So I did it. I went to the city that has been lingering through my dreams for years now. And I decided to talk about Mumbai and not about India, because this has been a travel to a a city dear to my heart for now.
I will take things chronologically...I had a superb Lufthansa flight - business class (awesome start for such a trip). We landed (I was accompanied by my best friend who had no interest in India, but she was afraid I could be kidnapped...yes you can lol) and once we stepped inside the terminal the craziness began:
-gazillions of eyes staring at us (hence I covered quickly with a shawl my daring cleavage)
-white teeth smiles and even gentle caresses when handed or taken from my fingers various official papers; :D And it wasn't as bad as it might sound
-when finally took the luggage, I went outside and tri-gazillions of eyes staring... oh boy...here we were, looking for my friends who were supposed to pick me... Weirdly enough I did not panic, but I inspired the heat and the smells...and only then I used the phone...
-hugs, kisses, emotions, recognition, locked eyes, smiles, laughter, tiredness and here we were in the car going to the hotel. And ladies and gentlemen drivers from Europe... Sorry but you are just users of some devices called cars. This is not driving what you are doing. Mumbai driving is The ULTIMATE driving...rules respected when absolutely necessary, rough streets, a continuous ti, ti,ti,ti,ti,ti,ti,ti,ti,ti,ti,ti,ti,ti,ti from thousands of cars, an uninterrupted flow in which vehicles (of all sorts) and pedestrians are passing by each other within less than half of centimeter, without stops and without accidents.
-I stayed in 2 hotels (Sahara Star and Novotel-Juhu Beach) and I am not going to make any travel reviews, but I want to send a big thank you to the cleaning teams and to their "Is everything ok, Ma'am?". I felt so pampered. :) Also a special mention to the pool and restaurant team in Novotel - you guys were so human and endearing.
-I didn't take pictures...I know...what a crime... I didn't go to the most famous landmarks...again what a crime. Instead I felt the streets, with good and bad things, I exchanged money in a bank - awesome experience that took 6 hours :D :D :D, I went to the big malls to see the new middle class on the rise, I went on Diwali and saw Ra One premiere in an Indian cinema (what else could I have asked more), I went to a spa where I let myself wrapped in saffron and massaged so badly that bruises in certain places could have given wrong ideas to anybody, I went to Mannat - SRK's house, I drank a splendid devil coffee specialty in a CCD coffee-shop, I went to Linking Road and saw my friend bargaining with the most stubborn sellers (successfully), I crossed Bandra Sea-Link 4 times, I went to Gateway of India and bought small shiny, very shiny, too shiny trifles, I bought a green salwar kameez and apparently I looked good in it, I ate in a restaurant (questionable for any European taste) the best pav bhaji in the world with my hand (and no, I didn't die and I wasn't sick as many expected and wished. :P), and I would do it again any second, I saw some slums, I saw people sleeping under bridges, I saw mountains of garbage, I saw the new constructions, but also the neighborhoods with old colonial architecture, I went on Marine Drive and visited the Aquarium, and I saw elegant cricketers in the field. I was fortunate enough to be able to see from my hotel a full day of Chhath Puja festivity, right there on the beach. Hypnotic incantations, divine music, lights, firecrackers, dances, clapping and thousands of people purifying themselves in the sea. Now I know where Andheri, Santa Cruz, Bandra, Navi Mumbai is. And I also had a first hand experience of Mumbai police in action, when my friend's car was picked up and we had to go and recover it. :D
All of these must be seen, felt, heard and smelled. Photographs cannot depict the spirit of 24 million people living in a city that almost cannot grow anymore. Photographs speak zilch about the highest level of tolerance in the world to my knowledge.
I dreamed of Mumbai and I was right to love Mumbai even before I saw it. Because above all, Mumbai meant for me the people I met and the love that I felt exuding everywhere. Thank you Jay, Natty, Sunil, Shakti, Tush, Vishal and everybody else who came to see me even for a couple of hours, thank you to all the people who called me just to hear my voice, thank you "bosses" from the rickshaws who always told us that "haivei" (aka high-way) was straight ahead, no matter where we were... :D Thank you Arjun for deciding to stay among us, even if this time we could not see each other. Thank you beautiful and patient ladies from the banks and receptions, thank you shoe sellers for helping me put the boots on as if I was a queen, thank you to all security guys and gals at malls, hotels and public institutions who checked everybody for bombs (never felt so safe in my life), thank you Mumbai for giving me such a warm welcome.
I will come back to see you and this time to criticize you as well, as you deserve the best. :)
PS. And no, I didn't see any cows in the streets. (this is for all those with stupid prejudices)
PPS. Did I mention we had 11 days with 36 degrees? Eat this dying of cold Europeans.