the table next to us. As I turned, legendary cricketer Nasser Hussain stared back at me and waved. He and the rest of the England cricket team were staying at the hotel and enjoying a drink. Now, I’m not a big cricket fan but knew this was a brilliant celeb spot! We shyly chatted to them for around 10 minutes and Nasser even joined us for a photo. By this time our beers had disappeared, we resolved to move on… on a bar crawl. It was fun night!

The following morning, it was time for us to say goodbye to Mumbai and bid farewell to India. After only three days in the capital we had finally got all the documents we needed to leave. I really enjoyed my time in the city, and wished we could have stayed longer. And I was surprised by how much I liked it – in some ways it reminded me a lot of home…

On reflection, India was a complete and utter culture shock. Paradoxically, I was sad and happy to be leaving all at the same time. I never really appreciated its beauty until I left. Of course, this is the country where I met my husband, where the path of my new life with him began after a chance meeting on a beach in Goa. So, there’s no other way for me to remember India but with a fondness in my heart.Nassa

India’s not for everyone. That I can state unequivocally. And it’s also nigh on impossible to describe in just a few sentences. It’s hot, chaotic, dusty and crowded. In some parts overwhelming, in others tranquil. It’s also hard on the senses. There are some sights that will make you want to turn away; and single moments that make you want to stop and stare – for time to stand still.

It’s a country that makes you think. Challenges you, not only physically but emotionally. It makes you question your life and how others live. It gives you the highest of highs, but can pull you down in a matter of seconds.

Will I ever go back? I’d like to. It’s such an enormous country, and there is still so much to see and discover. However, part of me doesn’t want to ruin the memories that I have already.

India will always remain an enigma, and she will continue to shock and amaze travellers who are brave enough to go and sample her delights.timetravel

Images: Flickr: Thomas Galvez, Madhavi Kuram, Jerry H., Javi León, Terry Feuerborn