Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mumbai Madness

(The following article was published on TouristAttitude on the 28th of January, 2011. Click here to check it out)

The Gateway of India is a very somber location in the early hours of the morning. The touts and tourists are no more, leaving just the roaming street dogs in their place, alongside a few misguided bats. The canines are of a friendly nature here, and act more like they've jumped over a back fence, rather than lived their lives on the street. Although the memory of being chased through Kolkata's dark streets by a pack of wild dogs is anything but forgotten, I make firm friends with one dog, who seems particularly enamored with my blue pen, leaving behind bite marks that tell the same tale. The opposite of camera shy, she was also very fond of licking my camera lens.

TA - Mumbai Madness
The air is sweet and sultry, a humid mix of spices and incense that is unmistakably Indian. This is the best time of day to explore Mumbai, as not only do you have the streets to yourself, the heat is yet to reign supreme. As sunlight returns, so too do the people, and much to my delight there is a chai-wallah among the early worms! As I sit down and sip my first chai of the day, I watch an elderly woman do her morning exercises, which for some reason involves a lot of clapping. She wears a light pink sari, heavy gold jewelery and a smile that is far too bright for 7am.

Without nearly enough time for a return trip to Elephanta Island before i'm due back at the airport, I decide to check out Dharavi - the largest slum in all of Asia. It's also where many scenes from 2008's Slumdog Millionaire were shot. The slum is like a town within a town. There are vendors, businesses, and an overflowing amount of garbage. There's even a river of trash, which has clogged up the stream and allowed no water to pass.

TA - Mumbai Madness
Away from the business sector of town and into the residential enclave, the mood shifts suddenly. There is laughter abound, and alongside colorful saris and immaculately pressed shirts, the people wear broad smiles. Perhaps this is due to the abundance of shade found in the many walkways (the buildings here are built so close together, it's as if they overlap. This is not the ugly and desperate place I'd envisioned. Like the majority of India I have seen, the people are proud, loud and overflowing with life.
TA - Mumbai Madness

Mumbai is to India what NYC or Los Angeles is to the USA. People come from all over the country, in search of their slice of the pie. While it may be home to the thriving Bollywood cinema industry, people come for reasons besides a career in the limelight. For the majority of new residents, Dharavi is the first place they call home within the sprawling city. Like a microcosm of the subcontinent, Dharavi offers visitors passing through India, a taste of what the rest of the country has to offer.

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