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…
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.
That 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.
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.