The Indian Life (India #5)

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Mumbai

When you travel you tend to realize how difficult it is to fully partake in all the life that is out there. Perhaps because I was very tired, not particularly enchanted with the city, or because the city simply does not have all that much to offer, yet most likely a combination of all of the above, I have not seen much of the former city of Bombay. Instead, I spent most of my time with one of the locals.

Maybe I was just lacking monkey.
Location: Mumbai

Method of arriving from previous destination (Kochin): Airplane

It is a sad fact that foreigners are barred from experiencing, to a more or less high degree, the full authenticity that a country has to offer. From language being a barrier, to lack of knowledge or means, many a times we are pushed to simply visit the tourist traps. Pretty tourist traps, if you’re lucky. Oh, and I promise to explain my obsession with authenticity at some point in a post.

There are two things which would be able to bridge all the gaps: money or local friends. And the first one tends to be easier to get and to open more doors. Yet, considering I am a poor eastern European, I have no choice but to socialize. Ugh.

Arriving at hotel Kum-Kum early(ish) in the day, I had decided it was time I get some sleep (as my intelligent self tried to save money by getting the last bus to the airport and waiting from about 8pm until my 6am flight with minimum sleep) and wash properly. So most of my day went by in a rather sporty fashion of doing nothing and surfing the internet. While being clean.

Then I met up with Chetan and went to…

A mall! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, my first experience of Mumbai was a mall. However, luckily, being very much influenced by my latest read (The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar), I went and ate some pani puri. Then we went off to a nearby restaurant (called Copper Chimney) for some well deserved dinner and some tiny gulab jamuns.

The following day I decided to fill my uneducated eyes with some local art, so off to the Jhenguuri gallery (which is also next to the Prince of Wales museum, a stunning building if nothing else) and to the museum of modern art. Then, 5 minutes away lay the gate of India, which is one of the more famous monuments of the city.

After being assaulted by people putting stuff on my forehead or jasmine on my hand, I sought refuge (aka wifi) in a place that seemed to be protection incarnated: a western chain, Le Pain Quotidien. Note to self: Indians dont know the difference between Earl Grey and Lady Grey. To my surprise, as well, tea wasn’t all that amazing during my trip. Sure, it’s sold everywhere, but no fancy tea shops or incredibly good tea served in most of the places I’ve eaten at.

Book are incredibly cheap in India – and I did buy quite a few. Sure, this tends to happen in a lot of South East Asia as well, but there you mostly get them cheap because they are photocopied and of much poorer quality. These were the real deal, and for no more than 200-300 rupees.

As a last thought – I did say my Mumbai stay was to a certain extent uneventful – why is authenticity my obsession? Because I haven’t traveled 9,000 km to end up siting in a McDonalds. The best way to understand a country, to visit it and enjoy it is by seeing the “real” India. Tourism to a very large extent is antithetical to that – despite making it easier to travel. But it becomes scripted, it becomes fake. I want to understand how it is to be part of the culture, not just to look at the painting but be part of the painting.

I’m sure that makes sense somehow.

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