Chapter Two: A Long Day in Mumbai
It was broad daylight when we arrived at the train station. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is located in a bustling but not entirely upscale sector of the city, and its Victorian Gothic architecture springs out of the clamor and dust of the busy streets, providing a drastic contrast. We walked directly to the baggage storage where we found a weeping woman, a baby sleeping on the counter, and a tiny old man with a large stack of used luggage tags in his hand. We indicated that we would like to leave our suitcases and he handed us two soiled luggage tags with the instructions "take to the police."
We wandered around for a bit and finally found the police at the entrance who "scanned" our bags (I don't think it was actually a working machine), stamped our tags a few times, taped the zipper closures and then signed over the tape. By the time we got back to the storage there was a long line of Indians waiting, and it took us about an hour to complete the process. Very hungry and frustrated, we opened the Lonely Planet to locate a tourist-friendly place to eat lunch and ended up at Cafe Leopold, what seemed to be a perfectly kosher place for Westerners. However, after a trip to the restroom where I saw all kinds of unpleasantries, I opted for french fries without ketchup and a can of diet Coke. By this point the heat was building, the sleep deprivation was increasing, and my patience for dirt and chaos was at an all time low. Good thing our next move was to wander the streets of Mumbai looking for a cheap hostel no one had ever heard of.
We spent the next few hours in the back seat of an old taxi trying to convince the driver to follow our directions. He didn't listen, of course, and instead, we stopped every five minutes to consult his "friends" who provided varying and ultimately incorrect advice about where the hostel could be. We saw plenty of the Mumbai neighborhoods and their inhabitants as we drove around in circles, and for that reason alone it might have been worth it.
I was stunned by the Mumbai streets. First because they are so full of life and energy, and second because they are full of so much visible poverty. Naked children running in the streets, families of five or six living in one room visible to passers-by for lack of doors, flatbed carts serving as beds along the roadside, white cows lounging in the gutters. If acquainted with the third world, one may not be surprised by such a menagerie, but this was my first real exposé.
Since I was India-street-food-phobic in Mumbai, I was treated to a lunch at the Taj Mahal. It was absolutely delicious, and photogenic. The gold-encrusted walls of the Taj were more than a stark contrast to the dusty streets we walked in from.
We spent a few more days in Mumbai in the sweltering heat and then moved on to Delhi. I didn't much like Mumbai then, but looking through my photos, I can't wait to go back and explore the city again.