I’m back in India. Before coming I felt the same anticipatory nerves that mothers have told me you feel before having your second baby. I was even more nervous this time as I knew what was coming. And this time we’re on bicycles.
Actually we haven’t done any cycling yet as we got a taxi from the station. We were going to ride despite the request of our couch surfing host Dave, who thinks we are mad, and whose detailed do’s and don’t on Mumbai could fill several guidebooks. But we’re going to need our cardboard bike boxes for flying off to our new existence in Australia after we have ridden to South to Goa and back up via Hampi, so have decided leave the boxes with Dave when we ride.
Mumbai is India’s biggest city. Like all of India it assaults every sense: psychopathic vechicles use their horns so frequently that your conversations have to be snatched in staccato; painted paisleys, mosaics and deities are on every truck, shop and free wall; you breathe in the aroma of hot butter and spice smells from the snack stands deeply until you gag at the stench of ammonia from old urine and rotting beach side rubbish tips; begging children tug at your arms.
Add to this Mumbai’s population of 20.6 million, an alarming 55% of who come from the slums, and even day to day activities like walking along the pavements become an engrossing challenge.
And then there are the rats.
Especially a little way out of the city centre, the rats rule. The size of a loaf of bread, they have big bulbous bottoms and slithery tails (forgive me but there really is no other word to describe their tales but ‘slithery’), and they taper down to tiny vampiric faces and glistening eyes. They have a fantastic time amongst the rubbish, looking like their various skin and fur complaints compete to protect them from disease.
However Mumbai is in lots of ways more sophisticated than other Indian cities; there are public spaces and beaches banned from commerce, the slums are progressive with electric lighting and education is available (more on this another day), and more liberal values: ‘Women KIndly Fake Orgasms!’ says one advert for presumerably something exciting.
It’s good to be back with the madness and I’m aching to ride out to see rural India. We’re hanging around because we want to see the city and ‘Ganesh Chaturthi’, the festival which culminates on the 29th, during which a 70 foot statue of the elephant headed god Ganesh will be immersed into the Arabian sea.
People are often genuine as they try to help if they think you’re being ripped off with bus tickets, if you drop a water bottle it will be handed back to you, small children beam at you while you are taking photos. If people in the biggest city in India, who see 4.8 million tourists a year can still have non-commercial interest in a couple of Westeners, rural India should be even more enjoyable.
Also, we have been here over 24 hours and I’m pleased to report my bowels and the rest of my digestive system are singing along happily, so I’m enjoying myself much more than last year already.