It was 10.30 pm Mumbai time (GMT+5) or one and half hour behind Jakarta. I just landed in Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai, after five hours flight from Singapore. I remember I barely sleep on the plane (I’m not going to mention the name of the airline but I can tell you that it’s not what you take for long flight), dog-tired and terribly hungry; I didn’t touch the Indian food they served on the plane.
Long queue at the immigration gate, of course. My drowsy eyes spot on few people overtaking my line..HEY! I was too tired to even yell at them. Another foreigner on the line next to mine looked at these people quizzically for a moment..then they decided to just move to the front of the line because apparently that is what everyone is doing–if you want to get out of the immigration gate fast.
My immigration staff wasn’t nice. Maybe he’s tired because he have to work until late at night, stamping on stranger’s passport, trying to see if they made any mistake. He looked at my passport, my visa..then look at me again, look back at the passport. He’s tapping on the counter. I just stood there. “HEY! put your fingers here!”, he said. Well jeez, I don’t know if that’s what you meant with the tapping, mister.. he looks frustrated. I keep thinking about what am I going to eat after getting out of this airport. Hell, I might not be able to get out from this airport at all, this guy at the immigration seems to hate me so much he might as well just sent me back to Jakarta with the next plane..but no, he stamped my passport and here I am in Mumbai, India.
How do I start with Mumbai? I was there as an invitation from a friend. Never, even in my wildest dream, I’d imagine to be in the capital industry of India. But that was probably my only chance to visit India, so there I was. I done a lot of research before coming to the city; what would I expect to see, how’s the food, how’s the people, everything.. and my friend, Mumbai is definetely something you’ve never seen before.
I work and (sort of) live in Jakarta, a megapolitan, the largest city of Indonesia and one of the most populous urban agglomerations in the world with 9.607.787 population (2010). I know what big city is like; chaos, crowded, noise, pollutions, bad traffic everywhere.. I had that all in Jakarta and I thought that’s worse enough. But no, not until you see Mumbai.
Used to known as Bombay (which then famous with the term ‘Bollywood’–Bombay Hollywood), Mumbai is the most populous city in India; one of the most populous urban regions in the world with a population of 20.7 million as of 2011. Lies on the west coast of India with major seaport, Mumbai claimed the title of industrial (and also entertainment) capital of India. At a glance, you can say that Mumbai is pretty much like Jakarta.
Just wait until you step your foot out on its road.
The weather is pretty much different; Mumbai has a tropical climate and I was there on March where it’s practically still summer with temperature everyday reach 38 celcius degree. The traffic? Oh boy, you’d think Jakarta is a road heaven after you see how it goes in Mumbai. Basically it’s jammed everywhere, with cars moving to God knows where. Everyone is honking. Rickshaw, taxi, cars, cow, everything is on the road. The people? All I see is men walking in group–though my friend said they probably not in a group, because it’s so crowded that they look like belong to a group–stared, because you look different (but it’s safe, they won’t do anything to you, just use your common sense). Slums everywhere, even next to the fanciest apartment–there’s even slums just by the international airport!
So yeah, after the first three hours in Mumbai I can’t wait to get back to Jakarta. But no, I have to spend another 19 hours and two days before I can get on a plane out of the city. So I have to bear with it.
Turns out, Mumbai did grew on me. I spent my first afternoon in the south part of the city, where the museums and galleries are. They are AMAZING. I was in Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (Prince of Wales Museum), three-story museum in a british colonial building with astonishing collections. Hands down, the best museum I ever visited. The south area where the museum lies is really worth to visit; if you like old buildings and galleries, they also have schools, university and old train station, all in art deco british colonial style building.
Pay a visit to Bandra, a suburb in West Mumbai, home to many Bollywood actors and Indian’s famous personalities. Is one of the best area in Mumbai, less slum and the neighbourhood seems pretty friendly. I remember walked in a crowd gathering in a front of a house that apparently.. a Shah Rukh Khan’s. Yep, that legendary actor.
I wouldn’t recommend you to visit the beaches in Mumbai but you must. Just you know, don’t go in the water. But the beaches quite interesting; I mean where else can you see cows lying on the sand, enjoying the warm sun? And the city’s skyline overlooking the beach’s promenade? Can’t say a word. My favorite thing about the city indeed.
So yeah, Mumbai is a chaos. It’s a mess, not for the faint-hearted. But doesn’t mean it’s not worth to see, or even (I’m being really honest here) to love. It’s easy to love something beautiful and perfect like white-sand-blue-sea beach somewhere in Thailand or Bali, it’s like when you see a beautiful girl, you’d instantly fall in love with her well because obviously, she’s easy on the eye. But to love something that is messy and tangled and chaotic like Mumbai or Jakarta? It’s hard, man. You gotta find something deep inside of that mess, some silver lining. And when you do, it’ll eat your heart out. Loving a city means digging every part of it patiently until you’re buried in its mess–and you don’t want to get out of it eventually.
To be honest, I’m still in a love-and-hate relationship with Mumbai. I can’t say I love it but I do want to get back there someday. That’s the beauty of the city, no matter how much you think you can’t stand it.. you’ll always want to see how to find out how to love it. As long as you can bear it 🙂